The Mega Monstrosity

We Americans are easily impressed by all things big and successful. We find it almost impossible to gainsay that which has massive popular endorsement. So the assumption is that if a particular message can fill churches and arenas and propel books onto bestseller lists, then it must be a good thing. – Brian Zahnd

Bigger, stronger and faster, it’s the only way to survive and thrive in the good old USA. It has become the mantra of modern-day capitalism. The consumerism culture thrives on the constant banter of “we want it now and more of it”! We as a species have been leading the charge and now are seeing the horrible and harmful effects in our communities and environment.

Within the Christian platform, we have seen how using this consumer culture tactic, enables devastating spiritual and physical carnage. The Mega Church has become the mascot of this mass consumption crusade through its ideologies and practices. Now, every entity has its anomalies (like all things in life). There are some heathy and good results coming from mega churches, no doubt (I have experienced it firsthand). But, from an overarching perspective, the fruit of the mega church doesn’t look so good.

Here are just a few examples of what happens when the tribalistic big church group think runs the show:

– Too big to fail

– Prohibits intellectual diversity

– Pastor egomaniac syndrome

– Misappropriated funds

– Sexual misconduct

All of this leads to unhealthy relationships which then produces unhealthy communities. When we make church a “corporation”, we open-up all the rules and regulations that need a corporation to be successful. It comes more of a place to compete instead of a place to heal. When this becomes the priority (bigger and better) we lose the capacity to really step into discipleship (loving the least of these).

Just recently, we have seen this model of church cause great harm and pain. The Village Church and its head pastor Matt Chandler were caught up in a tragic incident that resulted in sexual abuse. On Feb. 17, 2018, Ms. Bragg and her husband, reported to the Village that their daughter, at about age 11, had been sexually abused at the church’s summer camp for children. Since then, Matthew Tonne, who was the church’s associate children’s minister, had been investigated by the police, indicted and arrested on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Bragg’s daughter. [1.]

With this devastating tragedy, you would expect any ethical organization (especially a church) to do whatever it takes to bring justice to this girl and her family. Not only that, but love and support from the leadership. This never happened as Ms. Bragg stated:

Ms. Bragg waited for church leaders to explain what had happened and to thoroughly inform other families in the congregation. She waited for the Village to take responsibility and apologize. She waited to have even one conversation with Mr. Chandler, a leader she had long admired.

But none of that ever came.

“You can’t even take care of the family you know,” she remembered thinking as she walked out of the large auditorium. “Don’t tell more victims to come to you, because you’re just going to cause more hurt.”[2.]

AHHH! This is fucking unacceptable! How can you sleep at night Village clergy?! Matt Chandler, where are you at?! How does it come to this? Well, I think what we see here is when you are part of a non-stop “bigger, stronger, faster” locomotive church model, you plow through anything that gets in your way (disregarding all collateral damage). When you run a community based on American consumerism ethics, you become too big to fail and will not accept defeat. The machine has too much of a good thing going to worry about a little sexual abuse…what a diabolical program.

What’s the lesson we can learn from all of this? I don’t know but I think we need to realize the danger when it comes to our hyper competitive consumer culture. If we claim to participate in the divine love of the universe that engulfs the air we breathe and the people we trust, we must create healthy spaces for Christs collective to grow. This earth in time and space and the forever now that lies between is to important and precious to ignore. We must humble ourselves and let go of our egos to let the Spirit guide us to new heights. It’s the least of these that we are here to serve, not the power-hungry tyrants and their cutthroat empires…

But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished—proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS! At its best, such a culture generates pews of Stepford Wife–style robots with painted smiles and programmed moves. At its worst, it creates environments where abuse and corruption get covered up to protect reputations and preserve image.Rachel Held Evans

 

 

 

The Odd Couple: Institutions & Movements

“When our institutions lack movement to propel them forward, the Spirit, I believe, simply moves around them, like a current flowing around a rock in a stream…without that soul work that teaches us to open our deepest selves to God and ground our souls in love, no movement will succeed and no institution will stand.”-Brian McLaren

It looks like we have come to the undeniable crosswords between the institutional church and the movements that have shifted forward. Ever since Jesus started a movement within the Jewish institution in Jerusalem 2,000 plus years ago, this “odd couples” relationship seemed doomed from the start. Both sides of the spectrum will have their reasons why one cannot work attached to the other. Do we have to let go of one to allow the other to flourish?

