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A Long Journey Home


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Guest billmc

I suppose since this new section of the TCPC forum was on my "wish list" and the moderators were gracious in granting it, I'll post my own journey. This is a long one, spanning 350 dog years, so I'll post it in three parts.

 

(Please note: When I refer to Christianity in my story, I am not referring to all kinds of Christianity through the centuries or even today. I am referring to the kind of Christianity I was exposed to as a youth, with the descriptors of this kind of religion being evident in the story.)

 

I fell in love with Jesus when I was 12 years old. On the back wall of the baptistery of the Chemung Baptist Church, there was a mural of a stream flowing into the baptistery, a picture I thought quite ingenious at the time. The centerpiece of the mural was a life-size picture of Jesus as a shepherd, a crook in one hand, cradling a soft, little lamb in the other. And around Jesus were other sheep, grazing on the grass or drinking from the stream, safely guarded by the Great Shepherd. The colors of the mural were so bright and vibrant that as I looked at the face of Jesus, I felt that his eyes were gazing right into my soul kind eyes, eyes of love. Though Im now fifty, I can recall the picture of Jesus like it was yesterday.

 

When I turned 12, my father decided that I needed religion. Whether this was due to my behavior or just due to some rite of passage, I dont know. But he said, Its time that you start going to church. I suppose this was his way of providing for my religious training because, to be honest, my family never talked about religion much. One of my grandparents neighbors was a Baptist minister so my sister and I were sent off to Vacation Bible School at this ministers church in the summer of 72. It was the first time that I can remember hearing about Jesus as something other than a swear word and I was enraptured by the story of how he came to earth as a baby born of a virgin, did miracles to prove he was God, died for my sins so I could be forgiven, and rose again to make a way so I could go to live with him in heaven forevermore. The VBS teacher said all I needed to do in order to go to heaven someday was to tell Jesus I was a sinner, I was sorry for my sins, and ask him to come into my heart to live. Of course, being in a Baptist church I was also warned about the consequences if I refused to believe in Jesus, namely, going to hell. But it was the love of Jesus that drew me and I responded to that love by becoming a Christian. A few weeks later, I was baptized in that baptistery and began my life of faith.

 

Things at home were rather rocky. As far back as I can remember, my parents were always fighting with one another over something, and I can remember thinking that they were the ones who really needed to go to church. But they never did go with me that I recall. My impression from them was religion was something for children, something that would help keep children from messing up their lives later. Growing up in the farming countryside of upstate New York, I spent plenty of time exploring the woods and nature around me. I was fascinated by all the variety found in the great outdoors and felt close to God there. There were many occasions when I took my Bible with me up into my tree-house and just spent time reading the scriptures, learning everything I could about God and Jesus and their plan for my life. As I read about God being a deliverer, a protector, a rock, and about Jesus being a savior, I prayed that God would also deliver me from the abuse that I sometimes experienced and that he would heal my parents marriage. But despite my prayers, things continued to get worse.

 

In 75, my parents divorced. I suppose this could be seen as one way God answered my prayers, but it still hurt nonetheless. My father had custody of all five of us kids and soon took on another when he remarried. We moved to a new town and began a new start. But while the strife at home stopped due to the divorce and remarriage, I missed my mother. She became an alcoholic after the divorce and went downhill fast. It hurt me to see her drunk and I prayed God would change her. One day when I went to see her, she had changed. She was no longer drinking and seemed to be truly happy. She had started attending church and had found Jesus. I was thrilled. To see such a change in my Mom not only relieved some of my heart-break for her, but encouraged me that God was indeed listening to and answering at least some of my prayers.

 

With this change, I asked my Dad if, now that I was fifteen, I could go to live with my mother. To my surprise, he said yes. I was elated and felt I could help her to get her life back on track. Mom and I started attending a Pentecostal church and we were both on fire for Jesus. I took my Bible to school with me throughout my high school years and witnessed to anyone I felt God was leading me to. I hung out with a group of Christians at school but though we hung out together, I noticed they tended to argue a lot with each other over doctrinal issues. Sometimes they even thought other members of our Christian group were either not really Christians or were going to hell. This began to bother me because I felt deep down Christians should be known by their love for each other, not by their doctrinal differences.

 

My last year of high school, I felt God wanted me to go to Bible College to prepare for the ministry. And I also met a young Christian lady and we struck up a relationship. We talked of marriage but I really felt like God wanted me to go to Bible College first and so we agreed to post-pone our wedding for a couple years.

 

The year in Bible College was both a joy and a trial for me. It was a joy because I felt really close to God there, like I was doing what he wanted me to do, and I found I had an aptitude for theology. I also really enjoyed going out with the ministry teams to different churches, trying to raise money for the Bible College. But two things happed during that year that made me realize, once again, Christianity was no Pollyanna world. The first thing was that even though I was a Pentecostal, I had never spoken in tongues and I was labeled a second-class Christian. Speaking in tongues (an unknown language) is, to a Pentecostal, a sure sign someone has the Spirit of God living in them. And because I never spoke in tongues, the School decided to pull me off the ministry teams because they wanted representatives that were Spirit-filled. I found this to be extremely judgmental and hypocritical because I knew a few kids on the ministry teams who, in spite of speaking in tongues, had wandering eyes and could tell the most offensive jokes. The second thing that happened was that a senior there whom I had a good friendship with, someone who had been a homosexual before getting saved, was denied a license to preach by the college because of his past life. I felt like if people were really considered to be new creations in Christ after becoming Christians, who should judge them according to the past? I was disenchanted with the Bible College after these things and decided not to return the following year. Besides, with my inability to speak in tongues, the school dean asked me to consider whether that school was really the right one for me anyway. I again noted that people who claim to be Christians, who claim to follow Christ, are just as judgmental and exclusionary of others as any one else is. Christianity, for me, was beginning to tarnish a bit.

