December 28, 2011

How to believe in people even when you know they’ve screwed up

Darin Hufford of Free Believers Network often podcasts about the importance of believing in people and being believed in. He explains his view that when you believe in someone, that empowers them to live out a higher version of their self. Conversely, when you don’t believe in them that lack of belief can really bring them down. He says that in order to progress on your spiritual journey, it’s probably necessary to avoid people who don’t believe in you.

I’m not sure exactly what Darin’s definition of believing in others/being believed in is, but my best guess is that when you believe in someone, you see the real person that they are. You see them as perfect, no matter what they do. You see them by the spirit. Conversely, when you don’t believe in someone, you don’t believe in who they are. You don’t think them capable of living out of their true self, of living out their potential. Instead, you deem them doomed to forever repeat the mistakes you’ve observed them to make in the past.

My husband and I have often discussed this. We sometimes find ourselves to feel nearly incapacitated by others’ disbelief in us and even by our frequent disbelief in each other. Having been married for 4 ½ years, we’ve passed the honeymoon stage of our marriage where we were nearly blind to each other’s faults, and we can now see clearly how the other messes up in the same way, over and over.

I have lately been reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which goes into how our spirits and minds work. Just a minute ago as I was meditating on a part of the book, it hit me that the reason I sometimes don’t believe in my husband is because when my mind is in control it bases what it believes about people on what they have done in the past. Our minds are expert at taking people’s past actions and extrapolating a projection of what they will do in the future. Since my mind is aware of how my husband has negatively reacted to situations in the past, it fully expects him to make the same wrong choices in the future. So I don’t believe in him. I don’t believe he will change or do anything in the future different than in the past. When living by my mind, how can I believe anything better about him? It is reasonable for me to project what he will do in the future based precisely on what he has done in the past. It’s unreasonable to expect otherwise.

So I realized that though it’s unreasonable to believe in my husband, it’s vital for the future of our relationship that I do. In order to believe in him in spite of what he does, I have to be more aware of who he is than what he does, and I have to believe that he is not the sum total of what he does, but when he does negative things, those don’t come from who he is, and they don’t define him.

What I have to do in order to believe in him is to live from the reality of my spiritual being, not by the reason of my mind. My being uses my mind but is not controlled by my mind. So I can be aware of what my husband has done in the past, but not base my belief in him on that.

When you’re living by your being, you relate to others based on who they truly are, not based on what actions they have done. Thus by living in my real self, I am able to believe in my spouse not based on what he has done in the past, but based on who I know him to be. I think this is the kind of belief that can pull someone out of a rut or vicious cycle and bring them toward their destiny.

December 3, 2011

Implications of Forged by Bart D. Ehrman

I just read Forged by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman (published in March, 2011). I have to say I’m livid. Majorly pissed off. Shocked. Free.

My first emotion is to be angry because if anything Ehrman says is true, I have been lied to my whole life. And not just pretty white lies. I’m talking the kind of lies that imprison and chain your soul. Lies that force you to do and believe what you don’t want to do and believe. Lies that claim God doesn’t allow women to speak, so if I choose to do so, I have to believe that I’m going against God. Lies about the bible being inspired scripture, based on writings by people who lied about their identity.

Note: there are lots of great book reviews of Forged such as this one (http://theparish.typepad.com/parish/2011/03/forged-ehrman-fundies-and-bible-liars.html). I started this post to blog about the implications for me and others like me who have been taught for years that the New Testament is the infallible Word of God. But since the implications are so extreme, I decided to also check out criticisms of the book that could weaken or invalidate Ehrman’s theory. It got pretty long, and the criticism part ended up being college-essay style, so if that sort of thing turns you off, you can skip it. However, if, like me, you’re interested in digging deeper in the arguments from this book, I hope you interact with what I’ve written in the criticism section.

Summary

In Ehrman’s book, he explains why certain books of the New Testament are today considered by scholars to have been written by different authors than was originally thought. Below is a summary of Ehrman’s conclusions (as I remember them) about authorship in each book of the New Testament.

Matthew – written anonymously, but later attributed to Matthew. Probably not by Matthew.

Mark – written anonymously, but later attributed to Mark. Probably not by Mark.

Luke – written anonymously, but later attributed to Luke because people thought Luke wrote Acts. But Luke didn’t write Acts so not Luke either.

John – written anonymously, but later attributed to the apostle John. Probably not by John.

Acts – forged to make it look like a companion of Paul wrote it, but a companion of Paul did not  write it, so not by Luke.

Romans – truly by Paul.

1 Corinthians – truly by Paul (but Ehrman suspects that the part about women not speaking in church is forged).

2 Corinthians – truly by Paul.

Galatians – truly by Paul.

Ephesians – forged. The style doesn’t match Paul, and the content doesn’t agree with his other books.

Philippians – truly by Paul.

Colossians – forged.

1 Thessalonians – truly by Paul.

2 Thessalonians – forged. Paul believed the end of the world was imminent, and this book contradicts his other writings.

1 Timothy – forged.

2 Timothy – forged.

Titus – forged. First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus were all written by the same person but not Paul, and supposedly all scholars agree that Paul didn’t write them.

Philemon – truly by Paul.

Hebrews – anonymous, but it was attributed to Paul. Not by Paul.

James – forged.

1 Peter – forged.

2 Peter – forged.

Jude – forged.

Revelation – possibly by a “John” but probably not by the apostle John. It could have been by another person entirely who wanted to sell the belief in 1000 years of paradise on earth.

Ehrman also mentions that Daniel is forged, and Isaiah was written by three different authors.

Ehrman explains that it was a common practice for a person in New Testament times and the centuries that followed to write a book to advance his beliefs. But if this writer was not well-known, he faced a huge temptation to claim to be someone of greater Christian authority. If readers believed his book was written by one of the original apostles, say John, Peter, or Paul, they would be much more likely to accept the doctrines in the book, and the book would be circulated much more widely, read in meetings, and viewed as an authority. It may even be thought of as Scripture. Because of this dynamic, many books written in the centuries after the death of Christ were forged, claiming to be written by one of the original apostles, when they obviously were not. A lot of the books were out to lunch, telling tall tales (like the one where Jesus comes out of the tomb with two angels. The angels are as tall as mountains, but Jesus is taller yet. After Jesus the cross comes out of the tomb. God asks if the cross preached to those who are asleep, and the cross answers, “yes.”)

