Members Only – Keep Out!

Originally posted on August 8, 2015

members-only

Can we look honestly at ourselves in the context of our faith for a moment?

Wait! Don’t leave…

If you leave when you’re afraid your faith may be called into question perhaps a good look at what you believe may be in order. If you want to bolt, cover your ears, send a few choice words my way, or kick the dog (don’t do that!) something or Someone needs your attention…

Probably God

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Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Monk and one of my favorite authors writes often about Mature Faith. See if this speaks to you:

At this point, you are not tied to believing that your religion is the only one that gets people to God. You can see God in all things, everywhere, and easily in people outside your own religion. They did not change, your doctrines did not change, but you did! You have met the Formless One, so the mere forms of religion are not so important now. Still, you do not throw out any of the previous stages; you now know that people need to go through all of them. You do not waste time opposing the rituals, the doctrines, the hierarchies, the scriptures, or the belief systems that got you on this path; but now you know they are all just fingers pointing to the moon; they are not the moon itself.

 So, the question becomes: are we maturing in faith or do we stay stagnant out of fear of what lies outside the immovable brick walls of our belief system? Walls that separate us from those who are not like us. Walls that keep God at a safe distance. Walls that violate the very essence of our being. Are we so busy projecting our own piety and greatness that God sits in our shadow?

I am reminded of the parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke’s Gospel (18:11-13), “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (He’s got his daily check list: I fasted, I tithed, I didn’t cuss or lust, I didn’t kill anyone – okay, I wanted to – but I refrained myself) But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

The tax collector knew what we so often fail to accept about ourselves: we’re ALL sinners. All of us. Romans 3:11 is a sobering reminder of that truth, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” There are no exceptions. None.  So, we simply make ourselves exceptions just like the Pharisees. Do I detect a bit of a HUMPH slipping through those clenched teeth? Huh? Come on, were you doing that?

I’m going to seem to wander off topic here, but just stay with me a minute. No matter where you live in this huge world, you must be aware of the violence that has inundated our lives. Because of the Internet we have been exposed to images of mass murders and genocide throughout the world.

If you need to be reminded go here: I have no doubt the images will sicken you as they did me. Each time we are subjected to new images of the mass murders in the Middle East and Africa by the violent forces of ISIS or ISIL (or whatever name they are called by), or the killings by Assad of his own people in Syria, we are appalled. That violence has visited America and Europe as well.

Of course, if you read scripture you know that brutality against humankind has existed since the beginning of time. We don’t even get through the first book of Genesis. God does His best work and creates Adam and Eve. Then He tells them, “Go on now, have some beautiful babies and fill the earth. Spread the love!”  They have two beautiful bouncing baby boys: Cain and Abel. Just two chapters later Cain kills Abel.

It’s nothing new. It’s just that now we can see it! We cry out, “How could anyone perpetuate such evil and violence against other human beings?”…and then we turn off the news or computer screen and go about our business, pronouncing to God, like the Pharisee, “ I thank you, Lord, that I am not like them!” But is that true? Come on, don’t get all huffy again. Hear me out because it’s important to really look at what underlies acts of violence.

Violence does not begin with a vicious murder, it begins in the heart. None of us want to hear that, but every one of us has the potential for evil. John Phillip Newell tells us that “there are angels of light and angels of darkness in us all.”

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” This is critical to understand because the potential for good or evil flows from the heart of everyone. Now, you could probably puff out your chest and proclaim that you have never murdered anyone and you likely never will. But how about this…do you hate anyone? Do you reject or shun anyone? Do you gossip about your friends, make fun of someone who is not like you, avoid the homeless man on the street or even that loathsome neighbor of yours? Need we be reminded of 1 John 4:20? “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar (no ambiguity there); for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

Remember when Susan Boyle walked on the stage of Britain’s God Talent? Watch again how people, especially the judges, react to her before she belts out a most beautiful song and stuns everyone there to dumb silence:

Isn’t this what Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 25:44? “Lord, when did I make fun of you, reject you, ignore you, gossip about you? When did I fail to recognize you in the face of my brothers or sisters?”