 

Here are a few lessons I have learned from this part of my life:

 

1. Christianity does its best to try to get a hold of children before they have developed critical thinking skills. If it can do this, then it puts us in its "Matrix" before we even know what truth and reality is. For a child or young person, truth most often comes, not from the consideration and study of evidence, but from an authority figure, often a parent or a priest. "Because I said so," was often my father's reply as to why I should or should not do a thing. And "because the Bible says so" is the Christian mantra (although it needs to be pointed out that Christians are very much cherry-pickers when it comes to the parts of the Bible they believe or act on).

 

Being a child, I thought Jesus' love for me was demonstrated in his dying for me and saving me from going to hell. I didn't yet have the necessary skills to wonder how dying for me actually accomplishes anything in my life, who dying for me actually saves me from (God), and how the notion of hell is incompatible with a, supposedly, all-loving God. I simply accepted these things because they were taught to me by people I trusted and the promise of a blissful afterlife.

 

2. It's also important to note that I quickly began to struggle with the efficacy of prayer. Despite all the promises in the Bible that God hears and answers our prayers, my prayers for the wholeness of my family were not answered. I simply assumed that it was not God's will for my family to be whole, but that, again, raises the question of what would a loving God do. I'm not talking about God forcefully violating what is called human "free will", but if God is omniscient, then he would certainly know exactly how to reach everyone of us, what would "throw our switch", so-to-speak.

 

3. Probably the most important thing that I learned from this period of my life is that guilt and threats of hell are the main tools used by popular Christianity to keep people within the religious system. Couple guilt and hell together, and people will stay within this paradigm for life. Christianity told me I was guilty because of what Adam and Eve did, guilty for sins I committed, guilty for the sins of not doing what I should have done, and guilty for killing Jesus. I doubt that anyone can be psychologically healthy living under that kind of guilt all their lives.

 

I eventually rejected this form of Christianity...but that is another chapter.

Edited by billmc
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Guest billmc

After that year of Bible college, I married the Christian girl I had met in high school. Though we both came from rocky home backgrounds, we felt like we could make it because we were, after all, Christians in love with each other with God on our side. In order to support my family, I decided to go in the Army to get electronics training, a field I am still in today.

 

But our marriage proved to be a struggle. We both came from broken homes where problems had been dealt with, not by the hard work of communication and compromise, but with holding grudges and getting divorces. So neither of us was really equipped to work out our problems and all the going to church and praying we did just didn’t seem to help. We just seemed to go to our own corners, so to speak, and wait for things to cool off, often still remaining hurt and harboring bitterness. After five years of marriage, she had an affair. Because we had no tools available to us to help us work anything out, we divorced – the unforgivable sin in modern Christianity (despite the statistics that show that over 50% of Southern Baptists have been divorced and remarried). Due to the fact that I was still in the service, she got custody of our two children. I was decimated. In a short period of time, I had lost my wife and my children, or it felt that way. And I wondered: despite many things in my past and in my life that may have been stacked against me, didn’t God have “a wonderful plan” for me? Didn’t Jesus come to give me an abundant life? I was disillusioned – with myself, with my life, and with my religion. So I stopped going to church as I tried to recover from the shambles my life was in.

 

I discovered in my youth that being a Christian was no guarantee that life would go well. The Bible itself is contradictory on this subject. Sometimes it says that the faithful will be blessed, sometimes it says that the wicked will prosper. But the evangelical call to faith certainly entails a promise of a redeemed, wonderful life. The truth of the matter is that life is simply messy, Christian or not. We and our world are complicated and despite Christianity's claims, there are no magic bullets.

 

Upon exiting from the service, I went to work for an electronics company and felt I was where I needed to be. I was still bitter about my divorce and some of the things I had gone through, and I especially felt God was done with me. This is one of the things that can drive someone in Christianity nuts – it is never really God’s fault if something goes wrong. If things go right, God is thanked and given full credit, but failure is always attributed to personal sin or to original sin or to the devil or to a sinful world. Disappointments and hurts in life are never blamed on the God that is said to be “in control” and who is running this universe according to his divine plan. God always seems to be blameless where human suffering is concerned. Of course, I didn’t dare think this way back then; I just felt the failure was mainly on my part because I was, after all, a sinful human being. Church reinforced that notion to me every Sunday.

 

An older technician at the company where I was working took me under his wing and helped me readjust to civilian life. I soon found out he was a Christian and I found I could talk to him about most anything. Eventually, we talked about my divorce and my felt estrangement from God. He assured me, using the scriptures, that God could and would forgive my sin and restore me if I sincerely repented. And that is what I did. In Christianity, this is the “formula” for staying in fellowship with God: almost constant confession and repentance of our sins. This is how Christians “keep their slate clean” before God. We intuitively know we can’t stop sinning, so the best we can do is to try to stay forgiven. Ironically, our relationship with God doesn’t really stop the sinning, it only forgives it afterward. I did find some healing and restoration through my co-worker’s counseling. His belief in God’s ability to restore were tested when I began to show an interest in his daughter. I knew she was special from the moment I met her and she was very accepting of me and my two children. We began dating and married almost a year later.

