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Defining God, part 2

So, after 15 years as a happy agnostic – and I would say that I accepted that there might be a higher being, but it was not a personal God – I was decided to start searching for God again. I can’t identify (at least not at the moment) any trigger. I thought there wasn’t any particular event or tragedy in my life. Just at some stage (maybe 2008) I decided I wanted to find God again. But the decision was a decision of finding God for myself – not the God of my childhood or upbringing, but rather what did I believe and why did I believe it?

Then I remembered… I was reading a lot of self-help and leadership improvement books (at the same time as I was studying my Masters in Business Law). At some stage, I got caught up in “searching for Wisdom”, in particular about controlling my tongue. And if there is one thing that I haven’t forgotten from my childhood, it is the sound of Dad’s voice as he read Proverbs. Dad read Proverbs to us every night: I read Proverbs today, and I hear Dad’s voice. Apparently, reading through my 2009 journal, I was really looking for answers about the power of words over your life. Here’s an excerpt (September 30, 2009):

Yesterday, I had a weird experience.  I say weird, because it was definitely out of the ordinary!  Having read the 10 curses that block the blessing, I was speaking with Alexandra and she made a comment “I’m such a B***h” and I corrected her saying “don’t curse yourself”.  Just came out of my mouth, without thinking.  Another friend, that heard me, turned and said “oh, not another one that’s converted to Kabbalah”.
And I admit, I was a little lost.  I’ve heard the word “Kabbalah” before.  I know it refers to a religion.  “Sounds” Jewish to me, but I really didn’t have any idea what I had supposedly “converted” to.  Luckily for me, Alexandra “knows all about it”.  She knows a number of people that have “converted” to Kabbalah.  And gave me a basic explanation… and there wasn’t anything in her explanation that I disagreed with.
What most impacted me about her description of Kabbalah is that it is a way of life, not a religion.  Hmmm…  What does that tell you about how people see Christianity and the Church?  When they differentiate Kabbalah from religion, and indicate that it’s a way of life?  It’s that what Christianity was supposed to be?  A new way of living?  So, how did it move from being the radical, new way of life to becoming just a religion?  Food for thought.
Anyway, my intention was not to discuss Kabbalah and whether or not Christianity is a religion or a way of life… My intention WAS to discuss that one of the points that I totally agree with them on is that the Tongue has the power of life and death.  What you say (whether you intended to say it or not, whether you were thinking when you said it or not) has an effect in this world.  What you say can bring things into existence.  Life a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When I say “I can’t do this”, am I expressing reality? or my attitude? or am I creating a reality that will result in my not being able to do it?
Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) is a well-known statement by Descartes from 1637.  Of course, he originally wrote it in French, not in Latin.  Obviously, what we think is what we speak.
mini book review “10 curses that block the blessing”… Chapter 1:  “The Creative Power of the Tongue”.  It starts with these simple words The number one way a cruse can come on your life and block your blessings is in the words you speak to yourself and others.  Many times we curse ourselves by the words we speak.  Like the author, I don’t much believe in those Christians that go around with the “Name it and claim it” religion.  But I have been reading a lot of Proverbs this year (One chapter a day, every day, since last December, to be precise), and it clearly states “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit”. (Proverbs 18:21).
… But I certainly didn’t remember the Old Testament story of the Children of Israel getting to the river Jordan, ready to cross into the “Promised Land”, and when they send out the spies, 10 of the 12 come back and say There are giants, they have really good fortifications, they have organised armies, there is no way we can beat them (well, I do remember that part), and God’s response to Moses was “As I live, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will do to you”.  Uhhh… what did you say?  As I’ve spoken, so will you do?  So, whatever comes out of my mouth, that’s what will be?
Proverbs does say it in a LOT of different ways:  (Proverbs 13: 2-3)  A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth, but the sould of the unfaithful fees on violence.  He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
So, what have I been creating in my life? How have I limited myself and my ability through words spoken without thought?  Throughout the book, the author mentions Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”.  I’m starting to wonder what I have destroyed in my life, through not thinking that what I say may have a full effect on my life.  Negative words produce negative results, but positive words produce positive results.
Chapter 2: “Loshon Hora – The Curse of Evil Speaking”  Once again, be careful what you say.  But, with a slightly different slant.  Karma (if that’s what you’d like to call it) – the curse of gossip and slander.  When you speak evil of another person, it will come back to haunt you.  You do reap what you sow.  You speak badly about someone else, and it comes back on you.  I’d never really given much thought or consideration to how many times the Bible speaks about gossip, but it’s up there with murder, deceit, inventors of evil things, etc.   I’ve always tended to quickly read over the “whisperers, backbiters, proud, boasters, gossiping and slanderers”…

Somehow I picked that up in the bookstore… And I just found out (reading my journal) that since December 2008 I had been reading Proverbs every day – one Chapter a day. And it all came about because I was looking and reading about the power of our words and getting Wisdom. Now, admittedly I was reading a lot of Covey, Maxwell and other writers who I know come from church backgrounds – and their values and perspectives resonated with me.

