Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chapter five – Be aware

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. ~Thomas Jefferson

     As religious people, it is assumed by the non-believing world, that we are all daft.  We worship a God who cannot be seen, who we claim supports goodness, compassion and love, yet in two thousand years of history we have entirely failed to live up to those claims in our own behaviors.  It must be frustrating for them, to hear us say one thing, yet live another.  And when you toss in the various ideas that we presuppose about God and religion, heaven and hell, or good and evil, I really almost can’t blame them for feeling the way they do about us.  I have found myself in that very place, wondering why our stories don’t mesh, or why it seems so hard to actually live the life that Jesus exemplified?  
     Let’s take for example that old Christian stand by, Satan.  Interestingly enough Satan doesn't even appear in Jewish concept until after the Persian captivity.  Well, at least not in a personified form, you see the Jewish concept was called “Shaytan” and what it actually meant was a challenger, or antagonist.  It wasn't a personified concept like the Satan of modern times, no devil horns, no pitchfork, but instead it was an archetype used whenever anything got in the way of serving God.  It was the Persians, specifically the Zoroastrians who lent the personified concept of Satan to the Jews.  In Zoroastrian belief there were dual gods, Ahura Mazda, the “good” god, and Tiamat, the evil god.  This dualism infiltrated the more holistic Judaism and ended up causing a personification of Satan.  The problem is, this brings up some really problematic points for Christian theology.  If God is truly all knowing, and all powerful, how can there be an equal antagonist in Satan?  The Genesis story of Adam and Eve seems to imply that the “snake” is Satan, but then are we assuming that Satan could sneak past God and mess up the plan?  If so we are giving Satan equal footing with God, which then makes the statement that God is not omnipotent.  In Job, Satan comes before the throne of God and asks permission to torment poor Job, God grants permission but with stipulations, so in this story Satan is subservient and under the control of God.  So which is it?  These sort of questions are confusing to Christians, so it’s no wonder outsiders don’t get it.  
     We must use some awareness here, we must consider God from a logical standpoint.  If God is who we say He is, then no one, not even Satan is His equal, so we must assume then that Satan either works for God, or doesn't exist at all.  Do you see how that works, apply a bit of logic and we answer a big question in Christian theology.  Lets consider the concept of Hell.  In ancient Judaic belief there was no “place” called Hell, when people died they went to “Sheol” or “the grave” until they were eventually reunited with God.   Our word for Hell comes from the Aramaic word “Gehenna” which was the name of the great burning trash pit that existed outside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus uses this word a few times when talking to folks about what happens if you lead a negative lifestyle.  He wasn't talking about some supernatural place deep below the earth populated with demons; he was simply stating a fact.  In that day and time, Jewish law stated that if you happened to be a criminal, or had no family, or where diseased and you died, your body would be thrown on the trash heap and burned with the rest of the garbage. Jesus was making a metaphorical statement about living a good life as opposed to a bad one. But modern Christianity has taken this concept of Hell and used it to scare people into seeking salvation and putting money into the tithe plate.  A little logic and study can go a long way into understanding the metaphorical concepts put forth in the bible.  If we as Christians remain confused about our own belief system we will never be able to unify ourselves into a loving church.  
     We base our behaviors on what we learn, and when those concepts don’t make sense, or don’t correlate with one another we have a very hard time truly trusting in them to guide us.  As people attempting to grow in the spirit it is our responsibility to research and fully understand what it is we believe and pass on to others.  The tactics of fear and deceit have been used by religion for thousands of years to keep the populace in a bully’s headlock.  It’s a plan to keep people under control and to get them to do whatever it is the ruling religion would like them to do.  It was this sort of heavy handed tactics that pointed Jesus to the cross.  
     Modern religion, particularly those that are fundamentalist in nature, cannot stand to be questioned, because they themselves know that the junk they are teaching doesn't make sense.  It amazes me how many Christians don’t even know that Jesus’ real name, isn’t Jesus.  The name of the man we call “Jesus” was Jeshua (Yeshua), which translates into “Joshua”, the name “Jesus” comes to us from the Greek to Latin translations that came long after “Jesus” had passed on.  Its little things like that that compromise our believability and end up making it hard for Christians to be respected.  I sat through years of college classes on theology and watched as this information was readily ignored by professors and students alike.  The information that we pass on to those we come in contact with, and especially to those who are still young and impressionable needs to be correct and it needs to point in the direction of actually creating a want to live a lifestyle like Jesus.  If we are going to build a future for the church we must become aware of what it is we truly believe, and we must become aware of whether or not it leads to a lifestyle in the example of Jesus.  Otherwise how can we at all even call ourselves “Christian” if in fact we don’t even know what that means?  
     Take the time to think about your beliefs, and whether or not they really make sense.  God has provided man with the ability to reason and understand our world in a logical fashion, it makes perfect sense to me that He would want us to use it.  This “old system” of fear and deceit must be ended, and it must be ended soon or we Christians may not have enough integrity left for our beliefs to be taken seriously.  Ask questions, lots of questions and don’t settle for tired old answers.  Take an opportunity to learn some Greek or Hebrew, check out some books on the life of Jesus, or at least read your bible with a mind for it making some sense.  Being aware of what it is we truly believe is not too much to ask, it is the very foundation of our lives, and thusly the most important thing you will pass on to your children, and they to theirs, and if it doesn't make sense, if it’s not reasonable, it will eventually die.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chapter four – be interesting

