Archive for grace

Grace has no exceptions

GraceGrace, it’s such a beautiful concept. Grace an (undeserved) gift freely given. We read in the scriptures that god loved us before we knew about god, before we saw god, before we had our first god experience.

God’s grace is scandalous, outrageous and completely free, for EVERYONE. There are NO exceptions! There are no conditions, nor rules to follow, no magic prayer to pray, no special ritual or spiritual hoops to jump through. You are loved! God’s grace is there for you, no matter who you are, where you are from, what you believe, whom you love, what you have done, what you are going to do!

The whole thing about unconditional love is that there are , funnily enough no conditions. No if’s no buts, only love.

This makes grace not only all encompassing and scandalous it makes it as Brennan Manning said, downright vulgar. It is grace given freely to the worst, most evil without hesitation or condition.

And now all the pharisees have awoken and scream at the top of their lungs, such outrage, you are peddling cheap grace!

As if! There is nothing cheap about unconditional love or unconditional grace. In fact in my experience there is nothing that is so costly as grace given to everyone regardless, loving the ones that clearly are not interested or throw that love back in your face. The road of judgement and conditional love is easy, the road of unconditional love, love in the face of brutality, greed, hostility, contempt, now that is a hard road that will cost you everything. To love people even though they mock you, hurt you, even though they crucify you, seems to be the way of the divine. Love and grace with absolutely no exceptions!

Christianity is not a checklist

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It’s not! Ask yourself this, are you a Christian? If so, why are you a christian? Is it because you believe certain things? The right things? Is it because you do certain things? Or are you a Christian because there is a divine reality of love and you live or at least wish to live in it!

At the center Christianity states that: god is love and that we love, because god first loved us. This would lead us to a Christianity that fundamentally is about discovering divine love, living loved and loving others.

The early Christians did not call themselves Christians (little Christs) but rather, followers of the way. What way was that? Well first of all it was not the way of the existing Jewish community: legalism or religious observance. It was not the way of setting up specific criteria for belonging to the way. It was Kurios Christos; Jesus is lord not Caesar. Love is lord not law!

The most quoted text of the bible: John 3.16, makes it clear that gods incredible, scandalous, unconditional love is for gods creation (kosmos) of which you and I are apart and therefore we are so loved. Now most people run straight from the agape love of god to the condition of belief. But the divine agape is unconditional, which funnily enough means without conditions. And the word belief as in accepting a truth claim is a modern concept, as the enlightenment swept through Europe the word believe went from meaning trusting, loving (the word actually is rooted in the word belove) to believing that a fact is true. And so the meaning of John 3.16 went from loving relationship to intellectual, propositional truth. Even so gods love is not dependent on us loving or trusting god. Because gods love is unconditional. There are no conditions for receiving gods grace and love. What then are we to do with what seems to be a choice between eternal life and destruction?

The early Christian text Didaché states that there are two roads, one that leads to life and one that leads to death. I firmly believe that while it is easy to cram this text and John 3.16 into the eternal heaven/hell dichotomy it is far more likely that the text is actually talking about a living reality, here and now.

While everyone is included into gods scandalous, unconditional love, no ifs no buts, we can still choose to live a life where we feel more dead than alive, more alone and desolate than loved. On the other hand we can choose a life living in freedom and love where every step of the way makes us feel more alive, more connected, more loved. This is the way of life! This is the way we follow and so this is Christianity. There is no list only love.

Jesus is not a religion

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While one can assume that Jesus may have been a religious man, Jesus himself is not a religion. He did not come to start a religion, he did not found a church and he did not write a sacred text nor did he ask anyone else to do so.

I think if Jesus had intended for his teachings to be written down, he would have been much more clear: Listen guys, make sure you get this down correctly! Instead he said: “I am the way”, not I know the way and I can tell you about it, so you can believe it. There is a difference in knowing the way and being the way, in knowing the truth and being the truth, in knowing about life and being life, being alive.

Instead Jesus in a prophetic manner speaks to religion, deconstructs religion. Primarily Jesus deconstructs the Jewish faith but I believe Jesus by virtue of being the way and by his life deconstructs not only Jewish faith but speaks straight into the heart of all religion. In fact the beautiful sayings and prophetic actions of Jesus transcends religious dogma not to form a new and better religion but to show a way without religion in a way Jesus marks the end of religion.