But at the end of the day, I also know I came back to what Mum & Dad taught me as a child in my search for wisdom and growth. I may have chosen a different path, but the wisdom and love was still there under it all. Teach a child in the way that they should go and they won’t stray from it.  I’m not sure if that’s quite what it says, but this morning I don’t feel like looking it up to check it. It’s somewhere in Proverbs and it says something along those lines!

And it was a conscious decision after about a year of reading Proverbs every day, to start looking for God again in my life. Not to go to someone for them to tell me what to believe, but for me to discover what I believed for myself. To study. To search. And to spend time in silence.

And reading more through my journal, in September 2009 I joined a prayer group:

I also started going to a home-group, which was basically because I’ve started to understand the power of prayer and what I wanted was a small intimate group where you get real support from “real” people.  People that are, like me, struggling with living uprightly on a day-to-day basis.  I don’t really want to go to church, because I am still struggling with the values and hypocrisy you find in Churches.  And I have no excuse, the home group is literally “around the corner” from my house.

Interesting to look back through my growth and attitudes.  Okay, I admit – I’m still not big on organised religion! I’ll leave you with what I found yesterday in Facebook:

donttrustwords

So what are the patterns of my thoughts & words? Those are the ones creating my life!

 

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Sermon: Accountable before God

Readings:

This morning in Romans we read:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

And in Matthew we read:

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

The reading in Matthew started with:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Some say that means that we have to forgive 77 times and others say that’s 490 times: seventy times seven.  So, imagine with me, for a moment, if God actually kept score of our forgiveness of each other, the same way that we keep score of how others have wronged us. How would that ledger look? Do you ever make it to forgiving someone 77 times for one offence? Ever?

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And then imagine if God was as quick to pass judgment on us as we pass judgment on others. Romans asks us today, why do we despise each other? Some versions say “treat them with contempt”, others use the word “belittle” or “look down on”, and still other versions say “set at naught”. To set at naught means to treat as of no account, to disdain, to hold in disregard, to treat with ignominy, to hold as insignificant.

A loving Christian is meant to care, deeply, for others: family, friends, church members & neighbors. But when we go into survival mode, that vulnerability and authenticity get shut down. Poets have long claimed that hearts grow cold and become hardened:  we treat others with disdain and insignificance. In our attempt to protect ourselves from distress and dull the pain, we divest ourselves of caring and responsibility.

When broken people live together in a broken world, pain is inevitable for anyone who loves. The only way to avoid the crushing pain of a broken heart is to make your heart unbreakable. So, we become the person that says “I don’t care” or “whatever”, when the luxury of giving ourselves the time and space to feel is threatened. And much of this despising or indifference towards others comes from looking inwards at our hurt and pain, and the defense mechanisms that we naturally have to block this out: just stop feeling. And so our hearts become hardened. If you choose the becoming “unbreakable”, you will also choose to lose your compassion.

What is critical to remember is when a heart becomes hardened, the brain has its own reasons for pressing down upon vulnerable feelings. To feel sets the person up to get hurt and the brain is geared towards survival at all costs. To bring emotional defenses down, the heart must be softened. The question is how can this be done? For me, personally, forgiveness has played an incredible role. I have repeatedly worked with Ho’oponopono meditation, where you sit and repeat: “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you.” I’ve used this focusing on loving myself, loving others, loving God.

Forgiving and letting go is so much more than just my relationship with other people: a hardening of heart inevitably means I have hardened my heart towards God. And when you forgive yourself and others, truly forgiving them, you begin once more to experience God’s love and light in your life.

Jesus knew this: which is why he said we need to forgive an offense 77 times (or 490 if you read the KJV). If we want to be compassionate in this world, we need to allow people into our hearts. People will hurt you. People will take advantage of you. People will manipulate you. Not everyone and not all the time, but some will. And you have two choices: you can either choose to forgive or you can choose to become hard. You can’t have it both ways.  And forgiving is a hard practice: for most of us, it is not something we just do once and then we’re done. Hence the need to forgive again, and again.