When people chose the books that would make it into the New Testament, they rejected a lot of forgeries. Ehrman doesn’t really go into the process that books went through to be chosen, but a check of the Wikipedia entry about the New Testament canon explains how certain church fathers accepted certain books that matched to their beliefs. Almost all of these books were supposedly written by apostles. All the epistles, with the possible exception of Jude, that eventually made it into the New Testament canon claim to have been written by an apostle or are attributed to an apostle. (James & Jude were brothers of Jesus, which gave them nearly the authority of an apostle, but I think James also claimed to be an apostle, even though he was not one of the original 12.) Two of the four gospels were attributed to an apostle, and the other two and Acts were attributed to a companion of an apostle. However, the gospels and Acts are supposed to be historical accounts of the life of Jesus and the apostles. So the authors of Mark, Luke, and Acts didn’t themselves give apostolic-type instruction as is found in the epistles (unless they changed things Jesus or apostles supposedly said in these books to match their own views, but according to the official fundamentalist view, they would not have done that).

Thus all the books of the New Testament were eventually accepted as Scripture based in large part on the authority of the author, and the people who accepted them probably didn’t realize that many of these books were forged.

Implications

What pisses me off the most about all this is that even though it was believed for hundreds of years that all the books in the New Testament were written by the authority the books claimed wrote them, (or the person they were attributed to), in the last two centuries scholars have realized that that is simply not true of many of them. So if all these scholars admit that the books were written by someone else, WHY IN HELL DID NO PREACHER OR TEACHER EVER TELL ME THAT THERE WAS ANY CONTROVERSY? Why didn’t my parents? I vaguely recall the idea that maybe some of them were dictated to a scribe who wrote the actual words. But that is all I was ever told. Both my parents went to bible college for four years. Did they hear nothing about a controversy with any of these books? Maybe their school was under a rock that only looked at writings by other Church of Christ leaders. Though I seem to recall them studying the bible and books about the bible my whole life.

I went to the Church of Christ until I was 18. That church believed that they taught nothing but the bible and completely went by the bible, to the point that they found verses about baptism that disagreed with the way the rest of the evangelical church saw it, so they wrote off all of Christianity besides their cult as unsaved. So since they didn’t think other Christians were saved, it’s possible that they didn’t read anything by Bible scholars that brought out the controversy. (Though I highly doubt that. I think they knew about the controversy but didn’t say anything since their whole religion is based on the view that the Bible is the “Word of God.”)

After I left the Church of Christ, I went to two different ministry schools, 1 year at Oral Roberts University, and a bunch of other churches. All of them claimed to believe and follow the bible, though they usually validated personal experience as well. None of them mentioned the controversy. Unlike the Church of Christ, the churches I attended in my 20’s allowed women to speak and minister in meetings. These churches didn’t mention the fact that the verses that say women can’t speak weren’t written by Paul; they just tried to explain it away or ignore it. I got to the point where I concluded that the repression of women is so wrong that if that is truly scripture, I can’t completely follow the scripture.

So maybe it makes sense that people forged much of the New Testament. After all, none of the Christian leaders I used to listen to thought it necessary to mention that the authorship of these books is in question. At least some of them must have known about the controversy, but if they talked about it, it could discredit some of their teachings. So they kept their mouths shut about it. They may have felt that laypeople were not equipped to handle the knowledge that books of their precious bible were actually forged. This would be similar to the reasoning people used when they forged the books in the first place. They wanted their beliefs to be authoritative, so they used apostles’ names. Fundamentalist Christian leaders want to consider the Bible authoritative, so they don’t tell their people that someone wrote these books using apostles’ names.

I wonder if it is possible that many of these leaders who taught me actually did not know about the controversy. In an article critiquing  Forged, evangelical leader Dr. Mike Licona asserts that “[t]he issue of authorship is discussed at length in most introductions to the New Testament, which differ from surveys and are usually written for graduate students” (1). (I talk more about Licona’s article in the Critique section below.) In other words, the news that there is contention about the authorship of numerous books of the New Testament is being held back from the general Christian public, even from some students who obtain a bachelor’s degree in theology.

I asked a friend who has a master’s in the history of religion about this, and he said he did learn about the discrepancy in an undergraduate class at a Baptist school. He also said that more liberal churches talk about this all the time, but if he were a pastor at, say, a Southern Baptist church and mentioned in the pulpit that there was a controversy about authorship of books in the New Testament, he would be fired. Is it because scholars assume that unless someone is a New Testament scholar, they won’t be able to figure out how to handle the evidence for or against authorship of a book by a certain person? I think Ehrman was right to bring this out into view of the lay public, and I applaud him for doing so. I think people in the churches need to know for themselves that there is a problem with the book they revere, and they need to be able to decide for themselves what to do about it.

In his book Ehrman does not focus on the implications of his conclusions. In this book, he doesn’t even say what he currently believes about God, though he does say he believes Jesus existed. (Other websites that talk about his work say he’s now an agnostic, though in the book he explains that he used to be a fundamentalist who went to Moody Bible Institute.) But in this post I would like to get into the implications for me and other people who question things in the Bible.

It boils down to this. Growing up every Sunday since I came to a certain Church of Christ at age 11 until I left at age 18, the preacher repeated certain verses in nearly every sermon. One of those was 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” This was the basis of teaching at that fundamentalist church. If I were to say that I think this verse was talking about the Old Testament, they would quote 2 Peter 3:15b-16: “just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” In other words, the writings of Paul, which make up ½ the New Testament, are considered scripture by the author of 2 Peter, so the rest of the New Testament must be too. That means all the New Testament is inspired by God. So it’s error free, and you can’t question it. You must just believe it, and “[s]tudy to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). (As I recall, that repetitive preacher from my teens routinely quoted the King James version of this verse or something similar because most of the modern translations say “be diligent” or something like that, and he wanted to emphasize the importance of studying the Bible, even though that’s a mistranslation.)

Since these verses are found in books that were forged, I think it’s likely the doctrines about the New Testament being Scripture inspired by God are actually doctrines of humans not inspired by God who wanted to get their beliefs to be seen as authoritative. In Forged, Ehrman discusses the verse in 2 Peter and explains that there was a controversy in the early church about whether or not Peter and Paul were in agreement. He theorizes that the author of 2 Peter wanted to promote the idea that Peter and Paul were in agreement, so in his book supposedly by Peter, he has Peter calling Paul’s writings Scripture.

