Tuesday, July 27, 2010

God is Not a White Man

This is my new favorite Youtube video I came across today via Andrew Hackman on Facebook. The video says it all.

I've never heard of Gungor but I plan on looking into them later today. Here's their Youtube page and if you enjoy the video, pass it on!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Finding God After Leaving Religion

There is an insightful article published on Saturday in the Huffington Post by Steve McSwain on the spirituality of us 34 Million American 'Nones' who've left organized religion behind. You can read it here. McSwain doesn't so much attack organized religion as he explains why this movement is gathering momentum. People who can not connect with the divine in a church, temple, or mosque are connecting with it daily, intimately, wherever they might be and with whomever they might encounter. Or I should say we, now shouldn't I.

But that 's the thing about being a 'None' or an SBNR there is no concrete definition because the definition rests upon the individual, what SBNR.org has creatively tagged as the subtitle to their homepage, Open Source Spirituality. This is not to say that organized religion is so last millennium but that it doesn't speak to the 34 million Americans still yearning to connect with the divine.

I am Spiritual But Not Religious. I still go to church not for God but for community. I meditate in the mornings and I interact with other spiritual explorers online as I read and write on matters of the spirit. Throughout my day I consider the suffering of others and if I can I try to alleviate it (although my pride and my urge to look out for my own neck gets in the way a lot). I spend time working with my hands fixing things up in our new home, and I settle down to relax with my family. This is my spirituality, to simple Be. I hold no grudge against religion, nor do I consider it my enemy. Religion is a human language used to interpret and communicate the awe and wonder we behold in simply being alive. It is the creative expression of man which resulted in different religions based on their experience of the divine. Man felt something, and continues to feel something, we just express that something with different words and symbols. I believe the SBNR movement is a response to mankind elevating our religious narratives and symbols to an idolatrous state equal to the divine. Finding God after religion does not mean God can not be found in religion but that the divine is always present in every corner of our lives. McSwain expresses that nothing has to be done to enter into the presence of the divine, to know God, since God is already here. To be here now is to dwell in the constant state of divine fullness, to simply BE.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Sacredness of Ground Zero

There has been a passionate yet polite discussion on the Spiritual But Not Religious Facebook page on the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. The discussion seems split down the middle between those for and against the building of the mosque. The main argument against it seems to be that the decision to build the mosque should be left to the people of NYC and the survivors, while the main argument for building is that allowing it would encourage Americans to dialogue and learn more of this commonly misunderstood faith. A few thoughts struck me as I read through the discussion.

First, it seems as if the land at Ground Zero bears a since of sacredness from the aftermath of the attack. This I do not argue with but we must be careful that honor and respect for those who died upon that now sanctified ground does not turn into idolatry, and idolatry into tribalistic hatred for Muslims. I'm just urging caution. Second, not all residents of NYC are Christian (or other), many of them are Muslim, several hundred thousands of them, and since they're also NYC residents their voice should not be dismissed simply because they are a minority group. If a church were to be built there instead I doubt this would have made the papers and caused non-Christians to protest.

My final thought on the matter is on the huge amount of misinformation floating around the internet on how this mosque will be used for terrorists to infiltrate the U.S. There is a great Q&A with the Lead Developer of the Park 51 Project, Sharif el-Gamal which sheds some light onto the detail of the planned project. Aziz Poonawalla over at City of Brass conducted the interview, click here to read the entire article.

So what do you think?

Hardee's Faith, The Lunatic, and the Possibilian?

Don over at Reflections has posted an intriguing article by Dr. Richard Beck on the horizontal (God) and vertical (our fellow man) obligations of the Christian. James of Exploring our Matrix and Sabio of Triangulations write on whole packaged faith and thinking vs. from scratch faith and thinking. (Oh, and Exploring our Matrix has had a new face lift.) Andrew at Hackman's Musings has shared a creepy but excellent video rendition of Mark Twain's "The War Prayer". And via Faithful Progressive Robert Jensen writes on Neuroscientist David Eagleman as a Possibilian, living "between the facts we think we know and the fictions that illuminate what we don’t know."