Without letting my bias opinion get in the way here, I would like to propose that both the institutional church and the movements that come out of it, can work together to bring about the shalom Christ attended all along. Unfortunately, when I hear some type of sympathy for the *Western* (just to get a little more specific) institutional church, I cringe! The numerous stories and historical proof of the pain and horrible damage the institutional church in the pass two thousand plus years has done, it’s hard not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Here are just some reminders of what I am referring to:

– Religious wars

– Slavery

– Colonization

– Witch Trials/Burnings

– Racism

– Inquisitions

– Antisemitism

– LGBTQ+ inequality

– Nationalism

– Consumerism

– Environmental Destruction

This is just some of the systemic issues the institutional church has produced. How this has negatively affected groups, communities and individuals is catastrophic when comparing it to the Spirit of love and wholeness that the movement Jesus produced and represented. It’s more like we are participating in damage control instead of producing new ways to bring about healing and liberation.

What are we to do with this? Can we really see a healthy “marriage” between the institution and the movement? I believe we can. Here are some amazing examples of when the institution and movement worked together to bring about the kin-domGod’s liberated, the liberation of God at work among people, the good news for those who suffer at the hands of kings–of love:

Abolishment of Slavery– Although many Enlightenment philosophers opposed slavery, it was Christian activists, attracted by strong religious elements, who initiated and organized an abolitionist movement. [1]

Civil Right Movement– Spearheaded by a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed that “any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spirituality moribund religion.” [2]

Hospitals and Hospice Movements- The second great sweep of medical history begins at the end of the fourth century, with the founding of the first Christian hospital at Caesarea in Cappadocia, and concludes at the end of the fourteenth century, with medicine well ensconced in the universities and in the public life of the emerging nations of Europe The first hospice was set up by Christian nuns in 1900 Ireland. [3]

These are just a few of the examples when people within the institutional church decide to take a stand and move toward compassion in action to ignite a shift towards peace and love. It has and can work. We are seeing several Christian Denominations (brick and mortar institutions) coming together to welcome and affirm the LGBTQ+ community into the church. We are seeing Christian clergy standing by the Black Lived Matter movement. Look, I know this relationship has a long way to go. But we cannot deny that by working together, we are seeing this partnership make a difference for the better.

In conclusion, let me just point out two verses from the Christian scriptures that Jesus, at first, seems to totally contradict himself:

“Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Vs.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Not to get to long winded here but let me just point out that both statements from Jesus are true. Yes, it doesn’t matter if you worship (to adore) here or there (building or beach) because the church is not a building or a beach: it’s us! We are living stones building up the New Jerusalem that is coming down to our reality in the here and now.

We have resources that we all need to make this kingdom reality happen. This comes in all types of “institutional/movements” shapes and sizes. It comes in building funds so we can produce possible food shelters for the homeless. It comes sometimes just from those individuals own time and effort when standing with activists for social justice causes.

In the end, we are all human looking to bring about what we believe the True Human started over two millennials’ ago. We will always have the more conservative or liberal approach to the Christ-vision. Let’s trust that we will ALL listen to the call of honesty and authenticity in discovering the fruit of our vision in action…

“The movement we need is not like a wave whose incoming is inevitable and we just need to catch it. It’s more like a ship that can be built from available materials: if we catch the desire for adventure, get organized, and collect and fashion the materials, we can soon set sail.” [4]

Forgivers: Newlife

 

“Non-Violence is one of the byproduct of “loving your enemies” {1}

In the history of our American culture, the “Hero” motif has always captured our imaginations in the cinema world.  We love to see the good guys prevail and the bad guys lose.  It is just the dichotomy that we enjoy to see at the movies. Take for example the new film: Avengers: Endgame (amazing movie, I recommend it.) This is the ending to a twenty-two film and over a decade span, which stunning cinematic magic has brought the hero genre to the forefront of pop culture.

Now, I get it. Bringing these cherished comic book characters to life has definitely sparked the familiar essence of good vs. evil–which has been imbedded in us as a species, since the beginning.  Evil must be defeated for the good to survive and thrive. But, is the only way to destroy evil by violence?

As I mentioned in a previous post, the use of violence to prevent violence just doesn’t work. As participants of the way of Christ, the use of violence is antithetical to what Jesus taught and died for. It is really a tough pill for our American way of life to swallow. Human history is soaked in the violent-blood of Cain instead of the enemy-loving blood of Christ. I get it. We all want to survive and not be destroyed and wiped out. But, are we willing to really believe in resurrection? Are we trusting on a death that leads to life?

