The Oft-Maligned Innkeeper

(Note: this was first posted on my Facebook on Dec. 8, 2014, before I had a blog. I thought it was appropriate to add it here during the Christmas season.)

Ah, Christmas!

The blessed baby. The virgin mother. The proud, but confused father. The excited shepherds. The majestic (if out of place) “wise men”. The lovely angels.

And the stingy, no-good innkeeper. ūüė¶

We see him in all the Christmas pageants where the story is acted out. Everybody’s thrilled about Jesus, but THAT guy. I mean, what IS his problem anyway? Why does this “Scrooge” show up in the story?

Or does he?

We get the idea of an innkeeper from ONE verse in the Bible. Yep. ONE VERSE.

Luke 2:7: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Well, if there was “no room”, then SOMEBODY had to tell them that, right? So, it must have been that stingy innkeeper, who was apparently SO stressed out that he would turn away a pregnant woman about to give birth.

Never mind the fact that to do so would have been anathema in Jewish society, where taking care of travelers and guests was one of the MOST important things you could do. For a PREGNANT women, an innkeeper would have likely given up his OWN bed. If word of such a slight had got around, his inn would have been “out of business” in days.

But the idea of Mary and Joseph going to an inn is flawed in the first place.

The Greek word translated as “inn” is ‘kataluma’. But kataluma would be better translated “guest room”. In fact, most modern translations actually are now using that word. The only other time the word is used is in Mark 14:14-15 “And wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‚ÄėThe Teacher says, ‚ÄúWhere is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?¬†And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished¬†and¬†ready; prepare for us there.‚ÄĚ

This is¬†referring¬†to the “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples had The Last Supper.

Houses (at least of fairly well-to-do people) of that time were two-stories. On the first floor there would be a central courtyard where the animals were kept at night. Around this area would be common rooms, the kitchen, servants quarters, etc. On the upper floors (away from the dust) were the bedrooms, and the “guest room(s)”. As I said, hospitality was a BIG thing back then, and most houses had an available guest room both for relatives and friends or a stranger or sojourner. This was the norm. Not having a room for a stranger to stay in would have been a “bad thing”.

While we have no direct evidence, odds would favor the fact that both Joseph AND Mary had relatives IN Bethlehem. They were going there for the census, so it was his hometown. We also know that Elizabeth and Zachariah lived “in the hill country of Judea”. This COULD have been near Bethlehem. It makes sense, because Zachariah, as a priest in the temple, probably would not have owned property IN the city proper, but settled just on the outskirts of town. This would have also have made it fairly easy for the shepherds to find the babe, as well. Regardless of whether it was Elizabeth’s house or another relative, it makes more than a little sense that they were planning to stay with relatives, not going to an “inn”.

But “while they were there” (which could have been two hours or two weeks), it was time for her to give birth. I tend to go with a shorter time, because if they KNEW she was going to deliver, whomever was IN the guest room would most probably have given it to Mary. But if they did arrive late at night, and everyone was sleeping, Mary probably told them NOT to wake up the household, and that she would be fine downstairs in the courtyard area (with the animals), at least until the morning. Maybe she couldn’t even climb the ladder/stairs to the upper floors in her condition. (I’ll also note here that it’s quite likely she delivered earlier than expected due to the stressful journey there. They would have likely planned to travel AFTER the baby was born if she had been THAT close to delivering.) It’s also more than likely there would have been at least ONE other family member up with them, and probably some servants as well. They were not completely alone in this, like the¬†romanticized¬†story depicts. If they had been, the shepherds would have been mortified at such a thing, and would have taken them to their OWN homes. In the morning, the family would have been moved to an “upper guest room” and they would have stayed there until the child was old enough to travel. This COULD be the very house that the “wise men” visited after the baby became a “young child”.

But my point is…. NO innkeeper. NO “Scrooges” during the night of His birth. No abandoned mother and father. Jewish¬†hospitality¬†ensured that Mary and Joseph¬†would have been well taken care of by family and baby Jesus was surrounded by those who were happy He was there. No grumps allowed!

So let there be¬†‚ÄúGlory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace¬†to those on whom his favor rests.‚ÄĚ Even innkeepers. ūüôā

Did Solomon Lose His Wisdom?

(This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my wife, Jen, this morning in the car. Thank, babe.)

Solomon.

We all know his story.

God asked him what he most wanted, and he (wisely) choose wisdom with which to rule the people. God declared he hit the jackpot with that answer and give him not JUST wisdom, but riches, power, peace. Just about everything a king could ever want. Solomon did it all, experienced everything the ancient world had to offer. And at the end of his life he said it was all “vanity” (worthless) compared to knowing God, compared to having a relationship with Him.