I've also received my new Droid Incredible yesterday and was wondering if there were any religious apps out there, or any period that I must have? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Reason for Salvation

"The reason we're Saved is not to have a better life here, it's because we broke the holy laws. We stand guilty before Him and we don't want to go to Hell." ~Pastor Roberson, Calvary Baptist Church-Redbank, TN.

I was hoping for something a bit more uplifting and "Christ-like" than saving our own necks from Beelzebub's boiling stew as I sat on the edge of my seat for the reason why people yearn for salvation. Is salvation really all about divine justice and avoiding Hell? What if you don't believe in either, what then? I do believe in justice but the divine justice portrayed in Christianity and Islam (they are quite similar, you know) sounds immensely unjust.

Why the need for punishment in the afterlife anyway? Why must sins be paid with blood? Is there no other way, a more compassionate way? Why must God demand sacrifice, human sacrifice, from its flawed creation to laws God put into place? Is there no other way in approaching the divine without blood as the ticket to dwelling in the presence of the holy?

The reasoning in Christian theology sounds reasonable at first: the price we pay for giving into our carnal nature is the destruction of life. This speaks to our desire to survive, and if we want to survive and honor the gift of life we must redeem ourselves. But to us in the 21st century there is a disconnect. We (the Nones, SBNR, the secularist, etc.) feel that sacrifice is unnecessary to connect to each other and to the divine (however you may define that). Not only does distancing ourselves from the sacrificial interpretation relieve ourselves of unnecessary self-created fear and guilt this gives us all the more reason to honor life in THIS world. There is no stick and carrot prompting us to love our fellow man, we love from an inner desire to do so. Is this not more genuine than love propelled by the fear of hell? I do not love to save my own skin, I love to honor the skin of my neighbor. Does this redefinition of the Crucifixion devalue the good news of the gospel? This depends on your views on theology. A brief study into the history of God shows that our views of God has evolved and continues to do so. Maybe it is time to review the popular beliefs of God. There is a growing trend that people are becoming dissatisfied and disconnected with the traditional views since spirituality has not declined only the religious envelope in which it is presented. I believe that humanity is on the verge of a global awakening, we are becoming aware that the old notion of 'every man for himself' is not going to cut it anymore. We are aware of the humanity of our global neighbors and it's becoming increasingly difficult for us to hate Them when we know Them. How can we damn our neighbors to eternal hell fire when the lines between Us and Them are blurring?

22. Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) kingdom."

They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) kingdom as babies?"

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]." [Gospel of Thomas, Logia 22]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Comment Issues

I've been notified by several people that the comment box has been causing issues. If the comment box is causing you trouble leave me a note using the blue comment box to the right (scroll down) with the following information: the page you attempted to comment, the date of your visit, and the city and state from where you accessed the page (I use Google Analytics which may help me pinpoint the cause of the problem). If you are unable to see the blue comment box you can contact me directly at eruesso25 'at symbol' gmail dot com. The blue comment box sends your comments directly to me. Any other issues with the site, miscellaneous comments, questions, and rants are also welcomed.

Peace and blessings,


Sunday, July 18, 2010

A God Shaped Hole

A God shaped hole has always been an interesting phrase commonly used by pastors, preachers, and pulpit pounders to win the souls of the lost. It assumes that we all have this gap within us that only God can fill, and by accepting Him (not Her, remember God is male!) into our lives we will be transformed into the beings we were meant to be before the Fall. At least that's the idea except our descriptions, images, and parameters of God are shaped by us. The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. We forget that when we speak of the eternal, we speak of the mystery not the image or manifestation of the eternal. Yet God as completely mysterious and unknowable makes the divine too distant and non-personal for billions yearning for an intimate interaction with the divine. So what does mankind do? We dress God up and create our personal image of the divine. Some of us even go as far as knowing what God loves or hates having intimate knowledge of God's mind. So how does our image of the divine line up with our God shaped hole? Is it shaped in a fashion construed to our beliefs and ideas of God, or does it transcend all definition? Does the God shaped hole change shape from religion to religion, from person to person?