We “Christians” have taken the violence a little further along in the spiritual evolution of Cain to following the blood of Abel. It’s vengeance instead of just all out violence. Theologian Michael Hardin points out why we do the Eucharist for this very reason:

“How many times have you read in a news report about someone being killed and the family calling for justice? How many times have you read or heard others say that someone who committed a criminal act ‘got what they deserved?’ Retaliation, eye for eye, lex talionis, is the way we humans do justice. This is the voice of Abel crying out from the ground for vengeance. “Cain bombed my city and killed innocent me, O God, now kill him to balance the books of the universe.” We hear this voice in many of the Psalms where the singer, who is persecuted, cries out for revenge.

Yet, when we take the cup to drink the blood of our Victim, Jesus, Son of God, True Human, Lord of the Universe, is it revenge we hear? No, it is the cup of forgiveness. In his blood we find only forgiveness. There is no hint of revenge either now or in the future. All revenge or retaliation by God is forever forsworn. As the writer to Hebrews says, “Jesus’ blood speaks a better word than that of Abel’s.” Jesus blood does not cry out for justice, his blood cries out for mercy”.{2}

Beautiful! Mercy and forgiveness is what this new creation in The Universal Christ is all about! This is what stops evil. When we let go of the violence of Cain and the vengeance of Abel, we step into the flow of love that Christ showed on the cross: “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” What a profound statement and a whole new way of interacting with our so-called “enemies”. If the cross shows us anything about God, it’s revealing how God reacts to enemy violence: LOVE.

Yes. It’s love that defeats evil. This love is a non-violent resister to the principalities and powers of darkness that come about when we think violence solves the issue. We must come to grasp to the reality of the Spirit that always loves–brings joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is a meaningful trajectory to this way of enemy-forgiving love.

This changes the whole concept of hero. The hero of the story is always the enemy-loving symbol of forgiveness not revenge. We are not here to survive but to thrive. Look, violent marvel hero movies always tickles my fancy (along with the rest of the western world). I am not trying to stop you from going to the movies for God sakes. All I’m pointing out is to truly be the hero who saves the day, it comes by non-violence. Let us be Forgivers that bring new life, not Avengers that end it…

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”{3}

Waves Of Mercy

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. {1}

When it comes to the chaos in life, it’s hard to determine the best course of action. I mean, the “technology driven, non-stop on the go” culture we find ourselves in, who can blame us? It’s almost as if we arrived in a whole new terrain that only functions at warped speed. Where do we find the tools to assist us through the path that will lead us to healthy and liberating results?

Well, research is showing that this new technology-driven on the go lifestyle is having some unhealthy results. As, psychologist Dr. Stephanie Brown keenly points out:

Researchers note that this push for speed is changing the way people think. The need to be efficient and instant leads to a dumbing down of information intake so that people become scanners and “decoders” of information, cruising horizontally across the screen to pick up bytes, rather than delving towards a deeper understanding.

Maybe the biggest cost we’ve encountered already is the harm to human relationships. Instead of enhancing close bonds, technology has facilitated avoidance of direct person-to-person contact, which takes too much time. We maintain the illusion that we’re connected more closely than ever by the number of Facebook “likes” we accumulate. But it’s all fast, now, this instant. Everything is impulse. Our sense of connection exists in the action, not an accumulated, deepening experience.{2}

Yikes! So, our relationships are unhealthily inauthentic and our capacity of obtaining information is declining! What are we to do? This mode of being is becoming more and more prevalent the more we succumb to the status quo. Does there need to be some type of revolt to end the madness?! Well, I think we have to really step back and ask ourselves “what really is important”? I know, to simple right? But I think this mind of contemplation is really key to getting us grounded back to a more healthy social atmosphere.

Look, we have a profuse amount of access to information at the end of our fingertips it’s kind of hard not to be addicted (yes I said it) to this extraordinary power! The thing we need to come to grasp with is that to really “connect”, we have to encounter flesh and blood relationships. This goes from the snip-its of information we obtain on Wikipedia–to our most avid “like” sessions on Facebook. There is nothing like the real McCoy.  True connection comes into full fruition when we stand face to face with either a real book (yes, try it sometimes) or a real person (I know it can be hard for us introverts). Actual contact matters! Lets get spiritual (within the material) here for a minute. When we understand that the true reality–Logos, the Christ–works through a “gathering” of people (Mat 18:20), we come to recognize the need for community.