According to the scriptures, Solomon made some bad mistakes that resulted in the Kingdom being taken from his son’s hands, broken, and the people eventually going into captivity. This was said to be a punishment for falling away and worshiping other gods besides Jehovah. And eventually, when they learned their lesson, many, MANY years later, they were allowed to come back to the land and restore it. This is the story of a LARGE portion of the OT. Most of the history books, some¬†of the poetry and several of the prophetic books are concerning¬†this time period.

So, quick recap. Solomon becomes king. Asks God for wisdom. Gets it “all”. Experiences it “all”. Part of the all is “other gods”. Solomon declares all the all worthless. The kingdom is taken from his son and broken. Israel goes into captivity. They “learn their lesson” and eventually return to restore “God’s ways”. That’s the basic narrative.

When reading ANY book, especially a book filled with history, it’s important to remember who is writing the narrative. No matter who it is, they are BOUND to be biased. There’s an old saying that, “The winners write the history books.” and it’s pretty true. When you are the writer, you will likely spin the story however you want to make your nation/tribe “the hero” (sometimes even when you lose). You can see this even in our OWN history books, and we tend to favor scientific objectivity over everything else. Not so in the ancient world.

Now most scholars agree that much of the historical writings of Israel were written during their time of exile. Sure, they had bits and pieces and records here and there, but a large portion up until that time was oral tradition passed down to each generation. One reason was because, well, writing was just starting to take off during Solomon’s time. In Moses’ time, they still wrote things on stone blocks (Ten Commandments) if they wanted them to last for awhile. They simply didn’t have a way to record huge amounts of text on “paper” (especially since it hadn’t been invented yet). So, Moses didn’t “write the Bible” (sorry, Keith Green). Israel’s early history was passed via oral traditions. I know to US it seem incredible that SO much information as is included in Leviticus, Numbers, etc. could be memorized and reproduced orally, but that was the “way it was done” back then. Besides doing the necessary things for survival, they didn’t have very much else TO do except learn to recite their traditions.

However, by the time they get to the exile, they want, they NEED, to not lose their tribal¬†identity (something the Babylonians very much tried to take from them – hence the new names, customs, etc.), and so they began to write down their traditions¬†in EARNEST as a way to safeguard it for future generations ¬†So a great work of gathering, cataloging and writing down their history to that point (along with other writings – prophecies, poetry, songs, etc.) was begun and probably took a great many years. It may have even been done by different groups working independently. Hence the reason we have Kings AND Chronicles. Both these tell about the same time period, but have both the same and different things going on in them. They tell the story¬†from different perspectives. Still, it’s amazing how strikingly similar they are. A testament to those who came before them.

So, let’s go back to the PURPOSE again for these writings. It was to establish a NATIONAL IDENTITY for the people of Israel. To help them remember “who they are” and their unique relationship with God. It was this history that they took back with them in order to reestablish Jerusalem, the wall, the temple and everything around that. This was their “guidebook” for who they were as a people.

So, their “agenda” was not 100% historical accuracy, but to establish identity and solidarity with the one true God. That doesn’t mean they LIED on purpose to make themselves look good. They didn’t THINK along those lines. They weren’t “historians” as we would understand that term. They didn’t think scientifically and empirically. They thought TRIBALISTICALLY and ONTOLOGICALLY (‘big picture’ truths). They NEEDED to be different, set apart, special and uniquely “in touch” with God.

It’s important to recognize this when you read the Bible so you understand what’s going on in the head of the writers. They’re not trying to tell you “the truth”, but who they ARE in their writings. They are imparting their identity to their children and children’s children. They are saying “Look, this is what you come from. Live accordingly.” All ancient cultures do this in their writings, stories, traditions. It’s the story of the PEOPLE, not the FACTS, that is MOST important.

OK, Ken, are you EVER going to get to the POINT of this post?

Why, yes, I believe I am. ALL of the proceeding we now need to keep in mind as we read the story and writings concerning Solomon.

So, Solomon is approached BY GOD. (That’s important to them, God speaks to THEM.) and asked what he most wants. He answers to rule the PEOPLE wisely. Again, see right from the beginning how it’s about the PEOPLE, the TRIBE. God grants him this desire¬†and also blesses him with¬†all the rest, the wealth, the status, the women, etc., etc. and a wonderful time of peace for Israel. ¬†This was their “glory years”, when they were the envy of much of the world. Princes and princesses, kings and queens visited, leaving tribute and Solomon welcomed them all. He was the great gatherer, of both people (probably marrying into MANY royal lines) ¬†and ideas. He promoted the sharing of ideas and peace in the world. Even God said he would be a man of peace. He opened the country to foreigners and allowed them to not just stay but to worship their OWN gods if they so chose. How scandalous. How WRONG.

