Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Make Thy Way Plain Before My Face

this morning as i prepared to read my daily gospel passages, i discovered that the site i use to access those passages was down. i have been reading the gospels in a parallel version so that i can make comparisons between them with the intention of discovering the differences between them and of having a more complete picture of Jesus' life. i am nearing the end of that process, having reached the point at which Jesus dies on the cross. since i couldn't read as i intended, i decided to take stock of what comes next and where my heart is leading me in my studies.

i plan to do two things: first, to learn as much as i can about what life was like in roman palestine during the lifetime of Jesus, and, second, to explore what "sin" is. in christianity there is such an emphasis on sin, but i don't feel "sinful." i am not overwhelmed with guilt, and that is something about which i am puzzled. when i attend our church service, there is much said about sin. we confess our sins as a congregation, we sing about sin, we hear sermons about sin, we pray for forgiveness from our sins. i'm not sure i understand what "sin" is. is it analogous to the "suffering" of buddhism? are we each "totally depraved?" one of the psalm paraphrases we sometimes sing says, "i am evil, born in sin." is that so? this is a topic i feel compelled to investigate.

here is my plan once i complete my readings of the gospels in parallel: i plan to alternate between studies about life in roman palestine and readings from the new testament about the nature of sin, journaling as i read on both topics. following those studies, i plan to reread each gospel individually, but this time in large "chunks," rather than a few verses at a time. by so doing, i hope to have a broader picture of each gospel, reading each one as a more complete narrative and journaling about what i learn from that approach.

my prayer for each of us this day is that we listen to what our heart tells us, that we pursue what we believe our inner voice, which i believe is that of God in us, is leading us toward, and that we are constantly seeking to learn and grow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Lowly Paths of Service Free

when Jesus said, "I am the way . . .; no one comes to the Father except through me," (john 4:6) what did He mean?  did He mean that only those who are christians could have access to God?  do we correctly interpret this teaching when we assert that only christians can be "saved?"  what do we mean by "being saved?"  these are questions i think about daily.  recently i wrote of my evolving convictions about "true religion."  i am struggling to share my thoughts about what the truth is concerning our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.

i wonder as i think on the context of Jesus' teaching about being "the way" if He is not making a statement about the truth of His teaching when compared to the legalism of the prevailing jewish religion in roman palestine.  might Jesus be saying that the perversions of the law taught by the religious leaders is a false religion, but His way, as evidenced in His ministry and teachings, is the true path to God?  Could Jesus be saying that it is the law of love, not the law of twisted rules that enable one to act contrary to the law of love, that is the path that leads to God?

long ago i rejected the definitions of being "born again," of "being saved," as those phrases are used by conservative evangelical christians.  for me the notion of being born again or being saved simply means turning away from the seflishness of the past and commiting oneself to living a life of service, to making the needs of others as high a priority as one's own needs, to living in the light God gives each person.  when that commitment is made, we are new people who live a new reality, we are saved from lives of self-serving narrowness and reborn as servants of others.  we come to believe that "whoever would be great among [us] must become [a] servant." (mark 10:43)

for me, this is the path of true religion.  those who walk that path have been led to "the way" of which Jesus spoke.  that way is not a path that excludes those who are not christians.  instead, it is a path that admits all who pay the toll of abandoning a life of selfish pleasure in favor of a life of compassion for all who suffer.  my prayer this day is that we would each find our way along that path, picking up those along the way who have stumbled and need our help.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who Serves My Father as His Child Is Surely Kin to Me

a friend wrote me about one of my posts recently, and his comments prompted me to think about how my belief in a creator God influences how i live my life.  one of the blogs i read frequently is an atheist blog (atheism.about.com/b/) which often questions the notion that belief in God causes one to live a more moral life.  as i watch the behavior of many of those who are the most vocal about their christian beliefs, i wonder if religion, and more particulary christianity, motivates one to live a moral life.  i suppose the question of what one means by "morality" is the key in making such a determination.  

