by Glen Edward Quiring
Jesus included others. It was, perhaps, this habit more than any other that made his life and teaching distasteful to the religious authorities. He ate with sinners, was unafraid to touch the unclean, and defied the religious mandates. This habit of acceptance has been lost in many faith communities.
I grew up in a Christian tradition that valued conformity rather than acceptance. In this, we behaved more like the religious authorities of first century culture rather than Jesus himself. For example, in my tradition, it is not uncommon to hear parents bemoan the reality that their children don't live within the doctrines of the faith community they were raised in. I'm thinking, particularly, of a common phrase, "my son/daughter don't know the Lord". My heart breaks when I hear this
Can it be that in saying that our children don't know the Lord might we be saying that Jesus is really unknown in our homes? Might we be saying that the first priority of the child is to accept the tradition or the doctrine of the parents in order to be accepted? When we say our children don't "know the Lord" aren't we really saying that we don't accept them?
Perhaps this is the reason the Christian church is shrinking in North America. Our children leave church - not because is is irrelevant - but because they have been alienated first in their homes? Is there any point in further alienating themselves in a larger community?
If this reflects our actual situation, our homes and our churches have become profound places of Godlessness. Where the presence of Jesus becomes a reality, there too, does the very basic reality that God accepts all who are present. Our families - our homes - become places of inclusion and embrace where the life of Jesus is present.
Many churches exclude others in principle and reality (see, for example, the churches insistence on cognitive ascent to a set of doctrines before they are worthy to enter into communion). This indicates that we are not willing to radically include others (like our children) as people worthy of love.
If it is time to embrace the community for Jesus, this reality must first become a radical reality in our homes.
by Glen Edward Quiring
"Christianity is a Relationship, not a Religion." Preachers are fond of this saying. As I grow older, I realize that I too, have become quite fond of it. I have even written and titled blogs using this phrase.
But what does it really mean?
It appears to me that when we say this we mean that there is a simple connection between the Divine and the individual. Such connections or "relationships" are made possible in a variety of ways: contracts, affinities (or commonality), Mandates, Loyalties, Mutual goals, Outcomes, Traditions. It should be noted that many (if not all) faith systems work to connect the Divine to the individual.
So big deal. I have a connection with my Postal carrier too. My carrier gets paid to heave a large bag of deliverables to my door step 5 (soon 6) days a week. Is this indicative of the relationship like the one I can "have" with the Divine? Another example might help. I have a "relationship" with the local church.This means I attend worship on Sunday mornings. I sing, pray and give a donation, perhaps attend a mid-week Bible study or common meal. Does this constitute "relationship?"
So what constitutes a relationship with the Divine? What do Christian preachers mean when they say that their religion is really a relationship? The answer is, unfortunately, "it depends." Churches vary as much on idea as they do anything. Some see it as legal contract; a set of obligations. Others envision it as working on a task; getting others to believe as we do.
The drama of the Bible relates a story of the Divine connecting to the world. In the Ancient world temples were often were found in the center of town. The Temple was a place to meet the Divine and it was the focal point of life. Other ancient stories suggest other ways to connect. The Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11), for example was thought to be a means of access to Divinity.
In the New Testament, still a Primitive (Ancient) world to be sure, the writers envision that something big has occurred. A connection or relationship with the Divine has been internalized; the Divine resides within us. The individual has become the focal point. This idea is more like a marriage than anything. A couple strives to live together in mutual submission and support. There do not exist "terms" for the relationship as if it were a contract. No indeed. It is more like two lovers living together, each graciously making space for the other, each working toward the interest of our partner.
This is religion as "relationship". So, when I say, "religion is a relationship" I am saying more than "I have a connection". I am saying that the Divine is a fundamental part of who I am and that my life expresses the Divine each an every moment.
by Glen Edward Quiring
One day Jesus was walking through Jerusalem when he became hungry. Seeing a fig tree close by Jesus went to it. Our storyteller (Mark) now tells us that the tree had no fruit. He further goes on to tell us that it wasn't the season for figs. Jesus, nevertheless, looks at the tree and subsequently curses it, presumably because it could not satisfy his hunger.
