Are you a Believer or Unbeliever?

Willliam Paul Young,in his book, Lies We Believe about God, suggests a great response to someone who asks you if you are a Christian:

“Would you please tell me what you think one is, and I will tell you if I am one of those.”

I have struggled with whether to call myself a Christian or not over the years. I was certainly raised one and Jesus is an important part of my spirituality. In fact, he defines it. Richard Rohr suggests in his meditation this morning, that Christians have been so focused on the idea of Jesus dying for our sins that we might as well erase everything except the last three days of his life. Never mind the teachings or healing. There it is in a nutshell: Believe Jesus died for your sins and you are in.

But this explanation of what it means to be a believer has never sat well with me. Intuitively, I knew that Jesu’s life and message mattered, to the point that it should effect my daily choices. What good is it, I thought, to believe in a simple doctrine if one’s life is no different than anyone else’s? But to believe in someone, I think, means that I am willing to try that person’s way of life or apply their wisdom. Herein is my sense of what it means to be a Christian and I take it very seriously. I have read the sermon on the mount and believe that I am being challenged to love my enemies and to turn the other cheek. I understand Matthew’s rendition of the final judgment when he says that those who refuse to feed the hungry, feed he naked, care for the sick and the imprisoned are headed in the wrong direction. I even believe that when we harm others in any way, we are harming Jesus.

Young writes: “Belief is an activity, not a category. The truth is that every human being is somewhere on the journey between belief and unbelief; even so, we perpetuate the categories of believer and unbeliever.” To agree with an abstract doctrine and not act in any way differently is meaningless. And one is not either a believer or not a believer, as Young suggests. We are growing into belief. We try to live according to the teachings of Jesus or whomever we choose to follow. We fall and get up and try again. We witness the consequences of our selfishness or our efforts at loving and learn. We get better. We grow into belief.

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My Book is “Plausible”

I am not sure why, but people who read my book rarely tell me what they think of it. This is pretty intimidating. I can’t help but wonder if think they didn’t like it but don’t want to hurt my feelings. Truthfully, I would rather have someone challenge me than be silent.

There have been some marvelous affirmations that came from readers, however. One friend took me aside before he’d completed the book to tell me that he thinks I am a great writer. He added, “And I know what good writing is!” He filled my soul in that moment. Another had all sorts of questions about the characters and where I’d gotten my information. She clearly felt challenged by what I wrote. Her inquiry was sincere. She wanted to share it with a sister whom she knew would probably challenge my theology. I so enjoyed our conversation and hope she will introduce me to her sister at some point.

I feel especially complimented when readers ask to buy additional copies to give as gifts. One person bought 10 copies for Christmas gifts. Two people asked me if I would come to their church and study group to speak.

Most recently, I was asked by friend for a second copy which he planned to give to a friend whom he believed would really like it. This man’s opinion means a lot to me. In addition to being a person who has a spiritual bent much like my own, he is knowledgeable about the scriptures and is aware of how The Memorial of Jesus veers from what is written in the canon. When I handed him the book at our planned rendezvous, he wanted give me a word that showed his appreciation. He struggled a bit to come up with the word. “It’s plausible,” he finally said.

“Plausible”. The word feels so right! I checked it out later in my dictionary/thesaurus. Here are its synonyms: likely, believable, cogent, convincing, reasonable, thinkable, probable, credible, tenable, conceivable, imaginable, possible, admissible, compelling, sound, rational, logical, acceptable.

I suppose there are those who, after reading Memorial would disagree with my friend. To veer from the biblical accounts, they might say, makes the stories unacceptable. I regret that some might hold back from reading it if this is their fear. For me, Memorial answers the question, “What would it have meant to know Jesus, not as a savior, as a true friend.”

My friend thought my story “plausible”. I think he got out of it exactly what the author would hope.