My contention starting in my early 20’s was that the bible never claims to be the Word of God, and the only time the bible refers to an entity as the Word of God, it’s referring to Jesus (John 1). So I felt that the bible was being used for a purpose that wasn’t intended by the original authors. For the past several years, I thought that the purpose of the bible was to share truths about God that would lead people to get to know God for themselves, but instead many people, like the ones I grew up with, see the bible as an end in itself and try to follow the bible instead of following God.

As you can see if you read other posts on this blog, I’ve lately been questioning the wisdom of following the bible at all. There is so much in there that I find deeply troubling that I would rather throw the whole thing out then feel crammed in the boxes it provides. I’ve really been doubting the inspiration of the bible. I concluded that it must be a work of men who were fallible, including Paul. I held the teachings of Jesus in a little higher regard, but I still wondered how we can know for sure whether he actually said any specific teaching. How did people remember exactly what he said to write it down years later? I’m sure some things he said are recorded, but I doubt if we have any of his exact words, especially since he probably spoke in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.

Well, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I felt anger, but I also felt shocked and even free at reading Forged. Shocked because I had no idea that these books were in question. Free because if these books really weren’t written by apostles, then they shouldn’t have been included in the New Testament in the first place, according to the standards for inclusion that men chose to follow when they picked the books for the New Testament. So they’re definitely not “scripture.” Furthermore, all the verses that were used to prove the New Testament is all inspired scripture and must be studied and followed as if it were God are actually written by people who were so adamant that they wanted their beliefs to be accepted that they lied about who they were, one claiming to be Peter and another Paul.

So I feel free because my impressions of the bible are validated. It’s human. The only books for sure written by an apostle are six by Paul. But why should I assume they’re inspired words of God just because Paul happened to be an apostle (but not one of the original twelve)? Paul himself says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).  Paul, the only writer of the New Testament who for sure wrote some of the books attributed to him, saw in dimly and knew in part. He’s saying he’s human. He doesn’t have the whole picture. I think the picture he gives in the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) is beautiful, because he shows that it’s all about love. And though my Church of Christ preacher uncle would like to think that the “then” Paul mentions in this verse (talking about “the perfect” from a couple verses back) is the completion of the Bible, there’s nothing in that passage or anywhere else that indicates Paul even has an idea that there would be a New Testament. My uncle’s idea is ludicrous. The chapter is about love, the greatest thing in the world. To me, Paul’s “face to face,” can only mean that he believed that when he sees God, who is perfect love, face to face, then he will fully know. But not in an academic understanding kind of way. He wants to know God relationally, just as God knows him. He wants to fully love.

So since we surmise that most of the New Testament is forged or mis-attributed, should we throw the whole thing out? Even though I’m incensed that the authors lied about their identities and deceived Christians for hundreds of years, I think they have some valid things to say. I think there is spiritual revelation that can be helpful to our current spiritual development in many of these books. Am I going to hang on their every word, believing that everything they say is from God? Absolutely not. Just as I would not blindly follow any other spiritual teaching. I have some favorites that come to me at different times in my life. I think when someone has revelation to share, that’s valuable. But ultimately my spiritual walk is found in my own spirit. I can trust the God I’m coming to know far more than I can trust any other humans with their varied motivations for spouting out beliefs. I do think God or my own spirit brings teachings and revelations from other people to me at the right times when I need them.

And this all comes back to my post on the Garden of Eden. Ultimately, like Paul said, we see in part. Dimly. God and the spiritual world is a mystery. We know that the most important thing, the greatest thing that will abide forever is love. If we try to heap up to ourselves knowledge, like the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, we just might miss God.

Criticism of Forged

Since I am not a biblical scholar, I know that I could easily miss any weaknesses that might exist in Forged. And I realize that there’s two sides to every story. I wanted to see if there was any reason not to believe Ehrman’s assertions, so I looked for critical reviews of the book by an educated fundamentalist-type who disagrees with Ehrman’s conclusions. I found a 16 page article written by Mike Licona, who holds a doctorate in New Testament studies, is on the board of several evangelical ministries, and opposes the conclusion that Ehrman reaches. You can read the article here.

Licona points out two potential weaknesses in Ehrman’s argument. The first has to do with content and the second with secretaries. Ehrman asserts that the content of some books doesn’t match up to what the apostle said in other books, and this is one reason to think the books are written by different authors. An example is Ephesians. Ehrman finds a discrepancy with what Paul seems to say about resurrection in Ephesians and what he says about the same subject in Romans. But Licona contends: “Paul’s teaching concerning the resurrection of believers in Romans is completely compatible with what we find in Ephesians and Colossians. Many of the teachings in the disputed letters of Paul that Ehrman regards as contradictory to the teachings in his undisputed letters are solved just as easily with a careful look at the texts in question.” (3). I’ll grant that when I first read the argument by Ehrman about resurrection, it sounded a little fishy to me. I never saw a discrepancy before, because I always thought that what he said in Romans and in Ephesians were talking about two separate things. I also think it’s difficult to pinpoint the content issue when talking about deep or complex theological issues because in my experience, people interpret these types of passages in many different ways. But there are some content issues that are more cut-and-dried. Ehrman points out that Paul seems to be concerned that salvation is not by works of the law, but some of the books under contention talk about good works in general instead of works of the law, which wasn’t Paul’s primary area of interest. But I will agree with Licona that in at least some of these cases, the content discrepancy doesn’t definitively prove that the book was forged, though a discrepancy in content added to a stark difference in style would prove the forgery, in my opinion.

The main weakness that Licona and other reviewers found in Ehrman’s argment has to do with secretaries. In fact, this was the first thing my husband brought up when I told him what I was reading, and it’s the only thing I remember hearing about authorial controversy when I was growing up. Licona quotes Ehrman as saying, “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the composition of the early Christian writings. (134)” Licona ends his article by saying, “Ehrman’s treatment of Paul’s use of secretaries is both weak and problematic. If secretaries were involved with the traditional New Testament authors in the editing and composition of their letters, most of the arguments used against the traditional authorship of this literature lose their force and, as an old friend of mine would say, Ehrman is left with a firm grasp on an empty sack” (15).

So on the subject of secretaries, Ehrman presents four basic scenarios, which I’m going to paraphrase. In the first scenario, the apostle dictated to a scribe, who wrote down word-for-word what the apostle said. The apostle is the author, no question. There’s evidence that this happened in the epistles of Paul, including in books that aren’t suspected of forgery.

