God Reimagined

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s there was a popular TV show called “To Tell the Truth”. I loved watching it as a kid.

Then I wondered: What if it came back and the first episode had three contestants that claimed to be God? They would all have to be hidden behind a screen or in a disguise because we’re pretty sure we could identify him.

Then, I wondered: If I was on the panel what questions would I ask to flush out the real God? That might be tricky. But, here it goes:

1. “One of my grandkids would cheat at board games that I wasn’t familiar with and make up the rules as he went along. So, I quit playing with him. Do you make up your own “rules” depending on your mood that day?”

2. “How many “rules” can I break without coming back as a slug in my next life?”

3. “What are you made of – flesh and bone or smoke and mirrors?”

4.”If you really loved us, why did you make ice cream fattening?” (Oops. How’d that get in there?)

That was fun to imagine, but let’s move on to the reality that is life today in the midst of Covid and one catastrophe after another. So many lost souls are wandering around without a clue of how they got where they are or what to do next.

Then there are those who believe they have it all figured out – it’s the Apocalypse! The end of the world! So, they packed their bags for heaven and made a mental list of all those that will be “left behind”. They’re all giddy at the thought that ALMIGHTY GOD will exact his punishment on you heathens (you know who you are)! But, don’t say they didn’t warn you. You had your chance to get your sorry-self saved and get all righteous like them but you turned them down – twice – for a cold beer and a football game. That your team lost by the way! Big mistake!

 I imagine most people hang out somewhere between the two. I’m not sure that’s a great place to be either. But, if God’s not going to send us a current day “Moses” to help us tic off an updated list of “rules to live by” then we will need to make some decisions ourselves. I think it’s more critical than ever for each of us to decide where we stand on issues of faith and then stay there!

Perhaps the place to begin is to come face-to-face with the age-old idea of an angry, vengeful God who confounds so many of us. Even though today’s young people seem to be able to see right through him. They reject the blind faith of the older generations and I can speak to that because I’m old.

In my past life of black and white faith I was certain about EVERY SINGLE THING, even the fact that God would get those who refused to follow the dogmas and dictates infallibly laid out for us in his own words in a nicely leather-bound Bible that he dropped from heaven like manna.

I read that Bible front to back several times. As a die-hard Catholic I wasn’t supposed to do that. I was supposed to leave it to the “Experts”. But, I had to see for myself. And, yep, it was all in there. All the literal “truths” that I didn’t discover until later were reformulated over and over to keep the powerful – well – powerful, and the ignorant masses in line.

And then it happened: In 2008, at the age of fifty-nine, a course of events upended everything I was certain about. I was offered a rare opportunity to attend Graduate School paid for by a grant. That’s a whole, “How the hell did you get in here?!” story all by itself, but we’ll leave that for another day.

I quickly discovered that there was a reason a string of Bishops made every effort to have that school shut down because those professors were corrupting minds. They had the audacity to challenge us to think! One of the first questions in my Scripture Studies class was, “What if the story of Adam and Eve was just a myth and they were not even actual people? Would it shatter your faith or would it still have meaning to you?”

Wait! What?!

For the next three years, the certitude I clutched like a security blanket was unraveling. I had so many “what ifs” to sort through I’m surprised I survived. My righteous, superior attitude was being dismantled right in front of me and it wasn’t pretty! But, I stayed and endured the painful reality of my shallowness – because – well – what if?! I could give you example after example of how so much of scripture was written, not by God, but by faulty humans, many with an agenda. But I won’t.

Well, okay, maybe just a short one. How about the Creation Story?

I’m just gonna throw this question out there: Is it possible that a few mistakes were made when God so quickly created the entire universe and all its content? Not sure what his hurry was. I mean he was just hanging around for billions of years with nothing to do and all of a sudden he gets a wild hair to create something outrageously new and unique. It was a pretty lofty goal to get it all done in just six days. Maybe this too hurried planning stage was the problem. I get it. I am terrible about following directions and often in a rush leave out steps that are critical to the outcome.

Admittedly, I never tried to make a human though. I suppose that would be a bit complicated.

This would probably be my feeble attempt..