Oh, but WAIT!

Isn’t Solomon supposed to be WISE, by God’s granting? If it was SO unwise for him to be this “open” with his people and his country, why would he have made this decision? Did God take BACK his wisdom? If so, why didn’t He take back all the REST of the gifts. Why allow Solomon to be “foolish” and allow such “inclusion” to become the practice in the land?

Remember, the “goal” of the writings of this time was to solidify the connection between the one true God and the people. To keep them “free” and “pure” of any other outside influences (“other gods”). The only way to do this is to make Solomon’s ideas to be “idolatry”, to be “wrong”. and ultimately to be the reason why God “punished” Israel with captivity.

Oh, but you say, “Solomon said all the stuff he did was worthless, which would include the other gods/religions/etc., right?”

Yes, BUT we need to see the CONTEXT of his proclamation. He said they were all vain in COMPARISON to knowing God. That doesn’t mean they¬†have NO value. It means knowing God, understanding God, having a relationship with God is the MOST important which makes the rest pale by comparison. So, Solomon ALWAYS had his priorities right. He knew God was the MOST important thing. So, was Solomon still wise? I think so. So was he wise when he promoted inclusivity and peace throughout the world, especially within his own borders? I have to say, “yes”. So was this why Israel was “punished” with captivity? I’m thinking probably not. To THEM, yes, of course, it probably¬†SEEMED that way. I’m sure their were many who SAID God was going to punish them for their “liberal ways” (just as we hear a lot about now). And we humans have always tried to see the reasons behind everything that happens to us, generally laying the “blame” at God’s feet as the ultimate bringer of both good and bad. So, if “God” did it, He had to have a reason, and those naysayers must have been right after all. We do the same things today.

But, let’s recall, Solomon ran his country PEACEFULLY with the world, bringing peoples together in harmony. But he was ALSO highly respected (not FEARED, but respected) by the rest of the world for his great wisdom. But after he died, that respect did not transfer to his son. They were a people who no longer knew war, who desired that everyone just get along and share. But after the kingdom split they became directionless and weak, militarily speaking. As an empire¬†“ripe” from many years of peace, it was only a matter of time before somebody came in and picked the fruit and they were easily taken over and away by the Babylonian and later, the Assyrian empires

At that point, the cry for inclusivity (led by Solomon) turned to one of EXCLUSIVITY. God is for US. We are for God. We are united as a people due to our exclusive covenant with God. The rest of the world is “evil”. Peace became a dead dream of the past and Israel’s driving passion became to be a military power again someday, like it was under the “good ole days” of David. And so it continued till the days of Christ.

However, it’s interesting to note how, in all their time of exile, they continued to bring the light of God to other empires¬†(even those like Darius, who already knew there MUST be a one, true God, but just didn’t understand Him). God used their captivity to do the SAME thing that Solomon did during HIS reign, to SHARE their knowledge of God with the world and to learn to live and work with “foreigners” (even while¬†they cried for exclusivity in their writings).

Now, what will you take away from this. I think you will probably take away whatever you already come to this article with.

If you see God as exclusive, only “saving” those who believe the right way about Him, and that being INCLUSIVE is dangerous, makes God angry and invites His punishment, then you will see this story from the “traditional” viewpoint. The viewpoint it was arguably written from, in order to sell ¬†a particular tribalistic way of thinking.

However, if you see God as inclusive, arms open, wanting the people of the world to unite, taking the best from every culture, every religion (but not abandoning God – just as Solomon never did) and using it all for the betterment of mankind, to wisely alleviate suffering and bring peace to the world, then you might see this story differently than you ever have before.

Did Solomon lose his wisdom? No, I don’t think so. But have WE (humanity) lost his wisdom, and, I think, the same wisdom that Christ shared? I very much think so.

In Debt

In debt.

Our entire lives, we live “in debt”.

As children, we live “indebted” to our parents. Even if they¬†say we owe them nothing, we still FEEL indebted, at least at some point to some degree.

As adults, our very LIVES revolve around debt. Buy a car — debt. Buy a house — debt. Use credit cards — debt. Especially in America, very few of us¬†leave this planet not owing someone something. For most of us (and of course there ARE exceptions) being indebted is one of our most familiar feelings.

So, it’s no wonder we carry this same paradigm over into the spiritual world.

According to popular theology, we are indebted to God.

The idea is that God is the cosmic CPA, and he’s got all our books. The FIRST line in everyone’s ledger reads “Original Sin”, and that one is enough right there to get us on the hook. Even IF we could somehow never break even one of “God’s laws”, we would still be in the “red” from birth. But it doesn’t¬†stop there. We are told that every infraction of God’s law (some use the Ten Commandments or some other similar standard) “offends” God and He adds it to our list of indebtedness. We are told this cosmic spreadsheet MUST be balanced if we ever have any chance of living with God in the hereafter because apparently He cannot coexist with anyone or anything that is not perfect like Him.