 

My wife and I became very involved in our local churches, both Southern Baptist and then Bible Churches. I played the piano and she sang in the choir and sometimes did solos. We made quite a few friends there and felt loved. But I slowly began to grow a little agitated with the kind of Christianity that I was involved with. Maybe because of my past, coming from a poor, broken family, going through brokenness myself, I felt like Christians ought to be doing more to help the poor and broken instead of just sitting in pews singing, “I’ll Fly Away.” I began to wonder, “Why is Christianity so focused on leaving this world instead of on changing it for the better?” I wondered why Christians weren’t doing more to follow Jesus’ teachings about helping the poor, setting captives free, healing the sick and broken, and living out the Sermon on the Mount. I felt Christianity was almost entirely focused on only “personal” issues – personal sins, personal forgiveness, leaving this world for a personal heaven where we would get personally rewarded. After all, didn’t the Lord’s Prayer mention God’s will being done on earth? Because the Christianity I knew was so eager to leave earth, it wasn’t concerned whether the earth was destroyed through war or misuse. For every song we sang that emphasized “This is My Father’s World”, we sang nine others that emphasized “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A’Passin’ Through.” And I found that most of the songs and sermons I heard were not about what God could do through us here for the sake of others but only about what Jesus has done for us personally in order to take us to heaven later. I began to see that despite claims to the contrary, Christianity is a very self-centered religion, that it is all about what God or Jesus does for us with very little about what we could do for others.

 

The “coupe de grace” came for me in this form of Christianity one day during a church service. My wife and I were unexpectedly called out of the service to come tend our 4-year-old son who was in Children’s Church. When we got there, he was in the hall, crying hysterically. Between sobs, he repeated, “Daddy, why would Jesus burn me? Why?” I assured him Jesus loved him and would never burn him but he was simply too scared to really listen to what I was saying. My wife took him out to the car and I went into the Children’s Church room to see what had happened. The teacher had shown the kids an artist’s rendition of a man engulfed in flames, his arms raised to heaven, his face contorted with agony, crying out to heaven with a plea for mercy that would never be heard. She told the kids that this is what would happen to them if they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. I reminded her that Jesus never once threatened children with hell, but she insisted that she did not want God holding the blood of these children on her hands.

 

I was struggling myself at this time with the question of how a good and loving God could sentence people he supposedly loves to eternal torment for finite sin, a question that no Christian I have ever met has given me a convincing answer to. But I knew for sure it was inappropriate to foist this doctrine upon young children and asked one of the church elders if a teacher should be allowed to expose children to this side of God, to this side of the, supposed, “good news.” His response was that truth should be taught to all and that, no surprise here, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s probably also the seed of many a psychotic break. We left that church shortly after that.

 

I was also struggling with Paul’s writings during this time. Paul wanted women to be quiet in church, to never have any authority over men, to never teach men anything. Paul supports slavery in his writings. Paul thinks that government officials rule by “divine right.” And Paul puts forth this offensive doctrine that everyone is born into this world as an evil human being, deserving, not God’s love, but his wrath and destruction in hell. According to Paul, even babies are born “sinners” and will go to hell if they have not believed Paul’s gospel about believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the “good news” to the world? This is the plan of the God who so loves the world?

 

I think it’s important to note how contradictory the Bible is about the nature of God and what he supposedly desires for mankind. Now, I'm no longer a traditional Christian, I no longer believe in a theistic God, so I can readily admit that the scriptures have a verse or a concept for saying almost anything about God that we might want to believe. Going back to my first chapter, Christians are very much cherry-pickers about which verses of the Bible and which concepts of God they hold to. My crisis in faith didn’t come because I wasn't reading my Bible and praying, but because I was. The more I read my Bible, the more I saw how contradictory and nonsensical it was, not only about God and humanity, but about reality. And the more I prayed, the more I felt I was talking to someone who wasn’t really there. I’ve discovered that when it comes to prayer, Christians are really good at counting the hits and ignoring the misses.

 

Christianity claims that we can personally know God. And it claims that prayer changes things, supposedly by getting God to act in our world. But I felt that the God of Christianity is schizophrenic, possessing so many different and often opposing character traits that I’m never sure which God I am trying to get to know or what his response will be to my prayers or the plight of our world.

 

I could no longer live with what I felt was the ugly side of contemporary Christianity - the constant guilt of sin, the downplaying of doing good works, the desire to escape the world, the constant threats of hell, and the adherence to ancient superstitious worldviews as reality - it was too much to ignore. I lost my faith in Christianity, at least in the kind of Christianity in which I was raised and embedded for 35 years. And yet I still felt like Christianity was trying to point to something, some truth deep in my heart and soul. And I am still trying to discover and understand what that something is.

 

One more chapter to go…for now.

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Guest billmc

I think I need to say, at this point, that Christianity as a religion has done a lot of good in our world. And Christians are, for the most part, good, moral, and loving people. But Christianity claims that the true God is revealed in the Bible and I don’t find that claim very convincing. I find many things attributed to God in the Bible to be immoral or unethical. Things like God killing women and children in the flood. Things like God commanding the Israelites to kill their enemies, including women and children. Things like God testing people (remember Job and Jesus?) when he is supposedly omniscient. Things like God wanting his people to show their devotion to him by mutilating their sexual organs. Things like the notion that blood can somehow remove sin. Things like God sending evil spirits. Things like God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then destroying him for having a hard heart. Things like God commanding genocide. Is this the God that so loves the world?

 

Some would argue that this is the God of the Old Testament and that Jesus came to show us a different view of God, a “New Testament” God, a kinder, gentler God. But the God that Jesus describes, while maybe not calling for God’s people to kill their enemies, steps things up by warning people of everlasting torment. In the OT, if you sinned against God, you were just killed for your sin. In the NT, if you sin against God or Jesus, you suffer unending torture. Again, is this the God who is love? Is this a God who is perfect in all his ways?

 

I feel that despite Christianity’s claims, the Bible is not a perfect book, Jesus was not a perfect person, and the views of God in the scriptures are human understandings of that which we call “God”, subject to all the interpretations of reality and the “More” that we find in humanity. To me, the Bible is a record of what ancient peoples thought about God, the world, and their place and purpose within it. And Jesus was just as human as all the rest of us, a product of his time, his religion, and his worldview just as we are products of our times, religions, and worldviews. The Bible is not God’s record of himself; it is a record of human accounts of their experiences and concepts of what they called God.