Scenario two: the apostle wrote the epistle, then had it copyedited. In modern times there are different levels of copyediting depending on the original state of the draft and what the author wants. In light and standard copyediting, the editor points out inconsistencies in the author’s arguments and attempts to resolve errors of grammar and problems with clarity. The copyeditor usually makes minor changes, such as to correct a misspelled word or misplaced comma. The copyeditor will often rewrite a short segment or offer a suggestion of a rewrite then show these changes to the author, and the author has the option to accept or reject them. In heavy copyediting, the copyeditor may do more extensive revision, but the author still gets to accept or reject the changes. In all these cases, the copyeditor is not considered the author but is only helping the author polish his or her prose and fix errors and inconsistencies. There’s still no ethical problem with the author claiming the work. Ehrman doesn’t offer any examples of copyediting in the New Testament and only a couple examples of that happening in ancient times with rich people. If this did happen in the New Testament and the editor did a good job, readers wouldn’t be able to detect the difference between the words of the author and the words of the editor, and this certainly wouldn’t explain the changes in style and content that Ehrman points out in the books in question.

Ehrman also brings up the possibility of co-authoring, but says there’s no examples of that in New Testament times. My thought is that if the apostle co-authored with someone else, and the work that appeared was so different from the apostle’s other works as to seem like it was written by someone else, than it was probably ghost-written (the fourth option), not co-authored. Licona does offer one example that implies a secretary did more than just take dictation:

In 2 Corinthians 10:9-11 [Paul] writes, ‘it is said, “His [i.e., Paul’s] letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” Such a person should consider this: What we are in the words of our letters when absent, we will be in actions when present.’ Notice carefully how the subject changes from Paul the poor public speaker in the singular to the ‘we’ who write the letters. More than one person is involved in writing Paul’s letters. So, the involvement of the secretary appears to go beyond taking simple dictation. (14)

While this could indicate a co-author adding his two-cents into the draft, why would the co-author also be involved in disciplinary actions of a church in person? Perhaps Paul is including other leaders in this statement, who may have even written their own letters, or perhaps he has a cohort taking dictation who is also involved in church discipline. In any case, Paul seems to have control of the content and style in 1 Corinthians as this is not one of the disputed books. Also co-writing involves some of the other problems I talk about next in the section on ghostwriting.

I think that the most likely scenario that does not technically involve forgery is ghost-writing. Ehrman remarks, “And it does not seem possible that Peter gave the general gist of what he wanted to say and that a secretary then created the letter for him in his name, since, first, then the secretary rather than Peter would be the real author of the letter, and second, and even more important, we don’t seem to have any analogy for a procedure like this from the ancient world” (156). I don’t agree that the second reason is more important. Just because we don’t have examples of ghostwriting from the ancient world doesn’t mean it wasn’t done or the apostles weren’t smart enough to figure out they could do that. By definition, ghostwriting means writing that is attributed to an author but actually written by someone else. In today’s world, a lot of times authors don’t want their readers to know that the book was ghostwritten, so they try to hide it. I think it’s possible that bible authors could have done that too, especially if the fact that the book was ghostwritten would have diminished the authority of the book.

So in some of these cases where it’s not evident that the book was written after the death of the apostle and the content isn’t too far off the author’s beliefs as shown in other texts, it’s possible that the book was ghost-written by a friend or assistant of the apostle. The apostle could have contributed content, an outline, or some ideas to the book, had someone else write it, and then he would have reviewed the book, possibly made changes, and approved that it be sent out in his name.

I still agree with Ehrman that it’s more likely that the book was forged, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the book really was ghost-written and the apostle approved it. What does this mean for the status of the book? Although in modern times it’s considered ethical to ghost-write certain types of works (but sometimes people get really pissed off when they find out a work by their favorite celebrity was ghost-written), I think there’s definitely a valid place for ghost writing, though if you want to be perfectly honest, I think it is better to mention somewhere in the work the fact that the author had a good bit of help creating it. Also there are certain types of works that cannot be ethically ghostwritten. For example, if I would have hired someone to write a college essay for me and the school found out, I would have been kicked out of school. I do think that this is an instance where it’s completely unethical to have something ghost written because this is an instance, similar to a college essay, where the author’s identity was vital to how the book was going to be received. If an apostle did this, he was lying, and that doesn’t fit the character the original apostles supposedly had.

So the question becomes, what are the implications for the books of the New Testament if they were ghostwritten? Many people consider these books to be inerrant scripture that was inspired by God. The scenario my old churches painted for me is that an apostle sat down with ink and a scroll, heard from the Holy Spirit, and wrote down what he heard. This corresponds to the image presented in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (Though this verse doesn’t say that this process applied to all scripture, only to prophesy. And isn’t prophesy by definition something that people said when they were moved by God? So yes, obviously no prophesy occurred without people being moved by God because if they weren’t moved by God, what they said would not be defined as prophesy. That really doesn’t prove anything, and it’s similar to the circular reasoning in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God . . . “ So one part of the definition of Scripture is that it is something inspired by God. That doesn’t really prove anything.)

So when we read the New Testament, we supposedly read the very words of God. But what happens when the person doing the initial writing isn’t actually the apostle? Well, it still could be the same scenario. Someone without any particular authority in the church sits down with God and hears the Holy Spirit. He then writes down what he hears. He brings it to the closest apostle, and the apostle says, “Yup, that sounds like God. in fact I think people really need to hear this message, and they’ll receive it better if my name’s on it. Why don’t you just right here in the beginning add these words: ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph. 1:1-2). That should tie in just fine with your intro here where you have ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph 1:3).” So in this scenario, the book is still inspired by God. Just like when I sit down in my contemplative prayer time, get really still, and begin hearing something from the spirit. I write down what I hear. What I wrote down is inspired by God.

Lots and lots of people have done this through the centuries, so there’s probably thousands or millions of inspired writings. But when I write something I hear, I don’t consider it scripture, and I’m pretty sure that if I tried to pass it off to my fundamentalist parents as scripture, they’d laugh at me. I know when I hear from God, everything God says gets passed through my own filters and the fog in my own head. So what I hear and write down could very well not exactly be what God meant. I studied communication and rhetorical theory in college, and this helped me realize just how dicey words and meanings are. To have an imprint of someone else’s idea in your head is pretty much miraculous, let alone getting the same exact meaning from the words that someone else said, especially when talking about complicated issues. So I try to be careful when talking about messages I get from God to use the words, “I heard” rather than, “God told me” because maybe what God told me is not what I heard, and all I know for sure is what I heard.

