Easter Season 2009
Welcome to OneLife Ministries. This site is designed to lead you prayerfully into a heart experience of Divine Presence, Who is Love. While it focuses on Christian teaching, the writer hopes persons of other faiths find inspiration here. Indeed, "God" can be whatever image helps you trust in the Sacred, by whatever means Grace touches you. Please share this ministry with others, and I hope you return soon. There is a new offering daily.
Rev Dr Brian K Wilcox, MDiv, MFT, PhD
Ecumenical Pastor-Teacher, Author, Workshop Leader,
Spiritual Counselor, Chaplain
LISTENING TO THE SCRIPTURES
23 Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard, 24 and all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift.
*Romans 3.23-24 (NCV)
RECEIVING SACRED TEACHING
I am going to work with a sensitive matter today. I do not intend to do what I am writing against - to be judgmental. Yet, to write "against" means to expose - that will appear, unfortunately, somewhat critical.
Also, I will use some strong language. The matter warrants that. I intend to be blunt.
I am, simply, seeking to state a strong opposition to the very thing I believe counters the essential core of true, spiritual Christian living. I am seeking to counter that with continuing what I wrote about yesterday: compassion.
I, also, write with a healthy Christian agnosticism. I am writing with a faith in God mature enough, spiritual enough, and intelligent enough, to know I, as a human being, do not, and cannot know enough of Reality to agree with the eternal condemnation of anyone to an endless hell, or anything. I cannot, in good faith, speak of the damned and the saved as neat categories dividing one class of persons from another class of persons. I do not apologize for that faith, for it is founded on Love, and reverence for God, not dogma or allegiance to religious tradition.
All intelligent faith in God has behind it a background of humble agnosticism.
*Harry Emerson Fosdick. Dear Mr. Brown.
I am astonished at the boldness with which people undertake to speak of God.
*Above quotes from Leslie D. Weatherhead. The Christian Agnostic.
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Said the self-righteous preacher, "What, in your judgment, is the greatest sin in the world?" "That of the person who sees other human beings as sinners," said the Master.
*Anthony de Mello. One Minute Nonsense.
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Many in "church christianity" have been so conditioned to view others as the damned-sinners, they may not realize to do so may be the most arrogantly, popular convention among those claiming to follow Jesus Christ - the one who said, in the Gospels:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
*Matthew 5.7 (ESV)
But much of the venom spoken about "sinners" and others by the church-going is not merciful, not at all. Many "churches" are the most unmerciful places in the community. At times, the most unmerciful teaching and messages come from those places that claim to be sanctuaries of Christ Jesus.
Thankfully, the opposite is true. At times, a "church" is full of merciful, kind, and welcoming followers of Jesus Christ.
So, see, we cannot blame the Church or Christ; we cannot point a finger and claim Christianity, or any major world faith, is essentially prejudicial. The lack of mercy is a human issue, not merely a religious one.
Indeed, the message of Jesus Christ was and is - are you ready? - not essentially a religious message at all. At core, we might best call it a spiritual message. But, then, not spiritual in the sense of a specialized pursuit separate from being a dignified human person.
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Our theme today relates to our subject yesterday - compassion. It raises the question: How can we have compassion, if we see others as "the sinners" and ourselves as the "non-sinners"? Or ourselves as the "saved-sinners" and the rest of the world as the "damned-sinners"?
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When I sit before an inmate in my chaplain work, I do not see the other before me as sinner, or feel the other as damned at all. I once would have, but no more.
What do I see? What do I feel? I see, I feel a person broken and lost - not "theologically" lost, just plain lost. I see and sense into a person seeking what I am seeking, someone I could be, given the right circumstances in my past. I meet with - in withinness, not objectification - a self in need of time, patience, and healing.
Now, yes, we are all sinners in some sense. Sin is simply to miss a mark. That is simple - that "to miss the mark" is the biblical meaning, devoid of all the theological, moral, self-righteous, churchy accretions added later . We all miss the mark - some more than others, some in greater ways than others.
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Yet, if I say, "You're a sinner," what am I doing? Well, I am speaking of you as an object - I am objectifying you. As long as I can do that, I can feel safe and superior - superior to you, safe from your uncleanness.
Furthermore, I am not acting kindly with that objectification. I am not speaking of you the way I would want you to speak of me. I am not speaking lovingly. Yet, I have been told, so I say, that Christ puts love of God and others as first priority.
This is one reason religious leaders are often among the most self-righteous. Their teaching and preaching is condemning of other persons whom they identify, objectify, as the damned-sinners. Thankfully, most persons now find no place in their lives for such arrogance and unlove. Could it be such is why many no longer darken the doors of church buildings?
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I state we must seek fresh ways of seeing others and ourselves, ways true to the basic "non-theologized" meaning of "sinner." We are all broken. This opens us to see more clearly the basic meaning of "Savior" as "Healer" and "salvation" as "healing."
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Who were those in the Gospels whom the religious elite saw as the damned-sinners? Persons Jesus sat among and ate with. His doing this was a sign of his acceptance of them, totally. He was acting out an affront to the established standard of the religious leadership. This was risky. Of course, he did get crucified, did he not?