 

Nevertheless, I still feel that the Bible contains a great deal of timeless wisdom, especially as found within some of Jesus’ teachings and the kind of lifestyle he lead. I think we can learn a great deal from these ancient writings and worldviews. We need not reinvent the philosophical wheel. For example, it is still a good idea to care for the earth, to be compassionate toward others, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, help the homeless, care for the poor, even to forgive our enemies. I even find it meaningful to hold the concept of God in my heart and mind as the source of life, love, and being.

 

Am I a Christian? It’s a good question. And my answer is…I don’t know. To be honest, Jesus technically never talked about Christians or Christianity. He only spoke about following him or being a disciple, someone who is learning his “way” from him. I’m still interested in following the best of his teachings, but I’m not too interested in worshipping God or Jesus, at least not in the way of trying to prop up some deity’s self-image by continually telling him how great he is. To me, worshipping God is more about recognizing the connectedness to what we call “the divine” all around us – love, life, meaning – and trying to encourage and enhance that. Or, as Jesus said, it is about loving others.

 

So maybe I’ll continue to wear the name “Christian”, not because I’m a shining example of someone who completely obeys Jesus, but because I think that Jesus said some things that bear repeating and because he modeled for us a self-sacrificing life. This doesn’t mean that I toe a church, denominational, creedal, or doctrinal line though. I don’t. And I won’t. My kind of “Christianity” is more linked to what I do than to what I believe. I think it’s more important that we love one another than that we judge one another. I seem to recall reading that someplace…

 

To me, it’s not that we are all sinners; it’s that we are still quite self-centered. It’s not that we have fallen from perfection; it’s that we haven’t yet matured as human beings. I want to be a better person, to be a more mature, well-rounded individual. And I’d like to think that my life, when it ends, has made a difference for the good here. I don't think that the way forward for humanity is to retreat into ancient, superstitious religion. Instead, I think the way forward is to realize that people (and all life) are precious and worth saving. Life, for me, is not about trying to please some deity so that I can attain an afterlife. For me, life is about exploring, enjoying, and valuing existence. And it’s about helping others to do the same. If I can do that, then my life has meaning – today, tomorrow…and maybe into eternity.

 

Thanks for listening. Feedback is welcome.

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Bill,

 

It seems to me that the wisdom in your last 5 paragraphs were gained through the very painful story preceding it. It was all very moving. One of the other moderators had written somewhere on his own site that in effect progressive Christianity per se was simply more about a way of life than about belief in a bunch of presupposed propositions. (my own wording from memory) I think that, that simplicity, is what we seek. And for many of us, there is a sometimes lonely and painful journey in arriving at that simplicity that is truely in Christ, which in my view, is not a man.

 

Enjoyed experiencing your story with you.

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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One of the other moderators had written somewhere on his own site that in effect progressive Christianity per se was simply more about a way of life than about belief in a bunch of presupposed propositions. (my own wording from memory) I think that, that simplicity, is what we seek.

 

You've put that well, Joseph. While I know that not everything in life is simple, I do think I was seeking some sort of reductive framework to help me make sense of things or to give my life some sense of meaning. The big picture given to me by my youth, the notion that life is all about how to gain an afterlife, just became less and less convincing as my experiences and explorations have changed over the years.

 

It is one thing to rearrange the furniture in a room or to replace a wornout couch. It is quite another to move to an entirely different home. There is certainly alot more work involved. :lol:

 

I felt, for a long time (or it seemed that way), that I had outgrown my previous home and had to move, but I didn't know where to move to. I found myself on the street with a sense that I couldn't go back to whence I had come, but not sure of where to go. Or, as another poster here has said, lost. I can't say as that I have found a "new home" yet. Maybe it is inherent in us that we make better explorers than squatters. :D I've found in Progressive Christianity a balance of letting go of some of the pain of the past, holding onto some of the good of the past, but looking to the present and the future to experience the fullness of life. While I don't know for sure if I have discovered a new home yet, I have met some wonderful friends on the street. Maybe my new home is not a place for me to retreat to. Maybe it is the relationships that enrich my life and that encourage me to do the same for others.

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Bill.

 

That is so true Bill and whether you make this home or not (speaking of this site) is, of course, beside the point. It seems to me that where we, as individuals, will be in the future is not as important as being present to where we are now. Circumstances and things change and one must follow their own inner guidance. Having said that, i am filled with joy to share this ephemeral moment with you.

 

Joseph

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Am I a Christian? It’s a good question. And my answer is…I don’t know. To be honest, Jesus technically never talked about Christians or Christianity. He only spoke about following him or being a disciple, someone who is learning his “way” from him. I’m still interested in following the best of his teachings, but I’m not too interested in worshipping God or Jesus, at least not in the way of trying to prop up some deity’s self-image by continually telling him how great he is. To me, worshipping God is more about recognizing the connectedness to what we call “the divine” all around us – love, life, meaning – and trying to encourage and enhance that. Or, as Jesus said, it is about loving others.
Bil

 

I can see Jesus saying the exact quote. Bill, I believe the same thing, and I feel I am a Christian because I want the mind of Christ. I want to act and live in the same consciousness that Christ does. I like to call it Christ Consciousness. The strength for you to go through all those experiences and still keep your eye on the North Star, the mind of Christ is amazing. The mind of Christ confronts the false teachings of the church and you did this admirably.

 

You have proven your love and devotion and deserve a resting place. It seems the mind of Christ creates minds of sacrifice. I think it might be the agony of the cross, but we all seem to take up the cross from time to time. We all seem to have been humiliated, dishonored and disgraced at some time or many times. I know myself as a diamond in the rough needed to be cut, ground and polished to be able to catch the light and shine. It is painful because the diamond is the hardest substance besides my head that I am aware of.

