Archive | March 2014

Does the Divinity of Jesus Matter?

 

“I believe in Jesus’ message in the Bible. I do not know if he was the divine son of God or not. I do not believe that it matters.”

I am going to go backwards today on this statement. Let’s talk about whether Jesus is the divine son of God or not.  The single event that got me thinking about the divinity of Jesus happened while watching Religulous by Bill Maher. Love him or hate him, it’s a great movie. He even talks to our friend Ken Ham who recently had his little public debate stunt with Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Here is the quote that got the wheels of doubt turning in my head (from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0815241/quotes )

Bill Maher: But the Jesus story wasn’t original.

Man at The Holy Land Experience: How so?

Bill Maher: [an explanation appears in subtitles as The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian” plays] “Written in 1280 BC, The Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus… Horus is the son of the god Osiris… born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer… who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert… Healed the sick… The blind… Cast out demons… And walked on water… He raised Asar from the dead. ‘Asar’ translates to ‘Lazarus’. Oh yeah, he also had 12 disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first… And after 3 days, two women announced… Horus, the savior of humanity… had been resurrected.”

Now there is debate on the internet on how accurate or inaccurate Bill Maher is with his “facts” on Horus. It is hard to fact check against this paragraph without reading The Book of the Dead yourself. But thanks to the internet, you can!

If you are interesting in a summary of similarities between Jesus and Horus, here is a link http://www.near-death.com/experiences/origen046.html. And on THAT website, you can link to a site here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/ebod/ which is the Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated for our reading pleasure.

I myself do not need to dig into whether Bill Maher is right or wrong about the Book of the Dead. Even the one blog I found that sought to shoot holes in Maher’s claims admitted that many of these similarities exist between Horus and Jesus, but that there was no way early Christianity knew enough about the Horus story to make those connections because they would have needed to be cherry picked from the Book of the Dead texts. It is not an impossible thing honestly. You would have to believe that humans were much dumber back then than they are now to think it wasn’t possible. Dehumanizing the past like your typical high school history class does is an easy way to discredit our ancestors’ intelligence.

So first came my doubt. Wow. If the major themes of Jesus in Christianity are based on a reincarnated story from Egypt, then there are two possibilities: Jesus is a reincarnation of Horus, or Jesus is not the son of God. The wonderful thing about scholars by the time they were deciding what was be part of Christianity’s belief system is they learned how to make stories a bit more believable for people in their day than a goddess who retrieved her dead husband’s body parts except his penis in order to impregnate herself with their son. If you think about Mary getting impregnated out of nowhere and an angel appearing to her and Joseph about the whole affair (pun intended), it kind of doesn’t sound much less ridiculous than what Horus’ goddess mother did. The point is, how are we justified to sit here and discredit an old Egyptian religious story like its hogwash, but believe in our own fairytale like its somehow more credible? Will humans look at us 2000 years from now and dehumanize us in their High School history classes and discredit our intelligence? Oh but look here, some old arrowheads that are worn so much from erosion they couldn’t have possibly killed anything with that – they must have been hunters.

But just because early Christian scholars concocted a nice story for their narrative in order to persuade people to join their religion, doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist or that he didn’t have important things to say that could revolutionize humanity. This is where I start to view the Bible differently than most. I don’t look for key events that validate my religion. I look for an attitude for living.

Let me talk about the popular narrative for a moment and then I will end with some of favorite Jesus’ quotes that I think if we lived out to the best of our abilities, none of the rest of the mainstream Christian doctrine matters.

Most forms of Christianity argue that because of original sin, there was no way we could make it to God’s good graces (for most people that means going to heaven when they die) on our good “works” alone. Meaning, no matter how good of a person you are, you still have “sin” in your life. You still intentionally or unintentionally hurt yourself or other people in the course of your life. (that last sentence is how *I* like to define sin or “missing the mark”). Because of the sin in our life, we needed Jesus the Son of God to come down from heaven through a virgin birth and die on a cross to pay the penalty of sin for us so that we could go to heaven when we die. But only IF we BELIEVE Jesus died for our sins. Consciously or subconsciously, this belief system gives Christians a permanent “Get out Jail Free” card. This means they can be alcoholics, beat their wives at home, emotionally abuse their children, talk behind cowokers’ backs and just in general be a selfish shitty person. “It’s ok because Jesus died for my sins. It doesn’t matter how many I commit or how good I am. As long as I believe he died for my sins, I’m ok. Yeah, He probably wants me to go to church on Sunday, read my Bible and pray. But I’m good. I’m covered. And I can judge others and point out the specks in their eyes. Everyone needs Jesus!” Yes, this is a simplistic fundamentalist explanation without going into all the intricate doctrinal details and beliefs about what constitutes a sin. But it works. I see it in peoples’ behaviors every day. The way they drive, the way they behave at work. The way some people are nice to you at work when they want something from you, but otherwise could care less about your existence as long as you don’t bother them too much. There ARE good people who take their attitude and the way they treat others seriously. But on the whole, I don’t see that as the norm.