Now, did Jesus ever treat them as damned-sinners? No, he did not then, and would not today. Still, he spoke rather harshly of the arrogated, self-righteous clergy who so objected others as unfit and unclean - scum religiously, outcasts socially.
25-26You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
27-28You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.
*Matthew 23.25-28 (MSG)
There was one group that Jesus was consistently, it appears, not nice to. What group? The clergy.
No, this does not mean that all the clergy of his day were frauds. No, not at all. We need not assume all Pharisees, Sadducees, and other clergy were hypocrites. Indeed, likely most of the clergy were sincere, seeking, devout, but broken persons like you and me.
Likewise, my estimation of clergy has grown over time. Yes, while there are the arrogantly self-righteous, there are many who are devout, humble men and women.
Also, we need not pick on the clergy. The sins of the clergy are the sins of the laity. Many laity will "Amen!" a sermon that is a tribal-loveless diatribe against those hell-bound sinners - of course, knowing that he or she, the Amen-er, is not among them. But what if such lack of compassion is itself hell?
* * *
Now, why cannot I see the men and women I serve in the jail as sinners - unless you mean wounded, lost, broken, seeking, ...? Why? Simple. Once you open your heart to the Heart of Christ, you can no longer see persons the way you did before. You will no longer find any attraction to objectifying other persons as less than you in any way.
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To get more insight here, let us listen again to the Jesus of the Gospels - Good News.
16Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses were Pharisees, and they saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors. So they asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
17Jesus heard them and answered, "Healthy people don't need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn't come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners."
*Mark 2.16-17 (CEV)
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Grace means we see persons graciously. Grace means we take responsibility when we do not do that.
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There are two main human powers, says the unknown author of the contemplative classic The Cloud of Unknowing. These two are a knowing power and a loving power.
No one can fully comprehend the uncreated God with his knowledge, but each one, in a different way, can grasp him fully through love. Truly this is the unending miracle of love: that one loving person, through his love, can embrace God, whose being fills and transcends the entire creation. And this marvelous work of love goes on forever, for he whom we love is eternal. Whoever has the grace to appreciate the truth of what I am saying, let him take my words to heart, for to experience this love is the joy of eternal life while to lose it is eternal torment.
*Edited by William Johnston.
Ironically, the Cloud names "eternal torment" for those without this love - regardless of how religious or "spiritual." What if the lovelessness of much churchy religion is a greater hell among hells? What if the love of one person for even one other creature - not just person- is a heaven among heavens?
If I am right about this, in my intimations, a glaring matter comes to the fore. Much religion is hell. Then, such is more hellish for calling its hellishness godly. Then, such lovelessness, in all forms adorned with doctrine and sacred tradition, is hellish.
* * *
Yet, I point out a counter-lovelessness. How about persons who now, in conventional fashion, point out the blemishes of the churches, while they, in their own smug self-righteousness, refuse to enter a church? One does not have to be religious to be self-righteous. Even a liberal atheist can see those who offend his or her sensibilities as damned-sinners.
* * *
Rather, to be Christlike, we are to enter into the Heart of contemplation - the Inner Sanctuary of Divine Love -, before all judgments dividing us and creating wars among us. We no longer use "Allah" or "God" or "Christ" or "justice" or "patriotism" or "democracy," or anything, as an excuse to be mean and demeaning.
We, instead, seek love and compassion. We pass beyond the faculty of knowing into the power of loving. We surrender to love and empathy, for in doing so, we surrender to whatever we mean by "God."
No, this does not mean we are all okay, whatever. This means we are still broken, in need of grace, needing healing. This means, still, our spiritual healing is indicated by our moving more into the loving power, not dividing our love of God from our love of others.
We can, then, no longer speak in one breath of our love of the Divine and the next breath of those damned-sinners - by whatever words we use. We see - in a spiritual intuition-, instead by and through Grace. We see that they and we, all of us, need the healing of kindness and forgiveness.
Go into meditation. See yourself surrounded by the Light of Love. See and feel the Love, as a personal Presence, filling your body. Rest in the sensation of Loving.
Now, see someone unlike you, someone you might be tempted to judge as damned. A sample could be a Christian who judges a Muslim as damned, or a Muslim a Christian as damned. See the Light of Love within you being breathed out upon and into the other person.
Rev Dr Brian K Wilcox
Tuesday the Third, Easter Season
April 28, 2009
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*OneLife Ministries is a ministry of Brian K. Wilcox, of SW Florida. Brian lives a vowed life and with his two dogs, Bandit Ty and St. Francis. Brian is an ecumenical spiritual leader, open to how Christ manifests in the diversity of Christian denominations and varied religious-spiritual traditions. He is Senior Chaplain for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office, Punta Gorda, FL.
*Brian welcomes responses to his writings or submission of prayer requests at firstname.lastname@example.org .
*Contact the above email to book Brian for Spiritual Direction, retreats, or workshops. You can order his book An Ache for Union at major book dealers.