Making fun of born-again Christians is like hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope.          ~P. J. O'Rourke

     The current state of modern Christianity has become a joke.  Not just a joke to outsiders who have always looked at strongly held beliefs suspiciously but also a joke to most Christians themselves.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the world in general and the media see the church as a bunch of backwater, uneducated, superstitious, misanthropes, but Christians can’t even take each other seriously anymore.  With the advent of more and more “fundamental” Christian groups and their focus on trying to moralize and “biblicize” every aspect from medicine, to archaeology  to the big bang it’s no wonder that the world sits back and laughs at what was once a great and influential concept. Christians fight over who’s more conservative, who has the best grasp on biblical inerrancy and who can throw the most expensive and impressive Christmas pageant.  They can’t decide whether gays should be acceptable or despicable, or agree on what is or is not appropriate church wear.  They fight denominationally, about who is the most accepting, most loving or who can bring in the most converts.  And this is not even giving consideration to those ultra-fundamentalist groups that spend their time bashing everyone from Jews to gays to soldiers with hate rhetoric.  
     I find myself ashamed to tell someone openly I’m a Christian, because it has acquired so many negative connotations in the last few decades alone.  I’m afraid if someone finds out they are going to run screaming hoping that I’m not going to attack them for some perceived sin or try to woo them in conversion.  It makes me angry that Christianity has been broken down to squabbling idiocy and become a laughing stock around the world.  When Jesus of Nazareth began teaching among the people of his homeland his message was esoteric, mysterious and deeply meaningful.  It was in many ways a practical message of growth and change, one that simple folks like fishermen and merchants could take to heart and find hope in.  Not once do you see Jesus tell his friends what to wear, how to cut their hair or trim their beards, because there was already enough of that sort of picky cocks waddle going on among the Sadducees and Pharisees. He never once seemed concerned about the sexual orientations of his disciples, or whether or not they had been “slain in the spirit” or even if they brushed their teeth regularly.  
     People in the current fundamentalist movement love to throw down moral catchall phrases and fight over what it really means to be a Christian.  They love to point at the bible and proclaim that “God says…” whatever will uphold their claim to truth and righteousness, when in fact, Jesus says very little about such things.  Jesus wasn't interested in keeping notes on peoples moral lifestyles, nor did he seem to care one whit about whether anyone was “saved” or not.  Instead Jesus is concerned about people and their internal struggles in a very practical way, a way that cuts to the heart of their issues.  He is compassionate in an almost invasive way, asking cutting questions that dig deep into the subconscious egoistic behaviors of those he speaks with.  He is subversive in that he often seems to ignore moral and dogmatic rules set up by the established religious leaders of his day.  He is universal in that not once does he turn away anyone who asks humbly and truthfully for his assistance.  He is consistently graceful in that although many of the people he seems to most directly care for are by most moral and ethical standards undeserving of that care.  He spends most of his time with harlots, liars, backstabbers and all sorts of folks who live on the edge of morality and society.  He rarely has time or patience with those who strut about claiming to have spiritual knowledge or some inherent authority given to them by their position.  He deals almost exclusively with daily life issues among the people he gathers around himself, dealing with their sickness, debauchery, anger, fear and guilt with words and deeds intended to help them start an inward journey of growth and self-acceptance.  