But, Thomas Edison, who failed 2,000 times trying to invent the light bulb, kept trying till he got it right. Why didn’t God just keep trying till he got it right? Surely he could foreseen the messiness of humanity and tweak them somehow. Reconsidering free-will might have been a good place to start because it probably didn’t take long for God to wonder what he was thinking with that one.

Let’s do a follow-up to that story, one that Alexander would define as a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” for humanity. Except in this case, not just a single day, but an entire life for every human from Adam and Eve to that adorable brand-spankin’-new nephew of yours. That’s right. We’re talking about the stain of “Original Sin”. Do you know where that “infallible truth” originated? No? That’s a huge one! Weren’t you even curious?

Let’s pick it apart beginning with a peek into the relationship between Augustine, the author of “Original Sin”, and his mother, Monica. He was a rebel-rousing, partying, sex-lustful heathen with no intention of changing. Still, she was relentless in her prayers. She admonished him over and over, but he was having too much fun to take her seriously. Until finally, after years of her incessant nagging and possibly a heavenly whack (I’ve received my share of those, they leave marks!) he finally saw the error of his ways, or maybe a paternity suit influenced his decision. Anyway, he did a 180 and converted to a man of faith. But, then there was the terrible reality of his life of sin and debauchery. How would he account for that? Well, being unwilling to take responsibility for his miserable life he conjured up a brilliant idea, “I know”, he said to himself, “I will blame it all on Satan! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

And so he set out creating this incredible story about two characters he named Adam & Eve. Oh yeah, and the Devil disguised as a snake who talked (nothing sketchy there). The story went like this: Adam was going about the business of being holy when out of nowhere the evil woman, Eve, seduced his senses with an apple and a promise (fingers crossed) from a snake. When they got caught butt-naked, Adam the Cowardly immediately blamed both the snake and Eve for conniving against him in this wretched scheme. 

So, what does God do? He apparently lost his cool and in a fit of anger condemned all of humankind from the moment of their birth to a life of misery and sinfulness that they can never, ever, ever, recover from. And, voila, Augustine is off the hook for all his sexual indiscretions and Satan took the fall. Brilliant!

Then, in the 16th Century the Council of Trent gave that inane doctrine its stamp of approval and the rest, as they say, is history. Thus the well-worn bumper sticker, “THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!” was created by some genius who got rich from it and moved to the Bahamas.

Now, that brings me to another story. Sorry. But, this transitions perfectly into the great and only flood that God dreamed up. Again in total frustration over the mess that was humanity. You would think that he might have stuck with plants and crawly things by then; maybe a few cute puppies – they’re great companions that love unconditionally and don’t talk back! But, no, again God seems to have made another hasty decision with dire consequences.

Okay, the story of Noah and the great flood. If God was so intent on wiping the slate clean and starting over wouldn’t he have first tried to figure out what went wrong and then create a new template? Maybe messed up DNA, gene sequencing issues (whatever that means), possibly needing to tweak a few chromosomes?  Anyway, that was all before the immortal words of wisdom attributed to Albert Einstein which might have helped, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  So, not surprising, after all that workAGAIN – the first thing Noah does when he steps foot on dry land is make wine, get naked and drunk, and embarrass his son, Ham. Guess they were cooped up too long and got on each other’s nerves! Great start for God’s new creation huh?! And, of course, we know it all went south from there.

Oh my gosh! We haven’t even talked about Jesus! Please indulge me for one more story. I promise this is the last one!

Consider Jesus’ baptism. By all accounts, John was a wild and crazy guy! He was all about “turn or burn” and preached God’s vengefulness and “requirements” for repentance and baptism. One could certainly consider him a militant. Did Jesus?

Imagine the scene: Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River. The fact that he went through that ritual presumes that he followed the teachings of John. But, somewhere along the way there were likely things that John preached that must have been unsettling for Jesus.  John the Baptist was all about power. Jesus, by his very nature, rejected power. Recall, that he was raised by two people who humbled themselves and surrendered A LOT when they both could have been on the cover to TIME magazine as Persons of the Year”!