 

The agony and the ecstasy of life are great teachers on the path of truth. Your unwavering perseverance through failure, setbacks, helplessness and frailty has given you humility, dignity and a great presence of mind that is touching. I feel your post are honest and reflect the honest truth, which in my mind says you are walking in God’s will. If God is the ocean then you are a wave. It really doesn’t matter what you call the wave, but personally, I don’t think you are a sinner even in your darkest hour.

 

Romans 8:17 (New International Version)

17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

My pain lead me to a new home is in the splendor and glory of the present moment. The agony of the past and a future that never manifests otherwise it would not be future were temporary shelters for my mind. The present moment is difficult for me to live in because the mind is always active and seems to want to grasp, but in the present moment of the mind one in not a sinner, a Christian, Buddhist ect., but I call the present moment the mind of Christ. It is the door that opens the mind to the soul. I am sure you have had these moments of ecstasy. Bill enjoy, you bring joy to my heart. Salutations to the Divinity within you.........................

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Thanks for your gracious encouragement, Soma. I have to acknowledge, despite all my whining about some things, that I have been blessed in my journey. Growing up in the USA with adequate food, clothing, medicine, and shelter; having a wonderful, loving family and a good job; enjoying reasonably good health; and having good friends makes me appreciative of the life that I have. If I were to die today, I wouldn't plead with God for mercy, I would simply say, "Thank you."

 

>>...diamond is the hardest substance besides my head that I am aware of.

 

Ha ha. You haven't been locked inside mine! "Often wrong but seldom unsure" is my nickname.

 

>>The agony and the ecstasy of life are great teachers on the path of truth.

 

Yes, your words ring true. Our lives are beautiful tapestries for the very reason that the dark and the light are woven together, the clear and the vague provide contrast.

 

>>If God is the ocean then you are a wave.

 

I like this metaphor, my friend. Waves do indeed get blown about, but they remain part of the ocean, a visible manifestation of ripples in the depths below.

 

>>It really doesn't matter what you call the wave, but personally, I don't think you are a sinner even in your darkest hour.

 

My wife might argue with that! Ha ha! My "sin" during my dark night of the soul was not questioning the Bible or the church, it was despairing of the gift of life, believing that God is not love, and seeing myself as separate from life and love. My most prized blessing is not my past...nor an assured future...but being here, now, today.

 

>>Salutations to the Divinity within you.........................

 

Thank you, my friend. Namaste.

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Guest billmc

Being Mother's Day, I went to church with my wife this morning, Southern Baptist though it is. :D As usual, the time came for all mothers in attendance there to be honored and they stood as the pastor prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over them, and as carnations were distributed to each. It was quite moving. I will never know what it is like to be a mother. My wife says, concerning her becoming a mother, I had all the fun while she had all the work. :) But I was there as she brought both our girl and our boy into the world and I saw the pain and work that it cost her. To this day, she still bears the marks, externally and internally, of being a mother. And I honor her because that was just the beginning. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year she continues to do her best at being a mother, often second-guessing herself, making mistakes, and sacrificing much to do what is best for our children. She, more than any other person that I have ever known, models for me what it means to be Christ-like. And for our children also, although they don't know it yet.

 

And not only this, but she has also put up with my crap all these years. She has been patient with me through all my struggles, been an ear for me when I lost my faith, and been supportive of me and given me the freedom to reconstruct in my own way and in my own time. She's been concerned, obviously, as any wife and mother would be. But she's never brought up the D-word and has loved me, amazingly, through it all. I know no one else like her. She has, more often than she knows, been the face of God in my life.

 

I sometimes wish that Jesus had married and had children. He may have then called God his heavenly Mother. Mothers and wives, most of them, anyway, love us unconditionally. And that is a good thing. We need it.

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Guest billmc

God bless you and your family! It pains me to think how many times I stood in the place of the SS teacher who frightened your boy.

 

Thanks, Dean. Thankfully, I've "processed" some since then. I won't expose my children to this kind of teaching or evangelism anymore. But if I could find this Children's Church lady, I would want to give her a hug because deep down she is awfully scared. Whatever is not transformed is transmitted. This dear lady, for whatever reason and despite her claims of God's love, is deathly afraid of God and of God holding her accountable. IMO, she trusts what she knows but doesn't trust Who knows her. I hope she does someday. Fear-based religion is worse than no religion at all.

 

Have a great day, Dean!

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Guest billmc

A few years ago, I noticed that the printing industry was changing. Perhaps it was due to our increasing global awareness that our earth does not have an unlimited amount of trees. Or perhaps it was due to our tendency to want to pack as much information into as small an area as possible. Whatever the cause, the printing industry was making diagrams and fonts smaller, some so small that I could barely make out the information. I found it difficult to read new schematics at work, new books, and new menus. The printing industry was down-sizing, I just knew it and was irked by it.

 

My wife, on the other hand, didn’t perceive a problem. Everything was fine as far as she was concerned. Being a woman of great wisdom and keen insight, she said, “You’re getting older, your eyes are changing.” No way, I insisted. My eyes were fine, I could see just as well as I ever could, it was the changes in modern media that were causing me problems. But at my wife’s prompting, I scheduled an appointment with a local optometrist and, lo and behold, I was told that I needed reading glasses. I donned a pair of 1.50’s and I could suddenly see again. I could read magazines, menus, and even, miracle of miracles, prescription information. The problem wasn’t with the printing industry or the media, it was with my eyesight, it was with me. And with a pair of reading glasses, I could sing along with John Newton, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

 

If only my spiritual blindness could be fixed so quickly, easily, and cheaply. I would love to find “spiritual readers” that I could put on that would instantly give me clear vision. They would answer all my questions, reassure all my doubts, help me gain clear insights into God, humanity, and our world, and guarantee me that I was always on the right path and making progress.