Why curse a perfectly good tree?
This snippet, like so many others in the gospels, is a small scene in the life of Christ that we might easily ignore. Have you sat watching a movie and wondered why a particular scene occurs in the story? Did the scene show us the formation of a character? Did it give us hints about what might happen? This snippet in Mark is like that.
We may surmise that God is simply moving beyond Israel, toward the establishment of a new religion. It is tempting to see in this snippet God dispensing with the Old (Israel as the fig tree) and ushering in a new means of being good, a new way of connecting to the Divine. We further might be tempted to suggest that this new religion is one in which all others must believe in or give ascent to. If we were to infer this, we would be suggesting that the Divine simply wanted a better religion - that is, a new social reality with different membership fees.
But this isn't another simple attempt to design a new religion.
By turning away from the tree, Jesus is pointing toward himself. Jesus, being God himself, puts himself center stage as the prime example of God's new thing. God himself is journeying with humanity. He is expressing God's deep affinity to be present with creation. This is what the entirety of the New Testament points. Jesus' life and resurrection points to this life. We might call it a deeply charismatic community. One in which the spirit of God lives and breathes in us and with us.
Can you Imagine your faith community as one that journeys with the Divine? So often, the church often stands on the strength of judgement -- it's us against the world! It is our way or the highway! The narrative of the gospels, however, suggests that the church is something much different. It is a charismatic community. That is, it is one that operates within the life of God -- it is a community that lives as a spirit filled community - God with us.
Do you yearn for religion? Or do you yearn to live free from religion? If so, look past your own concepts of goodness and rightness. Look simply to the life of Christ who brings Divine presence right into your own journey.
by Glen Edward Quiring
Pastor NewGen Faith
My son and I read literature at bedtime. Historically, we've read a somewhat lighter fair; The Butter Battle Book is one of our favorites. It is amazing; Dr. Seuss has a way of instructing and entertaining simultaneously.
Recently though, we started reading the bible -- the Old Testament to be exact. We started with the stories of creation and got through the stories of liberation found in Exodus. We would have kept reading in the Old Testament. But I uncovered a great picture book of Homer's Odyssey in a Barnes & Noble store in this holiday season. I couldn't resist the artwork so I bought it and figured we could read that too.
Quite to my surprise, there exists common themes in these two pieces of ancient literature. In Homer's great poem, we discovered Odysseus wandering around the sea in a fashion not unlike the Israelite's wandering in the desert wilderness. We also learned that Odysseus' men feared to move into a part of the land because there were giants - a theme also found the Old Testament (remember when Joshua sent out spies to check out the promised land?). We learned that Odysseus defeats the giant cyclops just as King David defeats Goliath -- the giant philistine -- both giants being too arrogant for their own good.
Narratives -- stories -- if you will, don't pretend to be prescriptive. Rather, they connect us to our humanity and to the millions who have gone before us on this little planet. They connect us to common struggles and common victories. Perhaps most importantly, they connect us to the values and wisdom of generations past. This connection doesn't insist we live as they did in the story. But is does attempt to inform and inspire us. It beckons to us: live valiantly, thrive, dare to do the impossible.
Each of us can thrive and flourish. I can't tell you how. I can only say that it is our calling. And this I know, for the narrative
tells me so.
by Glen Edward Quiring
Pastor, NewGen Faith
Seminary won't teach you how organizations actually work. I learned a lot about Theology, Preaching, Ethics, and the Bible. But I was really unprepared for what lie beyond the halls of the academic enterprise.
In the last year I was able to learn two important words from the Wharton School of Business: Capacity and Bottlenecks (see Coursera.org). Capacity is the ability to meet demand. Bottlenecks are those points of service that prevent business from delivering services up to that demand. So, let's say you own a sandwich shop. You hire one person to make sandwiches but she cannot make sandwiches fast enough to satisfy the long line of customers. This scenario would constitute a bottleneck. We would further say this shop has a very limited capacity (ability to meet demand).