Jesus spent much of his time debunking that “holier than thou” mindset of the elites, and raising up those cast aside, rejected, unworthy by the world’s standards.

We as professed believers must change first in the depth of our own hearts, if the world is going to change. We must take off the blinders and look honestly at the faith we declare. Religion begins and ends with dogmas. Spirituality moves beyond that checklist mentality. Religion stupefies the love of God and proclaims that if you’re not like me, you don’t matter one whit. If you don’t believe what I believe, if you don’t profess what I profess, sorry for you, you’re destined for hell. Have a nice trip.

The “ALL ARE WELCOME” sign is something you will see on the front of many churches. I wonder if they mean it…the “ALL” part in particular. Are they secretly saying, “You are welcome to become one of us. We are here to share our truth of salvation and save your wretched soul from damnation”?

Let’s use Christianity as an example. Gandhi said that if Christians had acted like Christians, as Jesus taught, the world would have been transformed long ago. He said, “Christianity became disfigured when it went to the West.”

For example: here in the West many “Christians” like to think that going to church on Sunday and getting their card punched is all that’s required. You know don’t you that Jesus never said, “Believe in me” he said “Follow Me”. But that’s harder isn’t it? That requires touching the leper. It requires getting out of your comfortable pew and getting down and dirty in the trenches.

If we Westerners don’t loosen our grip on our narrow-minded belief systems tucked into the stone walls of our churches, the divisions we experience in our lives and our communities will only deepen, as we entrench ourselves in our self-righteous piety. A piety not born of faith, but of fear.

Father Bede Griffiths was a British born Benedictine monk (1906-1993). It was said of him that “he honored the sacredness of every person because he believed so deeply that each person is a unique image of the divine.”  (His life and teachings are worth a look: 

Father Griffiths lived much of his life in India. He spoke and wrote often about what he called the “fossilization of Western Christianity”.  John Phillip Newell, in his profound book, “The Rebirthing of God” says that Father Griffiths believed (as he does) that Western Christianity “had become isolated from other great religious traditions of the world and ossified in its dogmas, paralyzed in the trappings of infallibility.”

If Jesus had started the Christian church himself (lest we forget he was a Jew, and a faithful one at that!), do you believe in your heart-of-hearts that he would have made it an exclusive club?

If that were true then why does he say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31)

Did you know that Gandhi once considered becoming a Christian? Yeah, he read the New Testament and fell in love with Jesus. So, one day he went to a Christian Church in India, but they wouldn’t let him in! He since said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That should shame every one of us, and cause us to look deeply into our own hearts and ask ourselves if we are Christian in name only. It should send us to our knees!

What does Galatians 3:28 mean to you? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Nostra Aetate is a declaration made by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965. It is titled, God’s Love for People of All Faiths. Here is the part pertinent to what we are talking about here:

 We are all created by the same loving God, and we are all oriented toward God as our ultimate destination.

 The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, or Nostra Aetate, a major document of the Second Vatican Council.

From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense. (Nostra Aetate, a. 2)

 As Christians, we believe that this “certain power” or “Supreme Being” is best understood within the context of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and human beings find the fullness of life in him. Having faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that we can disregard or disrespect other religions. On the contrary, the Church has said that other religions, though different from our own, often reflect “a ray of that Truth” which enlightens all human beings. (Nostra Aetate, a. 2)

 Is it any wonder, I, like so many others, love and are drawn to the Eastern faith traditions, and why we as Westerners would do well to learn from them? When Jesus said “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22), he didn’t mean one faith tradition that has all truth! No one faith has exclusive access to all truth. We all have something to bring to the table, and those of no faith, yes, even those, are welcome too! When we shut the door in their faces how can we claim, at the same time, to be bearers of God’s love? You do know that is what we are called to be, right?

How can we go on pretending we have some kind of VIP membership to the right hand of God; that we have the Penthouse Suite awaiting our arrival, when we refuse to acknowledge our own sinfulness against our brothers and sisters?

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