 

There are accounts of people in the Bible whose eyesight was instantly healed. They, like Newton, were blind and then could suddenly see. But I’ve never been one of them. I stumble around in the dark most of the time, hoping I’ll find a spiritual light switch somewhere. I’m like the guy that Jesus had to keep on touching because, for whatever reason, his eyesight was not instantly restored. And I want the nice, divine, gentle touch of Jesus’ hands, not mud and spit in my eyes. I’m not usually the one to run out of the darkness to fall at the feet of Jesus, pleading for him to give me eyesight. With me, it is more like Jesus is dragging me by my legs into the light, saying, “C’mon, Bill, this will be good for you.” I don’t know I’m blind. I think I’m fine just the way I am…but my heart knows better.

 

I’ve always been in awe of mystics and wisdom teachers who have had some sort of ‘Damascus Road’ experience. They seem to actually see God or Jesus. They seem to hear audible voices. There is no denying that God is changing things for them. Me? I get shadows and glimpses. I hear murmurs and whispers. Nothing is ever amazingly crystal clear for me. I’m the ‘Doubting Thomas’ who forever wants to touch, but who, for whatever reason, never gets to.

 

And yet…

 

And yet there is Something there. Or Something here. It’s hard to describe, especially if, like me, you are spiritually blind. It is like lying next to my wife at night just before we go to sleep. The room is dark. I can’t see her. I can’t hear her, at least until she starts snoring. And yet I know she is there. I sense her presence. And because I sense it, I know we are okay.

 

Maybe that’s how it is with me and God. I sense his presence. I doubt I ever see him except in nature and in the lives of those around me. I doubt I ever hear him except perhaps in my conscience and through the lives of others. But I still sense he is here. Next to me. Sometimes even in me.

 

People talk of enlightenment as suddenly being able to see and hear that which they’ve not seen or heard before. I envy them. I’d love to have an ecstatic experience like that. I’d love to have a Cecil B. Demille “spiritual experience.” I’d love to have a pair of “spiritual readers” that brought everything into sharp focus. But that doesn’t seem to be my lot. My “enlightenment,” if I have one, is simply the assurance of a Presence with me. And that Presence reassures me that we’re okay.

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Bill,

 

Very moving. One thing for certain is that you are not alone. Different in the details of experiences but not alone.

 

In my experience acknowledgement of what is known from the heart about ourselves always precedes the experience of the things we cannot know by ourselves.

 

I would use a quoter's name but i think i made that up myself. biggrin.gif

 

Joseph

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Teachers in Zen teach with a Koan, could be a word, or even a gesture. I heard a story where one master asked the student,

Did you finish dinner?
The student answered,
Yes master
. The master said,
Then go wash your plate.
The student received instant enlightenment to the thought to be in the present.

 

Bill seems you are in the present moment laying next to your wife. No past, no future, just the present moment with God. Nice story.

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Guest billmc

In my experience acknowledgement of what is known from the heart about ourselves always precedes the experience of the things we cannot know by ourselves.

 

I like that quote, Joseph. It gives alot of room for meditation and interpretation.

 

Perhaps, in a related vein, is it possible that revelation is not really the presentation of something new, but rather the uncovering of something we have always known deep down?

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I like that quote, Joseph. It gives alot of room for meditation and interpretation.

 

Perhaps, in a related vein, is it possible that revelation is not really the presentation of something new, but rather the uncovering of something we have always known deep down?

 

 

In my personal subjective experience that takes me beyond doubt, that question would be answered affirmatively.

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The Presence.

 

I’m hesitant to call this Presence a being, even a supreme being. When we think of “beings,” we normally think of entities, of selves, that are separate from one another. For me, this Presence draws us towards unity, not towards separateness. This doesn’t mean the dissolution of self, it means the blossoming or manifestation or even the birth of true self known in relationship. And whatever I call this Presence, which I’m admitted prone to call God because of my upbringing, it calls me to relationship.

 

There is a wonderful simile of this in James Cameron’s movie, “Avatar.” The sentient, human-like natives of the planet Pandora have a unique way of interfacing with their environment and with each other. At the end of their long strand of ‘hair’ is a bulb that looks much like a closed flower. When they bring this bulb near to another animal or plant on their planet, many tiny, illuminated strands come out of the bulb and intertwine themselves with the strands from another animal or plant, making the two into one. Though the central female figure in the movie, Natiri, retains her selfhood, she is able to interface with a horse or a flying dragon or with even a tree in order to sense the creatures and the world around her, to become one with them, not for her own selfish gains or control, but for the good of others and her world. She doesn’t just know about her world, she experiences it through the senses of “the other.” And when this happens, it is called, “seeing.” This kind of sight is more than using the eyes; it is experiencing “the other” as part of one’s self. She “sees” as a horse, she “sees” as a dragon, she “sees” as a tree. And the implication is that they “see” through her also.

 

To me, this is what the Presence calls me to. God and I are intertwined. We are bonded together. Though I know that he has traditionally been interpreted as being “other,” I am learning to experience him as part of myself. When this happens, the distinctions are downplayed. I don’t have to worry about what part of our bond is him and what part is me. And further, the traditional “he” is expanded – expanded to “her”, expanded to love, expanded to all encompassing spirit, expanded to all of life and existence itself. The bond exceeds the boundaries.

 

I can’t say that I always live from this bond. Though it is probably, in all reality, unbreakable, it is also fragile as my focus and my selfishness tend to want to take center-stage. I don’t always “see.” The many distractions of life can temporarily blind me. But if I will take the time to remember who I am and Who I am bonded to, the distractions can disappear and an awareness of the Presence returns.

 

“No power in the sky above or in the earth below--indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - NLT

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Bill,

You outdid yourself on that last post. Wonderfully and beautifully said.

 

That last sentence you quoted from Romans was given to me as my very own personal word by a fellow minister and personal friend WV Grant Jr. in the 1980's. It was in the KJV which reads more poetic to me....

 

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

It has been indeed most meaningful to me on my journey.

