Entertaining something more …

Spirituality. Active belief in God. Faith containing both experience and resultant action. These immediately bring up suspicions, fears and even instant dismissal. I understand that and I know why. People have communicated and advanced visions, pictures, ideas, sayings, instructions and life-leading direction, advice for others, words from the dead and all manner of extra-corporeal (that is, outside of “normal” experience and life) phenomena. How can all that be parsed and made sense of?  And if it cannot, is there anything spiritual that can be reliably projected?  Also, the political leanings, decisions and life-styles of those who claim themselves “spiritual” may well dissuade anyone from even considering experimentation let alone discipline in these matters.

So a Bible verse like this:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to that person, and cannot be understood, because they are spiritually discerned.

might well be taken as exclusionary. But I want to make sure you know you are not excluded as I tell some of my story and bring up common objections to faith and its practices:

Spiritual anencephalus

I recently heard Bill Maher interviewing Ross Douthat who was reporting on poll data concerning the church and Christian spirituality. Multiple times, Bill used the phrase “otherwise intelligent people” with no hidden meaning that he considers spiritual matters unintelligent and thus, wasteful of time and effort. I have read others who have said that belief in God was like believing in a childhood imaginary friend. Ignoring the derogatory nature of these slams and the pride they exude (to be sure, believers can be just as proud or worse), they articulate a problem we all have in understanding spiritual life: Do we need to become anencephalic (having no brain – a condition of newborns, almost always fatal) when we do spirituality?

No. The brain engages. And communicates, listening and speaking and experiencing all that is happening. One thing that does happen is that attitude about cognition changes. A know-it-all becomes a know-some-of-it or a know-nothing-in-order-to-hear. And a different part of the brain becomes engaged in an exchange of words and thoughts. It’s not like “My Favorite Martian” with the antenna coming up from the cranium:

Image result for my favorite martian antenna going up gif

… because it can happen at any time, but it involves thought and intelligence that often exceeds that of mere logic and witty intellect.

Belief – instant or progressive

Bible verses and faith statements and sayings can come across as an assault on one’s spiritual state or lack thereof. I really want to be sensitive about that because I come down heavily on the side of progressive faith. That is I strongly believe that people grow in belief. For sure there is a seed of faith I believe all humans possess and that seed must be watered via some action taken. But my story is one of a long chain of events, experiments and perceptions that together form a combined basis for faith.

Space doesn’t allow for an accounting of all of these, but I will relate one I had this past weekend – yesterday as I write this.

People may think that people of faith never doubt – the opposite is true – we constantly doubt. We have the writings of Mother Teresa and have her doubts with us. So I have been in a state of doubting God’s care for me as an individual. The doubt goes beyond an engineer’s calculation of my being one of 2 billion people “vying” for God’s attention. It’s an assault on the character of God – that God does not care about me as an individual. Well, I awoke on the lake where I was staying and was the only human witness to this dazzling display on the otherwise fog-blanketed water and shore:

GodWink - 10-15-17

Now as soon as images like that get linked to a spiritual tenet, people start mocking. There are those, after all, who see angels and entire apocalyptic scenes in cloud formations and get all excited. I have similar reactions to their revelations though I try to be very kind.  So why is this case different?  Well, the context (some fairly intense prayer and seeking), timing (it lasted 5 minutes) and even the attendance (that is, me alone) of the event all combined to make the point that it was something special for me.

And that may serve to display the idea of progression, for there is a long list of “coincidences” in my life that establish both the existence and personal nature of God. As I said, I cannot list them here, but suffice it to say that after a while, were I to make the argument of happenstance and accuse those in faith of being childish, the coincidence stance itself becomes the childish one.

Righteousness, sin and judgment

I know, here is where a lot of people will just get off the train. That’s because there is such a thing as spiritual malpractice. Most religions teach that there exists a higher plane of morality and ethics than is practiced on planet earth. And many actually condemn people for not attaining that level, all the while their most ardent proponents and practitioners have lives that are anything but exemplary of the tenets they espouse. Not to pick on Catholicism – I have dear and vital Catholic friends – but Woody Allen described his experiment with the Catholic church as “die now, pay later”. I hope at least some can smile and nod.

But it is a fact of my life and all human lives that we fall short of purity, ethically clean and morally good thought, speech and behavior. And we know it. At least some of it. The other half is that we know when we have been hurt by others. So even if we wouldn’t call it “sin” we would certainly agree offense has been done both to and by us causing damage that may last a long time.

And if there is a spiritual law that transcends all religion and belief systems, it is that of retribution.  What goes around comes around.  You reap what you sow, etc.  It works on the positive side as well, for there is “pay it forward” as well.