The books of the New Testament don’t even use the words “I heard.” But people assume that because the content is profound, and the author is an apostle, the words must be inspired scripture. So while there’s lots of works that are inspired, very few of them have been considered Scripture, and that’s because who the human author is holds a lot of weight. Maybe Paul’s head wasn’t as cloudy as mine, and his filters were all cleaned out. So when he heard from God, he got the message a lot more clearly than I do. More likely, because the message came to him for the church, and he had a lot of authority in his time, the church receives it as from God and doesn’t worry about possible filtering problems.

But if the message did not come to him but to his friend, why would that be considered scripture when what I (or some other first-century person who didn’t add an apostle’s name to his work) wrote is not being considered scripture? So Licona’s secretary hypothesis discredits the very purpose these books are being used for in fundamentalist churches today. I maintain that the book was included in the canon because the editors of the canon concluded that this book was written by an apostle who clearly heard from God. I don’t think they would have included it if they knew it was ghost-written or told from God to someone else and an apostle put his name on it. The filtering system wasn’t the apostle’s, it was his friend’s.

So while the ghost-writing scenario may not be as unethical as the outright forgery Ehrman suspects, it’s still not completely honest. More importantly, by the definition of the editors of the canon and fundamentalists today, the work can’t be considered Scripture. Some no-name person heard from God instead of the authoritative apostle. Only what the apostle himself heard from God is weighty enough to be considered scripture.

What it boils down to for me is that whether a disputed book is ghost-written as Licona implies or outright forged as Ehrman concludes, it still lies about the author and should not be part of the canon of the New Testament.

November 20, 2011

How to attract God by being yourself (or why “more of You, less of me” doesn’t work)

My husband and I get into unproductive cycles in our relationship sometimes. One that I’ve been recently noticing is when he starts feeling needy. When I hear him express that, I groan inside. I simply cannot make myself feel turned on by his neediness; instead, it pushes me away. Maybe this is because it turns something that should be about desire on both sides into obligation for me. I think that because I’m married to him, I should meet his needs, but it turns out that his needs are really for me to desire him, and I cannot desire him based on obligation or neediness. Instead, I want him to meet me where my heart is at so I can feel connected. For me, desire springs from that. When he’s feeling needy, I think it’s because he is not believing that he is attractive enough that when he is himself, I will be drawn to him. So he begins to feel sorry for himself, believing that he cannot attract me, and he then tries to turn me on by expressing neediness, but when that does not work, it reinforces his belief that he is not attractive to me.

I was thinking about how this dynamic has often existed in my relationship with God. A lot of the worship songs I used to sing both in church and by myself were downright needy. For example, take these lyrics from “Breathe” by Michael W. Smith, one of the most popular worship songs of all time: “I’m desperate for you; I’m lost without you.” My heart connects to that song because I used to sing it over and over with such passion. I could feel the tears welling up inside as I sang, “You’re the air I breathe.” I just listened to the song again, and I could feel myself connecting once again to the idea that being with God is the most important thing in my life, and I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.

But while this and similar songs have helped me to become aware of my heart’s desire for God, worship songs have also led me down a path of emptying myself of me. Lots of songs present the idea that I should decrease so God can increase. I googled “more of you and less of me,” and I found a beautiful song by Brian Johnson that I used to listen to. As I listened again, I found myself reconnecting with the ideas in the song. The words “more of you, less of me” are repeated only a couple times, and the rest of the song is about how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God. The lyrics, “I’m satisfied by you alone” carry the sense that I am already with God, and being with God fulfills something in me. But while I relish the idea of feeling God’s presence more, I wonder why Johnson wrote, “less of me.” Why do I have to decrease, becoming less of myself, to get closer to God? Perhaps Johnson meant that as God increases in my life, bad character traits I’ve exhibited will start to fade. Or maybe he adopted a Christianese cliché without thinking too much about it. More likely, the phrase comes from a bible verse (John 3:30) where John the Baptist says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I think in context, though, John was probably talking about increasing and decreasing in popularity, not in personhood. I have attended the church where Johnson leads worship, and I know that this church encourages its members to find the gold in people, Christians and non-Christians alike. When we tell people the truth about who they really are, this church teaches, that reality will start to show up in their lives. I think that’s a great concept because it doesn’t reject the person as useless without Christ. But a lot of Christianity does. “Amazing Grace,” for example, calls the pre-Christian a wretch. And there are quite a few songs about becoming more like Jesus.

Several years ago I took myself on a personal retreat. I had been trying for years to get closer to God and advance in my spiritual journey, but things were not going well. Every time I tried to join a church, I enjoyed it for a short time, but then I would begin to be miserable. My heart would say, you don’t belong here, but I took that as demons and tried to force myself to stay. (I wrote about that experience here.) I was about to move again, to another church, and I went to the beach to try to hear God. I couldn’t hear much, but the one thing I did hear became a turning point in my life, “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” This gave me the permission I needed to be free to be myself, but it was months or years later before I actually did stop going to church and singing all those songs.

I have an almost-two-year old toddler who is still nursing. (I blogged about that recently on my other blog here.) Though she wants to nurse a lot, I don’t find her desire unattractive. Rather, I like the fact that she wants me, and nursing makes me feel close to her. I was thinking about what is the difference between how she approaches me and how my husband often does, and I think it is in confidence. My daughter trusts me to meet her needs, and she has no doubt that I want to meet them. She doesn’t doubt her identity or wonder whether I love her. I’m pretty sure that such a thought has never crossed her mind. Because she is so confident in our relationship, I’m always totally attracted to her. Even when I don’t feel like nursing, I look at her reaching for me, my heart melts, and I scoop her up and latch her on.

When I used to listen to teachings from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, I loved a phrase they often used: “confident in love before God.” I think that phrase expresses the idea that I am saturated with the knowledge that God loves me, I love me, and I love God. When I know that I am loved for who I am, that God believes in me, there’s no limit to what I can do or be. (Darin Hufford talks about this idea a lot.) “Confident in love before God” also carries the sense that what really attracts God is our confidence in being who we are. My reality is that God desires to have a relationship with me for who I am. God’s not looking for another Jesus. Jesus is Jesus, and I’m not him. And I don’t want to be him. I choose to be me. I do believe that my personal unique self is far more attractive to God than an empty shell or shadow of a person who is trying to be like Jesus in order to please God and divorcing myself of my own heart in the process. What I have to offer in a relationship, whether with God or anyone else, is my own being, and the more I am confident in that, the more attractive I will be as a person. Who wants to be with someone who is constantly down on herself, berating herself, or saying, “what a worm I am” as some old hymn states? I am not a worm. At my core, I am an amazing being, made from love, filled with light. I am completely unique, and there’s no one like me in all the world. And I shine with a beautiful radiance that flows from my inner being. Okay, so I have bad days where I cop an attitude or say negative things. But that’s not me. When I say, I want to be more of me, I realize that the more I manifest who I truly am, the less negativity will show up in my life. As I am who I am, I attract God. And when I believe that God loves me for who I am (which I discover when I am with God) I am more likely to live from that reality. So maybe I should rewrite the song, “more of you, more of me.”