Here is the paradox of this all.  I truly believe for us to come back to a more interrelated social structure, we first have to step back and center ourselves in the quietness of life.  The ever-present moment is calling us a species back to her folding arms. This reminds me of how surfers ride waves. Let’s see if this analogy works for you as it did for me (haha). As a rider of the waves myself (I just don’t like labels), I am constantly battling the on slot of the never-ending tide push of waves, when out paddling in the salty seas.  It always seems that to really be present and ready for the ability to finally catch a wave, I first need to understand that this constant ripple of waves can be used as a very enjoyable ride of bliss.

It is a matter of practice and technique to finally find the perfect set, pass the break, and surf. See, there is a moment in all things of life where within the chaos, we can find a moment of mercy to go with it. In this, we discover a way that deeply matters and shapes us for the better. I can tell you first hand that there is nothing like starting your day off by catching an amazing wave of nature (yeah, I know, so cliché but I can give two shits hehe).

It reminds of this verse in Psalms:

Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.

Deep calls to deep! We have to awake to the things that matter in life. When the constant push of waves come over us, we have to learn to center ourselves back into the Divine Balance of the universe. When all else is spinning out of control, let us be reminded of Love and how it never fails to bring us home. Let us paddle with the waves of chaos and be energized by the ride that brings us to shore with mercy. Where we find people laying on the shores, enjoying the Sun of everlasting warmth, and laughing with others who are experiencing the stillness of life…

A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living. {3} 

It’s A Party Not A Court Hearing

Remember that judging a person does not define who they are, it defines who you are.{1}

Psychologists are discovering that we humans are naturally wired to use judgement when it comes to our survival. Can we trust and respect another person when it comes to our well-being? This question is what triggers our instinct to judge another (and ourselves) so we can move into a safe space. But, when our judgement becomes all we focus on, the results are not healthy.

Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy puts it this way:

However, we cannot let our judgements control us. It is easy to misconstrue information and deem someone as less trustworthy than they really are. To really get to know someone, we have to give them a fair chance and get to know someone before we decide. We may find that their personality only comes out once they reach a certain level of trust in you.

The instincts we have on judging others served us well in our efforts for survival, but we have evolved past the point where survival is life or death. Now, we are protecting emotions and status. We should be careful who we judge and why, as we may not be judging the wrong people for the wrong reasons.{2}

As a species, we have moved past the survival instinct (of life or death) to the protecting of our emotions and social status. This a huge difference when it comes to the purpose of judgement. We have made a judgment out of fear in order to keep our social status in tact. This ties in nicely with the current condition of Christendom . Is this belief in Christ really just a dichotomy of “no or yes” and boom–it’s either judgement to death or life? We have one choice for our eternal soul and we better get it right or else? It’s the court hearing that we can’t avoid and it’s our final destination that we all really shit our pants over (if we are really being honest with ourselves hehe).

Or is there another way to come to the Jesus story? I think so. In the space between the court hearing and the party, Jesus is always saying: Love has the last word. In the Eternal Now, we all should experience the party which celebrates the shalom that the gospel of Christ brings. How did we get to the point of the infamous court hearing for our final judgment with God? One word: Fear. This emotion is a great (and easier) motivation. It allows the masses to hold on to a God who if we don’t obey, will either burns us alive forever, zap us out of existence or just kicks us out to outer darkness for the rest of eternity (yay).

Well, here is a fun (and much-needed) fact. There is only one instance in scripture when there is a scenario of a “court room” with God being the judge: The Great White Throne Judgement (dun dun…DUN). This also includes themes such as the book of life, death, hell (I.e., the grave) and the Lake of Fire. When we come to this passage, we have to understand the background of the Book of Revelation. Revelation is a symbolic, political-driven book which was written to the “Seven Churches” of the first century. It was written to them (first and foremost) but for us (now and forevermore). It’s main thesis is that the peaceful slain Lamb is Cesar not the Empire State of domination and violence.

We need to grasp this truth before we can ever precede past the imagery of the court room scene with God. This is all hyperbole and allegorical Hebraisms that captures the imaginations of the first hearers (and later the readers) of this little book we call Revelation. These are not actual places, but states of being that can produce horribly real circumstances. When we do not transform our judgmental fear to the beautiful freedom of agape love, then we always will experience the shameful plea of “guilty” in the dreadful court room scenario.

Here is where we really stand when it comes to our relations to God. The Gospel of John beautifully states:

And this is the judgement; the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light

And…

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

The true Judgement happened when the light (Christ) came into the world–all the way to Jesus on the cross! It’s done! We judged the light (Jesus on the cross) and God still loved and forgave us. All people are now being drawn to this Light through self-sacrificial love. That is the good news! Love does and always comes through. That is something to celebrate! We have to let go of our primal fears of judgement in darkness and awaken into the light of our True Self.