So, in addition to all the EARTHLY Statements of Debt that stand against us and for which we are responsible (even after death), we have a SPIRITUAL “note”¬†that must be satisfied after we die. And of course we believe all this. Debt is how we understand life. It all makes perfect sense to us

Except God is not like US.

Yes, you can find a smattering of BIBLICAL support for such a view of God. There ARE mentions of “books” that are opened. Although this is in Revelation, a book full of allegorical and apocalyptic imagery. There are a few other passages that seem to indicate that God holds a list of offenses against us that we can never “repay”. Now, popular theology proclaims that THIS is why Jesus died, to pay our debt to God so that we wouldn’t have to. However, the payment for this debt for Jesus was to die on the cross, and for sure that’s a horrible way to die. But OUR payment for this debt is to be tortured for ETERNITY in Hell. I don’t know about you, but that seems an inordinate and unbalanced payment system to me. Of course, there is NO Biblical support for this “payment” system. The “wages” of sin is proclaimed to be death (which is bad enough), NOT unending torture in Hell. But somehow that got added into the “wages”. I would think that the ETERNITY part would be MUCH more important to mention (and mention REPEATEDLY) than the “death” part.

This is all proclaimed to be God’s “justice” system. Somehow, because sin “offends” God, being tortured for eternity does the OPPOSITE of that (pleases Him?). That is how the scales of justice are “balanced”. But again, where is this system laid out clearly in scripture? I just don’t see it. Maybe somebody can enlighten me with the place where this cosmic “exchange system” is clearly laid out for us. And, no, I don’t mean grab a verse from here and a verse from there, like it was some cosmic Bible puzzle we were meant to figure out. If THIS is REALLY the way the universe works, the PRIMARY SYSTEM on which God sets the course of our VERY SOULS, then it had better be explained SOMEWHERE, quite plainly and hopefully, even more than once. But I have yet to find it.Even Jesus didn’t¬†discuss¬†it.

If we believe that Jesus came to reveal to us the Father (and He said as much several times), than He should have ALSO clearly laid out this debt/payment system for us, and made it clear to people when they were adding to their indebtedness. However, I see just the OPPOSITE in the behavior of Jesus. Jesus just FORGAVE sins CONSTANTLY, for no reason at all — just because. Now, either Jesus is the “good side” of God that forgives people OR Jesus is the full REVELATION of God and GOD forgives people as well.

And, by the way, FORGIVING someone is TOTALLY different than making/allowing/causing someone else to PAY the debt. PAYMENT is NOT FORGIVENESS. I’m sure your mortgage company will explain that to you if you don’t understand that. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll PAY for that sin”. He said it was FORGIVEN. ERASED. GONE. OVER. FINISHED.

During His life He did this for INDIVIDUAL people as He met them where they were (in their sinfulness, by the way — so much for God not being able to be in the presence of imperfection). At the cross, He forgave us ALL. Why? Because He CAN! Because He’s GOD. God wasn’t up in heaven going, “Oh good, finally this debt is getting paid off (well, at least for some of them.)”. No, scripture says, God was “in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” How was the reconciliation accomplished? Through payment? No, through forgiveness. Why? Because God LOVES us. And the cross PROVES (demonstrates) that love.

The idea of DEBT is a HUMAN idea that God has been trying to reverse FOREVER. It has been PROJECTED onto the character of God by MAN. We OWE people, we figure we must owe GOD, too. When we are hurt, we figure they “deserve” (are¬†OWED) hurt in return. If someone borrows from us, we EXPECT to get paid. All scales MUST be balanced.

But throughout scripture God has been trying to get us to FORGIVE all debts, both personal and financial. “FORGIVE” is forever on God’s lips. Remember the “Year of Jubilee” when all DEBTS were to be cancelled? Yeah, that was God, trying to get us to FORGIVE rather than hold ONTO debt. Do we presume that God doesn’t do what He tells US to do?