     What is it that has caused Christianity to slip so far from its namesake’s example?  Mediocrity and conformity, these two aspects have destroyed what that teacher from Nazareth brought to our attention so long ago.  The church favors and supports mediocrity, because in a world full of media scrutiny and congregational gossip, no one wants to stand out, no one wants to look like they might be doing something different from the crowd.  That sort of behavior can be the death knell for a minister.  Take for example a prominent minister in the charismatic church in Oklahoma.  No need to name names here, you can find all the info you want about it on the net if you’re so inclined to look.  But this man was a well-respected leader of the church with a large and growing congregation, but suddenly after an epiphany that convinced him of the universal love of God, the bottom fell out on him.  His own church and supporters disowned him; those that had once lifted this man up fell on him with anger and venom.  All because the fellow wanted to tell people that God was capable of loving them no matter what, seems to make sense to me.  I mean think about this logically, if God is all-knowing, all powerful and seems to be consistent in His telling us He loves us, and then doesn't it seem strange that such a powerful being would be so put off by the failings that He inherently built into us?  It seems to me that if we worship a god that is so shallow that he follows each of us around with a note pad jotting down our sins just so that in the end he can whip out this scathing report and cast us into a lake of fire, he’s pretty much a sadistic, albeit powerful, infant.  If that seems like the god you want to follow, be my guest, but logic tells me that that sort of god is nothing but trouble.  
     You see as Christians we don’t use our logic, we don’t look at these theological issues and ask why…why does god hate gays?  Why does god seem to be a loving parent one second, and a maniacal genocide minded despot the next?  We read the bible and forget that men wrote those words, and that many of the perceptions we have about who and what God is are based on the perceptions of those same men.  Christians should be interesting, not scary.  If we could simply do away with this entire dogmatic finger pointing, and learn to really love people the way Jesus did, we could really be a lot more social about who we are.  The best Christians that I have known were simple people, devoid of any real interest in theology, politics or the gay agenda.  They simply lived a life in the example that Christ gave. They emptied themselves out for others; they gave themselves to healing the sick, talking with prostitutes and laughing at themselves.  These people are interesting because they aren't mediocre, they don’t hold back who they are, and they don’t care to be assimilated into any conformist sect.  These people are open minded, willing to study, learn and incorporate any ideas that can better the lives of hurting people.  They walk like Christ, with a humble attitude and a willingness to cross lines of conformity to get the job done.  
     I will warn you, if you start becoming interesting in your congregation, it’s going to become quickly uncomfortable.  Folks will take notice, and the second you don’t look like them, talk like them and act like them, they are going to start making it hard for you to stay around. Don’t give in though, because it’s the interesting people that are needed to get things moving, to question the status-quo, and to create enough discomfort that change starts to happen.  So go pick up some books on healing herbs, sustainable farming, or universal love, and get in there and be who you are.  Talk about new ideas, new ways to love and heal and get people involved in the world around them.  You’re going to come up against that wall of mediocrity and when you do, don’t back down, put your head down and keep pushing.  That wall will fall one brick at a time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chapter 3 – be challenging