It is is the offer of faith to rectify this aspect of life – the guilt and debt. We need a remedy for our own culpability, and for the damage of what has been done to us as well. Jesus attacked this problem head-on, not mincing word about our state and not just stopping at talking about it. He died to fix it.

Image result for jesus on the cross

Now, there are many, many who insert their own judgment for that of God. They assume the guilt of others but their own innocence. These people don’t want people to be free and forgiven; it would upset their personal reign. There are also those who wallow in shame, never rising above the acknowledgment of their dark deeds and supposing those actions define them. Both extremes, as well as a host of other misreads and misapplications can pollute and hide the biggest reason to be a Christ-follower.

Because there is freedom. And forgiveness. And reconciliation, peace, love, joy and all the rest.

This is not the accomplishment of an imaginary friend. Real blood was shed. Real miracles happened, including the miracle of my life.

Invitation

I would therefore like to invite anyone reading this to entertain something more in life rather than only wake-eat-work-party-sleep. Because there is more and there are riches found in a life of faith. Even a faltering, wobbling sometimes-trudge that experiments and experiences God.

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When umpires get it wrong

A while ago I figured out why I have always been a baseball fan. Sport – particularly that one – is analog. Drama gets played out on the field that we see in our lives. It’s a replay or a sidebar to all that has happened or is happening. The characters have similar analogs – pitchers are those who put their best foot forward and present their goods, skills and personalities. Batters are those who – a third of the time at best – send them packing. And they do it by being scrappy – bunting, beating out an infield hit or Texas-leaguer – or masterful – culminating in the grand slam home run.

There are two teams with management and strategy honed for each game and each season.

And there are .. umpires.

I was watching the Red Sox bat in the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium last night. Here’s another reason I’m a baseball fan – you can’t script this stuff. Of course bases loaded. David Ortiz is up. He strikes out. Not because there were 3 strikes thrown, there was one (ok if pitch 5 was a strike there were 2). He is called out on strikes that were not strikes. Here’s the pitch placement:

Umpire Ron Kulpa is an evil villain today in Red Sox nation as he would be among any fan base rooting for the team that he victimized. And I’m sure his performance will be analyzed by the big wigs in MLB and maybe something will come of it.

But I’m more interested in the analog, as I said above.

So first, who are the umpires in our lives? That’s pretty easy – they are or bosses, the authorities, the government. And I must include God, as we perceive God.

And it’s no wonder why people get so steamed when they get it wrong; when our players get judged unfairly. But the analog is deep, and deeply instructional, because when umps mess up:

  • We are reminded who our authorities are. That is, who has power over us. Sometimes we can change who they are, sometimes not. But there are ultimately two responses to the rule of authority – acquiescence or rebellion. In the face of injustice, both are perilous. The former because it can ignore what’s really inside of us and the latter because it considers our position higher than it is and, as St. Paul said of the authority – “he does not bear the sword for nothing.”
  • We see disappointments that had nothing to do with us. Our projects are canceled, we lose our jobs or even more tragically, our marriages or families. Again, it had nothing to do with us. But we struggle to believe that because we know we’re not perfect. Because in disappointment we always try to find a reason so we can try to avoid it next time. So we blame. Ourselves. Now it might be true that we did have something – and maybe a lot – to do with it.  That is, it wasn’t a bad call after all.  But the truth is that the tendency to blame ourselves is universally overblown.
  • We learn – erroneously – that we can’t trust as much as we thought. Multiple bad calls forge patterns in our emotions. This can get dangerously generalized to the point that we view all the world as hostile. That blossoms into operational and even clinical paranoia. The trick here is to isolate the bad call, see it in situational and relational context. If there is a pattern, identify all the patterns, not just the ones that dealt us a bad hand. And big point – see the hand of God as always for us, even when we are disappointed. God’s goal is our redemption. Always. Thus, God can be trusted. Always.
  • We fail to move on. There will be another game, another day, a different and fair umpire. Adopting futility will do nothing but take us down a dark hole. Different than trust issues, this takes us into depression – seeing things worse than they really are. People still love us. We’re still talented, desirable and valuable. A bad call, or a bad ump can’t change any of that.

Like many reading this, for me there is a flip side. I have also been an umpire. Who made bad calls. Often there’s nothing I can do to fix the error; either the people are gone or just won’t talk about it. To be sure, I made good calls that weren’t accepted either. No one is perfect, and the place where our imperfections hurt the most are when we are leaders.

Grace, humility, mercy and forgiveness are what get me through the day and through life. Because the umpires calling my game get it wrong. Many times. Humility calls me to remember when they got it right too. And honesty says that is most of the time.

Let’s go Red Sox!