Jesus came to CORRECT our erroneous view of God as debt collector. He is not a cosmic CPA writing down ledgers of sin debt for us day by day. He is our loving Father who died to PROVE how much He loves us. Died at “our” own hands. And when He came back to life in the resurrected Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”. He’s not holding ANYTHING against us. LOVE does not “keep a record of wrongs”. If we believe that GOD keeps a record of wrongs, than gives us mental approval to do the same thing towards others. We TALK so much¬†about God “forgiving” sins, but again, FORGIVING is not having someone ELSE pay. If you owe me money and somebody else pays it, I didn’t forgive you ANYTHING. I didn’t forgive ANYBODY anything. I got “paid”. I balanced a book. I satisfied an imbalance that I believed was more important than you. That’s not LOVE. That’s not about YOU. It’s about ME. It satisfies ME. It makes ME MORE important than YOU. Does that sound like the God revealed by Jesus? When we attached this “financial” way of thinking to God, we make Him much less than what He truly is, and we make it MUCH easier to be unforgiving of each other. Justice (as we understand it – balancing the scales — getting “paid” = retribution) is NOT forgiveness. It’s the OPPOSITE of forgiveness. God doesn’t need to be “paid off” in order to love you or accept you or want to be with you. He went to the cross in the person of Jesus to PROVE that to you. Your sin “debt”, unlike your mortgage, is all in your OWN head. Let it go. God has¬†from the foundations of the cosmos. The books are not balanced¬†because there¬†never WAS any books.¬†In God’s eyes, you are debt free!

“Another Gospel”?

As I have found my theological positions changing over the past eighteen months or so, I have been accused at times of preaching “another gospel”. Of course this is in reference to two verses in the NT:

Galatians 1:8¬†But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (NIV)

2 Corinthians 11:4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (NIV)

That last part was NOT a compliment, but a rebuke. They SHOULDN’T have been putting up with it.

Now of course these verses beg the question what IS the original gospel (good news) that they taught, and what is the “other gospel” that was coming in and deceiving some of the churches?

The more I’ve studied this issue the more I’ve come to believe that we have LOST the original gospel and the one the church has been preaching for about the past 1500 years IS the “other gospel” and really needs to be abandoned.

When Christianity became the “state religion” around 500AD things began to go downhill doctrinaly. As the church sought more control over the government, doctrines designed to control men out of fear arose and coercion into faith became the norm. After all, the more followers, the more cash, the more influence and the more power the church exerted¬†over empires. History is FULL of the accounts of how the church and the government were wedded together most dreadfully, and the result was the preaching of this “other gospel”. Protestantism attempted to reverse this, but it didn’t do enough and eventually became just about the same as Catholicism, as it still was primarily concerned with power as the two views battled it out across the states of Europe. This is the “Christianity” that we have inherited from our forefathers. It’s all we know. It’s what we have been taught the Bible teaches. But it’s NOT the original gospel. If you want to know the original gospel, you have to go to the EASTERN churches, who did not have the same problems with empirical corruption that the West did. They STILL preach pretty much the exact same doctrines they did 1500 years ago. So, it would be WISE for us to see what they have to say and consider seriously going BACK to the original gospel.

This post was inspired by a Facebook post that I was tagged in that included a video. The video had the following message attached:

“Please oh please listen to this beautiful gospel presentation and respond to Christ. Please don’t be angry. It’s only because I care about you all so much and I hope and pray to see you all in heaven one day but I’m going to tag some people in the comments. Maybe you used to believe this with your head but you never truly repented and surrendered to Christ. Yet. Maybe you thought you knew the way to heaven and what the gospel is but after hearing this you will realize you were so wrong. Get right with God today. As you all know NONE of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Love you all.”

Obviously the person who tagged me is concerned with the destination of my soul and wants me to “return” to what they¬†believe is the gospel. Please watch the video and then continue on to my comments concerning this gospel as compared to the gospel I now embrace as taught by the Eastern fathers..

While I appreciate the heartfelt, loving (for the most part) and sincere presentation given here, I simply no longer believe this is “The Gospel”.

Firstly, it paints a picture of a god who condones violence. Not just condones, but DEMANDS it against His own son in order to forgive people. This is not much different than the blood sacrifices that other pagan gods supposedly demanded of their followers. But the one true God declares, “I don’t desire sacrifices”.

Additionally this “gospel” says that god can’t stand to be around us¬†unless we¬†do the right things to get our “Jesus suit” of “righteousness” so that he doesn’t see our filthiness that we¬†can NEVER really be rid of (at least not in this life).

But God does not love us because of anything we do or believe. He loves us because He is love.

God doesn’t accept us¬†because Jesus died, but because He has ALWAYS accepted all men from the very beginning. Yes, even in The Garden of Eden God came and FOUND Adam after he “sinned” and stayed with him, and did all He could to make man comfortable around Him. He has continued to do that throughout history, trying to make man feel OK with God and with himself. The cross only PROVED that no matter what man does (including killing God HIMSELF), he is always and ALREADY forgiven. The first thing that God said when Jesus was born was “peace on the earth”, and the FIRST thing that the resurrected Jesus said was “Peace be with you.”. God is NOT at enmity (against) us. That is a lie that we have believed. A lie bolstered by religion.