This I think is why he asked people not to simply believe but to follow, this is why the early Christians called themselves people of the way. Jesus being god incarnate once and for all dispels the notion that there is a separation between humans and the divine source. So he prays “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17.20-23 NRSV

Jesus embodies this scandalous and gracious oneness with the divine source. His teaching is not one of separation and division but of unity and love. Therefore Jesus does not teach a system, a theology or a doctrine but a way of being a reality where all are one united in the divine regardless of race, religion, creed, social status, sexual orientation or gender. Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of god, the life eternal is at hand, it is near, it is within us and it is knowing the divine source by becoming one.

Falling upwards

311017_10150345372419514_349434286_nI don’t know how it happened, but it did. Suddenly I was forty and the numbers on the cake do not lie. It is strange to wake up and realise that my body is forty even though on the inside I still feel like seventeen.

I have had a great week, last tuesday (my birthday) I was surprised by some of the people that are closest to me that had flown in just to be part of my celebration. I was surrounded by love, gentleness and warm embraces all week. I have spent the time in deep conversation, felt deep connection and have been overwhelmed by the love present in my life.

Now I feel the aching afterglow of true friends absent and I am slowly realising that of all the adventures, all the crazy things I have done in my life the one adventure worthwhile is the adventure of loving someone deeply, of daring to be vulnerable and allowing someone to see the real me and to allow myself to be embraced and loved for whom I really am. I sit and read the kind and gentle words written by my friends in the book that describe the loving friendships we have forged. I am awed by the love penned there.

As I turn this corner and walk into what is the next leg on the greatest adventure of my life, I feel truly grateful and humbled by all of you who make my life special, meaningful and adventurous. Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for showing me the face of god. Thank you for allowing me to be the best me that I can possibly be. Thank you!

Is god opposed to pleasure?

2009-03-07-Pleasure-centersIn recent conversations the topic of pleasure has come up time and time again. It seems that from a Christian point of view we are as a community ambivalent about god’s view on pleasure.

It seems that somewhere deep down we do believe that although god is good and want good things for us, we still have a hard time believing that god would want us to experience pleasure.

As I was thinking about this I ran across this jubilant ending of Psalm 16:

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I know that in the context of this psalm, it seems it is taking about the life after, the life after, death (As N.T. Wright would put it). However I cannot help but think that the path of life, must be something that happens, you know, in life!

What if gods wish for us actually was “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forever more”. How would that change your view of god, how would it change your view of self? How would it change your view of all those experiences that give pleasure?

It also seems to me that while we are ok with some forms of pleasure, we are dead scared of others. We are ok with the pleasure of reading a good book or seeing a great movie. We are ok with enjoying a good meal and to enjoy the buzz after a good workout. We are also ok with the pleasure of good company, as long as it is not wit the opposite sex, then it sadly becomes sinful or guilty pleasure.

I wonder what would happen if we, instead of feeling guilty for all kinds of bodily pleasure, started thanking god for it. What if we before we go into the bedroom (or whatever place we enjoy each other) with our significant other prayed a prayer of thankful blessing over the gifts we are about to receive (kinda like praying grace before a meal). What if we said grace before seeking pleasure on our own, be it from a book, from a movie, from a meal, or from our own hands? And what if we instead of walking around feeling guilty for having received the gift of pleasure, prayed prayers of thanks afterwards? How would this change our experience, our enjoyment?

What if we could affirm god as the creator of pleasure, who, according to scripture created the first humans “naked and not ashamed”. The god who created humans in god’s own image uniquely able to experience and give pleasure. What if we could affirm ourselves our bodies to be part of the glorious creation of god and that we are not only good creations but “very good” and that as god’s creations made to experience pleasure, also could affirm that pleasure also is “very good”?

Authentic friendships is my church

couragefeetIf life is the religion what are we then to make of church? The English word for church comes from the greek kurios which is best translated as the Lord’s or those that belong to the Lord. In the context of this then maybe the simplest way to express this is that the cosmos, all of creation is the Lord’s.

But to most Christians church is more than just a belonging, it is also an event. It is the place where I worship and meet with the divine (which again in the light of being alive is my daily spiritual practice, would make the place everywhere). So that is not very helpful either. Jesus, however, states that where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be present. This has also been one (of many) definitions of church.

What does it mean to be gathered in Jesus name? I am sure that if we ask ten theologians we’d get at least 15 answers. So, here is mine.

If life is my religion, being alive is my daily spiritual practice and love is my rule then loving relationships is the primary place to experience this divine love. If we are the temples of the holy spirit, then it is when we come together and I can see the divine love in you or perhaps, when I can see you through the divine love, this is when I am confronted with the divine, the transcendent. Thomas Merton states that if we truly recognised how glorious we are as human beings, we would fall down on our knees and worship each other.