The divine is shaped to the mortal limits we place upon it. It is not inherently limited, only the manifestations in which the divine pours itself from itself. In Christian terms this would be equivalent of putting on the Mind of Christ, the Christ Consciousness (Philippians 2:3-11) all Christians struggle to emulate. To be Christian is to be Christ-like, to allow the transformation within to overtake our bodies being filled with the Holy Spirit. But I am using Christian terms to describe a human experience, a natural experience. The label, the terms, the symbols, and story are merely the vessel into which the divine pours itself. Some may ask why would the divine bother with different types of containers, why would God allow for different religions to spring up. I believe this question is equivalent to asking why nature would bother to produce more than one type of species. The universe is infinitely creative and for the cosmos to not create diverse life would be an incredible waste of energy. The diversity of faiths along with the people who hold them are representative of that creativity.

The phrase A God shaped hole relates to the symbiotic relationship between the sinner and God described within a Christian context: what is a God shaped hole without a God to fill it, and what is God without a God shaped hole to fill? We may feel distant from the divine during times of suffering and loneliness, but it is at these times where we find the divine all around us, permeating throughout all things, all people, and all places. If God is Love manifesting itself through creation then God has never left us, nor will ever leave us.
Psalm 139: 7-10

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Canyon of Faith: Part 3- We All Need Love

During my recent visits back to church I've been pondering the canyon which separates the faith I once had and the faith I have now. What really separates the me from 5 years ago from the me of today? How does our understanding of the universe shape our relationship with its inhabitants? Does our definition of God have an impact on our relationship with man? As always I'm not out to bash Christianity but to wrestle with the unasked questions themselves, and in wrestling I might find some enlightenment even though the question may defeat me.

Love, although essential, is often denied. It should come as naturally as breathing, yet it doesn't. We choke on the fumes of fear, fear of denial, rejection, exclusion. I know I put up barriers to my heart so that I won't get hurt, but I know that's just fear. Fear is the mind-killer...

I've recently recovered an email buried away in an old email account flooded with junk mail. The email is from a friend, Paul, I've been in contact with via email. He occasionally responds to my posts and I found his recent message so illuminating I thought I would share excerpts. Paul's email was in response to the previous two post in this series, he focuses on the denial of love.
I think there is “Love” (or Source, or God, or whatever. As you state, words are constricting) and then there is “The Creation of Love” and it’s this “creation” point where we as humans go so awry.

How do you “create” love? That’s what an organized religion tries to do. Love just is. Always has been, always will be. And love is not ethereal. It’s practical and always in everyone’s best interest. Love is all encompassing. It is expressed in the smallest action, a kind word or smile, to something as large as an unending supply of oxygen via photosynthesis, a process in which the most abundant life form (plant life) takes in carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen, thereby insuring the survival of the most intelligent life form (man).
His thoughts struck me so hard it's as if I received a revelation straight from the divine, and now whenever I catch myself acting unloving I envision myself denying that person love. But why would I want to deny anyone love? Paul continues with a simple explanation.
You can’t learn to do what you are. You can only deny it. The problem doesn’t lie in teaching, modeling or imparting what you are. The problem lies in the reasons you deny it. Acknowledge and correct that. Peace follows.
Why should any of us deny love? I'm not sure about the other 6 billion people on the planet but I can tell you why I do it: fear. I'm afraid, like many other people, that my love won't be returned and that I should be loved as well. We clamor for each others love and attention like siblings battling for their parents love. I completely agree with Paul, Love is always present, we just have to acknowledge and correct the reason why we deny it to others. In a sense that is the purpose of this blog, for me to discover that I have no reason to deny the inhabitants of the world any amount of love. What separates the me from today from the me 5 years ago is that I acknowledge the denial of love and I'm actively seeking to correct it. I fail constantly but I press on. I am thankful for the incredible insight from friends like Paul and I thank him for the humbling reminder that we all need love.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Damn the Facts, The Enemy is Nigh!

