Sunday, March 25, 2012

Being Jesus in Nashville

Author and former pastor Jim Palmer should be dead. Over the course of a year that included two near-death experiences, as Palmer set out to disentangle Jesus from the religious machinery of Christianity, he discovered a profound and unexpected answer to the question on his mind: "What would Jesus do? " Exploring what it really means to "be Jesus" in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, Palmer learns that Jesus was special not because he was more divine than the rest of us, but because he was courageously more human than most. Unfortunately, this realization crystallized for him while he was hanging upside down in his overturned car, expecting to die. When Palmer was miraculously pulled from the wreckage alive, he emerged with a new courage to embrace his life as never before. In Being Jesus in Nashville, Palmer shares his personal stories, ideas, concepts, and an innovative approach to humanity as he learns that being Jesus means seeing people as they truly are; letting it happen, not making it happen; being at peace, whatever happens; putting no limitations on God; living without separation from God; following your own path; living as everyone's neighbor. With spiritual insight and refreshing theological glimpses, Palmer shares how he traded in his Christianity for Jesus and how this brought him closer to God.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What IS Prayer?

"{…} (Many) do not directly believe in the power of prayer but rather believe in the OTHER’S belief in its power. This may seem ridiculous, and indeed when put like this, it is. However, in many respects this is the kind of behavior we all engage at some level. For instance, we can easily imagine a conversation between two people in which they agreed wholeheartedly that working all the hours God sends in order to make money to buy more goods is detrimental to our mental health and not worth the effort. Yet it is also easy to imagine that, after the conversation, these two people act as if they DID believe that working all the hours God sends to buy more goods is worth the effort. While the people do not consciously believe that this activity gives satisfaction and happiness, they act as if they believe it. Karl Marx called this activity of disbelieving in ones mind while believing in ones activities 'fetishism'. The fetish is any object that we know is not magical or special in any way, yet is treated as though it were special and magical.

In as sense, one can say that while individuals do not believe that working crazy hours for extra money in order to buy more goods will bring happiness, they have vicariously put their trust in another's belief that it does. So who is this "other" that believes on our behalf? It is, of course, not literally another person or group of people, but rather it can be described as the values expressed in the context we inhabit (the ads we watch, the books we read, etc.) While we may disavow these values intellectually, they continue to seep into our lives. While the message can be disbelieved and even ridiculed at a conscious level, it simultaneously commands our obedience at the level of our action. It is only as we change our context that we can effectively change our social existence.

Hence, the various religious practices employed over the millennia are not primarily designed to change how we think about the world, but rather, at their best, they are designed to change how we engage with the world. By developing a culture of spiritual rituals that reflect our beliefs, this new context begins to change how we operate in the world. Thus, it brings our beliefs and practices into closer alignment. We may believe very strongly in certain values, but is only as we inhabit an environment that encourages those values, an environment that also “believes” in those values, that we are able to engage in lasting change.

Concretely speaking, then, when it comes to undermining something like the superstitious belief that a certain prayer can bring wealth and healing, the primary problem does not necessarily rest in convincing the person that this view is silly; that the words are only words and not some kind of magical formula that compels God to act. The chances are that the person will readily agree with this assessment. One needs to go further and convince that person's religious structure of the fact."

Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Prayer of Sadhu Sundar Singh

My Lord God, my all in all, life of my life, and spirit of my spirit, look in mercy upon me, and so fill me with Your Holy Spirit that my heart shall have no room for love of any but you. I seek from You no other gift but Yourself, who are the Giver of life and all its blessings. From You I ask not for the world or its treasures, nor yet for heaven do I even make request, but You alone do I desire and long for, and where You are, there is Heaven. The hunger and the thirst of this heart of mine can be satisfied only with You who have given it birth. O my Creator! You have created my heart for Yourself alone, and not for another. Therefore, this my heart can find no rest or ease save in You, in You who have both created it and set in it this very longing for rest. Take away, then, from my heart all that is opposed to You, and enter and abide and rule forever. Amen

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Cloud of Unknowing Begins

At the recommendation of my niece, Alison, I started reading a book intriguingly entitled The Cloud of Unknowing; a contemplative medieval work from an unknown (!) monastic author. In its prologue, I couldn't help but get a sense of a similar warning Paul might have placed on his writings if given a chance.

