by Mark Sandlin
You are what you believe.
At the core of each of us is our belief system. It is around that belief system that a large part of our personal identity is formed. One of the real strengths of fundamentalism is that it provides a stable core belief system. To borrow from 80's new wave and avant-garde band, Talking Heads, “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”
It is much easier to believe you understand who you are and to be stable when your core belief system is stable. For folks like liberals and progressives this is a little more difficult because the walls around our core beliefs are a little less rigid and more willing to flex as new information presents itself. Which means that we, more frequently than fundamentalists, are reshaping our understanding of who we are and how we relate to society, even if in small ways.
by: Mark Sandlin
Dear Terry Jones,
I'm sorry it's been so long since I've written but, let's face it, you've been a very busy man with all the Qurans and the burning and the getting arrested. You probably wouldn't have had time for my letter and that's okay, I understand. I do hope, however, you'll make a little time for this one. Why? Because I want to thank you.
You probably don't get much love from we progressive Christian minister types and I'm sorry about that. After all, God is love and we are called to love everyone, even our enemies (how crazy is that?). So, you can think of this as a love letter – an awkward spiritual bromance, if you'd like.
You see, the last time I wrote you was exactly three years ago. Time flies, huh?
by Peggy Beatty
For in the end,
We will conserve only what we love,
We will love only what we understand,
We will understand only what we are taught.
— Baba Dioum
I recently watched video program by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr in which he outlined the 4 steps or stages of meditation. He did this as prequel to an exercise in which he instructed students to find an object they wished to commune with (outdoors is a good place to do this) and use the object as the "focal point" of the meditation. The focal point is similar to the mantra or a special word (as in centering prayer), in that it allows the meditator to have one point of "thinking" for the busy mind to return to in order to drop into non-thinking. The focal point allows the meditator to practice observing without judging, which leads to the ability to 1) observe the self, with subsequent 2) experiencing the self. Baba Dioum's wisdom (above) describes the process. Words in bold type are Bab Dioum's poetic concepts applied to outcomes of Rohr's meditation stages.
The ultimate goal of meditation is to allow the mind to move from conscious duality, that is, a reference place that judges in order to see differences and define thoughts (FORM) to conscious nonduality, which is a mental reference point without judgment that allows for all thoughts and no thoughts (FORMLESS). This latter is the contemplative mind.
by Mark Sandlin (and friends)
"That's not Christian! You're using Jesus to promote your liberal agenda!"
I'm getting this a lot. I've spent a good deal of my life reading and studying the Bible (even going to graduate school for it). One of the things I do now is write this blog about what I've learned.
The interesting thing is, I very frequently get accused of promoting a progressive agenda. Frankly, I think that says more about the Bible than it does about me. It's also been said that "the truth has a liberal bias." So, there's that too.
Well, if I'm going to be accused of having a progressive agenda, I might as well know what it is. So, I asked my friends on The God Article's Facebook page
what their "#1 priority as a progressive Christian"? Then, using their thoughts and mine, I put together this little "To Do" list. I wouldn't exactly call it a complete list -- but it's a good start. I don't get it right every day but I am trying.
by Mark Sandlin
In response to my last article, “10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus
,” I was accused multiple times of being political. All I was trying to do was follow Jesus. So, I thought it'd be interesting (and generate tons more hate mail) to show what a list would actually look like if I were being political intentionally. Like the first list, this is not a complete list but it's a pretty good place to start.
There will be those who comment and send me messages berating me for “making Jesus political.” It's okay. Fire away. Jesus didn't worry much about stepping on political toes and the Bible insists that governments be just toward the least of these (the books of the prophets alone make this point very clear). Frequently, people who are the most vocal about not making Jesus political are the same people who want prayer in school and laws based on their own religious perspectives. By a happy little circumstance that brings us to my list: 10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others.
One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was in its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion – because that's how love works. Compelling people to follow any religion, more or less your personal religion, stands over and against the way Jesus practiced his faith. If you are using the government to compel people to practice your spiritual beliefs, you might be the reason baby Jesus is crying. This does get tricky. There is a difference in letting your beliefs inform your political choices and letting your politics enforce your religion. This article is about the first part. 9) Advocate for war.
There's a reason why he was called the Prince of Peace. Sure, you can quote, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and even two or three other verses but they don't hold a candle to the more than fifty-some verses where Jesus speaks about peace and peacemaking. It's funny how things keep coming back to love but it needs to be said, it is way far away from loving a person to kill them. I guess there's a reason why we say, “God is love.” In the end, love wins. 8) Favor the rich over the poor.
