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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Losing My Religion

The past few years have caused me to really take a long, hard look at my life, who I am and what I believe.  I've come close to kicking the bucket four or five times in the last three years, and coming face to face with one's own mortality is a horrifying but enlightening experience.  Revelatory, if you will.  It's forced me to look at the carnage of my existence, the joys of being on this planet, and try to solidify just what it is in my heart that I believe.

And it has not been easy.

I was raised in a Baptist home, but it was really my mother who was the driving force spiritually.  My father was, at best, a recreational Christian.  It was only after I had joined the Navy and got together with a group of Christians on the ship that I really started to see what I believed, to begin to have an apprehension of what it was my mother believed and why she believed it.  I dove head-first into the faith, purchasing commentaries, different translations and the like with the hope that I'd learn more, understand more.  A few years later, pursued a seminary education and thought I finally had it figured out.

I didn't.

One thing I learned and have experienced is that religion as we know it today is not at all what the early Christians believed or practiced.  It's a weird, watered-down and funky version of what we think we're supposed to believe and experience.  Since this is my blog and it contains my thoughts, I decided to share with you a little bit of what I believe and have learned about faith over the course of my 50 years on this planet.

I believe that love really is the answer.  When we truly love, we forgive, we have the ability to see the flaws in others but also realize that they are not the sum total of those flaws.  True love sacrifices, it doesn't judge, it doesn't hate but it does get pissed off once in a while.

I affirm the Creeds of the Church.  The Nicene and Apostle's Creeds have meaning and are great barometers to determine whether we're on track or not.  Or if we need to reevaluate our belief system.

Pharisees exist everywhere and sometimes, they reside in our very hearts.  The Pharisees were real jerks back in the days of Christ.  They were the political/religious leaders of the day who used their position in the faith as political leverage - they hounded Christ his whole time on earth and they were ultimately responsible for His death.  Today, their impact on the political landscape is undeniable - with the passage of religious laws that have no place in the Constitution, whose motives are to recreate a theocratic culture that cannot nor will not every come to fruition.  They will fight, kick, scratch and destroy whomever gets in their way of this quest, and more often than not, it's those closest to them that are the casualties in their holy war.  We've all known a few of these people and sometimes, if we're honest with ourselves, we know that they reside in our minds as well.

I no longer believe in the death penalty as we know it.  Don't get me wrong - if we catch someone in the act of a heinous crime, or if we have completely irrefutable evidence, I can understand swift justice.  But if I am going to say that I'm pro-life, I can't intellectually ascend to the acceptance of the death penalty when there is even a slight chance that we may be getting it wrong.  I just can't do it.

Politics should never hinder our ability to fellowship.  Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian...those are just labels that define a political world view.  It does not define us spiritually.  Never should we find ourselves in a position where we refuse to break bread or to have fellowship with someone because of their political proclivities.  That's just stupid.

The beginning of spirituality is the end of self.  To truly have a relationship with the Creator, we have to die to ourselves.  I've not accomplished this task, but I know it to be true.  The absolute embodiment of our love for God lies in our self-sacrifice for others - and not just for those who we know intimately, but even those we don't.  I was once told that the homeless were God's wedding invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and I'll tell you, I don't know that not to be the case.

We've gotten it wrong for so long, it may be impossible to get it right again in the macro.  Televangelists, get rich quick schemes, name-it and claim-it, false healings and of course, the Joel Osteen mega church malarkey has so permeated the fabric of our faith community that we've lost sight of what really matters.  What used to be a place of worship, fellowship and love has turned into a retail establishment wherein we can purchase emotional indulgences and walk away feeling as though we've experienced something spiritual.  It is going to take nothing short of a dramatic reformation of the Church to see these problems go away.

We're approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by Christmas and to me, in many ways, Thanksgiving signifies more than contemporary Christmas does about faith.  At the end of the day, we are to approach all things with a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness.  And before you consider me anathema, remember that I do believe, I just don't believe in the fecal matter being dished out today and called "Christianity."

Merry Christmas!