Here is the catch, when we gather together and we are guarded, when we hide behind masks of ego and fabricated selves to fit in, we never really meet the other, we never really encounter each other.

This is why I believe that Authentic friendships, the kind of friendship where we have shed our masks and constructed coverings, where we dare to meet the other eye to eye, when we let divine love reveal how the other is lovely and sublime, this is where true church happens.

It is when we dare to show up as ourselves, naked and not ashamed, vulnerable, perhaps a little scared, and share our true selves with each other, this is when we truly meet under the name of Jesus and Jesus becomes a shining light of truth, grace and justice in our midst.

Life is my religionBeing alive is my daily spiritual practiceLove is my ruleHumankind is my familyAuthentic friendships is my churchThe kingdom of god runs through my veinsJesus is my brotherBecoming and being all that I am is my callingHelping you become and be all that you are is my ministryMy deepest feelings is my guideAll living things are my teacher.

Humankind is my family

12552260646nD98H“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus asks in Mark 3.33. It is a poignant question, one worthy to ponder as we face this turbulent life. It seems to me that while the biblical narrative in some cases puts an emphasis on family, it also deconstructs the very idea of family.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu borrows the term ubuntu from his immediate culture and proposes that we are all part of the same organism:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. (Desmond Tutu, 2008)

This echoes Paul's words of us being one body:As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also ChristFor in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.h14

Now the body is not a single part, but many.If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.If they were all one part, where would the body be?But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety.whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Cor 12.12-26)

While this has often been preached as being words about only the church, it seems that Jesus himself often included not just those who would follow him but everyone into the folds of whom is accepted and included.

Again John 3.16 talks about gods love not for the individual Christian, not for the church but for the world (cosmos). We are all integral parts of this world, a world that god declared good, and part of a humanity that god declared better (very good). “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share it's joy”. Everyone one you meet is part of this global family, the air I breath in is the air you breathe out, we are so intimately connected down to the quantum level.

Which is why my family is not defined by who lives in my house or with whom I share blood ties. My family is all of humankind, everyone I meet is a wonderful work of art and god is the artist that created them all, in this sense everyone I meet is holy and worthy to be honoured, respected and loved.

P.S.

Reading this the day after, I wonder if it takes this concept far enough. Maybe we cannot stop at humankind, maybe I must, like St. Francis, recognise that the sun and moon, the bird and the bee, the brook and the tree are also part of my family and must be respected and cared for equally. Maybe I must realise that not only is every person holy but that every place and plant is equally sacred as part of the cosmos that god loves.

Life is my religion. Being alive is my daily spiritual practice. Love is my rule. Humankind is my family. Authentic friendships is my church. The kingdom of god runs through my veins. Jesus is my brother. Becoming and being all that I am is my calling. Helping you become and be all that you are is my ministry. My deepest feelings is my guide. All living things are my teacher.

 

Love is my rule!

love1It may seem to some the most logical place to start: God is love!

This it is what I was taught as I took my first stumbling steps as a Christian. I was also taught that the bible is a love letter from god. This, however, struck me as a bit odd given the strangeness of some parts of the bible. Also the gospel as I was taught it was not entirely loving rather than being the good news, it seemed to me to be rather bad news for most people I know.

Yet the most cited verse of the new testament is John 3.16 “For God so loved the world” (theos agapeo cosmos), it seems to me that when you shed the externals of organised religion and “What we have always taught and thought”, what remains is a core that is love.

 I belong to no religion. My religion is love. Every heart is my temple

-Rumi

Scripture tells us that if we love god and love our neighbour as ourselves we fulfil all of the law and the prophets, furthermore it tells us that we, as Christians should be known for our love towards each other (I intentionally read this as our love for all human beings as opposed to the sectarian, love for those who think and act like us) and Jesus says that a man who says he loves god but does not love his brother does not know god.

It seems to me that love is the core of the Christian message and being in love is the fundamental Christian practice (abide in me) and the love that we feel, share and saturate ourselves in actually is the very essence of god.

It seems logical then that love becomes the rule, the measure of all things, as if one could measure love. In practice this means that at any given moment, in any given place rather than the worn out “WWJD” maybe we need to ask “WWLD” or what is the loving response to this particular situation. What is the greater good that the divine eros/agape/phileo is calling out in this moment?