As an unofficial sequel to my post on the theme of fear underlying the patriotic celebration at Sunday's 4th of July service at our church, today's post is on a popular video which was shown at yesterday's service (July 11th) as a part of Soul-Winning Sunday. Although the guest pastor only showed the first 2 minutes of the video (where they mentioned Islamic Immigration) it rattled me to my core. I wasn't rattled because I had considered converting to Islam a few years ago but because I knew exactly where the film was going (In fact I had recognized the film 30 seconds into the presentation.).

This video has received over 12 million views since it's posting over a year ago. Since then there have been several sites, including good ole' Snopes.com, which have covered the erroneous and exaggerated statistics presented in the film. I'm not a statistician but a lot of those numbers seem abnormally high. BBC radio did a report on this video last year debunking some of the inflated statistics on their More or Less programme.

The guest pastor at our church stopped the film 2 minutes in and invited the congregation to view the rest of it during the evening service. Of course I highly doubt he would correct the misconceptions if someone were to bring it to his attention (which I plan to). Why? Because it reinforces their fear of the Other and makes for good propaganda (there was a massive crowd at the altar call). I have no problem with spreading the gospel but it should be done without fear tactics. The Good News is no longer good when it lacks love. When the Good News is used to distinguish Us vs. Them the gospel becomes a battle cry rather than a welcoming embrace.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

God, Country, and Humanism

This post details my thoughts from last Sunday's 4th of July church service.

Sunday was the most militant Sunday service I've ever attended. Was it always like this on patriotic holidays? How long have I been out? I don't ever recall church and patriotism being blended as smoothly as I experienced it on Sunday. We were surrounded by dozens (if not hundreds) of flags and banners stating how much God wants to bless America. A short video was also shown saluting the military in almost a Messianic manner set to the poem It Is the Soldier by Charles Providence. Here is an excerpt.

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

The poem itself honors the freedoms protected by the blood of those who fought and died for this country, but place it in a religious context and it gives the subtle impression of honoring the soldier as a messianic figure, blood shed for our freedom (salvation). If my mother wasn't there I would have walked out. I have no beef with honoring veterans or worship service but to quote one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Frank Herbert, “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows.” I fear the day when nationalism and patriotism in the U.S. becomes commonly equated and intertwined with the commoner's faith.

The pastor shifted gears and spoke on the public school system by pointing out the errors of humanism being taught in school. Humanism? I don't remember ever learning about humanism although I admit that I only went to a public school 2 years throughout my youth until college (I attended private SDA schools). The pastor noted the 5 major erroneous beliefs of humanism.

  1. No God- If we don't have a God to hold us accountable for our sins then suffering will increase in the world.
  2. Evolution-If we don't acknowledge the Creator as the author of creation then that means we come from animals and our existence becomes pointless.
  3. Amorality- You choose what you think is right or wrong and if it feels good, do it.
  4. Self-Sustaining Man- We don't need help from the divine, we can save ourselves.
  5. One World Government-.... (The pastor just mentioned the phrase and didn't elaborate at all.)
Honestly, I found all of his descriptions and arguments against humanism incredibly weak. I admit I know very little of the actual definition and history of humanism but I think it has more to do with the benefit of mankind as a whole than a self-centered, hedonistic worldview. Of course the enemy is always painted in a negative light and their views are distorted in a manner to cause a "normal believer" to cringe. But this blatant attack on humanism not only distorts what humanist believe it increases the rift of fear alienating Us from Them. Christianity historically is more prone to covering up theologically difficult questions than actually wrestling with them. If the first four points, although crude, make up an understanding of humanism then I might consider myself a humanist, although I don't feel any more of a sinner than I did before I started questioning my beliefs 5 years ago. Here are my short responses to the pastor's view of humanism.