November 16, 2011

No fear in love

A few weeks ago I met a man who is a healer. He teaches yoga, works with essential oils, and leads a meditation group. I met him at an essential oils class. I told him that I have been looking for a meditation group so I can go deeper in my own contemplation, and he invited me to join. Then he gave me a hug. In that hug I could feel a love so deep it scared me shitless, because there was a great power with it. I knew that if I connect with this man, he will influence me in a profound way, but I have not emailed him back to say if I am going to come.

I have been thinking about why I have been so scared of this man and of what he represents. Today I decided that it is because I was taught to fear. From the time I was born, I was told to be afraid, very afraid of anything not connected to the bible. If I wander away from the bible, my parents and religious leaders proclaimed, I will surely fall into dangerous and deceitful doctrine that will rob me of my relationship with God, my salvation, and my ability to see the truth. I will be overtaken by demons, lead others to hell, and be eternally tormented in hell myself. God will send me a “strong delusion to believe a lie.” This, I was told, would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.

Even when I learned about contemplative prayer, I was told that it could be safely practiced only by Christians. “Only Christians,” my teachers told me, “have God’s spirit inside, so when you contemplate, you are gazing at the God who dwells within.” They didn’t quite say what would happen if you tried to contemplate without being a Christian, but they implied that all sorts of bad things could happen because if you are not contemplating within the safety of Christianity, you open yourself to demons who can take possession of you and try to destroy you.

Though I long ago began leaving the belief system my parents handed down, the fear they and other religious leaders engendered in me has lingered. I have believed in this fear, and it has kept me many times from peaking over certain walls. Or if I did peak, it was with much trepedition, and I had to ignore or work around the fear in order to cross over the wall. Now I am standing on this precipice looking down. I know in my heart that if I continue moving forward, I will have to face this fear head on. I will back down or fear will back down. I can’t keep dancing with fear, moving around it or ignoring it, because the next step is to do exactly the things I have been afraid of my whole life.

The funny thing about this fear is that it is actually disguised as love. If you love someone, you will do anything you can to keep them from experiencing eternal torment. Also, it would be very unloving of me to leave behind a belief system that could keep me and my loved ones from hell. Yet at the same time, when it starts to feel like fear is what is holding me back from living a life of love, I realize that fear is anti-love. It is not unloving to leave behind a belief system that could keep me and my loved ones from hell when I don’t know that belief system to be true, and the very foundation of it is fear, not love.

Thankfully, there’s a bible verse I can rely on to set myself free from all this torment of being afraid of leaving behind the bible. 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” All the things I am afraid of have to do with punishment. Fear says, if I try out this other spirituality, I will be punished by all these horrible things happening to me. God will punish me by leaving me. How sick is that? What if instead of hanging onto these threads of fear that have promised to keep me safe my whole life, I simply let go, ask for Love, and let my heart lead me to the places where love might finally have room to grow.

November 7, 2011

Seed in the wind

set me free

like a seed in the wind

to blow around

don’t know where

or why

but just free to land anywhere

then plant again

or fly forever

I am who I am

whether floating or planted

I wrote this thinking of how unsure I am what to believe. Sometimes I feel swayed in all directions, not knowing what to believe about anything. I think this is because I have been letting go of that foundation that had always seemed so secure and knowledgeable about everything. It is uncomfortable to be swayed around, never sure of which direction to lean. Then I thought, why not just let go. Be like a seed in the wind that just flies around without worrying about where it will end up. It may even be random where it will land. Or maybe the wind will just keep pushing it around forever. It won’t land anywhere. But if it ever falls to the ground, it has everything it needs inside it to grow and reproduce just who it is. As do I.

October 25, 2011

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and why I choose not to believe

I recently wrote a blog post about some of my confusion about what to believe. Reading a comment to one of my posts, I began to think again about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Back when I believed whole-heartedly in the bible, I had a whole theory about this tree in the Garden of Eden. Now I’m not so sure whether this story from the beginning of Genesis is actual history or simply a tale, but I still find the imagery to be helpful.

The story goes that the first man and woman, Adam & Eve, were put in a perfect garden with only one possible sin they could do–eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, satan shows up as a serpent and deceives Eve into eating the fruit; then she gives it to her husband, and he eats too. They’re both kicked out of the garden for good, and now the rest of the human race must suffer with the effects of allowing sin into the world. Whether or not that story actually happened really does not matter if one looks at it as a parable.

What were the tellers/writers of this story trying to show us about spirituality and human nature? I believe that the point is, it is better not to know. If you try to know and understand everything about what is good and what is evil–in short, about religion–you end up kicked out of the garden, out of the place of intimacy with God.

When I look at religion as a whole, I see people eating every day of that fruit–always trying to know and understand, to have the “right” beliefs, to have the “truth.” What’s funny is that Jesus once said “I am the truth,” in essence saying that truth is not a set of beliefs but a spiritual being you can have a relationship with.

So even though sometimes I am freaked out that I don’t know what to believe any more, when I think of this story, my heart fills with peace. I don’t believe much in particular, but I do open my heart to relationship.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe too many specifics about God or all the other peripherals religion adds on. And I would rather say I don’t believe for the sake of being real, than to pretend that I have all the answers.

The thing pounding on my head is that if I don’t have the right beliefs, not only do I risk the eternal punishment of hell, but I risk helping other people end up there by not witnessing. So I jeopardize my own salvation and that of every person I come in contact with. But I think this first story from the bible can help with that problem. According to the bible, trying to gain knowledge of good and evil is a sin. So I feel justified in choosing not to know and not to do anything about it for anyone else. Instead of spouting a bunch of beliefs at anyone who comes near me, I choose to be myself, regardless of the consequences.