But what about all the other 100+ verses that speak of judgement? Well, this has to be taken in light of Jesus (Who is the True Word of God) and the way the Sprit of Christ takes us from the letter that kills to the spirit that gives life. We have to come to these other judgement verses with another key perspective from Jesus: Judge not and you will not be judged. We have to let go of our fear of our social status “standings” and be liberated into the realm of perfect love that casts out all fear. It’s in this atmosphere where the true healing begins.

Yes, we have to bring a sense of discernment when it comes to our day to day lives. When we trust that The Divine is for the entire cosmos (not just a few) then we ourselves start being for the entire cosmos. This then enables us to see our fearful judgement be transformed into a freeing experience of love for one another. When we see the whole reality as “good”, we then come to see the systemic issues that still need liberating.

All should be joining the party of Christ. It’s no coincidence that it’s the humble guests in the Great Wedding Banquet parables who are really enjoying the party. We have to realize that its only when ALL are enjoying the party will the full reality of peace and love come into fruition. It’s uncomfortable to put our guards down for theother“. But, the ones we cast aside will be our lost of liberation in the end. The poor, the outcast and the marginalized all have a seat at the table. This apocalyptic truth will only come by letting go of our judgement towards ourselves and others, and stepping into Grace. Life has the last word and all have that gift to share. So lets make room and enjoy the party…

The story of the wedding banquet is first a call for us to recognize the unequal and violent nature of the world in which we live, and second, to acknowledge our part in maintaining the inequalities of the status quo and then to actively work for a fairer distribution of the world’s wealth{3}

Righteous Indignation?

Sitting on an angry chair
Angry walls that steal the air
Stomach hurts and I don’t care [1.]

Anger is the emotion that always has some controversy through the religious and secular sphere. We can see throughout our current culture that it seems to be running a mock with no end in sight. What do we do with it? We have numerous amounts of data from the scientific and medical fields that are helping us to react to anger.

Neurologists are discovering that when you change your beliefs about a situation, your brain changes the emotions you feel. This method is called reappraisal:

As famed researcher Albert Ellis said: You don’t get frustrated because of events, you get frustrated because of your beliefs. If you’re trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting,” Blechert suggested. “He can scream and yell and shout but there’ll be nothing.”[2.]

This is great news! This data basically proves that we can avoid anger altogether if we train our state of mind. Anger, for me, has always been something that I struggle with in how to not be plagued by it. Is training the mind with the reappraisal approach also a spiritual method? Is the righteous indignation just a farce? From a Christ-lens perspective, how we can react in loving and healing ways when our anger hits?

Throughout the history of the christian tradition, the majority have said that righteous indignation is vindicated through godly acts. When Christians used this definition of anger, some pretty evil shit has happened (one of the travesties of this is the concept of Just War Theory). When looking at the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we find a mix bag–from the priests and prophets to the apostles. When we come to this fork in the road, it’s time to go to the red letters of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit do Her thing.

So…

Did Jesus use righteous indignation?

On the service, it seems like Jesus did commit some anger-driven acts. We see this from the cleansing of the temple and interactions with the Pharisees. But, this all comes down to interpretation and context. Theologian Greg Boyd sheds great insight in regards to the cleansing of the temple by Jesus:

We need to understand that Jesus wasn’t throwing an uncontrolled tantrum. Most scholars agree that this was a calculated prophetic, symbolic act on Jesus’ part. Based on Old Testament prophecy as well as the widespread knowledge of the corrupt priestly system, most Jews of Jesus’ day believed the coming Messiah was going to restore the temple and make it God’s house once again. By cleansing the temple, therefore, Jesus was demonstrating that he was the Messiah.[3.]

When it comes to Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, we have to put on the interpretive lens of “the truth in love” (Eph 4:15, cf. 25). We cannot contradict the whole life of Jesus that showed love to all and say he was a dick to just a few. God so loved the world, right? Again, Boyd puts this into great perspective:

If the Pharisees were in fact as steeped in spiritual darkness as Jesus claims, than Jesus’ offensive language can be understood as a desperate, love-motivated attempt to shock them into realizing their dire situation, not unlike a parent who screams to get their child’s attention to keep them from danger.[4.]

