Saturday, December 27, 2014


During this season when people around the world celebrate a holiday that has evolved out of an accumulation many festivities, I and my family celebrate Christmas, the memory of the birth of Jesus.  During this season one sees an uncountable number of ways to celebrate Christmas, from lights and music in areas where the reason for Christmas is hardly known to frantic shoppers whose ancestors have repeated the story of Jesus' birth numerous times to worshippers gathering to sing songs and worship Jesus and his God.

I have been and still am among the latter for seventy years.  Each year I learn more about the holiday and every year more traditions are added to the holiday to the point that the Christian reason for the season has faded to only a small spark among a decreasing number of people.  I wrote in a earlier blog about peeling away the excess to get to the true meaning of Christmas or any other tradition that matters.

Neither theology nor philosophy have ever been my forte, even though at one time I referred to myself as a mathematician, and early Greeks who wrote of mathematics were called philosophers.  Thomas Jefferson was one whom I chose as a philosopher for a paper during my Masters studies even though he probably never is found on a list of famous great philosophers.  Jefferson was chosen because he was a thinker, famous for other reasons, and not one who limited his thinking to philosophy.  Perhaps he remains my model but far above my frail capabilities.  So my thoughts pale among great thinkers and yet I continue to think.

On Christmas Day we attended a service in a Catholic church.  The service was full of traditions with which I am familiar and have held in high value.  It also included many actions with which I am not familiar.  As I reached for the meaning of Christmas or the reason for the life of Jesus or the message of Jesus, I saw much I could peel off to reach the essence of Christmas.  Chants, artifacts, postures and words created by man to define a relationship of God, most of which was unfamiliar to me, were all a part of this rite.

Even as I peel away this features, I appreciate and celebrate the vitality these features bring people, God's people.  These celebrations strengthen men and women and encourage them to strive to be better.  If only we could find the common denominator of all faiths and philosophies to improve the plight of all people.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Removing Excess

     The discussion at the Advent gathering last evening focused on a theme similar to the prior week when we discussed the reaction to losses and how it opened up new opportunities.  And what can we get rid of to streamline our lives and eliminate the things that hold us back?  This evening we started with a question, what could we give up of our past that would allow the future to be better.  I held my tongue because I'm a private person and fear that I do not articulate my thoughts very well. but also because I feel my thoughts and words would have been similar to talking about the existence of Santa Claus before a believing child.

     What transition am I amid that would render me different and hopefully better?  I continue to question everything: why are there seven days in a week, why is church service at 11:00AM, why do some churches serve Communion weekly while others do it monthly and some even just a few times in a year, like at Christmas and Easter?  Why do we do a Christmas tree, lights, ornaments?  How does this express love for either God or our neighbors? 

     Decorating with people is what Gail talked about in her Moment of Concern at church Sunday.  It was one of the devotions from our Advent calendar.  It's about sharing love with others even at the cost of not following some of the Christmas traditions.

     What I'm thinking is both so different than the traditions with which I grew up and yet so consistent with the values that I have come to cherish.  Why should I have to wait for some ordained person to offer me the opportunity to share a meal with my God or to remember how sharing a meal is the essence of sharing one's self?  I shouldn't have to wait for a paper from the government so that I enter into a relationship of love with another.  I shouldn't have to wait for the dark of winter to give of myself to others.  I shouldn't have to wait for a new calendar from the hardware store to resolve that I am going to respect the environment and help others less fortunate than I.

     Strip away the glister and the lights, the rites and the traditions, the controversial stories and theology, and just love God and our friends and foes.  Love God with a smile at sunrise and sunset, when a bird flies by or a tree waves in the breeze.  Love God at all times counting your blessings.  Love God by loving life and all those around you.

     Now you understand why I hesitate to say anything at the gathering.  I ramble.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What is Religion?

Religion is a scary topic to non-believers and sacred to those who do believe.  It must be an awfully powerful word to either scare or embrace people.

As I become one of those person whom I myself doubt, those who translate the words of the scripture, whether the Bible in its many versions, the Tora, the Koran or any other sacred writings, I find myself revisiting writings and reflecting on the value, the source and the meaning of these words.  So much of what we do is through words especially communicating with others but also in formulating our own values and sense of purpose.  Words are another creation of humans, much like religion is a creation on humans.  I didn't say God was created by humans, God exists regardless of humans' behavior or theories.