Bottlenecks occur in all kinds of organizations. I am a Minister so lets pick on churches. Here are some working examples of bottlenecks in traditional churches:
1. Hospitality: churches often want to be a friendly church but they have no operating gifts of hospitality.
2. Staffing: churches can hire staff and then run too many programs.
3. Message: Most churches believe their message is the backbone of faith. Often, however, churches will have a very narrow view of the gospel and therefore, a very narrow message.
4. Committees: Many churches are managed by committee. Committees can be pervasive bottlenecks when they debate decisions endlessly or refuse to act until they have an operating consensus. The result is a diminished capacity.
These are just a few examples that impact capacity in churches. Despite fervent liturgies, powerful sermons and rigid beliefs, these bottlenecks must be addressed in order to increase capacity. If you don’t increase capacity, your community will stagnate. Let’s face it, growth is not only desired in churches, but it is required for healthy, high functioning communities.
Whether you sell widgets, build houses, or provide social services organizational capacity will impact performance.
Is your church experiencing a downturn? Has your attendance dropped or you sense spiritual lethargy? Ask yourself if you have attributed this downturn to a lackluster theology. Perhaps you have attributed poor performance to a lackluster acceptance of the truth among your congregation? If so, do yourself a favor and avoid the blame game. Review your capacity and examine your organization for bottlenecks. You’ll be glad you did.
Our Guest post today is from James Tyrrell. James holds degrees from Harvard and Brown University as well as a Certificate in Spiritual formation from Columbia University. Additionally, James has served as Pastor in Atlanta and is the author of Prayer for Busy People.
The average person has about 60,000 thoughts a day, 80% of which are negative and close to 90% represent something other than God's promise to them. That is a lot of dirt and distraction we heap on ourselves. God knows our situation and will work with us if we listen for the Spirit’s leading.
God’s people have always made use of listening prayer though you may know it by another name. The Hebrew word for “Wisdom” means, literally, “the ability to listen to life and its people from our hearts.” “Heart” in Hebrew is not so much about emotion as it is about the center of who people are. We sense this is true. We talk about the “heart of the matter.” We admire people who can grasp the essential content of situations. We recognize that they have a practical wisdom about how to use knowledge to manage life well. That is what Biblical Wisdom is about, learning to hear God who helps us manage life well.
Wisdom is a gift. As great as we are in some areas of living, we just need God’s help in others. We wake up one day and realize that our lives are getting too complicated. We are trying to please too many people. We want contradictory things. Solomon came to realize that “he was in over his head” when he was a 16 or 17 years old and just inherited his father’s thrown. So in the sort of dream we call a vision God appear to Solomon and says, “I will give you one wish. What do you want?” He answered, “A God Listening Heart.”(The Message, 1 Kings 3:9). Ask God for the desire to hear where his Spirit is leading you in your life.
Second, the gift of a God Listening Heart has a specific purpose: to be a blessing to others. This has been the case since Abraham. After you pray for the welfare of others, hold a mental picture or the name of a specific person and ask, “Lord, is there a gift you want me to give them?” Be still and listen. Whether or hear anything or sense or feel or however you receive God’s leading or not, hold five people a day close to your hear and ask and listen. Keep a record to what God asks you to do, which of these acts of love you do well and which are a struggle and the results in your life. Doing this will give you a solid foundation for knowing your value to God and teach you how to value other’s with God’s love.
If you want to know more about this specific type of prayer, check out http://prayerforbusypeople.com/wordpress/?page_id=49
In the grand scheme of the universe, I am simply another creature trying to make its way on planet earth. Some of us are born wealthy or into privilege. Some of us are born into poor underserved communities. Some of us live in the middle way - neither poor nor rich. We are, all of us, trying to find a niche we where we can plant our selves and live a life rich with meaning.
Nathanael was one just like me. He was a man trying to make his way on planet earth. The story is told that one day he heard about Jesus. Right there on the spot, he offers an impromptu assessment, “can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Jesus sees Nathanael long before Nathanael sees Jesus. But when Jesus meets him face to face, he offers a counter assessment “Behold an Israelite In whom there is no guile.”