We can see that Jesus was strategic and loving when it came to interactions with others. From using the reappraisal method, we can see that every act that we can commit, we can learn to harness it through discipline and practice. From my day-to-day life, the more I lash out due to my anger the more I see that nothing good comes from it. The scripture says it best:

Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires

Anger doesn’t work because The Divine Abba of Jesus (and you and me) doesn’t operate in that stratosphere. The God of the universe is love and all that flows through him is driven by that agape motif. When we see the damage that anger produces, we can see that God takes no part of righteous indignation. The fruit of the Spirit is temperance NOT anger. Let us strive to put this into practice throughout our daily lives so we can be people who heal and liberate, not people who damage and imprison…

Unfortunate events though potentially a source of anger and despair have equal potential to be a source of spiritual growth. Whether or not this is the outcome depends on your response. [5.]

Walls Fall Down

All around your island there’s a barricade That keeps out the danger that holds the pain You got a heart so big it could crush this town And I can’t hold out forever even walls fall down [1.]

Do walls always work? I think we can all agree to an extent that most walls work and are needed for holding stable structures. But, do walls always need to be created? Some walls aren’t needed due to other present circumstances.  We know from psychological studies; emotional walls should never be up for too long or relationships will never heal or grow[2.]

We could use this key finding in how we relate to all walls, and how they can sometimes block out “issues” that we do not want to deal with.  This brings me to our current political situation regarding the Trumps administration boarder security proposal for a wall.

Three questions come to mind: 1. Do we need this wall like we need walls to hold and secure our structural foundations; or 2. would this type of wall hinder our relational growth to sustainable peace with our neighboring countries? The third question we must ask ourselves as participants of the way of Christ is: What would Jesus do (yeah, I went there)?

The reality here is Jesus’ focus was the least of these, the foreigner (the good Samaritan anyone?) and the needy. How can we deny Jesus’ way so drastically within this current administration agenda? How have we distant ourselves so far from what Christ said regarding what brings us to a place where all parties, all nationalities and all religions come to state of true peace (The Sermon On The Mount, yellooooo)?

There are a lot of factors to the reasoning behind the fear and hate towards immigration policies. Just to clear up some things. We have to understand that there isn’t an issue with border crossing, it is at an all time low. This also means that crime rates of undocumented immigrants are lower vs. native-born citizensThere are also concerns with the environmental impact such as the possibility to devastate wildlife habitats and cut off access to the rivers. The eminent domain also proves to be tricky economically as well as legally. [3.]

With that said, let’s get back to the Jesus-vision paradigm. It was always a change of direction for a better outcome (repentance). Also, let’s please not forget that the gates of the new heavens and new earth-the Kingdom of God-will always be open (Rev 21:25). It’s hell that needs its “walls” torn down (Matt 16:17-19)! It’s not about building walls but about erasing boundaries to better connect our differences with reconciliation and understanding.

A wall is not the solution. A better immigration policy that benefits all parties must be developed. I know I know, immigration reform is easier said than done. But, if we see that if we truly want all countries to flourish and live in peace, we ALL must work together (with loving patience) to produce the shalom that Jesus always attended to bring.

To do this, we must let go of our fears, biases and disdain for the immigrant. Can we come to the cross and see that Jesus died for all and forgave all due to his LOVE for all? If we can’t somewhat carry our crosses to the same extent, then why the hell are we calling ourselves “Christians”? …

Jesus makes our treatment of “the least of these brothers and sisters” the only real criteria for the final judgment (see Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus himself was a refugee, and his life and teaching show us what it means to welcome the stranger in our midst. Without love, “law and order” mentalities too often lead to dehumanization, concentration camps, and genocide. In today’s political arena there is a lot of finger-pointing; we need to move beyond blame and rhetoric to take action on behalf of those who are suffering. [4.]

XMas Reconstruction

There are many models of human and spiritual development. We could describe three stages as Simple Consciousness, Complex Consciousness (both “fight and flight”), and Non-Dual Consciousness (“the unitive way” or “third way”). More recently, I have been calling the developmental stages Order > Disorder > Reorder. [1.]

It’s that time of year again and I think some reconstructing is in order! I mean think about it? Throughout the history of most western cultures, Christmas brings many wonderful and powerful traditions. But, like all traditions, it has some mythical elements which don’t always prove to be literally true.

We can see that many traditions within this holiday derive not just from the Christian religion, but from many “pagan” traditions as well. Now, please here me out: Paganism (Celtic traditions to be more specific) engulfs some pretty beautiful universal truths when it comes to its customs. When we understand that Christ is holding ALL THINGS TOGETHER (Col 1:17), this idea of adopting other customs into the Christian tradition isn’t novel or erroneous.