What we accept as valid, not even what we believe, but what we accept as a standard is not beyond questioning.  Seven days in a week?  Certainly, the Bible says through the creation story that God created everything including humankind in six days and rested on the seventh.  But who penned that story and with what validity?  But the entire world abides by this standard.  Really?

In a practical sense, it makes sense, just a sleeping or resting at the end of each day.  Our bodies and the bodies of most living organisms go through a cycle of extending energy and conserving energy.  So we rest on one our of seven days.  Actually we rest two out of seven, and we declare that the work of a week should be limited to 40 hours, almost as if it sacred and ordained of God.  Speaking of hours, did God ordain them also.  This makes sense, but why drag it into religion?

Religion is a ordered set of guidelines or rules and rites or traditions that one believes in.  Relating to God, and following God's intent is different, even though we fuse them together.  Even the Bible with its thousand of words and centuries of scrutiny primarily speaks of God's will for us is to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). (Your God? Do each of us have an individual God?  Again words become our nemesis.)  Jesus' paraphrase or restatement of our calling is to love God with all you have and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 27), which is so similar to the Golden Rule that most organized religions also quote and paraphrase.

Wouldn't it be awesome if we could peel away all the clutter of religion, or religions, and follow those simple straight forward concepts, even to let the man-made words to fall aside and just love as Jesus did.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What is God?

It's Advent, which some denominations consider the beginning of the church year; I've declared a new phase in my life to be less busy and more reflective, so I will start writing about some aspects of religion and "the church."

Why not start with God.  There are numerous writings about "What is God", "Who is God", "Knowing God" and countless others.  To become a minister in the Presbyterian Church, and I suspect in many other denominations, one must write a statement of faith.  Many, actually most, model their statement after the Apostles Creed which I remember reciting in church every Sunday as a child.  I believe in God the father, the son and the holy spirit or holy ghost.  I've heard said that the Trinity is the basis for our faith; without the belief in the "three persons" our faith could not exist.

Let's start there.  First, the Holy Spirit is difficult to understand and often plays an inferior role to the other two, even by those who profess the equality of the three.  Perhaps the Holy SPirit is merely our explanation of God influencing our lives.  Maybe a distinct individual is not a fact but our way of understanding and explaining a part of God's behavior.

Now we're down to two, and many persons and religions question whether Jesus was God or a great influential teacher.  Perhaps it doesn't matter what Jesus was, just that his message of love is relevant and powerful.  Besides if Jesus is the son of God and we are the children of God, how are we different than Jesus with regard to our relationship to God?  Are we not created in the image of God or are we a lesser sampling of the image of God?  We don't have to give up the message of Jesus by not considering Jesus God.

Now we're down to just God which is consistent with many other religions of the world.  If there's one God and all religions have some form of doctrine around the Golden Rule of "doing to others as you would have them do to you" maybe there are more similarities than differences among religions.  After all even those who claim Jesus as a source of their religious beliefs and doctrines have major differences.  Maybe we need to look beyond our family tree of religions for advice and consultation.

Finally there remains the question of the actual existence of a God.  Personally, as often as I try to claim there is no God, I find myself reflecting that God does exist.  However, I heard Steve King, the author, say recently in an interview that he believes in God because if God does exist, he's got it right and if God doesn't exist, he'll never know when he dies.  Another statement that I've heard repeated frequently, and probably only recently heeded its value or importance, is that as broken human beings we need to believe that there is a higher power that will help us be unbroken.  That in itself does not mean that there is a God, only that we think we need a God to exist to fulfill our lives.

So what would I include in my statement of faith?  There is a God.  It's that same God that all persons call God by their many different names and is described by their many different theologies.  Jesus is an awesome teacher as were Mohamed and Buddha and Moses and possibly but not necessarily God.  It's a continuous journey and with every moment there's an opportunity to understand more.  I rejoice with the seekers and sojourners and suffer for those who think they have reached the end of the journey and nothing can or will change.