When we remember the offense that the other person has committed against us, we have to repeat: practicing forgiveness. And for a while we will forget and let it go. But the memory of the hurt and offense will come back again, and we will have to repeat once more. And repeat once again. Not because you are going to leave yourself in a situation where that person will continue to hurt or take advantage of you, but because you are choosing a relationship with God over and above all things.

When you are consciously aware that such-and-such a person is “like this”: let’s say that they always ask you to lend them money and they never pay it back. When you make a decision to forgive them and also to keep that person in your life, you know that you will be exposed to more requests for money that will not be paid back. And then you have two choices:

  1. You can give them the money, as a gift, freely, with love; or
  2. If you cannot find it in your heart to give them the money lovingly, you can learn the life lesson of saying “no”. Of learning how to say “no” with love, without attacking them; without putting them down. Just “no”.

But if you give them that money with resentment, it’s like you are putting a curse upon them, because in your heart: you are cursing them and resenting them. If you are going to give, then give with love and joyously.  Make it truly a blessing.

1 John 4: 20 reminds us of this truth:

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

There’s a lot of emotional intelligence involved in being a true Christian! You have to set loving boundaries in your life: where you love yourself enough to be true to yourself, and yet you love God enough to be willing to do the work to be open, vulnerable and authentic. We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our pain and hurt. That’s mine – my precious. I’m holding onto that pain. I’m not letting it go, I’ve been carrying it around for so long now, it’s part of who I am.

We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our judgments and prejudices against others. Paul says in Romans 14: don’t judge those who are vegetarians, or those who eat pork, or those who honor the Sabbath differently from us. Are we supposed to respect the Sabbath on Saturday, or on Sunday? We live in a society where dressing in a nun’s habit is okay, but it’s not okay to dress in a hijab. A society where girls should be allowed to dress anyway they like – but it’s their own fault when they get raped for dressing seductively. If we read Romans 4, verses 2 to 4 from the version The Message, we read:

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

So who are we to judge another by appearances? Everyone has been invited to God’s table and is to be warmly welcomed. Even those who have hurt us. Even those who have somehow betrayed us. Our accountability before God is individual – I will be judged according to what I have thought, said, done or failed to do in honor of God. You will be judged and held accountable for what you have thought, said, done, or failed to do for God.

I leave us with this parting thought about the way we live our lives, in forgiveness and compassion for all others who are invited to the table:

None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It is God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.  (The Message – Romans 14:7-8)

 

 

Define, God, path, destination, agnostic, personal God, higher being, books, leadership, wisdom, controlling, tongue, Proverbs, power of words, presence of God, practicing presence, Shekinah

Defining God

So one of the books that I’m reading at the moment is “In Tune with the Infinite“, by Ralph Waldo Trine. I am loving this book! Hard to believe it was originally written some 115 years ago – it’s easy reading! But what I really love about the book is that he focuses on Oneness with God, every moment of each day. Life hasn’t always been this way: I haven’t always valued being present and being aware of Presence or oneness with God.

I am much more comfortable with the terms he uses to refer to God than with those of some other books, but my awareness of the names we use to refer to God are also a reflection of the image we have created of how and what God is.

Is God personal or simply a Presence?

I really struggle with identifying where I stand on this? Maybe because I think God is both! God is God (omnipotent & omnipotence; omniscient & omniscience; omnipresent & omnipresence): why must we put God in a box and a definition?

A bit of background:

I grew up in a fundamentalist (of course, we didn’t call ourselves that!) group, where Mum & Dad worked as missionaries. Now when I look at the “do’s” and “don’ts”, the corporal punishment expected to be given (i.e. my parents were looked down on if they didn’t punish), and the control over how everyone lived their lives, I wonder how close to being a “cult” we were. Thankfully, Mum & Dad got kicked out of the mission, although it was heartbreaking and earth-shattering at the time. It was all I knew. Then we moved back to New Zealand, where I discovered that we were Presbyterian.

How does a Presbyterian end up in a fundamentalist group? Trying to save the world! I have to hand that to Mum & Dad: they truly believed that they were doing God’s will and this was the best that they can be. And I will say this for them: every time I go back to Soloy or Tolè, they are remembered by everyone with great love and affection. They positively impacted people’s lives. And in some cases, literally saved lives (mum was an RN and midwife, so in the boondocks with no EMTs or hospitals, sometimes mum was everything). And dad was love. He loved these people with his heart. If I had just an ounce of the amount of love that dad has for the world, I would be a great person! Do I disagree with some of dad’s opinions? Yes. But I can agree to disagree with him!