For example, the lights on the Christmas tree. Early Christians adopted this custom from early Celtics due to its symbolism of keeping “the evil spirits at bay”[2.]. Christians repurposed this custom into a symbol of resurrection to the “tree of paradise”. Both customs bring with it a truth of protection and new beginnings. Thus, the reason early Christians adopted the custom.

Also, even with the issues the Santa Clause brings (consumerism, greed, etc.), he did stem from a real Christian figure in Saint Nicholas as well as the folklore character known as Woden. Both figures brought gifts to the ones in need (which is a great symbol of what God does for her creation). I think the actual historic figure in this (Saint Nicholas) should be the ones we tell our kids about. Here is what the real good old Saint Nicholas was about:

He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from execution, provided grain in a famine, and rescued a kidnaped boy. [3.]

I think we really have to ask ourselves: Does God want unity or division? Yes, I understand that not every tradition has healthy customs or practices. We can see this with the unhealthy concept of eternal consciousness torment in hell (an ancient Egyptian belief) and the mental issues that come with it. [4.]

That is why we have to deconstruct, let it sit in chaos for a bit, then start rebuilding our traditions to more beautiful outcomes. Not all the traditions we hold are bad. Others are. In the end, Christ shines to and through and for all things. It’s not a dualist-antagonistic frame work, but a beautiful calibration that brings light through the darkness. (see Robcast episode 222). We just have to understand and discern the difference between the two…

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.

Unified Through Life

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church anymore than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”[1]

The current terrain we see our partisan-driven, polarized American culture in, it’s difficult to see where the Church (The community that heals & restores) fits into all of this. Left and right worldviews are the dominating forces that are ringing the most deafening. Each side ready to take whatever steps necessary to claim victory. Which side is the truth? How does the Church choose to engage in order to bring about peace?

I think the better question is always: What brings about abundant life (John 10:10)? Do the sides we choose bring the kin-dom reality of love for one another? Where hate, violence and division dissolve to the wayside and unity within diversity blossom into a world of mercy and forgiveness?

Well, that’s the ideal right? I think both sides can I agree with this. The issue is how do we get there. What I believe the Church’s job, in all of this, is making space available for a solution to take place. We cannot be tribalistic when it comes to coming together with the ideas in how to achieve our goals. Also, the Church should never be a place to seek an permanent escape from the outside world. It should always be seen as a place to figure out how to bring the world together (no matter what belief system one holds).

When we create party lines, all we do is adhere to division. This is how a democracy works, right? Well, from a Christ-community perspective, when a group comes together, they should have all things in common (Acts 2:44). Obviously, we are in a different era with many different factors that don’t fit into the all all things in common perspective. But, I still think we can have the same *spirit* in order to still achieve the same purpose.

What does this look like? With the result being “abundant life” in mind, I think the first and last step needs to be LOVE. I like how Paul put it:

Above all, put on love–the perfect bond of unity. Col 3:14

Love has to be are go-to if we are ever going to usher in the full reality of the kingdom of heaven. We have to let go of our bias tendencies, and be open to accept all people (black, white, gay, trans, republican, democrat, man, woman, etc.) and all views. But wait! What about coming up with a solution? All these views and people surely cannot come up with a tangible outcome? We can prove that through our current political state.

This is where the third way of Jesus comes in. Christ always opens up possibilities in going a different direction. How he did this was always breaking bread with all types of people groups. He ate with the elite and the marginalized of society alike. He always had the same goal in mind: Eternal Life. As in, No matter what he had in store for each group–liberation for the poor or changing the mind of the rich–it always entailed an outcome that would last…for the benefit of all (not some).

It’s not a coincidence that the prayer of Jesus was to have heaven and earth emerge. The good news of Jesus was bringing harmony to all of the cosmos. You would think it could happen within a human society, right? It’s wither we decide to accept this reality or not that will decide the needed result.

The end game of the path of Christ is always a mystery at first. But, we can see instances in how to live this love life through Jesus himself.

Here are some examples:

Non-violent enemy love-Mat 5:38-48, John 18:36, Luke 6:27-31.

Caring for the poor-Luke 14:13, Mark 10:21, Luke 6:20-21.

Welcoming the foreigner-Mat 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37.

Accepting the marginalized-Luke 19:1-10, Luke 4:18-19, Mat 5:1-48.

Equality for all-Mat 5:1-48,Luke 11:46, John 13:16.

We are on new ground with that “same old story” fear, when it comes to finding true unity within our culture context. If we want to show the world how to live in a community of peace, we have to trust that agape love will get us there. We have to let go of keeping score and let love do what it does — keep no records of wrong (1 Cor 13:5).