  1. Atheism-The atheist and agnostic groups are growing in the American religious landscape yet I haven't heard of Atheism being the contributing factor behind crimes and violence. Christians, or should I say true Christians (whatever that may mean), are no less immune to committing sinful and atrocious acts against our fellow man than an Atheist. Atheists still believe life is precious, not believing in God does not turn someone into a mindless, amoral beast.
  2. Evolution-What would it mean to mankind if evolution was found to be true? I believe it means that we first must create and find our own meaning to life and that we must cherish all life. If there is no afterlife maybe mankind might be less violent against their own neighbors. If scientists say that the evidence points towards evolution who am I to argue against their findings? I have no problem with science and the scientific method as long as we continue to question and reshape our theories in light of new evidence.
  3. Amorality-Everyone already decides what is right or wrong regardless what the gods may proclaim. We choose how moral we want to be as easily as we choose which church to attend. I for one believe we have outgrown our previous images of the divine. I'm not saying that God and religion should be thrown out but that we should be more moral than the God of the Bible. Mankind's collective consciousness has evolved throughout history and continues to evolve as well as our notion of morality. We each have an internal moral drive which is tied to our yearning to survive and our desire to be accepted and loved.
  4. Self Sustaining Man- Man is fallible, as well as our image of God. Our image, myth and story can not save us because they were penned by us. They might inspire and guide us but in the end we must save and redeem ourselves. How can we do this if we are fallible creatures? We already have the means, the symbols, and the teachings scattered throughout human history which all point to one thing: love. If we allow Love to dwell within us, and we dwell within Love, then redemption will find us.
  5. One World Government- The pastor did not elaborate on this point as I believe he only stated it to further impress fear upon the congregation. The idea of a one world government is the penultimate fear among conspiracy theory junkies (I admit I was one of them for a brief period of my youth). But it's created from fear as it perpetuates fear, on and on it goes. I'm not discounting that history might take this direction I just refuse to fear the unknown future.
As the pastor concluded his rant on Hell and the unbelievers that will undoubtedly populate it, I can easily sum up Sunday's service in one word: Fear. Fear was the theme, it wasn't honoring life and freedom but the call to arms in defense of an invisible enemy created by their own fears. There are enough demons and hidden skeletons in closets without creating an unnecessary fear of our fellow man. There is no They, only the illusion of separation.

On a similar note, Peter Walker over at Emerging Christian recently wrote on the dangers of being too proud on Independence Day and reflects on what it means to be patriotic of a country with a dark past.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Empathy is the Invisible Hand

Tim King over at Post Christian has recently shared an incredible video on mimetic theory, empathy, and the evolution o our internal wiring on how we interact and identify with our fellow man.

Click on over to Tim's site for his response, but I have to say that I am also wild about this stuff. This video brings up all sorts of intriguing question my favorite by far is "why stop here?" in relation to how we identify ourselves and the "alien" other. If history shows us that our ties have been growing to include people we've identified as The Other in the past, why do we feel the need to stop? Do we need The Other to self-identity? Is there any danger in embracing our human neighbors in whom we share our genetic material? And if we choose to embrace more global ties do we necessarily have to lose and/or reshape our prior identity (cultural, religious, etc.)?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ganesh is Fresh!

I was able to catch an interesting program on To the Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio today on my way home from church focusing on the intersection between Eastern spiritual tradition, religion, and culture with 21st century modernity.

[Ganesh is Fresh t-shirt is inspired by MC Yogi's new album Elephant Power.]

For more info you can visit the To the Best of Our Knowledge website, or you can click here to listen and download the one hour program entitled New East, Old Wisdom.

Although I missed the first segment on William Dalrymple's new book, Nine lives, on the search of the sacred in India and a report on China's influence and shaping of lives in Tibet, I did catch the segments on MC Yogi and Stephen Batchelor's book, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. Although Batchelor's book on rethinking the life of the Buddha is intriguing (and is now on my ever expanding booklist) I found the segment on MC Yogi phenomenal! MC Yogi blends elements of hip hop with Hindu mythology. I don't listen to much hip hop myself and I know the blending of religious imagery with modern music has been done before but I find Hindu hip hop invigorating, or should I say fresh?