I prefer to look at things Jesus SAID. This world will not automatically become a better place if we all believe someone played out a human form of animal sacrifice from the Old Testament for all our bad deeds (never mind WHY people do bad things to begin with). But if you look at key things Jesus SAID, its some key concepts that if lived out can change the world. And the best part is, you don’t have to believe in original sin, his human sacrifice, his virgin birth, or his rising from the dead to do these things or to have the right attitude towards your fellow humans, nature and our earth.

Here are some of my favorites (from the NASB):

Matthew 7:12: In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

 

Matthew 19:23-24: And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

Matthew 22:34-40: But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

 

Matthew 25:34-40: Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?”  The King will answer them and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

 

Luke 7:44-47: Turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

I think Jesus makes his message pretty clear. It’s all about attitude, folks. It’s all about how well you LOVE.

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First, I Believe There is a God

           1) I believe there is a God. I believe the spirit of God is omnipresent in each of us. But I do not believe he makes decisions or influences the world like an outside source. He simply “is” and we decide with our choices how much influence God has in the world. 

I have often described the spirit of God in an analogy to The Force in Star Wars. It is the easiest concept I know to allow people to make sense of how I see God. It also closely resembles a Native American view as well. I hate using gender terms also, but I was brought up calling God a “he” so I stick with it out of simplicity.

So where did this belief of mine come from?

I do have subjective experiences that are “proof” to me in a spiritual realm that co-exists with our physical world. I use the term “proof” loosely, because it is definitely not scientific, nor would I ever try to meld some kind of weird definition of science into something I could use for my “proof”.  Just the same, the events that speak to me are real and I interpret them as extra spiritual energy from God.

There is a time period in which I think God protected me and a specific series of events during December of 2012 that will forever be burned in my mind. Because of these two specific things, there is no convincing me there is no God.

I think God protected me during the time that I was brainwashed at Victory Baptist Church in Mentor, Ohio. It is an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. I was manipulated, shunned, and emotionally abused for part of the four years I was a member of that church. The protection was not evident to me until years later when I joined the Survivors of Abuse in Fundamentalism Facebook group. It was there I learned of wide spread sexual abuse and troubled teen homes where girls were physically and sexually abused. It is so wide spread, it could have only been God that kept me safe and had it to where I was in one of the few churches where sexual abuse did not occur. Several of the leaders our church followed and trusted in were later caught in sexual abuse. Pastor Jack Hyles was a womanizer and cheated on his wife. He literally stole another man’s wife as well. His son-in-law, Pastor Jack Schaap was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for taking a minor across state lines twice with the intent of having sex with her (and yes, they did have sex). There are many more cases, but those two stuck out for me because First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN where those two nutjobs had their church was the church my local IFB church looked up to the most. The only other way to describe the fact I was never subjected to sexual abuse is luck. But I don’t think it was luck. I think it was God.

The other time I know God had extra presence in my life was December 2012. I was at a temp job for 5 ½ months and I thought I was close to getting hired in to the company. Work was increasing in the department I was hired to help in. My friend Randi and I were part of other extra projects that were not part of our original assignment. I thought the two of us were going to become permanent employees. Then 2 weeks before Christmas, the company closed an office in New York and laid off all their temps. I was devastated. I wasn’t there long enough to collect unemployment and because I technically didn’t lose my job with my employer at the temp agency, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to collect anyway.  On top of that, we were no longer getting foodstamps temporarily while Job & Family Services were reviewing documents I turned in to prove I no longer worked at JC Penney. They took a month longer than we could afford for them to review stuff.

So here I am with no job, no foodstamps, 2 weeks before Christmas with no presents at all for the kids and I have no idea how we’re going to keep our house. I used the last pay check to pay the utility bills and keep our internet on. There was no sense in turning off the internet… first it’s better to search for jobs at home because it literally takes hours to fill out apps… and second… that 30 bucks a month was not making much difference in the overall suck-ass budget we were just handed. We needed some kind of escape from our new reality.