 

Joseph

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It has been indeed most meaningful to me on my journey.

 

Yes, Joseph, that verse is beautiful in the KJV. If you have the time, I would enjoy hearing how that verse helped you or illuminated your way.

 

Growing up, due to the dualistic nature of the religion I was in, I was never quite sure whether I was "in Christ" or not. But not too long ago I was reading the first chapter of the gospel of John, enjoying the love poetry there, and I came across this, again in the KJV:

 

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 

I thought, "Wow, this is powerful! This love poem is telling the story of Genesis as seen in and through the Word, which, to me, is the Christ, the wisdom of God. John is not just saying that God made us, but that we are made of God." And it began to slowly dawn on me that nothing can separate us from God or his love. I've mentioned this before, but it is like a fish swimming in the ocean. Nothing can separate the fish from the ocean because the fish is in the ocean and the ocean is in the fish.

 

Of course, I'm not insisting that anyone else see things this way. I am just sharing more of my journey, my experiences, and my heart here in this thread.

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Yes, Joseph, that verse is beautiful in the KJV. If you have the time, I would enjoy hearing how that verse helped you or illuminated your way.

 

Growing up, due to the dualistic nature of the religion I was in, I was never quite sure whether I was "in Christ" or not. But not too long ago I was reading the first chapter of the gospel of John, enjoying the love poetry there, and I came across this, again in the KJV:

 

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 

I thought, "Wow, this is powerful! This love poem is telling the story of Genesis as seen in and through the Word, which, to me, is the Christ, the wisdom of God. John is not just saying that God made us, but that we are made of God." And it began to slowly dawn on me that nothing can separate us from God or his love. I've mentioned this before, but it is like a fish swimming in the ocean. Nothing can separate the fish from the ocean because the fish is in the ocean and the ocean is in the fish.

 

Of course, I'm not insisting that anyone else see things this way. I am just sharing more of my journey, my experiences, and my heart here in this thread.

 

Yes that is powerful and true in my subjective experience. To add to that "Christ is the true light that lighteth EVERY man (and woman) that cometh into the world." That makes it impossible to be without Christ but not necessarily impossible to not be aware or not be conscious of Christ and your relationship. The words are beautiful but reality and the intimate experience is even beyond these words. In fact it seems to me from my study that other religions have other words for the same thing if we look hard and deep enough just like one has to do with the things you read in John.

 

Joseph

 

PS My is a long story and journey that i believe is told through a fictional book i wrote about 7 years ago that you are familiar with. The story has continued to where i am now and has lost its importance to me because it is history and i am now. It remains to me just a story because nothing has really changed deep within or as you have suggested in one of your posts above " an uncovering" or might i say "an Awakening within".

 

That verse came alive to me back then and throughout everything sustained me in its reality even to the point of trust and acceptance of the reality of death so that it has no sting or power over me. It became more than mere words and in time i was able to accept myself and others exactly as i and they were in our humanity knowing that even humanity and its appearance of imperfection could not separate me from the love of God.

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Guest billmc
That makes it impossible to be without Christ but not necessarily impossible to not be aware or not be conscious of Christ and your relationship.

 

I appreciate the way you put this, Joseph. Hence the need for “awakening” or “enlightenment.”

 

That verse came alive to me back then and throughout everything sustained me in its reality even to the point of trust and acceptance of the reality of death so that it has no sting or power over me.

 

This is another powerful aspect of that reality, IMO.

 

Coming from the background that I do, God was always portrayed as distant or even unreachable without first believing in the person of Jesus. I’m sure you’ve seen the evangelical diagrams where there is a great gulf or chasm with “mankind” on the left and “God” on the right and no way for man to get to God or vice versa. The cross of Jesus then becomes the “bridge” between man and God so that mankind can once more have a relationship with God. This is a very old and Augustinian view of God that says that God is distant, not only from mankind, but from our world. God is separate, other, unapproachable, not here. And the only way to bring God near is to believe the right things about Jesus, hence the creeds and confessions of the Church. But even then, God is said to turn away when we sin, separating himself from us.

 

Older still, though, is the ancient wisdom that tells us that when God created the world, he created it out of himself. We, our world, our universe is part of God. Some would call this panentheism, the notion that if God were represented by a large circle, the universe would be inside that circle. This understanding and experience of God portrays him as always near us, even in us, but sin and selfishness can blind us to that reality. It teaches us that our nature, down deep, is the image of God, the spark of the Divine, and that any separation that we think might exist between us and God and each other is one of perception.

 

This view in no way negates the reality or destructiveness of sin. It just recognizes that sin is not the core of our being, it simply attempts to cover that core. In this view, salvation is not so much changing who we are so that God can come near again, but showing us who we really are so that we become aware of “God with us,” Christ in us, the hope of glory.

 

Anyway, if you can’t tell, I am excited about understanding and experiencing this reality. Whereas for you it helped you deal with death, for me it helps relieve the constant worry of thinking that I am not believing or doing the right things to keep God near me. For me, Christ didn’t come to bring me near to God or to bring God near to me. He came to reveal, as you have said, the Light inside that is the Life of all. My ‘Damascus Road’ is on the inside.

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Yes and it did both those things for me also, not just death. You put it in much easier to understand language and story with more appealing clarity and explanation than i. That is your talent.

 

For me the experience required no words or proof or explanation as no proof is possible and no evidence is necessary. We are in complete agreement in experience and can only differ in words and perception as with your color discrepancy with your wife. biggrin.gif Reading has never been one of my interests. For whatever reason, i cannot say, my path was not to be so much influenced by the writing of others but by my own intimacy with reality. That was the path for this human but not for all. It left me with a vocabulary and writing style that requires me to most often look up word meanings and spelling and re-read over many times so as not to misrepresent what i have experienced while trying to communicate with language. Yet in all this, i am content and without regrets in what i have been given as a human.