God does not hold a record of wrongs against us, because that’s not love. Love forgives EVERY time. We don’t like to hear that because it demands of US that WE should forgive EVERY time, and we don’t WANT to forgive, we want our idea of JUSTICE, which is PAYBACK, even if that payback is done by God against our “enemies”. We want a violent God who will put the beatdown (Hell) on those who hurt us. But Jesus said to LOVE and do GOOD to those who hurt you, and that’s what God CONTINUES to do. It is that UNCONDITIONAL love and acceptance that is the “good news” (Gospel), not a legal exchange or payback of some sin-debt that God holds over our heads.

When we¬†finally “get” the degree of love God has for us, no matter how despicable we¬†might think we are or are told we¬†are by religion, it changes our¬†WHOLE LIFE. It changes how we¬†see ourselves, God, and humanity. It makes LOVE the primary motivation of our life, and that brings us¬†into harmony with God, ourselves and humanity in a way that fear-based economies of exchange simply can’t. We¬†finally realize we¬†have NOTHING to fear from God EVER, and that THIS is how God feels about EVERYONE else, too. This realization changes how WE¬†feel about them, too. Not overnight, no, but as the love of God works into us¬†and through us, transforming how we¬†think, changing our¬†minds.

THIS! THIS is the “Gospel”! This is the Good News! This is freedom from religion. From fear. From rule-following or fear-inspired checklists of specific beliefs necessary in order to “please God”. This is freedom to be yourself¬†and be the person¬†that you always knew you wanted to be, the “Christ-self” that is hidden inside each of us. We¬†become part of the Kingdom of God, that has always already been here around and inside us, but that we¬†now become AWARE of. And with that we¬†become part of a movement that is driving forward the ideals of peacemaking, equality, reconciliation and compassion for all mankind and all life, the ideals that Jesus taught while He was here.

So, don’t fall for religion’s lies that have corrupted the original gospel message. Embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love for you and for EVERYONE.

I may¬†be accused of twisting or ignoring scripture in presenting this view of God, but I’m really not. Scripture has been twisted and misrepresented for many hundreds of years in order to perpetuate the violent, wrathful, hateful view of God. I urge everyone¬†to watch the video below that gives a visual explanation of these two very¬†different views of God and the gospel, the “penal view” (Western) and the “healing view” (Eastern).

If you would like to discuss further, comment, PM or find me on Facebook. God bless.

Because I said so!!

Authority.¬†Our entire world systems are based on it. Traditionally, the ultimate authority is¬†that of God, which He then “delegates” to “lesser” powers: Jesus, the Spirit, the Bible, Christian leaders, government leaders, parents, etc. We teach that¬†all authority is “granted” by God. Scripture in several places clearly posits¬†this particular view of the world. Basically, we obey because of those in authority over us. To put it rather simplistically, we obey those in authority BECAUSE they are in authority, and will punish us in some manner if we don’t. The phrase, “Because I said so!” is not too far from the way we have defined reality in regards to authority. However, I have come to believe this way of relating to¬†the world is not of God.

Jesus is said to be the EXACT representation of God, and he ESCHEWED any claim on authority, and became the ultimate SERVANT, both in life, and ultimately, in His death. Yes, He was GIVEN authority by the Father and of course, we GIVE Him Lordship in our lives. But it was not His desire to “rule” over us. In fact, He resisted that earthly idea at every turn. I believe He was showing¬†us the TRUE heart of the Father.

God does not wish to relate to us as an authority-OVER us with a “rulebook” of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and doctrinal beliefs. Yes, He wants what’s best for us (He is FOR us) and sinful behaviors result in things that are NOT good for us or for mankind. So His desire is for us to abstain from sin by learning to love for our OWN sakes, not for HIS, for His “pleasure” or out of a need for us to¬†“obey” HIM. Rather than authority, He chooses to relate to us as a servant-UNDER us, lifting us up from whatever moral plane we may currently be at to ever higher ideals of love for each other. It is His mercy, forgiveness and love that COMPELS us to put our trust in Him, which in practice equates to making Him Lord (authority) in our lives. But it’s something we GIVE based on our love of His “servanthood” towards us, not something we SUBMIT to because God has the largest stick (Hell) to punish us with someday.

When we become aware of this principal, we realize all the authority structures of MAN no longer really applies to us. Does that mean we can now sin all the time? No. We have NO desire to sin, because love reigns in our hearts. Sure, we still mess up. We are human, and know not what we do. But God does not count this against us. Our HEART is still ruled by love, not by our desire to “get away with things” like a child sneaking around behind their parent’s back. It’s a more “grown up” way of relating to God that doesn’t require Him to be a disciplinary figure anymore, but a friend and confidant that knows us inside and out and still accepts and loves us, warts, failures, struggles and all.