Perhaps Jesus had an AHA moment because he skipped the after-baptism party and went right to the desert to reflect on the truth of who he was and discern how he was to live that truth. While there, our buddy Satan pulled out all the stops in a cunning and deceitful effort to lure Jesus away from his quest for clarity about his life’s purpose. But the promises of Satan fell on deft ears. Jesus was totally focused on this next phase of his life, trusting just enough to get on the path and go. Maybe stop for some breakfast.  

Now, the obvious question arises: Does all this raise any red flags regarding the convictions we have about scripture and God? Anything? I have one: How are we supposed to believe in and follow a God we don’t understand and can’t label; a God that truly is more mystery than certainty?

Robin Meyers’ most recent book, “Saving God from Religion” offers his thoughts for:

…everyone who is struggling with the old and narrow definitions of God but has yet to see any coherent and comprehensive way to reimagine the Ultimate Mystery…. we long for a faith that is more than judgmental certainty, more than “believe and receive.” ….we are hungry for new ways to heal and transform the broken world we inhabit.

I know, that’s a little daunting, huh? We don’t remember this, but one day each of us let go of our mother’s hand and took our first steps. One night dad had to come in our room and turn on the lights to show us there were no monsters under the bed – and then we slept. And, now, in this moment we are all challenged to reject that Great and Terrible Wizard that has been pulling our strings for too long. I don’t know a lot, but I do know that is NOT the God I have grown to love.

I don’t recognize the God defined by today’s Extremists. Do you? A God invoked by violence and hatred against those who are different than them, seen as lesser, or not seen at all. According to the militant Nationalists and Evangelicals their God did not create allhumankind in his image. Instead, they created their own God in their image and then defined “Christians” as only those adhering to the creeds and doctrines of their particular denomination which requires completion of a membership form, three references, and paid dues. The God they worship is a Mighty Warrior that will beat the crap out of the rest of humanity – the lesser than, outcasts, poor, and lost beings.

We must ask ourselves honestly, does any of this make any sense at all? Can we just stop and have the courage to question our beliefs that someone else with control issues instilled in us? Is it starting to feel like we have been conned by a little man with an intimidatingly loud voice behind the curtain?

I know it seems unsettling to live in the question. But blindly following beliefs that just don’t work anymore isn’t the answer. I believe that’s what Father Richard Rohr may be speaking to here:

 The human ego hates a genuinely new experience. It hates to change and is preoccupied with control. A genuinely new idea leaves you out of control for a while and forces you to reassess your terrain, find new emotions, and realign your life coordinates. We prefer to stay in our small comfort zones. God usually has to break in or break us down to break through to us.

So, if we really desire to be more like Jesus and less like those who use fear to claim power and control over us, then we must recognize, reject, and expose that little man with the big megaphone!

I no longer struggle to define God by my human understanding. I have fallen in love with the idea of God being “Ultimate Mystery” as Meyers says. I believe deep down that God is Unrelenting Love, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Mercy. I have given up on any need to go beyond that because none of us really knows. I’m good with that, although, it makes life right here, right now, more critical than ever because Jesus tells us that “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) God is alive and well within our very heartbeat.

What are the “facts’ of our Christian faith? I have no clue and I don’t dwell on it. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I simply try to be the best version of myself, to do the next right thing, to give and ask for forgiveness, to grow in empathy for those who suffer, and to imagine a better world; a kinder, more compassionate world.

Okay, that was some heavy stuff so I want to leave you with the hysterical and profound thoughts of Rami Shapiro the author of, “Holy Rascals”. In one section he offers made up letters written by made up kids addressed to God. What’s so incredible is that these thoughts came from beliefs he literally heard from adults. He says, the letters “are not about dismissing dogma, doctrine, or belief, but about taking dogma, doctrine, and belief to their absurdist conclusions.”  They made me laugh so hard I spit coffee through my nose – just giving you a heads-up. Here are just two:

Dear God,

My pastor says you need the blood of Jesus to calm down so you won’t get mad and send us to Hell. My mom makes me go to my room when I get mad. Maybe you should try that instead

Dear God,

My pastor says when your son comes back to earth, he will send my gramma and grampa to Hell because they are Methodists. Please don’t let him come back before my birthday because they promised to take me to Disney World.

THE END – OR JUST THE BEGINNING?