Posted in Life, Spirituality, Writing | 4 Comments

Eldering Charlie

I had the opportunity to try out this eldering thing last night. I went to my almost 17 year old grandson’s wrestling meet last night. There were three matches (Charlie told me not to call them games). The first was between Little Falls, my grandson’s team, and Milaka, the second between Milaca and Sartell and the third between Little Falls and Sartell. This meant that I could sit for an hour and watch Charlie’s team play, oops I mean compete, and then sit for an hour to await his second chance to compete. After the first meet, Charlie told me i could go home if I wanted to but I told him no, I wanted to stay and see how Little Falls would do later. He sat down next to me. I told him that if he wanted to go sit with his friends he could. He said no, he would sit with me.

I was thrilled to have his ear because I knew nothing about wrestling and wrestling can be really boring when you don’t understand what is going on. So, as the match  proceeded, I began to ask him questions such as how points were made and what it means when a wrestler is pinned. Why did the wrestlers begin their match standing and facing each other and other times on the mat with one kneeling down in front of the other? As we watched the wrestlers, I had him explain to me what was happening, what the ref was telling them. He pointed out the good moves, the techniques being used by the better wrestlers.

When his coach called him to regroup with his teammates, I felt so much more in-the-know about the sport and when Little Falls faced Sartell in the next match, I found myself actually knowing when to cheer. It was exciting.

I think Charlie truly enjoyed teaching his grandmother. Eldering is not always teaching a young person. Sometimes it comes in the form of letting them teach you.

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What does it mean to be an Elder?

I was having a conversation with some friends recently and we were talking about how our Native American neighbors demonstrate such respect for their elders. I experienced this first hand when, years ago, I brought a group of teens from the church where I worked to do service on Minnesota’s Red Lake Reservation. There is a Catholic mission there where Benedictine sisters manage a school. They have a large old convent where we stayed. The pastor and the Sisters had worked together to make our visit meaningful. We did service for the parish and the school and they arranged for speakers to come to educate us about the history of Red Lake and Native American traditions. We toured the reservation including their turtle-shaped school and visited some of the older towns up around the lake where some of the more ancient traditions such as burial rites were still being practiced. The highlight was a dinner put on especially for us by the women which included fish fresh out of Red Lake and Indian Bread.  It was a warm, joyous occasion.

Over our time there, it was common for our speakers/meal planners to show up a bit later than we expected. I found this disconcerting and a bit disrespectful. But Father Bill, who clearly loved the Red Lake people, informed me that they operated on Indian time. “For the Native people,” he said, “The most important person in the world is the one you are talking to right now. It is not polite to rush a person when they are having a conversation with you.  So while we white people are all worried about being disrespectful by being late, they feel it is disrespectful to cut someone off who may need to be listened to.” This is where the term “Indian time” comes from and I understand that it is typical indigenous trait.

The tribe knew we were eager to learn and to serve and the social director of the nursing home invited us to come and spend some time with their Elders. Each of the teens was given a book with questions to ask and they were to interview the Elders and write the answers in the books. These books were to be given to the families of the patients after they pass on. Later, back at the convent, the teens talked about their experience over pizza.

The respect the Native people show for the Elders didn’t escape their notice. The social director spoke to them at length at how the Native people look to their Elders to be keepers of their heritage and to gain wisdom. Unlike what they had experienced back home where kids tended to rebel against guidance from older people, the Native people accepted this guidance and demonstrated respect and gratitude.

Anyone who  has ever attended a Minnesota Pow Wow knows that there is a special place set aside for the elders in the grandstands and honoring them is always an important part of the opening ceremony.

The friends I was having this conversation with were elders themselves. Most were in the 60’s or 70’s. We talked about what it means to be an elder in our own culture where elders are not necessarily honored. The term “elderly” connotes dependence and loss. We wondered: Do we have something important to share with younger generations and, if so, how do we go about sharing it? One thing we all agreed about is that we have to be sure to spend time with younger people rather than always hanging around older people.