October 22, 2011

Beliefs that stop intimacy

This morning I was listening, and I heard, you do not need to wear the label “Christian” to know me, and I breathed a sigh of relief, because I am so confused about what to believe, but I also heard that I don’t really have to believe anything to be with God. And I remembered an old Jason Upton sermon where he said “Be is the beginning of belief.” I have focused and worried so much about what I do and don’t believe, but in reality, I don’t think it really matters. It is far more important to be with God than to have a mental picture figured out about it all. And I’m so shocked at myself because of how many beliefs I have let fade away, even the ones I held to the strongest.

Yesterday I was listening to a Darin Hufford podcast about heaven, and he and his friend sounded so positive about heaven. I think I started letting go of my belief in heaven about the same time as my belief in hell. I do have a hope of eventually being one with God, and I hope for things to get better on earth, but I really do not have any idea what heaven might be like. In fact, I am probably more scared about going to hell since I have let go of the label Christian. But actually, that label feels like such a chain on my soul, and I just cannot hold onto it any longer. I think it is because if I wear that label, I feel that I have to convince other people that that is the truth. I cannot be free to just be who I am with others. And I and many other people are so turned off by people who have no interest in relationship other than to convert, that I just cannot be that person anymore.

I finally have a friend who does not believe in God at all. I could never have done that in my Christianese days. I could not have actually been real with her or held a deep friendship because I would have had to convince her to accept all my beliefs to save her soul. But isn’t it odd to believe that what a person does or does not mentally assent to will damn them to hell for eternity or allow them to live uttur bliss for that same eternity? It is so weird, because there are so many things that can cause or help us to believe or not believe something. I think my friend does not believe in God because she has no awareness of God and no experience of God. The Christian way is to take a person like this and scare them about hell and convince them about the Bible until the person “accepts” Christ, even if she still has no experience of God. I think that’s criminal. I think Christianity claims to be about introducing people to God, but for the most part, it is about introducing people to religion. And while I had a lot of experiences with God when I was practicing that religion, these have become very confused in my head and often intermingled with all the religious b.s., so that I can’t really hold onto any of it anymore.

Of course, the last several years of being in Christianity, I was deeply distrustful of religion. Groups I joined felt the same. And even though there was a vast difference between these churches and more religious ones I attended as a child, there was still a lack of intimacy there that went so deep I could not stand it.

In fact, I think lack of intimacy is what has driven me away from Christianity. The belief that your way is right and people who don’t believe it are going to hell forces you to hold back part of yourself from others. My own mother flat out told me that she cannot have real fellowship with me because I don’t believe the way she does. There is always necessarily an undercurrent of her wanting to convert me. As long as she wants to convert me, she cannot know me for who I am. She cannot accept me as I am because she wants to change me. No matter how close we may seem in one moment, in another her religiousness pops back up and she proves once again that she does not know me as she tries to lecture me and change me and I must put up walls once again.

But what about the new age ideas about God being this spirit that flows through all humans? It feels like a river that we can tap into at any time. I have a hope that this spirit that was in Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” is really this spirit of God that flows through all people. It is the divine consciousness or whatever-you-want-to-call-it that anyone can tap into through meditation. It is this spirit of God that brings people to God, whether or not you put some religious name on it.

In fact, I really think that all this naming and labeling of things is really a human invention. It keeps us from God and from the God inside each other, because every label serves to divide us and put us into little boxes that we cannot get out of.

Perhaps all that crying out to God I did in my early 20’s has led to my heart no longer being able to stand all the devision that keeps me from being one with God and especially from being one with other people. Though I never expected my prayers to lead me out of Christianity, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the very thing that did it.

I also think that religion does not foster intimacy simply because religious activities do not naturally lead to intimacy with others. That is not their purpose, and it is a rare thing when it happens, and one must go outside of the religious activities to find it.

July 31, 2011

There is a world inside me.

That is how it feels so much, when I connect with my interior life. It is like a link or a portal into another whole world. And that world, I call it the world of the spirit, is the true reality. So the physical world is not as real, or at least, not as permanent. Even though the spiritual world feels fleeting and dim, that is merely because our attention is so often focused outward. When I glimpse through the portal, I get the feeling that what I am seeing there has so much more weight to it than anything I could experience in the outward world.

There is a world inside me, or at least an opening into another world. There is a world inside me, just waiting to be expressed. Just waiting to be revealed. Through contemplative prayer, I dive into that world. And I am there, instantly in the presence of eternity. I become aware of it, but I lapse back, too. I don’t say that this is something I have to do every day. But when I find it, or it finds me, I feel alive. Alive to Reality.

There is a world inside me of vast proportions. Matter flows from it, matter returns to it. It is pure energy, pure life. This is reality. I open the door and let it flood me for a few minutes, so that I become aware. I close the door and go do something else and don’t come back here for weeks. There’s no guilt in this practice, not unless one chooses guilt. I choose acceptance. Acceptance of myself, but also a real feeling that this is me, this is my identity, and in going here I connect with real life. I can do it as often or as seldom as I want.

In church I used to hear people talk about the spiritual world and the physical world. I heard a lot of talk about it, but I rarely met someone who experienced it. It’s easier to talk about than to do. But it is the connecting that really matters. A lot of people I have met are actually scared of the spiritual world. It is funny, because we all have the world inside us. We all have the portal opening into that vast realm where space and time probably don’t even exist. Yet most people would rather get their spiritual instruction 3rd hand and never experience the spiritual world with their own spirits. Sad but true. The spiritual world is not something to fear. It just is. It is reality, and if we choose to live in reality, we can find the most beautiful, wonderful, and amazing revelations of life and love are flowing into us.

So how does one do this? Go lower. Dive down through your heart, which is you, into your spirit in your belly which is connected to the life force that flows through all eternity, connected to God. This is knowing God. Open the door. Walk through the portal. Glimpse reality.

July 5, 2011

Becoming energized: developing a zest for life from the wellspring inside

I awake and lie in bed, thinking of all the things I could accomplish today. My house is a mess. I just returned from a trip, and there is stuff everywhere to put away–both from rushing around before the trip and from the trip itself. Not only that, but there is just stuff everywhere. My husband and I are in the middle of a major project to declutter our life. Our stuff is driving me crazy! My goal is to get rid of everything unnecessary so we can travel the world without too much baggage. Every time I look around at all the clutter we still have, I feel my energy draining away.

On days when my husband is gone at school, I try to get a ton done, but I just cannot seem to make headway. Instead I scan paper after paper, trying to digitize my files, and the lethargy sets in. I look around at all the dishes, think about how many hours I spent on them yesterday, and just cannot find the willpower to clean the kitchen today. I glance around the living room and see all my daughter’s toys scattered everywhere, but I cannot find it in me to pick them up. So that is how my husband finds me when he gets home–depressed and bored.