But let’s get back to authority. I believe all authority structures (governmental and religious) are made by MAN who then CLAIMS the authority of God as their reason for having the “right” to rule in our lives. The same with the Bible (scripture). Man proclaims it’s authority and says it’s from God.

But let’s look at what Jesus said was our authority. He told us that we would have no need of MAN to teach us. He said that we should do the bear minimum to keep the government off our backs (‘render to Caesar…’ — basically, not to tick them off on purpose). He told us the purpose of scripture was to point to HIM, not to be a rulebook reigning over us, like the Jews were using it. Paul reiterated this idea. And then He told us the Spirit (His “proxy” on earth) would be our teacher and lead us into all truth. When we become aware of the Spirit working in our lives, we surrender to His desire to serve us (teaching us is a service) and MAKE Him our¬†authority. But the Spirit never DEMANDS to be heard or obeyed. The Spirit is the ONLY thing that Jesus intimated would be an authority in our lives. Not men, not scripture, not even HIMSELF really (and therefore, as revealed, not God, either.).

I know it seems like a backwards way of looking at the world, but I think this is a FUNDAMENTAL piece of theology that the church has LOST or never fully understood that changes our ENTIRE view of LIFE and relating to God and others. We no longer acknowledge¬†any man’s authority over us (though we still may choose to obey in the interests of peace-keeping), or exercise authority over others, but only claim servanthood to mankind, just as Jesus showed us by example. Therefore, we have no place to tell people how to behave (while still striving to prevent harm and promote love) or even really what to believe (unless they ask to know). We are living epistles that when asked should be able give a reason for the hope within us (that hope is the attractive quality that the world just doesn’t have). We are the SERVANTS of the world, just as God is OUR servant, dying at our hands so that we could understand His true character and disposition towards us.

This Facebook post by Jacob Wright describes how this “upside down” authority structure is described in the apocryphal book of Revelation. This is the way that Jesus wins back the world — through servanthood, not authority.

A Letter From a Backsliding, Prodigal Heretic, To My Christian Friends Still on the Inside


Borrowing this letter from my fellow blogger. It expresses very well my own feelings…

To My Dear Christian Friends on the Inside*,

I know that you love me.

I know that because you love me you’re worried about me right now.

I know that you feel that I’ve been led astray down the rebellious path of the prodigal, that I’ve somehow been deceived into darkness and you are gravely concerned for the eternal destination of my soul.

I know you believe that I am currently quite lost and you’re praying tirelessly for me to find my way back before it’s too late.

I know this because when I believed what you believe, I feared the same things about people like me.

I remember looking at those who stand where I now stand and feeling what I believed was a holy compassion for them. I remember well, wanting with great urgency to save them from the destruction they were choosing.

I realize now how arrogant it was for me to assume that because they’d reached different conclusions than I had, that their faith journey was any less valid, and less life-giving, any less true, that God was any less present.

That’s why I’m writing you today: to thank you for worrying about me, for praying for me, and for loving me.

And because I love you, I want to share with you what it’s really like here on the outside, because back then I couldn’t have known and I wish I had. It would have changed my prayers and my words and my very heart toward those who were in this same place.

Here on the outside, yes the answers are less clear than they were inside, but there is great wonder in the search. It is the unpredictable journey of an expectant child exploring a new patch of untouched forest. The path now wildly meanders into places I was told never to go when I was comfortably inside; to new understandings of the Bible, to ancient spiritual practices and different faith traditions, into Science and Philosophy and Art. And the most glorious discovery is finding out that everywhere we plant our feet, God is there waiting. This great big God is indeed far too big to be relegated only to the inside.

Here on the outside Certainty isn‚Äôt as treasured as Authenticity. The questions are not character flaws, the doubts not deficiencies, the vacillations not moral failings. They are all the symptoms of a humble heart¬†which¬†realizes the search¬†itself is a¬†sacred thing; that when Jesus tells us to ‚Äúask and seek and knock‚ÄĚ, he is inviting us beyond the confines of whatever container we might previously have fashioned for God. Once we began to step outside of that constrictive space, we found ourselves moving¬†into¬†the wide expanse of¬†a life fully saturated with Divinity‚ÄĒand¬†we could breathe there.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the outside is that it is a dark place; that there is a coldness and heaviness and sadness here. I used to believe¬†that when I was on the inside, but in truth it was more wishful thinking. I needed to believe that because it helped reinforce my story that I was one of¬†the few enlightened¬†and they among the¬†masses¬†lost in shadow. It¬†made it¬†far easier to assume a posture of moral superiority that way and to¬†subjugate my¬†own¬†nagging soul questions.¬†All I can tell you is that there is brilliant light here. There is laughter and discovery and warmth and community and goodness and grace‚ÄĒand God.