It reads as thus, "I…charge…you, and ask it of you with the authority of charity. If any such people do read it to themselves or to others, or copy it, or else hear it read in private or in public, you must bid them as I do you, to take time to read it in private or out loud, to copy it or listen to it, right through (emphasis mine). For it may happen that there is something there, in the beginning or in the middle, which depends on what follows and is not fully explained in that place. If so, it will be explained a little later on, or else by the end. Thus if a man looks at one part and not another, he could quite easily be led into error."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

But SOMEbody had to be a Christian!

“Sometime after World War II, during the reconstruction of Europe, the World Council of Churches wanted to see how its money was being spent in some remote parts of the Balkan peninsula. Accordingly, it dispatched John Mackie, who was then the president of the Church of Scotland, and two ministers from another rather severe and pietistic denomination, to take a jeep and travel to some of the villages where the funds were being disbursed.

“One afternoon Dr. Mackie and the other two clergymen went to call on the Orthodox priest in a small Greek village. The priest was overjoyed to see them, and was eager to pay his respects. Immediately, he produced a box of Havana cigars, a great treasure in those days, and offered each of his guests a cigar. Dr. Mackie took one, bit the end off, lit it, puffed a few puffs, and said how good it was. The other gentlemen look horrified and said, ‘No, thank you, we don’t smoke.’

“Realizing he had somehow offended the two who refused, the priest was anxious to make amends. So he excused himself and reappeared in a few minutes with a flagon of his choicest wine. Dr. Mackie took a glassful, sniffed it like a connoisseur, sipped it and praised its quality. Soon he asked for another glass. His companions, however, drew themselves back even more noticeably than before and said, ‘No, thank you, we don’t drink!’

“Later, when the three men were in the jeep again, making their way up a rough road out of the village, the two pious clergymen turned upon Dr. Mackie with a vengeance. ‘Dr. Mackie,’ they insisted, ‘do you mean to tell us that you are the president of the Church of Scotland and an officer of the World Council of Churches and you smoke and drink?’

“Dr. Mackie had had all he could take, and his Scottish temper got the better of him. ‘No, dammit, I don’t,’ he said, ‘but somebody had to be a Christian!'"

D.T. Niles, told at the sesquicentennial celebration of Princeton University; repeated by John Killinger, Pulpit Digest, July/August, 1992, pp. 12-13.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Close Encounters of the [Spiritual] Kind

John Fincher December 25 at 7:47am

After reading the chapter If I Ever Met an Angel from Wide Open Spaces by Jim Palmer, I began to wonder about my own experiences with angels, dreams, visions, etc. This is also something I've thought about lately. For me, my experience is someone who I haven't talked to or thought of in a long time will call me (seemingly) out of the blue - as soon as a few minutes or the next day. I don't know how many times I've said to someone, I was JUST thinking about you. I don't know why God would give me a fore-knowledge of this, but it has happened to me over and over in my life. My wife tells a story when she was in college, she started packing to leave because her aunt had died, but no one had called her and told her. When her mother called her, she said she already knew and was on her way. We tend to not dwell on something like this and try to say she was probably just mistaken about the time-line.

I certainly am open for this type of communication now.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was involved in a messy situation in the small-group at the assembly we now attend (I started going for my wife, but have come to love the people in our group). It involved me being (essentially) called a heretic by someone attending a conservative seminary. Well, in this imbroglio, I was called a Gnostic and a Mystic simply because I am seeking the deeper things of God. More than a few times lately, God has put "mystical" things (books, conversations, etc) into my path over the last year. The next DAY after this episode with my fellow classmate came to a head, I was at the hospital waiting with my mother while my father was having surgery. We were sitting in a small area with a couple I had not paid much attention to. As I was walking past them, I noticed a book that he had been reading, but had put down. I looked at the title - The New Mystics by John Crowder! Never heard of him or it, but it sparked an amazing conversation between the two of us about this very subject! I being from a conservative Independent Baptist background thoroughly enjoyed his stories about "unseen" encounters with the spiritual world. This stranger also GAVE me the book. My eyes are more open to this type of thing now.

As to God speaking through dreams, earlier this year I was given these words upon waking one morning:

I rather imagine as I sleep,
My God sings to me all night
In a quiet, wordless voice

Though wordless,
So personal still