By 17 I had “left” the church: blame it on the hormones, the rebellious years, starting University and living the student life. But, the explanation that I gave to myself – as does every self-righteous 17 year old – is that I was sick of the hypocrisy. And by hypocrisy I mean: you know I go out drinking on Friday & Saturday night, and you want me to come to church on Sunday morning and pretend to be a good Christian. I would much rather sleep in and sleep off the hangover!

Reality, which I came to face years later, is that I was mad at God, at Christians, at the mission (especially leadership), and at “organized religion”. I didn’t know enough then to be able to think through all of those things or actually verbalize it yet. So, it was much easier just to be a rebellious teenager that no longer wanted to go to church with my parents.

Forgiveness & moving on

At 21, in the midst of an existential crisis, my flatmate leant me a book she had just finished reading as she went through her separation & divorce that had really helped her: Louise Hay “You can heal your life“. I read it through once. And then I read it through a second time, and did all the assignments as it suggested. And my happy (well, actually, miserable at the time) little bubble finished bursting! I literally packed a weekend bag and my dog (you can’t cry if you don’t have a dog to hug!), borrowed a friend’s bach in Kaiaua (pronounced: Ky-ow-ah), and went off to say goodbye to my demons! I spent the better part of 3 days grieving and forgiving. Letting go. And coming to terms with “what do I believe now?”.

I realized that I blamed God for everything: everything that had been done by so-called Christians in God’s name was God’s fault! A child’s view? Perhaps. But also the consequence of the way I was brought up!

My broken heart and broken dreams and broken family all tumbled out. I came to terms with everything that I blamed Mum & Dad for: and came to an understanding of how they were also victims to some extent of what had happened. And I realized, as a young adult, that they were human. They had done the best they could with what they had and they knew. They were not perfect: they could have done things differently, but they didn’t know any different. They protected me to the best of their ability, they same way they looked after my sister and brother. And for all 3 of us, it hadn’t been enough. We were hurt and broken. But so were they! Life had dealt them a beating and they were lucky to still be standing! I’ll write about all of that another day!

And most importantly, I started to forgive myself!

Twenty years growing up in Christianity and I had to learn from Louise Hay what forgiveness and letting go meant! I’ve read somewhere that tears contain healing properties. I must have completely healed my body in those 3 days with all the tears I cried!

Who & what is God?

Having said that, after that weekend, I came away with a view of God as an impersonal entity that was not involved in the daily affairs of men. I was done with Christianity! God and I were good, insofar as I no longer blamed God for how I had reacted to everything that had happened to me over the past 20 years. Man-made situations were simply that: created by other men & women who had claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. And I was done with organised religion and others telling me what God had said and how to read and interpret the Bible.

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And so there I stood, happily: standing on my own two feet. Responsible for my life and the life I wanted to have. Not some rebellious teen that didn’t want to go to Church on Sunday morning because she wanted to sleep off last nights drinks, but someone who simply decided that God was “out there” and not “in my heart”. Religion was organized to control and manipulate us, but each person had to decide for themselves what they believed.

I was suddenly comfortable talking to Mum & Dad about God and beliefs and life in generally without feeling guilty that I was living differently from what they believed. I built a new relationship with Mum & Dad: one that to this day is amazing! They’ve done a great job of growing up.

And so, for the better part of the next 15 years, I was a happy agnostic. I am totally responsible for my life and being, and God may exist, but it has nothing to do with me personally.

Living as a happy agnostic

So, as a happy agnostic, at 23, I came back to Panama to say “goodbye” to the ghosts and ghouls of the past, to forgive and let go of any last vestiges that might be in my subconscious. The plan: spend 3 months on holiday in Panama and then move to the UK to go backpacking for a year while I decided to do with life. But free and clear of anything that I was still hanging on to, because I always felt in New Zealand that I was in the wrong place. Something was still hanging onto me that wouldn’t let me move forward with life.

Of course, life never quite goes as planned: twenty-one years later and I am still in Panama. It is still home!

When I stepped out of the airport doors (which was air conditioned), and I was struck by the hot, humid air, something inside said “Welcome home”. And so, in a second, I changed my mind. I am not going to stay 3 months, I’m going to get a job and stay for 2 years. That plan isn’t the one that happened either. I’m still here!

Living in a predominantly Catholic country, where I would venture to say that the vast majority are non-practicing, it’s easy to be agnostic. No one is worried here about what church you do or don’t go to; no one worries about your “salvation” or what you personally believe. There’s superstition, possibly more than your fair share. I adopted a black cat – so I was definitely a witch! And I let people believe it, if that was what they wanted to think. It’s just a cat! But if you want to assign my cat some supernatural powers, so be it.

And so it went for about 15 years.