Living life according to the love priority as expressed by Jesus is therefore, in my opinion the core of the Christian message. Living in love (which means both understanding and accepting that I am loved and secondly letting that love extend to the people around me) becomes central to living a Christian life, if there is such a thing.

This focus on love is sometimes caricatured as “cheap grace” and while it may be true that this focus on loving others does not require anything of the other, it is extremely costly and requires everything from oneself. I know I have written this before, but I think that it needs ample repetition: There is nothing cheap about grace.

We simply must: Let love rule!

Life is my religionBeing alive is my daily spiritual practiceLove is my ruleHumankind is my familyAuthentic friendships is my churchThe kingdom of god runs through my veinsJesus is my brotherBecoming and being all that I am is my callingHelping you become and be all that you are is my ministryMy deepest feelings is my guideAll living things are my teacher.

We believe …

The conversation goes on and on, and we toss around words that are loaded with presuppositions, the verb “to believe” is not the least of them. I have written extensively about this, but it seems it’s a topic worth another go.

What does it mean to believe, to have faith and to be faithful?

I have in earlier posts quoted Marcus Borg who writes that:

Believe did not originally mean believing a set of doctrines or teachings; in both Greek and Latin its roots mean “to give one’s heart to.”The “heart” is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him. Rather, it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level, to the post-Easter Jesus who is the living Lord, the side of God turned toward us, the face of God, the Lord who is also the Spirit. (Meeting Jesus again for the first time, 1994)

If we are to work with this definition of belief, as Marcus Borg properly renames it, to belove, then to have faith in Jesus is not so much to believe certain things about Jesus but to trust in whom Jesus is and what Jesus does. Put simply: to love Jesus.

If this is the case then belief and faith becomes relational terms rather than propositional or factual terms. This means that belief does not come from the intellect but rather emanates out of my life (or in Borg’s terms, the heart: From which our life springs (prov 4.23)). It is not what I say about Jesus or what facts about Jesus I have given intellectual assent to, but rather how does loving, trusting Jesus transform my daily living? This also means that denial of Jesus is not to state what he is or is not (merely human or son of god) but denying Jesus becomes evident when we live out our lives as practical agnostics or when we support social structures of oppression and slavery. Like Peter Rollins gives voice to so powerfully in this little clip from the Poets, Prophets and Preachers conference:

I Deny the Resurrection from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

If having faith in Jesus is trusting/loving Jesus and if affirming Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus is to live true to Jesus. In other words: to be faithful is to be true. True to Jesus, true to his life, true to where Jesus leads and true to whom God created you to be. Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher (yes there is such a thing) states that we as human beings are hardwired for connection, but true connection only happens when we dare to show up as ourselves. Connection can only happen when we shed the masks, the armors and the ego structures that we use to hide who we really are and to show up as ourselves, broken, imperfect but gloriously created in god’s image with divine purpose.

Interestingly enough, this is also the only way to grow, as we only grow in the meeting with the other and we never truly meet until we have met as our true selves. In the end this means that my repentance (rethinking who I am and where my life is going and choosing a new direction), and my salvation (being transformed by god’s love and grace, becoming whom I am created to become, my true self), is only possible through faith, that is, trusting that I am unconditionally loved, so that I may dare greatly and show up as I really am and by that allowing the transformation of becoming whom I already am, my true self, created in god’s image.

 

Truth and grace revisited

I love my blog readers, they are not many but they are faithful. Recently a new but dear friend has been reading my blog from the beginning, charting the twists and turns of both my life and my faith. This has provoked more than a few very interesting questions.

One of the more poignant questions refer to a post I posted back in 2006 where I write:

In the spring 2001 Warren Downey preached on the subject. He said most young Christians start out with 100% truth as they tend to forget the grace God has extended them, as we get older in the faith and we fail more frequently we start preaching grace more and more because we ourselves do not measure up to the standard God has set. The more we sin, the more we tone down the truth so that we will be more acceptable in the light of our own words. We often mistake this for humility. Where in sad fact it is often watering down of the gospel to ease our own concience.

I also wrote the following:

A fluffy bunny soldier is a soldier who no longer recognizes the authority of scripture and therefore promotes a fluffy bunny version of Christianity, it is the opposite and counterpart to no compromise and therefore is a compromised soldier, one whom has fallen in love with the world and want to make the gospel as easy as swallow as possible and therefore round off any sharp edges, removes the thorns, and leaves only the the lovey dovey message of a God of grace but not a God of truth or Justice.

