Thursday, January 27, 2011

Racketeering for Jesus

Fate of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)
GOD'S MUSCLE! from EIT! on Vimeo.

So kids, what's the moral of the story? Don't lie about giving what you promised to the church, or else...

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Job Most People Don't Want

God bless these kids! They do the job that most people either are too afraid to do, or simply feel is wrong to do in the first place. H/T to Vorjack from Unreasonable Faith for posting this video of PinPoint Ministries (remember them) reminding us of the wickedness of Hooters and their "prostitutes". Vorjack's post is actually an announcement of the upcoming Rock Beyond Belief event which will be held at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina (where this lovely video was shot). I'm sure Pinpoint Ministries will be there to condemn the whole event straight to the fiery pits of Hell. You gotta love these kids for taking on the one job most people avoid: sharing God's love by screaming at random strangers to repent and become as righteous, loving, and Christ-like as they are.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 4- The Wholeness We Seek

 "Such a union (marriage), when it works can provide us with the most sublime feeling many of us will ever know, the sense of transcending our isolation in the world and finding a new sense of wholeness, a sense of having the empty places in our lives filled." Harold Kushner

How Good Do We Have to Be? continues to simultaneously break and heal my heart with every turn of the page. I find myself realizing how right he is every time he reveals how wrong we've been on how we view each other. Our individuality is both overwhelmingly awe-inspiring and dreadfully lonely, which is why we seek someone to complete and make us whole. Kushner starts the marriage chapter with an interesting twist on the Hebrew word commonly translated as "rib" during Eve's creation in the book of Genesis. The word tsela is more commonly translated as "side" which hints at a creation of an androgynous two-sided human paralleling myths found in Greek and Hindu sources. So when it states in Genesis 1:27 "male and female he created them" the text can be read to say that God originally made a two-sided human which he then split apart making them suitable mates for each other.  So when two people come together and feel that restored sense of unity they once again become the androgynous creature they once were at the time of Creation. I found that to be an interesting myth which perfectly describes the wholeness we discover when we find our partners.

The issue then becomes how we interact with our partner as this newly unified creature. We seek out a partner that completes us but this also means we each bring our flaws into this new union.We become so drunk on the experience (love) of being this new beautiful creature that we explain away/ ignore our partner's flaws in the beginning. But as we become accustomed in our new body those new flaws become more prominent. The illusion of the perfect mate begins to melt and we begin to question whether or not we chose the right mate for us. "Which is why", as Kushner beautifully sums up,"the essence of marital love is not romance but forgiveness."

We are immensely fallible creatures who are destined to screw things up. When we join with our partners as  this new creature we must open our whole selves to each other, which allows for a tremendous amount of love to flow in both directions. This also leaves us incredibly vulnerable to personal injury which is why trust and forgiveness is foundational to marriage. Kushner boils down our interactions with our mates (as well as neighbors) to two choices: we can choose to seek a life of righteousness or happiness. Kushner defines righteousness as remembering every time someone has hurt or let us down and never letting them forget it. It is the life of the eternal victim living in defense mode from the world. It is an alienating, lonely life trying to live by impossible standards of perfection. However, living a life of happiness embraces our imperfect humanity with a spirit of forgiveness. We come to terms with the fact that nobody is perfect and the foundation to a happy and fulfilling marriage lies in our ability to forgive our partner for simply being human. This spirit of forgiveness does not mean a battered wife must continue to suffer at the hands of an abusive husband, nor that either partner continue to lie to the other about extramarital affairs. I'll leave you with Kushner's definition of this spirit of forgiveness we should embrace when it comes to our most personal relationships.
"Forgiveness as the truest form of love means accepting without bitterness the flaws and imperfections of our partner, and praying that our partner accepts our flaws as well. Romantic love over-looks faults ('love is blind') in an effort to persuade ourselves that we deserve a perfect partner. Mature marital love sees faults clearly and forgives them, understanding that there are no perfect people, that we don't have to pretend perfection, and that an imperfect spouse is all that an imperfect person like us can aspire to."

Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts

Sunday, January 9, 2011

You've Got Mail!

I didn't actually expect a  response to my Letter to My Christian Friends article I posted on New Years day, but lo and behold I received a response from John! Welcome John to A God-Sized Puzzle and thanks for visiting. I found myself responding back with a page long comment so instead of squeezing my response into the comment section of the prior post I decided I would respond to you with a whole new post. So here is John's comment and my reply (the original can be found here).

You are desparately adding/deleting/modifying spiritual worldviews and trying to place them in a new package.

Your mind has been corrupted by none other than the master of corruption. So all day and all night your brain toils to try to find some connection, some belief that makes sense and weaves the mysteries of life all together in a way that satisfies you. You bounce from Christianity, spirituality, new age, atheism, and back again.

You eat, but your stomach is not filled. You drink, but your throat remains dry.

Friend, remove the secular corruption from your mind. Unload the nonsense that you have adapted and accepted as fact.

Re-program your brain with the truth. Reprogram your mind with the software that the master creator designed to run in your mind. Stop trying to solve a puzzle in which the answer has already been provided.

If you don't do that, I fear for your soul. I have seen a downward spiral before, and you are in a deadly spiritual downward cycle. It only gets worse from here, trust me. I have been where you are now.

I wish you the best, and may you find your way back. I will pray for you.

Thanks for visiting and joining the conversation. It's always good to hear from new people with different perspectives. I'd like to make a couple comments to your reply if you don't mind.

It only gets worse from here, trust me. I have been where you are now.