When I was on the inside I remember how important labels were for those who were different. They helped quickly and easily delineate the saved from the sinners, the lost from the found, the righteous from the wicked. These words formed the very clear wall between insiders and outsiders; the wall I fortified and defended.

When people stepped beyond whatever I saw as the inside, I labeled them:

Heretics.
Backsliders.
Prodigals.
False Prophets.
Lost sheep.
Deceived.
Rebels.
Sinners.

So trust me when I tell you I understand why you use these words for me now. I know they give you some comfort and offer some sense of control, so I don’t take offense at them and I don’t have malice toward you for using them.

I can only tell you that these words do not define me.
They do not stick to me.
They are not labels deserving of me or my journey, or any of those out here with me who are seeking and searching with as much care and integrity and diligence and faith as you are there.

I realize it is likely that these words will matter very little to you. I suspect they will not change your mind about my eternal destination or my moral condition or the legitimacy of my current conclusions. I know that you may not be willing or able to see that we are actually on the same beautiful road, just in different places.

I am still a Christian and still the Church and still beloved by God, and I rest in those truths as I continue to navigate the journey even when other things seem less clear. I am confident that unorthodox is not ungodly. 

I know you will probably continue to worry about me and pray for me, and in¬†your way love me‚ÄĒand I am grateful.

And I will love you, by remembering what it was like to be on the inside; to see your heart even in the times your words or your silence damage me.

I will that pray you find compassion and mercy for those who do not believe exactly as you believe, and that you come to trust that God is large enough to speak to both of us simultaneously; whether on the inside or the outside.

Most of all I pray that we will both see¬†this God fully from¬†where we currently stand; wild,¬†untamable, uncontainable,¬†and remember that in this shared orientation toward Love‚ÄĒwe are the same.

Peace and Love,

A Backsliding, Prodigal, Heretic, Chasing God Here on the Outside

 

 

 

*The Inside, may be Christian orthodoxy or rigid tradition or any place where one has determined they have all the answers to the deepest questions of this life; where or when they view those outside of that place as morally inferior or as less intelligent, sincere, or faithful.

Source: A Letter From a Backsliding, Prodigal Heretic, To My Christian Friends Still on the Inside

Cancer sucks!

OK, first of all NO, I don’t have cancer, nor does anyone I know right now. In fact, I’ve been blessed to not have to see a family member or friend get eaten up by this terrible disease. I know¬†at some point I may need to walk that road, and I pray that¬†God will give me the grace to do so if that time comes.

No, I say this because of the deaths this past week of both David Bowie and Alan Rickman to cancer. To ME this is a blow because I KNEW these people, loved their work and cancer took them away too soon from the world. I know for others the pain of loss is much closer and much more pronounced that some pop star or celebrity. But allow me to “work with what I’ve got” for a few minutes.

Many people have written lovely pieces remembering and celebrating these men, and rightfully so. Others have written about the pain that cancer inflicts on the world. While others begin to ask the inevitable questions that come with these losses. Why? And especially why if there is a God who LOVES us, does He “allow” cancer to continue destroying and taking lives?

What I offer below is not “the answer” to those questions. I don’t claim to have that. These are things mankind will struggle with until “the end” (whatever that may entail). But let me just offer some food for thought.

How does God accomplish most of the “good” that is done¬†in the world? Is the miraculous supernatural power of God frequently on display for all to see? Or does most things get done by ordinary people, inspired, directed, fueled and led¬†by God, sometimes¬†without their direct knowledge of it, to do good: to help, to heal, to research and learn?

Over the past 50 years, we have made HUGE strides against cancer. A diagnosis used to almost universally be a death sentence but NOW, for most cancers, the odds of surviving are in your favor. Certainly the research and medicine behind this fete was at least partially driven by people’s commitment to God and the compassion He placed in their hearts for people and the knowledge He gave them the ability to learn and expand upon. After all, we are His hands and feet.

So let us not grow weary of the fight. Let us push on towards the goal of eliminating cancer from this planet. Support research. Support science, medicine and education. Encourage young people towards this goal. They can and will tap into the love and strength that God supplies to reach for it.

In the meantime, God co-suffers with us. He mourns with us that we will no longer enjoy the continued musical genius, acting prowess and unique voices of these lovely¬†men (at least in THIS life). He sorrows with¬†you over the passing of your relative or friend from your life. He understands loss. He experienced it firsthand. And He is FOR us ‚Äď our biggest cheerleader in this fight against all things that harm and kill people. So let’s press on and in His name Mess. Cancer. UP!

Please donate here: American Cancer Society. Every little bit helps.