One evening I was driving home… I forget from where. But I just started crying and praying. I had our treadmill for sale on Craigslist and some other stuff on Ebay. I cried out to God for help. Actually, the only thing I asked for besides general help was to have our shit sell on Craigslist and Ebay. It would help get food or pay bills for a while after my last paycheck was gone. I asked for no help from anyone. Yes, people were told I lost my job and a few knew of the foodstamp situation, but I was determined to suck it up and make it through somehow. I generally have the attitude that I didn’t want to owe anyone anything (I grew up having things held over my head at times, so I don’t like having anyone having that type of ammunition if they became angry at me for any reason).

What I got was much more than I asked for.  People at church gave us gift certificates for grocery stores so we could get food.  Someone at church gave us a gift certificate for the movies so we could go out as a family. A random couple I have no clue who they were or what organization they came from, pulled up to our house in their vehicle one day and dropped off gifts for the kids for Christmas. They ended up getting things they needed like brand new winter coats. And the kids’ school gave us a turkey. I still tear up when I talk about everything we were given from people completely randomly and not asked for during that time. There was no way all of it was mere coincidence. God-spirit was moving and stirring in the hearts of others and we were lifted up and taken care of by our community. The foodstamps came back in January. In February, just a month before foreclosure proceedings were going to begin on the house we owned for 11 ½ years, I interviewed and landed the job I now have. This was no chain of coincidences. This was God. And there was nothing special about me particularly that made me more deserving of help than anyone else. But the people around me had a deeper tapping into their spiritual world. Jesus said when you do good deeds to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do good deeds to him. I live around some people who live that concept.

I get my deistic approach to God from our many founding fathers who were deists. Logically, I think about all of the pain and suffering in the world and then I think of God as being this benevolent LOVE that exists. After all, the Bible says God IS love. So how could a loving God allow all the suffering in the world? Without falling back on typical Christian apologetic explanations, I fall back on a mix of deism and Native American belief. God doesn’t allow anything to happen. God simply “is”. We tap into God-spirit, spiritual energy, however you want to describe it and our actions – good or bad – have a good or bad influence on the world. I think spiritual energy is good energy. I don’t believe in a “Satan” anti-God character or a hell, but I do believe evil is spread when we influence the world in a bad way. Some people call it sin. A good friend of mine calls it “missing the mark”. I call it when we hurt ourselves or other people. So yes, God is omnipresent because he/she lives in all of us and in everything. Yes, in animals and plants and the earth. And if God knows everything that each individual knows for themselves, then I guess that can be considered knowing everything. If we are honest about ourselves and how much power we have with the consequences of our actions and decisions, then I suppose that could make God all powerful. That doesn’t make us gods. It should be humbling, actually. It should move us to thinking on a higher plane of morality. Doing the most good for the most people gives LOVE a lot of power in the world.

It all makes sense to me.

Something to Believe In

I have told some people here and there what I do believe in, in bits and pieces. I don’t think I have articulated it all in one place before. My head is full of a lot of information regarding my own religious beliefs, so today I thought I’d make a list and then future blog posts will attempt to break the list down and expand on each point to explain how I came to believe the things I do. If you are searching for yourself or simply curious, my hope is simply that this blog helps you on your journey. I will probably have my personal experiences and personal church history mixed in where it’s applicable. I may also add to this list.

1)      I believe there is a God. I believe the spirit of God is omnipresent in each of us. But I do not believe he makes decisions or influences the world like an outside source. He simply “is” and we decide with our choices how much influence God has in the world. This concept is supported in the Bible, actually, as I will explain in a later blog.

2)      I believe in Jesus’ message in the Bible. I do not know if he was the divine son of God or not. I do not believe that it matters.

3)      I loosely believe the Bible to be a guide book with flawed humans and stories in it. I do not believe it is the flawless inspired Word of God.  I also believe humans purposely decided to leave books considered scripture out to carve out a certain one view of Christianity to promote it and use it for control and power.

4)      I do not believe getting Baptized is important

5)      I do not participate in rituals such as communion or before-meal prayers. In fact, I hardly ever purposefully pray. Most of my “prayer” is in the form of meditation.

6)      I do not take oaths or covenants. My church has a covenant its members take at the beginning of each year. I do not participate. This past year I think my husband and I were the only persons in the church to not sign the covenant.