This is actually related to #4. Favoring the rich over the poor is a slap in the face of Jesus, his life and his teachings. In terms of the teachings of Jesus, it is bad enough when we allow the rich to take advantage of the poor, but when we create laws which not only encourage the behavior but also protect it? Well, let's just say it becomes crystal clear how ironic it is that we print, “In God We Trust,” on our money
by Mark Sandlin
Lots of people claim to be “following Jesus” and then they do stuff like this. Sure, people who follow Jesus do these things all the time but you can't say you are doing them because you are trying to follow Jesus' example.
(Clearly, this is not a complete list but it's a good place to start).
10) Exclude people because they practice another religion.
Jesus was constantly including people and he did it with a radical disregard for their religion. We do not have a single recorded incident of Jesus asking for a person's religious affiliation before being willing to speak with them or break bread with them. We do have several records of Jesus seeking out those who happen to practice faith differently from him. There was even this one time when he used a hated Samaritan as an example of how we are supposed to take care of each other.
9) Exclude people for what they look like, how they were born or things beyond their control.
I may have mentioned this already but Jesus was constantly including people. Jesus had this rebel streak in him that actually sought out folks who didn't “fit in.” People who were different, people who were marginalized, people who were made to feel unwanted in one way or another held a special place in the heart, life and actions of Jesus. I suspect he did it because he understood they weren't actually different at all. Touch the lepers (the “untouchables”). Do it.
8) Withhold healthcare from people.
Did you ever play the game “Follow the Leader"? If you don't do what the leader does, you are out. Following means you should imitate as closely as possible. When people who were sick needed care, Jesus gave it to them. If we are following Jesus, we will imitate him as closely as possible. No, we can't repeat the miracles he did but I've seen modern medicine do things that are about as close to a miracle as I expect to get.
7) Exclude people.
Last time. Promise. Jesus was constantly including people. It's a little concept called love. He was pretty big on it.
6) Let people go hungry.
When Jesus said, “feed my sheep,” it was about more than just a spiritual feeding. As a matter of fact, if Gandhi was right (and I suspect he was), you can't have one without the other: “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” There is not a food shortage in the world -- there is enough for everyone. There is not a problem with having a distribution system capable of handling it; I can eat lobster from Maine while looking over the Pacific ocean. The problem is that we aren't very good at sharing.
by David Henson
Don’t forget to feast this Lent.
In the midst of the almsgiving, praying and fasting that traditionally mark this season, remember also to feast.
But only on Sundays.
For Christians, every Sunday is a feast day, and fasting is forbidden at a feast. And, it would be downright rude — to the host, to others at the feast, and to yourself — to fast in the midst of a feast.
Of course, feasting isn’t the first thought that comes to mind in Lent, especially in the popular imagination. But, in many ways, it is the most important part. Some Christians tend to think of Lent only in terms of deprivation, discipline and rigorous religiosity.
Others might malign it as encouraging a kind of mind-body dualism in which the body is battered into submission or the spirit edified at the expense of the repression of the body. Others have criticized Lent, explaining they don’t need the Church to dictate a special season for them to draw close to God.
These criticisms tend to forget about that one critical element: the Lenten feast.
Now, before anyone protests, the feasts of Lent are certainly on the more somber side of things, with all the minor chords and buried Alleluias. But the Sundays during Lent are still celebrations. The Eucharist is never a dirge. It is always a celebration and not just of God’s love and of Jesus’ life. It is also a celebration of our participation in that divine mystery. It is an invitation to a party in which we can touch the hem of divinity — and sometimes more. It is an embodied celebration and a celebration of bodies, particularly God’s own body.
by Rand Walker
Turkeys are considered the essence of ineptness and stupidity. Perhaps they are categorized unfairly, but nonetheless, the word “turkey” carries negative connotations when it refers to certain people or undesirable events in our lives. Sometimes, we invite turkeys into our lives; other times, they show up unannounced or are driven into our space by something or someone else. This is a true anecdote about such as incident in my life a few weeks ago.
Some background is needed to set the scene. I live in a rural area that seems like a wildlife reserve at times. It is not unusual to see deer by the dozens grazing in the front yard or to hear hawks screaming overhead because they are being dive-bombed and aggravated by crows, or they are circling slowly, hunting for prey. Coyotes howling at night are a normal occurrence, but they have been heard howling before sunset, their otherworldly yelps and chortles growing closer together as two of them locate each other. Hence, turkeys wandering through the yard or in the woods just feet from my house are considered normal and part of the territory.