 

I can feel your excitement hidden in your words and that is contagious. smile.gif

 

Peace Joseph

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Lately I've been finding myself more and more drawn to Celtic Christianity. Granted, I am Scottish and Irish, but I don't think that my ancestry is the reason. :) For me, it's been more about discovering a more holistic understanding of God, myself, others, and the world. I think the ancient Celts, in blending their pagan beliefs about the sacredness of creation with a pre-Roman Catholic understanding of Jesus and God's love, were onto something that we have perhaps lost. So I've been looking into this ancient form of Christianity and I like what I find there, for the most part.

 

Now, I'm not one to uncritically accept anything (unless it is my wife talking), so I don't hold to or find meaning or identity in everything the first Celtic Christians held to. But a lot of what they believed and the way they lived resonates within me. Therefore I thought I would post my own modified list of what I, as a neo-Celtic Christian would find important or meaningful. To me, some of the concepts of neo-Celtic Christianity might be believing:

 

•In one God who is creator of all things. This doesn't mean that evolution is wrong, simply that life comes from Something rather than nothing. I call that Something 'God,' - the source of life and being.

 

•That Jesus demonstrated God's love as a sacrifice, not to God, but to us.

 

•That the holy Spirit is present throughout all creation and that he/she is especially made manifest in those who seek to live out the kingdom of God.

 

•That God reveals himself in creation, both in mankind and the natural world, and that he has given us stewardship and responsibility for both.

 

•That God loves us and desires that we live in harmony with him, each other, and all of creation.

 

•That while our humanity is bent toward selfishness, God created our natures to be good. Sin is a choice we make that covers and distorts the image of God within us and harms others.

 

•That while ritual can be used to symbolize and foster a relationship with God, it should never replace that relationship.

 

•That God is genderless, yet he created us male and female for his own purposes. He delights equally in his creations and appreciates the ministries and gifts of both.

 

•That we are to seek out times and places that heighten our awareness of God.

 

•That the church is ‘without walls’ and that worship is a lifestyle of service of love to others.

 

•That it is God’s desire to lead us through the Spirit, but that he also sends others into our lives (through the scriptures, through the church, through family and friends, through other religions, cultures, and our world around us) to speak to us and guide us.

 

•That it is God’s design that we live simply so that we may focus on him and his kingdom.

 

•That he desires us to bring the message of his love to all who draw breath in this world through word and deed.

 

Well, those are my initial thoughts on neo-Celtic Christianity. I wasn't really looking for a "new label," I simply discovered something of my heart under an old one. :)

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Guest billmc

Hmmm...the forum's kinda quiet right now. Did somebody forget to pay the electric bill? :D

 

During this lull, I thought I would experiment a bit and share, from my own perspective, what the 8 Points mean to me now, after being in PC for a bit and also from new avenues of faith that I am exploring. I wanted to post these here in my own journey thread, not because I don't want feedback or discussion if anyone should so choose, but simply because they are personal to my own story.

 

Here is point 1:

 

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.

 

I still consider myself to be progressive, to be moving forward in my journey. Part of that means knowing what to bring with me from my past and what to let go of. It also means being humble and teachable about what I think I now know or experience, continuing to have an open mind and heart. And though I might call myself progressive, I also know and cherish the moments of now, being right where I am at this time and being thankful for it.

 

And I still consider myself to be a Christian. I won't ellaborate on this much except to say that the best teachings of Jesus are important to me as is his life and his death as a sacrifice of love to us. I hope for life everlasting, but I would still be a Christian without such a promise. This kinda ties in with the last part of Point 1 about the life and teachings of Jesus.

 

I guess the only thing I would revise, and this is just for me, is "an approach to God." To me, this phrase kinda reminds me of "an approach to an airport" as if God is off in the distance with lights flashing and Jesus is the landing strip to get me to God. For me, I would rephrase it that I have found an experience or knowing of God through the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus doesn't somehow pick me up and carry me to God. Rather, his life, his teachings, and his example help me to know that God has been with me, in me even, all along. This doesn't at all negate the selfishness, ego, and sin that still haunts my life. But I know that those things are not me. They are false imitates of the image of God within me, false identities that religion has foisted upon me. So it is not that Jesus is a bridge between me and God, it is that he uncovers all the false stuff so that I can discover or rediscover the divine that has been there all along. Such notions would sound to heretic or "new age" to some Christians, but they reflect where my journey has brought me...so far.

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Point 2 - By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.

 

Growing up conservative Christian, this point was initially hard for me to accept. I knew the seemingly exclusive claims of Jesus and how important he seemed to think that it was that people believe in him.

 

But the more I read the gospels without my conservative lenses, the more I came to see that Jesus' focus wasn't so much on himself as it was on the kingdom of God (which this Point calls "God's realm") and the "Way" in which this kingdom is entered or lived out. This "Way of the kingdom", it seems to me, is a way of peace, a way of compassion, a way of freedom, a way of justice, a way of connection with others, a way of self-sacrifice, and, sometimes, even a way of death. Once I came to see this, then I had to admit that many of the other enduring religions of the world (and even some secular worldviews) reflect the Way of the kingdom. The names, the rituals, the symbols, and the texts might be different, but if they point to these transcendant values - valuing others and our world - then I can certainly understand how their faithfulness to their tradition is true for them.

 

This doesn't mean that I think that "all roads lead to Rome" and that all religions or belief systems are of equal value. I do, in fact, think that some religions and worldviews are harmful, to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us. Christianity itself has been this way more times than many of us want to admit. But, to me, compassion relationship is the key. And I hope that one day everything will come to such a place and understanding.

 

In the meantime, my particular path resembles the Christian path more than any other religion. But this is not because I believe that only Christianity is true. Rather, it is simply my own context and background. I know (and hopefully understand) the language and symbols of Christianity. So I walk this path until/unless life takes me down a different one.

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