The thing is John, I've been where you are now and from my perspective things have been getting better. Or, to be perfectly honest, I've been where I think you are now. Each one of us are completely unique in the universe, there will never be another John or Sam (that's me) with the same life experiences every again. Everything about us is completely unique including our spirituality, our connection to God and each other. So when I say "I've been where you are now" I can only say that I've shared in your beliefs at one point. But the difference is I don't find myself spiritually more mature compared against anyone else, just more mature than what I used to be.

Re-program your brain with the truth.

We can go in theological and philosophical circles on the concept of truth but the bottom line is that individually we are the final arbiter of truth. In the end we decide what is truth. You have chosen Christianity because it means something to you, because it helps you connect to the divine. And I honor and respect that. I really do, or else I wouldn't bother writing back. Christianity is a part of me as much as Islam or Buddhism is a part of me. Their point of convergence is not on the truth statements they share but how they bring out the best part of my humanity to the forefront. I embrace more than JUST Christianity not for any sort of self satisfaction but because there are more than just Christians on this planet and the more religions I speak the more I can connect with my fellow man.

John, the heart of my spirituality does not lie in spiritual practices or beliefs but in Love itself. God IS love, Truth is Love, and Love is what drives me. To me God is not a noun but a verb. It is the act of Love that guides me past all the truth statements, beliefs, and practices of the world, including Christianity. If you're feeling a bit fuzzy as to what I believe then by all means feel free to dig through my archives, or even my blog series.

Stop trying to solve a puzzle in which the answer has already been provided.

And finally John, the point of this blog, or my spirituality, is not to solve some giant puzzle but to connect with my neighbor. I'm not desperately trying to seek a connection when the connection to life, each other, and the universe is already there. It's just a matter of reaching out and embracing one another.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Live Together, Die Together

"We either live together, or we die together," -Mohamed El-Sawy

This was the slogan cheered on by supporting Egyptian Muslims as they poured onto the streets to act as a "human shield" for their Coptic Christian brothers to show the world that Egypt stands collectively against terrorism. Thousands of Muslims came out to support their Christian brothers during their Christmas eve mass services in churches on Thursday after the recent New Year's attack on a Coptic Church in Alexandria. You can read the full story here and here.
“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.” (Ahmra Online)
While Americans battle over whether or not we feel it's right to build a place of worship blocks away from Ground Zero (not to mention how quickly it was forgotten), Muslims in Egypt are coming out to protect and support their frightened Christian brothers. We in the West forget that the majority of terrorist attacks by Muslims are against Muslims. How can we really put them in the same camp? How can we label them all terrorist when Muslims are victims as well? I wish stories of compassion and brotherhood were more widely broadcast. But of course "love" and "brotherhood" doesn't sell as well as death, destruction, and mayhem.

Islam is not a monolithic group set out to destroy the West or out to conquer Christianity. Muslims are as diverse as any other religious group. Many of them yearn for a peaceful life where they can work, eat, pray, and raise their family. How is that any different than the American or Judeo-Christian values we so love to loudly proclaim? Sane people all over the world want the same thing and share the same values: to be able to work, eat, drink, and be merry. I know this one story of Muslims supporting Christians in a far away country won't change anyone's perception of Muslims, but I can only hope it might raise suspicions among readers who hold negative stereotypes of our Muslims neighbors. I can only hope.

(h/t to Andrew Hackman of Hackman's Musing for sharing this on his Facebook page.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear Friends,

I know you have questions, scratch that, I know you have a TON of questions. And I would love to answer all of them to the best of my abilities, but for me to answer you need to listen. I mean really listen, not just to what I'm saying but what I'm trying to share. Let's face it, words have a limit to what they can express and I'm not a master wordsmith myself (although ironically I deal with words on a daily basis at my job and on this site). I want you to know that beneath the layers of belief (or unbelief in my case) I still have a human heart. Our beliefs may shape and mold us into the people we are now but they don't have to define us.We are wildly beautiful, fantastic creatures capable of tremendous love and empathy. That wondrous potential is what drives my love affair for my fellow man despite all of our brokenness and faults. This is why I can not help BUT love my neighbor. (Although in person I am more reserved and less vocal than here on my digital pulpit.) I don't follow prophets, preachers, or philosophers, I follow that which makes me vulnerable, open to the universe so that she and I may grow with AND into one another. It is love which makes us vulnerable and open to each other. As Christians you may be saying "love is exactly what drives us as well", if so then let us share with one another and walk away from the dialogue changed by the love we share.

I am an Atheist in the sense that I do not believe in the traditional monotheistic view of the divine, at least not anymore. But the imagery and symbolism used in religion still touches me on a very deep spiritual level. I'm not out to attack religion, God, and faith, I simply want to experience, learn and share my own humanity. As a rational human being I've come to cherish the stories of my parents' faith without taking them literally. The story of Adam and Eve doesn't have to be literally true for me to see the Truth expressed in the story. Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing the Bible off as merely a fairy tale book. I simply hold the Bible to be equal to other sacred (and non sacred) texts. My spirituality isn't based on what I exclude (i.e. Christian, Muslim, etc. beliefs) it's based on what I CAN include which helps me self-cultivate my love for my fellow man. That's it. Simple, no?

So to my Christian friends, I'd just like to say I'm no longer exclusively Christian because I find it boring, pointless, or backwards, but because I can't imagine containing myself to one set of religious symbols and language. There is so much more to reality that we have yet to discover or imagine that to limit the description of our human experience to a dedicated set of words and images is like painting a portrait with a handful of colors. Everything about mankind is infused with such immense diversity and creativity that we can't help but experience Reality differently. It is in that chorus of unique experiences that we share a common voice, a shared humanity. We forget that shared experience at times, but whenever we do remember I believe that is when we are closest to the divine experiencing the kingdom of God within us and among us.