Do still believe this? The answer is, as it so often is these days, yes and no. I believe that the dynamic of moving from truth to grace is a journey many Christians make, I also believe that their motivation often is their own failing to live up to the religious standards they have set up for themselves (or that the institution have set up).

So in a sense I believe this is still true. Although my perspective has changed more than a little.

1. The human condition

When the post was written I was convinced that humans are evil, born in wickedness and incapable of goodness aside from what god inspires after you have become born again and a new creation in him.

Problem: there are loads of good people who are good doing good who do not claim to be born again. Also young children are not evil. They may be selfish and socially unskilled.

Now I am convinced that there is such a thing as original glory. Human beings where cated in the image of god and have an inherent capacity of goodness. I do believe that we live in a broken world, we have lost he glory and innocence of Eden (I believe this is a beautiful image of the fiercely egalitarian hunter/gatherer society). The kingdom/vision/dream of god is to bring us to this place of loing relations with god self, the natural world and the people around us.

2. The scandal of God's grace

I used to believe that while god's grace was enough to forgive anything it was tempered by my ability to please god. Hence the truth/grace dichotomy. By this view God's grace is limited by the truth of our sinfulness, while god forgives, god only does so when we repent (which means we are ally, really, sorry).

Problem: the first problem here is that our sinfulness becomes stronger than god's grace.

Now I see that god's grace is truly scandalous (or even vulgar as Brennan Manning would have it). There is nothing I can do or say to expedite god's love. The most central belief I hold is that god is love. We have been taught that love is Agape, Phileo and Eros. Agape is god's unconditional love and guess what, it's unconditional! It does not require us to change or even repent. Phileo is the fiendship love this is god's way of relating to us as co-workers, co-creators, colleagues. Eros is the creative, passionate love of god where we become more than friends, more than children but as intimate at lovers, where god fills us up and blends with us god's spirit mingling with ours god's essence imprinting on us.

3. What is sin

I used to see sin as a transgression against the law, deserving of punishment. Becaus god was holy (in the sense of set apart) my sin was an obstacle between me and god and while I could leave sin at the cross and bridge the divide between god and me this only really applied before I became a Christian and after only if I was really, REALLY sorry. When I sinned the holy spirit left and I was alone to deal with the mess I had gotten myself into. Additionally sin was defined by a long list of dos and don'ts. This list was decided by whatever pastor or institution we where currently in, different churches viewed different sins as more or less serious.

Problem: Again, sin overpowers god's grace. Most importantly it becomes my job to transform myself as I must first deal with my sin before the holy spirit can transform me into holiness.

Now I do no longer view sin as a crime but rather as immaturity. Paul clearly states repeatedly that we are free from the law, the law holds no power to convict or condemn us any more. Sin is simply the ways in which we are not yet mature, when we know better we do better. Our relationship with god is unaffected by our sin, like the loving mother god works with us in the middle of our sinfulness to help us grow and mature. What is affected by our sin is the consequences of our poor choices that we face in our every day life. now sin is all the ways that I hurt or screw up my relationship to the world around me. Sin is also all the ways I miss my cue, I miss the opportunities to live out of the love of god and embody god's kingdom, vision, dream in this present moment.

4. Spiritual formation/stages of faith

Back then growing with god meant only one thing, sinning less and by that becoming more holy. Hopefully this would then mean a closer connection to god.

Problem: when sinning less only means, not smoking, not drinking, not swearing, not lusting or simply conforming to our own new legal code it does not result in a better relation to god. It results in a life governed by rules and regs as opposed to a life of freedom.

Today I see spiritual growth not as sinning less but as loving more. Not only showing love but being love in every situation and relationship. Someone said, where there is love, there is no sin. So maybe the one gives the other

I also believe that we move through these stages of faith (the best example I've seen is Fowlers six stages of faith). When I wrote the blog post of 2006 I was clearly in stage three, communal faith, where my faith was not owned by me, rather I believed whatever my faith community believed and any dissenting thought was a threat to my faith and stability. I am in a very different place now.

Water or wine

So have I become soft, a fluffy bunny? Have I simply watered down the gospel to accommodate my own sinfulness?

I seriously do not think so, while the love priority and it's unconditional love and grace may seem like a cop out. It is a much more demanding way to live, to love. Rather than watering down the gospel it is instead transformed into a strong and full bodied wine.

Celebrate with me, friends!

Raise your glasses—”To life! To love!”

(Song 5.1, Message)

 

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