7)      I believe certain themes and stories are across all major religions. There is value in that knowledge. It also puts Christianity as equally important to other religions…not as the best one, the only right one, or above any others at all.

8)      I have not sought membership in the church I attend because I will not pretend to state things I don’t really believe in just to have voting or committee rights. My hope is some day I can have those rights while having the freedom to believe as I wish and simply be allowed to fully participate in the community I chose to be a part of.

9)      I believe certain people throughout history have a higher spiritual knowledge and message they shared with people to collectively influence the world in a positive way. Jesus was one of those people (whether he is God or not is of little consequence). Other modern people I put in that same category are: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Bruce Lee, Jon Stewart, Robert Reich, and others. There are people I don’t even know about that fit that category also. But those are the people I have noticed and inspire me.

10)  I believe we are all connected. I believe that it isn’t “God” who lets bad things happen to people, but merely it is a consequence and influence that we have with each other. The more power someone has, the larger influence and consequence that person’s decisions have. I will further explain this later with concrete examples.

11)  I believe in a balance between personal responsibility of one’s own decisions and the knowledge there are circumstances (from other peoples’ decisions) that affect you, you have no control over.

12)   I believe that Love is the solution to 99%, if not all, of our problems. And I believe we cannot love anyone properly without first loving ourselves. Most of us are fully aware of other people projecting their damage and pain onto other people. Most of us are not yet fully aware that Love works in the exact same way. When Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself”, he wanted you to also love YOURSELF. I believe this single concept can revolutionize the world.

An Email to Ervin Stutzman and the MSUSA Executive Board

Dear Ervin Stutzman, the MCUSA Executive Board and everyone else who is interested:

I have been reading Ervin Stutzman lately on the internet. He is the spokesman for a leadership group for an entire denomination – the Mennonites. I’ve been reading his open letters on the internet because he sets the tone for how the leadership group will respond or make decisions on conflict.

Ervin and other Mennonite leaders have worked hard to suppress and further oppress LGBTs within the denomination. A couple of key ways I myself have noticed the suppression that I have seen reflected in my own local Mennonite church are as follows:

1)      Pretending that the conservative voices against homosexuality acceptance within the church are a majority

2)      Allowing the few conservatives who threaten and use ultimatums to run the denomination through fear. (Fear is the opposite of love, Mr. Stutzman and Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves – He even said it is the 2nd greatest commandment.)

3)      Suppressing educational opportunities. When people present information and education, it is ignored and leadership pretends it does not exist.

4)      Treating the two views as equals as if nobody is being hurt or oppressed, we just have two different views supposedly digging in their heels and refusing to budge.

Recently, the Ohio Mennonite Conference (to which the church I attend unfortunately belongs too) and a couple of other conferences wrote letters to Mountain State Mennonite Conference that were harsh. The letters attempted to speak for the areas they represent without the congregations within those conferences approval or voice. Mountain State Mennonite church licensed a lesbian pastor who is in a committed relationship and it has raised all kinds of hell within the Mennonite denomination. After a failed discernment process in my own church, I became disheartened with Mennonites in general. But after befriending several Mennonites outside of my own church through Pink Menno and reading much of Mennonite history on this subject from the past 30 years, I now feel resolved to continually be a pain in the ass to the leaders of my local Mennonite church and of the broader MCUSA leadership until they either get their heads on straight or the denomination splits. Ted Grimsrud has an EXCELLENT blog on the negativity of threats and ultimatums and why they shouldn’t be given any weight at all. It can be read here: http://thinkingpacifism.net/2014/02/28/will-mennonite-church-usa-survive-reflecting-on-three-decades-of-struggle-part-1/

The reason for this blog today is to tell Ervin Stutzman, the Executive Board of MCUSA and EVERYONE the leadership of MCUSA can no longer pretend and ignore. This morning, I posted the link to Mountain State Mennonite Conference’s Facebook page on my own page, Pink Menno’s Facebook page and BMC’s Facebook page. At the time, it had only 64 likes… mine being one of them. In a swift show of support, in 12 hours the page has amassed 268 likes. My simple effortless sharing produced 204 people liking MSMC’s Facebook page in half a day. HALF OF A DAY.

Your days of successfully ignoring LGBT’s and their allies are coming to an end. We will not be silent until the Mennonite denomination finally allows LGBTs to sit at the table with Jesus. We will not be silent until LGBTs are loved with the same agape love that Mennonites are generally known for.  We will be loud and obnoxious. Passive is not synonymous with pacifism. Our voices WILL be heard.Image