for me, a moral life is one that is concerned about the well-being of others.  Jesus teaches that we should love others as we love ourselves.  are we moral people if we ignore the plight of the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the elderly, and the sick?  are we moral beings if we prosper at others' expense?  must one accept orthodox christian theology to practice the teachings of Jesus?  when Jesus said that those who love others as they love themselves are children of God, did He mean that those who don't believe in God but love in this sense are God's children?

the essence of true religion, i have come to believe, is to have this sort of love for our fellow creatures.  one cannot love the Creator without loving the created.  in loving those created by God, one expresses love for God, even when one rejects the notion that there is a God.  in this sense, i am convinced that it is possible to be a christian while rejecting most of christianity's orthodox beliefs, including belief in God.   if there is something of God within each of us, we can be led to true religion without agreeing that there is such a thing as "true religion."  

each day as i read, pray, meditate, and think, i am brought more and more to an acceptance of universalism and rejection of christian "exclusivism."  we are all part of a human family struggling to understand what it is to be truly human, and the more we come to love and care for one another, the more human we become.  my prayer today is that each of us grows in love for ourselves and for one another and that we place a higher value on compassion for each other than we place on "stuff" that has little lasting value.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

as i rode my bike along the park trail a few days ago, i began zooming down the one steep hill on the trail.  to my great disappointment, i saw a car driving along the street at the bottom of the trail, which meant i'd have to slow way down rather than flying into the turn i make onto the street when i reach the bottom of the hill.  my first reaction was, "why is this happening to me?"  then i realized this event wasn't about me.  it was simply one of those random happenings that change our plans.  as i rode on, i thought about how often we think that life is about "us."  it's not.  things happen, we deal with it and accept that things don't have to work out as we planned.  

are these events that cause us to alter our plans part of some grand design?  was the car preventing my planned flying trip down the hill and into the street placed there so i'd think about the alterations we are sometimes forced to make in life?  i don't think so.  most of the events in our lives are random.  they are the intersections between where others are going and where we are going.  frequently those intersections prevent us from going on as we had planned, and we need to accept the changes they require without aggravation or going into the "why me!" mode.

life isn't about "me."  life is about acceptanace, about giving up control, about just breathing and being.  how wonderful it is to realize that i am not in control and that accepting life as it happens is the source of great joy.  God is in my heart, so everything's OK.  my prayer this morning is that each of us can let go of the idea that life is about us and that we can give up the futile efforts at controlling the events of life.  may we accept what comes and rejoice in it, even when it's not what we planned.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Clear Our Eyes That We May See All the Things That Really Matter

it's a quiet morning.  i have had my morning time of meditation and prayer, have been for a bike ride, have set out fresh food and water for the cats inside and out, have started a sprinkler on our japanese maple that is stressed by the heat, have done my daily gospel reading and journaling, and am dressed for the day.  as i sit in my chair, i am reflecting on what a wonderful life i've been given and looking forward to the challenges of the day.

in a few minutes, workers will arrive to work on the remodeling of our front bathroom (my bathroom!) and the quiet will be ended.  my wife is still sleeping and i hope that she can sleep as long as she wants and needs to, since every other morning this week she has had to rise earlier than she would like because of the obligations of the day.  i have some catching up to do on posting grades and attendance for my summer school class, i have some tax business to attend to, i have a stack of papers in my inbox that need my attention, and i have some work to do for the symphony.  it sounds like a busy day, but i've been planning this day all week, saving up these chores that will require some longer periods of focus.  this is my day off from my class this week, and the banks from which i need to get tax information will be open.

i am grateful for these minutes of quiet when no chores demand my attention and when my morning routine is completed.  i don't get such "empty" time often, and i am relishing it.  the perfection of each day amazes me.  i sometimes wish i could relive my life with the knowledge that i now have of the goodness of life, the great gifts of God, but i know that all my past experiences have led me to this point.  it has taken me over sixty years to realize that life is much more simple than i used to believe.  God loves and cares for me, there is great joy in the unpredictability of life, and i have everything i need.  i am content.

how do i share that contentment with those i love most?  can i communicate to them the great joy and peace in my heart and mind?  this is my prayer today: that each of us can find that "quiet center" for our lives and help others to find theirs.