Many of us were grandparents and several stories were shared about meaningful conversations with grandchildren. We talked about the importance of good listening and resisting the temptation to preach. “We need to encourage them,” one person said. “When my grandson shares some radical idea, instead of arguing with him, I tell him what a deep thinker he is.” Another suggested that we need to be cautious, though. If a young person is harboring ideas that are wrong, we should tell them the truth. “We can be respectful, though,” she said. “I say something like, ‘I used to believe the same thing, but I later learned that that doesn’t work.'”

Another person suggested that when they are talking about something harmful, we shouldn’t hold back the truth just because we want to be nice to them. We want them to know that we love them enough to tell them the truth about harms that could happen to them.”

It was an important discussion for Elders to be having. While many of us wish our young people would want to listen and learn from us, we need to consider how we approach them. Take advantage of teachable moments and always speak with respect and love.

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Alone place with God

My daughter, Kate, gave me a book for Christmas that she knew I would love. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights From the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor. The chapter I read this morning was on prayer and I want to share just one thought that touched me this morning:

There are some things that are eternally reserved in privacy between the individual soul and the Creator. There is a dimension of delicate pain in this, but even in our aloneness we together, for we each have it.”

It never occurred to me before reading this that the loneliness I sometimes feel may just be that special space set aside for just my Creator and I. Perhaps this is the closet that Jesus was talking about to which he called us to pray, to be alone with our Creator.

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Richard Rohr’s: The Universal Christ

I am looking forward to Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ, due to be released in March. I have read several of Rohr’s books and last Spring I took a course on the internet based on his book, Immortal Diamond. Rohr has an understanding of Jesus that speaks to my heart.

For years I had trouble calling myself a Christian because I could not accept the Jesus as portrayed by some Christian groups. I couldn’t relate to him. This is the reason I wrote The Memorial of Jesus. I wanted to create a Jesus that would have captured my heart had I been able to walk with him. As I get feedback from people who have read my book it is his humanity that they most appreciate.

One line I recall from a description of Rohr’s new book is “Christ was not Jesus’ last name.” Rohr’s work has a universal appeal. While he claims that Jesus is his central reference point, he says that his life and community, the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Work,  are guided by this principle: “We will support true authority, the ability to ‘author’ life in others, regardless of the group.” He goes on to explain that “truth simply shows up in various ages and cultures through different vocabulary and images. Throughout the world’s religions and philosophies, recurring themes point to humanity’s longing for union with Divine Reality. There are many paths to union.”

To say that there are more paths to God is not to diminish Jesus, at least not how Rohr teaches. I would say that the Christ in Jesus is the Christ in us all. It is nothing less than the Divine Spirit breathed into humankind at the beginning of creation. As the Quakers would say, it is “that of God” in each of us. That divine spark is not withheld from anyone and I believe that it is the role of religion to awaken believers to that divine spark that is already in them.

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The New Year

When I neglect my blog, it locks me out. The little “edit” option disappears from my page and I have to go through the process of seeking out my administration page and proving to WordPress that I am who I say I am and not some kind of blog robber. My blog guru son as finally taught me how to do this for myself. Oh, he taught me many times before now but he finally got the process through my thick skull.

Christmas was the distraction. My blog is not the only thing that suffered neglect. So did my eating program, my exercise regime, my sewing, and any other of my usual life activities. Yesterday, Bernie and I took down the Christmas decorations and today threw out the tree and vacuumed up the pine needles. The house looks a bit naked after all that dingle-dangle stuff draped on the beams, banisters, and window frames, the little ceramic Santas and angels on end tables and book cases, and holiday towels on racks in bathrooms and kitchens. It seems we keep adding stuff each year. I prefer naked, at least as far as my living space is concerned.

About a week ago I bought a new 2019 calendar and spent a couple of hours bringing forward events such as birthdays and all my weekly and monthly meetings. I complain a lot about how busy my life is, but in doing this meditative activity, I realize I rather like the things I do, my daily routine of reading and writing, the groups to which I belong, and the family events including holidays and kids concerts and sporting events. At 74, I still get around pretty darned good.

So I made a promise to myself that in 2019 I will complain less and try to walk through my days with an attitude of gratitude.

Happy New Year.

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