Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Road to Emmaus

For as long as I can remember, Robert Zünd's painting of a resurrected Christ on the road to the town of Emmaus with two unsuspecting followers hung in my dad's church office. These disciples thought Jesus had died, and didn't recognize him when he joined them on the road and shared dinner with them later. My dad passed away 10 years ago this month, and I'm not sure what my mother did with that painting.  

I have my eyes on a new work of art these days, though - also a "road to Emmaus." You see, I have a new little friend named Emmaus. He just celebrated his first birthday this past weekend, and I wonder if the many people there to help him celebrate were aware of the presence of Christ in his life.  I've been captivated by him for the past year, and the journey he is on with his adoptive parents. I don't know when I have seen a happier and more loved little boy. Every time I see a new picture of him, I smile and my spirits are lifted. I have seen an amazing transformation in his parents as they now see their world through the lens of the love they have for this precious boy.  

Although I have spent the last couple of posts confessing some doubts and dissonance in my own faith journey, I find that witnessing the simple and sincere love that is expressed in Emmaus' family is one of the greatest reminders of why I cling to my faith in spite of doubt. When I'm feeling a bit like I'm wandering in a desert (perhaps of my own making), God brings a work of art, like Emmaus and his family, into my view and reminds me that the God of Love is still with me.  And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then I can't believe you won't see God's all encompassing and non-judgmental Love in the images of Emmaus -  and his dads.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Paradigm, Part 2

Grab your torches, friends.  Heresy ensues.

I recall a professor at sometime in my past who used the analogy of the circle to illustrate that the more we know, the more we know that we don't know.  The circle represents our body of knowledge and understanding.  The surface area of the circumference of the circle is representative of that body of information that we don't know or understand.  If we have little knowledge, the circle is small, and thus the circumference representing what we don't know is also small.  As our understanding increases (and, thus, the circle size), so does the outer area of the circle reflect the increasing vastness (and awareness) of all that we do not know.

My "circle of knowledge" (as well as my waistline) have both grown over the years, and the once certain know-it-all of my youth is left to wonder if I really know anything at all.

I used to be certain of so many things, and I now find myself questioning faith issues as elemental as Heaven, the Divinity of Christ, Christianity as the "only" way to God, Prayer, just to name a few. I don't want to frighten or deter anyone on their own spiritual journey, just because I am wrestling with doubts. There was a time I might have judged myself as having a very weak faith as a result of these doubts. I won't pretend I don't find doubting disturbing at times, but I do believe wrestling, and even accepting, doubt is part of the journey. At least it is part of MY journey.

I recently joined the "early fifty" crowd, and there is something about that passage of time that causes one to realize you may be closer to death than you really want to admit. It's a little scary. So I think about the "after-life" a bit more.  I ceased to think of Hell as a literal place some years back, but rather as the hell of unhappiness and discontent that we create for ourselves on this earth when we find ourselves at cross purposes with our Higher Power. I now find myself pondering whether or not Heaven is a literal place, and all the inherent questions that follow such an initial thought. It makes me want to hang out around here awhile longer. I can't quite put my finger on how that whole heavenly "family reunion" piece is going to work out. And what would be the point of suddenly ending everything on this world to have ONLY heaven?

The other big issue I've hit the mat with for the past few years is the purpose of prayer. I am of the belief that God gave us free will when we were created; therefore, the Heavenly Genie isn't going to reach down in a cloud of smoke to pluck us out of harm's way when we make a poor choice. Yet we all turn to prayer in matters of great crisis.  I wish I could recall the source of this statement, but it is the best response I've heard to my struggle with this issue - "prayer doesn't change God so much as it changes us."  That's a rationale I can buy into. A reminder that God is there to share my pain, and perhaps, make it easier to bear.  And lest I assume prayer is only for a foxhole faith, God also shares and enhances my joy and happiness.

I could go on with some of the other items mentioned, but I won't.  My modus operandi at this point is to acknowledge my doubt, have faith that God accepts me anyway, and that the only thing I really must understand is that God is love. 
Love my neighbor. 
Love wins. 
The rest is gravy. 
If Heaven is a real place, it is clearly beyond my ability to comprehend it, and my faith isn't dependent upon having all the answers about it. My needy neighbor, struggling student, or failing friend, however, may depend on me for the Love that brings a bit of heaven into their lives.

I am making no attempt with this entry offer easy answers or solutions. But I do think it helps to know that just as we are not alone in our believing, neither are we alone in our doubting. And there is no heavenly host standing in corner ready to snatch our "membership card" away for not believing blindly. Perhaps that is what "grace" is all about - knowing that God loves both our belief and our doubt. And I have noticed that God has often used doubting and troubled humans to accomplish great things in history. Sometimes the last thing a person in need wants is help from a perfect person with all the answers figured out. I want to read Mother Teresa's book. I suspect that if she could have doubts, I am in pretty good company.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

New Paradigm, Part 1

I said I was going to start writing again, and I said I had lots of thoughts about church. I suppose Sunday morning is as good a time as any to get started. Let me start with a disclaimer - I don't purport to be offering definitive answers on this topic. Not at all. I probably have many more questions than answers. And in fact, I'd welcome some hearty dialogue on the topic. I just find myself wrestling with many of my long held beliefs about church - not my faith, mind you - but the formal, time-bound, brick and mortar church building, meeting, and gathering place.