Do we see the obvious? Sure we do. Jesus’ assessment of Nathanael is bathed in grace while Nathanael’s assessment of Jesus is bathed in religion. Nathanael was skeptical - perhaps rightly so. He’d seen stories like this unfold before. But perhaps more to the point, Jesus didn't fit the doctrine Nathanael had been taught all his life. The messiah would be a great man and would lead Israel back to its glory. Greatness from Nazareth? Nonsense.
Grace confronts religion. But Jesus isn't after the confrontation, necessarily. Jesus is after Nathanael. But why? Well, for me, this is a beautiful picture image of God picking his harvest. In other words, Jesus shows us that the gathering of God’s people is his ministry. And, just a sidebar here, I notice and find it interesting that this gathering begins before John offers his great “doctrinal assessment” of Jesus life which we find a bit later in John’s gospel (John 3.16,17).
Imagine laboring alongside God. Imagine your church “seeing” those under the trees of your property. Imagine that these same folks are the very people whom God desires to gather into your community. Imagine Jesus reflecting on these very men, women, and children, “behold, these whom God loves.” Now comes the hard part. Imagine taking down the barriers of doctrinal acceptance and purity of belief and creating a way for others. Imagine that!
God has spotted you. And as sure as he has spotted you, God has embraced you as one in whom and with whom God yearns to dwell; regardless of where you actually stand or where you find yourself in this world. So, next time you are under a tree, pause and reflect. Imagine that God has spotted you and is calling to you join God’s divine enterprise. Not because you have ascribed to some doctrine, belief, or prophecy. Just because you are.
Please welcome Robert Bridges to the NewGen Faith blog. Robert is CEO at Robert Bridges Imagery (www.rbridgesimagery.com) and Teaches at San Juan Community College. Robert earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Denver and a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of Denver.
I practice Buddhism and ponder the nature of God seen through the lenses of Process theology and Nikon cameras. I do not call myself a Christian and if forced to declare some faith allegiance it would be to Buddhism to practices of mindfulness, beginner’s mind, insight, and cultivating a compassionate heart.
I was invited to write about Hope and initially I thought I might write about “hope and the human heart” and assumed it would be an enjoyable and do-able task. I tucked the thought away thinking something would pop up in a few days. But days passed and nothing, zilch, nada, and I begin to wonder what it is about hope that is so difficult. I mean after all, everybody knows what hope is and we all have it don’t we? So I think maybe I just need to put more energy out to get the creative juices flowing?
I take a drive to ponder hope and I am putting gas in the truck with not a care in the world when a big, RV towing a shiny new car pulls up disgorging a passel of obviously well fed children and a coiffed woman behind the wheel who does not seem to know where her gas tank is….and the thought arose: “She’s loaded,” quickly followed by another thought “if only I had her money…” and with one perception, an interpretation and judgment, my mind went spinning off into stories of being less than others. Buddhism knows this as “comparing mind” I know it as hopelessly lost in desire, want, and sense of lack. You may know it as getting lost in thought or daydreaming.
In Buddhism there is talk of feelings and emotions that mimic something else and we sometimes get confused. For example we often confuse sentimentality with compassion or we conflate hope with desire. When one feeling tends to masquerade as another it is called “a near- enemy.” I am of mind to say that I believe hope is a near-enemy of faith. Hope takes the mind into the future of what we wish life will be like or into the past remembering what we hoped might have gone differently. I am of a mind to say that hope takes one away from the moment and nurtures an ongoing story of how it was and how I want it to be. I am of a mind to say that hope is a dynamic that acts on a horizontal plane whereas the dynamic of faith rests in a vertical plane. My experience of faith is always in the moment my experiences of hope seldom are. Hope, masquerading as faith can lead one away from faith and from being present in the moment. Hope says “it’s not perfect yet but it will be” while “faith gently reminds us that eventually even grass becomes milk,” and invites us to rest in the heart, in the body and in the moment.
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