We need to let the LIFE of the Divine be our compass into the unknown. That might look futile at first, but resurrection is always the result no matter how hopeless it seems.

Church, can we trust in that?…

We can reject tribalism (our side is 100% good their side is 100% bad) without choosing a false equivalence (both sides ideas and actions are equally moral & dangerous). [2]

This post is part of the Sychroblog – a group of bloggers who write on spiritual topics, often from different perspectives – which is published once a month. This month we were challenged to write on “How the Church can work toward Unity in Our Culture and Country.” Links to other articles will be put at end of this post November 28.

Here is the list of other writers and authors who contributed to this month’s Synchroblog. Go read them all to see what others think about church unity.

The Oceanside Sanctuary

“It’s time to change our posture. I’m not suggesting an extreme alternative of falsely positive, overly peppy Church culture that says nothing is wrong. Jesus, Paul, David and every writer of scripture has shown us that this is not Biblical.”[1]

I have a confession to make: I go to church. Gasp! How could you, they say? A variety of reasons come to mind. I get it. Being someone who was raised in a religious institution that came with numerous amounts of “baggage” which brought about unhealthy consequences, I get that church really is the last place a good amount of people want to be a part of as the statistics show. Being exclusive, dogmatic, legalistic and tribalistic are the driving forces in bringing about the “nones and dones”.

Seesh, what a mess! How could anybody be part of that type of structure they call church? Well, there is always a different way of doing things. That being said, I would like to list the reasons *why* I am grateful to be part of The Oceanside Sanctuary. And no, I’m not claiming that we do everything right or that we are the one to replicate. It’s a process and journey and we are just enjoying the ride. It’s my own subjective reasoning but a reasoning to consider nonetheless.

I think these five qualities that I’m about to list are desperately needed within our current culture climate. We like to call our style “Vintage Modern”. That is profound in my opinion because it shows that we can respect the old ways but at the same time, not be afraid of the new. Also, this is likely not a shared view with everybody that goes to The Oceanside Sanctuary and guess what? It’s all good!

1. Inclusion: Everybody (Democrats, Republicans, Atheists, Agnostics, LGBTQ, Black, White, etc.) is welcome and accepted here. Seriously, no joke. If we cannot have unity within diversity, then we are in for some trouble. We have to let the Spirit push us forward.

2. No statement of beliefs: This does not mean we don’t all have some. We just don’t burn each other at the stake when we disagree. We are a people of faith not certainty. It’s more about *showing* people what we do not what we believe.

3. Christ-centered discipleship: This is what we all have in common. We are fascinated with the life and teachings of Jesus and are seeking new ways to follow him within our community. His teaching can be summed up in this: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. This doesn’t mean we don’t welcome people who don’t “follow” Jesus’ teaching. On our main web page it states:

“Whether you are looking for a place to worship, a community of faith, or just an opportunity to serve others in need, you are welcome here.”

4. Eucharist/Communion-centered worship: Breaking the bread and drinking the wine is the invitation to step into the Grace of Christ. ALL are invited to the table no matter who and where we are. This is what the Gospel is all about. It’s a freaken amazing feast for all. Let’s party baby!

5. Service/Social Justice Outreach: Our bread and butter is helping feed the homeless in our community of Oceanside. We are always finding new ways and avenues to better serve this community to bring about healing and liberation. We are moving towards new social justice outreach programs to be able to bring the same goals of wholeness to our community as well. Exciting times.

In the end, a sanctuary is a place where one is protected from outside harm. Through the biblical narrative, this protection was always meant for the outcast and marginalized. Unfortunately, we see it being used more as country club where only the privileged few are allowed to join.

Jesus came to do away with all that. His sanctuary is made up of ALL people. What these people do matter. What we are to do is serve the least of these. We do this not to please some wrathful deity in the sky, but to join in the Divine Dance of God who is love. This is what church should be all about. This is what brings healthy communities.

Well there it is. It is quite simple, really. What it is all about is living in a community that is truly trying to bring about a “fully-alive” world. Shalom is the vision and reality we are all trying to bring about…

“For Jesus, such teachings as forgiveness, healing, and justice work are the only real evidence of a new and shared life. If we do not see this happening in churches and spiritual communities (but merely the conducting of worship services or meditation sits), religion is “all in the head” and largely an illusion. Peacemaking, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not some kind of ticket to heaven later. They are the price of peoplehood—the signature of heaven—now.”[2]