I became a Christian when I was 6 - in my church we called it a "profession of faith." I still cling to, and believe in, that faith. I have not abandoned God or my faith. My faith has continued to grow and broaden with me as I have grown. But some days I feel like abandoning the church.  Now, depending on your perspective, don't let that statement cause you to gnash your teeth in despair or conversely, to jump for joy. I haven't abandoned the church, and I don't really want to.  But I am taking a step back and becoming at times a conscientious objector, and at others a conscientious observer. The world has changed, and I have changed - dramatically - since I was 6. And as more and more questions are raised in the mind that God gave me, I become more and more convinced that "the church" needs to reassess and explore whether or not it isn't time for a new paradigm.

Here is what I do know. Jesus went TO people. He didn't gather his disciples together and say, "Guys, we need a building so people can come and hear the message God has given to me to share with them."  He didn't turn to them after he fed 5000 people on the hills of Galilee and say, "Let's just build a big multi-purpose room right here to commemorate this event, attach a nice worship center, and we'll have a big fish fry this time every year to kick off our stewardship campaign." No, he headed out in a boat to recharge, saw a man with inner demons in need, and took the time to help him get rid of those demons and regain his true self. Jesus went TO people. He showed interest in them, and in their specific needs.  He loved them just as they were, and continues to love all of us just as we are. 

With that said, when did we lose that organic and simple approach to helping people discover that there is something greater than ourselves who loves us? When did "the church" move out of small groups that met in people's homes and tried to make a difference in their community, into large buildings that are becoming more like clubs, offering activities to meet the needs of all its members and designed to entice prospective members?  Rubel Shelley in his book, I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian . . . and I Liked Him Better Then, would opine that we can blame the Emperor Constantine. He believes that after Constantine became a Christian, he decided to exert his royal influence on the "church," and the result was the transformation of this organism to an organization, this community to a corporation. Organizations and Corporations require governing bodies, organizational charts, maintenance, money.  I don't recall Jesus and his followers worrying about any of these things in his organic community.  

I am a "member" of a local church. I love my pastor and the congregation, some of whom I consider dear friends and spiritual mentors. But I haven't been attending church much, lately. My spouse and I do still meet regularly with the church book group that we started, and that group meets in our home. I treasure those meetings, not just because I love to read, but because I value the "organic community" I have with this group of people. I have a group of other friends, all of whom have a deep faith in God but are struggling with the whole issue of "church," and we are "community" to one another in times of need and questioning.  I see - directly - almost 200 students every day in the school where I teach, a number of whom have serious financial, emotional, and familial needs.  They don't need me to invite them to church.  They need me to BE "church" to them.  

I'm raising more questions than I am answering.  But this is where I begin. What if "church" operated more like a 12-step program (no overhead, no single set meeting, just diverse people coming together to share and meet one another's needs - credit to R. Shelley here)? Isn't God big enough, and smart enough to speak to diverse people through diverse ways? I found my way to God through Christianity, but does that rule out other spiritual paths for other people? Is it more important for people to discover that the way to God is Love, or to discover MY God's love, MY way?  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back in the Saddle . . . Again

I'm back.  I've been feeling a need to write, and I'm tired of the voice nagging me to start blogging again.  Alright, already.  (Truly, I had no idea I had been away for so long.)  And I'm also going to try to follow more carefully the blogs you see to the right - some old favorites, and some new friends - all of which I recommend.  So, a few varied thoughts follow - just to get me back in the saddle . . . again.


For me, this time of year is New Year's.  I have and always will, I suppose, operate on an academic calendar.  It is just the way I'm wired.   Every school year begins with me wanting to try something new - some new "hook" that will motivate students to take an active part in their learning and not just sit back waiting to "receive."  A former student and Facebook friend posted the following this morning, and I think the fourth statement nicely verbalizes my focus/obsession for this new year:

Give me a sticker and I will do my very best for a few minutes.
Give me a warm smile and I will do my very best for a little while.
Give me encouragement and I will do my very best for a long while.
Give me the experiences that help me believe in myself and I will do my very best forever.

Let's see if it works.


I have found myself doing a lot of leisure reading on the boat this summer, and almost all of it has revolved around strong female law enforcement mysteries.  If the genre appeals to you at all, I recommend Linda Rodriguez' Every Last Secret, Sally Shield's blog, and a series of novels that take place in an Amish community by Linda Castillo (Sworn to Silence, Pray for Silence, and Breaking Silence).  Links to Linda's and Sally's blogs are on my list to the right.


In the last few months I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ron Holt, a psychiatrist who volunteers much of his life to the cause of educating about human sexuality, teen suicide prevention (particularly as it relates to the LGBT community), and bullying.   If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, I can't recommend him highly enough.  A link to his website is in my list to the right, and I'll be talking more about his message in a future post.  I have also posted several of his resources on my Pinterest Board entitled "Love Your Neighbor."


Church.   Lots of thoughts about church of late.  None of them definitive.   Look for posts on this topic, and while you wait, read I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian . . . and I Liked Him Better Then by Rubel Shelly.


Horse is saddled up.  I plan to take some trips on these and other topics very soon.  Pass the word.