Today in my contemplation I took the question of energy. Where does my energy come from? What gives me the ability to get things done?

Have you ever worked a job you hated? I have, several times, and I find myself just barely able to go through the motions. I count the hours until I can leave. On the other hand, I have had plenty of energy for most of the jobs I have had. My creativity was stimulated, my problem-solving skills were in demand, and people were depending on me to finish my projects. I derived energy from the things I had to do. So much so that I became completely unbalanced, not having energy for fun or life outside of work. I simply was not happy unless I was working or thinking about work.

Now there is a certain energy to be derived from working with other people: the synergy that comes from sharing a common goal and working towards it together. I used to love that kind of thing, but at the end of the day, I would be miserable, knowing that I was not living out my true self.  So I no longer want to live my life for other people’s goals.

Even though I am not working at a job with a team of people right now, I still rely on other people’s energy an awful lot. This is not necessarily a bad thing–I feel the synergy when my husband and I work together on decluttering, and I have been very inspired lately by reading blogs such as Married with Luggage and Miss Minimalist. Married with Luggage inspired me to take big steps to change my life into the way I want it to be. Miss Minimalist inspires me to get rid of the crap from my old life that is keeping me from coming into my new life. The other day I read her post about a minimalist kitchen, and I got up, walked into my kitchen, and took a whole box of stuff out and into the storage room (I’ll garage sale or thrift store it all later after I see what it is like to live without it).

Yet I find that other people’s energy is not enough to sustain me, and reading blogs can turn into a distraction that keeps me from having to face the big jobs in my path, like cleaning out my pantry and selling stuff on ebay.

When I start to feel drained, I often turn to cooking and eating. While cooking is an activity that I enjoy, and food does give energy to my physical body, it does not deliver much energy to my soul. Instead it often has the opposite effect of making me even more lethargic.

So in my contemplation today, I realized that all those papers I am scanning have a low energy flow. Even though it feels good to be rid of them, I am not getting through them fast enough to keep up my energy while I declutter. Moreover, those papers are not my source of life; actually they are something I am trying to rid myself of.

In reality, all those sources of energy–working with others, reading inspirational writing, eating, doing stuff, having stuff, decluttering stuff–all come from outside me. Though I can feel energized from these sources, the energy does not last. It does not make me reverberate with a steady hum from who I really am, and at the end of the day, I feel low, like nothing got done, and I go to bed depressed. My happiness comes from what I have accomplished, and I usually have not accomplished enough to feel happy with myself.

I dream of the day when I can look around at my house and see hardly anything in it. I think then my energy will be able to flow more freely, yet I have come to the realization that as long as I derive my energy from outside sources, I will never be happy or balanced. Worse, I will never be myself. Always striving for yet another project just to try wring a little more energy from it, to live a little longer–all this effort pales in comparison to true reality. When I gaze at the ball of fire inside that is God, decluttering my puny little papers seems like a stupid way to try to get energy.

What I heard this morning centers around the meaning of the name “Jehovah,” the English version of the Jewish name of God. I was taught that “Jehovah” means something like “I am that I am.” This has been a powerful idea for me every time that I contemplate the being-ness of God. I got the idea this morning that “Jehovah” is not only the identity of God, but also of each of God’s children. That is the part of me that is divine: I am that I am. I am who I am. I am not saying that I am the person of Jehovah, but that I am the person of myself. I am.

And in my being, there is a wellspring of abundant energy, not just to scan puny papers, but to really LIVE. Living off the energy of doing stuff is fake. It’s a fraud. It’s nothingness and distraction and lifelessness and busywork that keeps me from living. I cast it off!

In contemplation, I center myself on who I am. As I come into the core of my being, I tap into a limitless well of energy that will never run dry.

Today I challenge myself that whenever I feel my energy running low, I am going to close my eyes to the outside world and contemplate, even if just for a minute. I hope that in this way, I can connect to the energy of my being, not my doing.

How do you get energy? Do you find it easy to derive energy from the core of your being? Do you have any method you use to switch to “being energy” from “doing energy”? Let me know in the comments.

June 27, 2011

Why I stopped going to church

So often in life I have found myself in bondage to something I “should” do. A big one for me has been church. I was raised with the idea that I not only should but must go to church, and not just now and then but to every meeting of my church, and not just any church, but the particular one my parents believed has the “truth.”

Although I left the church I was raised in years ago, I could not get away from the command that I must be a part of some church. Yet my heart screamed an emphatic NO! The mantra “I do not belong here!” reverberated from my heart while my will and reason demanded that I faithfully attend.

illustration by Brian Linn

This internal battle grew to the point that going to church became sheer torture. When I went, the ache in my heart grew to unbearable, almost physical pain. I became panicked, ran outside the building, huddled down in my car, and sobbed. The pain often did not subside until after a good night’s sleep. I convinced myself that these were simply demonic attacks, and I was just lonely. When it became clear that I could not stand going to a certain church even one more time, I would move to a new town and try all over somewhere else. Yet no matter how hard I tried to connect with the people at church, and even after I became very happily married, the feeling that I cannot belong at church would not leave.

In December 2008, I discovered a book that would change the course of my life: The Shack. The funny thing is, I learned about this book at church. While The Shack spoke to me in many ways, what really helped me get free of church was the podcast I found by the co-authors of the book–Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. I needed to hear that I was not crazy to think that going to church was just not working for me. Listening to their podcast, I realized I am not alone. Lots of people have stopped going to church, and I can too. Wayne and Brad supplied the permission I still needed at that point to leave the church.

I don’t need their permission anymore; in fact I rarely listen to those guys now. When I do hear a podcast it is usually my husband’s new fav: Into the Wildbut sometimes I go weeks or even months without listening to any religious voices at all. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. I can feel my soul clearing.

Sometimes it scares me that I am wandering so far from my religious roots, but at the same time, I am filled with exhilaration. I no longer am chained to a certain way of thought that demands I put on a certain mask and pretend to be a person who fits in that archaic mold.

One turning point came more than two years before I found The Shack. In my last few days in California, I took a personal retreat at the beach. I didn’t hear much or progress far spiritually; I was actually very distracted. But I did hear one thing: “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” Sorry God. I just cannot pretend to be someone else in order to please you any more. The good news is, you never wanted that in the first place.

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