A nearby neighbor has a dog named, Joe. He is a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix who wandered up when he was a puppy more than five years ago. His pleasant, friendly nature endears him to us, so we feed him at my house, and he stops by on his rounds to visit. One peculiar thing about Joe is that he is very reluctant to enter the house, even the sunroom. Why this is important will become clear, later.
There is an 18’ by 12’ sunroom attached to the rear of my house with glass doors and panels around three sides. The doors can be opened and the screens slid into place. It was a sunny, quiet mid-spring Sunday evening, and two of the sunroom doors were opened with the screens in place. I have a cat, Missy, who is very skittish, and she was curled up on the loveseat in the sunroom, napping like most cats do during the day. I was in my recliner in the living room, reading a book. The door between the sunroom and the kitchen was open. Basking in the quiet and the solitude, I was engrossed in my book when suddenly, I heard a loud sound that had the qualities of both a thud and a crash, followed by the cat’s claws scratching for traction as she hastily made her exit from the sunroom, down the corridor to the basement steps, and into the basement. My first thought was, What the hell has that cat knocked over? She likes to climb, and there is a bar-height table in the corner of the room along with a couple of lamps and plant stands scattered around the room. I laid my book to the side and rose from the recliner, reluctantly, and walked through the kitchen toward the open door to the sunroom. I was not prepared for what I saw.
by Randy Walker
If you think your way is the only way, you might be “stuck in the details.” If you belittle those who do not look like you, act like you, or think like you, you might be “stuck in the details.” If dogma rules your life, you might be “stuck in the details.”
First, what is meant by the idiom, “stuck in the details”? Has anyone encountered someone who is obsessive-compulsive over certain things in his or her life? This person becomes consumed with a minute detail, or details, that have little impact on the person’s quality of life, and in doing so, misses the “big picture,” or the things that do matter and affect the quality of life or the outcome of something in particular. I once worked for someone who displayed this quirk to the extreme. He and I worked in construction. This man would obsess over visible brush strokes left on a painted surface, imperfections in trim molding, or other minor blemishes to the point that he would miss obvious things, such as a missing storm door, blatant damage to an outside wall or other similar but what should be easily detected flaws. In other words, he was “stuck in the details,” and he missed the “big picture.”
I believe it is easy for many people to do, essentially, the same thing when it comes to religion or worldviews. To me, religious dogma is an example of details, and people tend to focus on dogmatic “details” and miss the more crucial “big picture.” Stated another way: the doctrine and the rules included in the dogma become more important to some people than how they view and treat people they encounter. They will argue, vehemently, about a minute point of doctrine and proclaim that if other people do not believe just as they do, such people are inferior, hell-bound, unfit, outcast, ex-communicated... the list goes on.
by Peggy Beatty
In the movie, The Matrix, Neo can take a blue pill that allows him to live every day in bliss, but the trade off is that he gives up his autonomy and control to an unknown force that renders him a mindless slave - happy, but mindless. Or he can take the red pill which will afford him to learn the truth about himself. He will understand the forces that control him and learn to gain freedom from them, but at a steep price. The road will be hard; he will enter into dark places of His weakness: shame, guilt, neediness, greed, jealousy, fear. But he will learn to sculpt away these castings, these disguises of the true divine Self and realize that they must be held in paradoxical tension with all that is good and pure and true. The journey will reveal the truth and the truth will guide the journey. He will discover the essence of who he is. He will become his most authentic self. Happiness will look more like self-acceptance and deep joy, and Neo will be the Hero of his own life. This is how a book I am reading, called The Steps of Essence, by Hanns-Oskar Porr, describes the first call to becoming who you truly are: the choice of pills, blue or red.
I was intrigued with this because I think I missed this point in the movie. Or maybe not – it has been awhile since I saw The Matrix, but I am familiar with the choices that the pills afford. So, the first step is to say, “ok I am willing to take the hard road.” But here’s the catch, everyday you get the pill choice again: Will you choose to wait for happiness to present itself to you, to be a victim of life, a sort of bystander to your own existence? Or will you choose to to be the Hero of your life, to confront your fear, put aside some of those things you think you "need," and ride the wonderful experience of your true Self? The choice to hold the tension between what should and should not be is the demand of truly living YOUR [authentic] life.