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing. ~Mark Twain

     Authority, where does it come from and what gives it power over the lives and minds of people?  In our society authority is a big thing.  People supposedly gain authority by working very hard, by studying very hard and by earning said authority only after years of trials.  This is, in fact, a lie.  Authority within our society is passed down on what we in the South would call the “good ole boy” policy.  Meaning that if you want to be in authority you have to know a current authority and be a yes man long enough to be made an authority.  In modern language this is referred to as “nepotism” and such behavior is rampant in the modern church.   
     Trying to become an authority within the church is kind of like trying to make it famous in Hollywood, it’s all about who you know and how well you can kiss ass. Which leaves most of us with a real big problem, because the majority of those in authority don’t deserve or appreciate their position and thus often abuse it.  This form of authority is even more damaging when you consider the immense power that is given to priests and ministers.  These are men and women who will aid people in deciding what the guiding principles of their lives will be and oft times how those principles will be put into action.  In ancient societies there were fairly stringent guidelines for how one could rise to a position of authority.  Often one would not even be considered for such a position until they had attained the ripe old age of thirty years.  Considering the average lifespan of folks in those days, thirty years old was a very advanced age.  The considerations were that if you hadn't lived and experienced a good deal of life’s ups and downs you really shouldn't be guiding others in how to handle such things.  You see its simple things like this that we forget in this age of college degrees and licensing certificates.  It’s not about who you know or even how much class time you've had, it’s really about how much life you have lived and how well you've come out on the other end.  
      Paul talks about such things in his letters to Timothy.  He was trying to help the young man become a leader in his local congregation, and so he took it upon himself to lay down some basic measuring points of whether or not someone could be considered a good leader.  I like the fact that one of the central ideas to Paul’s critique of a leader was how that leader handled his own family.  I think you can tell a lot about a person based on how they handle their personal relationships and particularly by watching their children.  We all know at this point the old adage that a preacher’s kid is usually trouble.  Having served in and attended several congregations through the years I can attest to this as being a fairly accurate statement.  You see, children, especially young children, depend almost entirely on their parents to learn basic concepts like self-control, attitude maintenance, and empathy and if these aspects are not taught and exemplified by the parents, you can be sure to see it in the behavior of the children.  If a minister’s family is not happy, cohesive, and well integrated, how then can this person teach such concepts to his or her parishioners? And of course there were other requirements, being of sound mind, not drinking too much, being in control of one’s temper and being one who consistently maintains spiritual growth and learning.  I think these were and are great concepts to base authority upon, and none of them require a degree or certificate, they simply require a life of growth and learning, of inward journeys and open communication.  
      Who are the men and women who sit in authority over you?  Do they meet the standards of what a true teacher and minister should be?  And no cop outs here by the way, I always hear that tired old excuse, “well our pastor has so much on his plate” or “our minister is a person just like us, we should cut him some slack.”  No, and no, in both cases these excuses only allow us to continue to be led by fools and hucksters.  Ministry by its nature is a higher calling, and the men and women who choose to follow that path must be held to a higher standard of growth and behavior. When in my early studies I began making some friends among the other bible students I began to notice a sickening trend.  A good deal of my classmates had decided to enter the ministry because someone in their family had suggested it would be a good job.  Many of these young men and women had no real interest in spirituality; they were simply looking for a cushy position of power.  Many of them were following a parent or sibling into the ministry, some few had had some sort of spiritual epiphany but that seemed rare among them.  Then to top that off the very programs we were studying under had precious little to do with human beings and the problems they experience, instead we learned Greek and Hebrew, biblical interpretation and Logic.  I noticed early on that no psychology courses, other than the basic Psych 101 were required for ministry.  Ministry by its very nature deals with the human condition and that condition was pretty much totally ignored in the college programs dedicated to turning out ministers.   
      Our colleges and seminaries are turning out young ministers and priests who really have little life experience and are not even getting the book knowledge necessary to understand fundamental psychology.  These are the men and women being groomed to lead the church in its future?  The sad thing is this program has been in place for the last two hundred years at least.  Colleges turning out fresh faced minister’s a dime a dozen, and these ill equipped, under experienced children get thrown into the lion’s den of real world issues and it’s no wonder we have so much problem focusing on the real issues of human suffering, and daily struggles, when all these fops can talk about is biblical aspects on human sexuality and whether or not their congregation should vote democrat or republican.  There were some bright lights in my college career though, one professor of philosophy that I shall never forget pulled me aside one day and told me something that has stuck with me to this very day.  I had made an inquiry in class about what he thought ought to give one the sense that they should or should not take up the ministry.  In class he gave away very little, but outside in the hall he said this to me, “Ministry, if done right, should be the hardest thing you ever do.  It is often a thankless task, filled with all sorts of troubles and sorrows.  Not to say there are not good times and celebrations but when you put yourself fully into the lives of so many people, their tragedies become your tragedies.  So understand this, do not become a minister unless you see no other choice in your life.  Go and choose some other profession and live happily doing that, and only choose ministry if nothing else will satisfy your soul.” It was strong advice, but I knew its power when I heard it.  Taking on the coif of the minister is a great responsibility because of the power and influence that it symbolizes.  
       Yours and my responsibility then is to make sure that our ministers or priests live up to the high values that they have chosen as a way of life.  Challenge your ministers to be accountable to the congregation.  Most “leadership” functions take place at scheduled meetings where it’s known that the majority of the congregation won’t come.  Make sure you’re there and bring friends, lots of friends. Encourage others in your congregation to get involved, sound off, and don’t take cop outs for answers.  Encourage your ministers to continue their educations, not just academically but within their own personal spirituality.  And above all, hold them to the tenants of what a minister should be, if they can’t manage their own families, and relationships, find a new minister or figure out a way to rehabilitate your current one.  Don’t settle for less, these men and women need accountability and they need your support, otherwise they can become loose cannons that take advantage of an already damaged system and use it to support their own selfish whims and habits.  Take back your church, and start with your minister or priest.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chapter two – be smart

The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.  ~J.K. Galbraith

     As you continue to read this you may notice something quite strange, especially if you’re used to reading “Christian” books.   What you are going to notice, if you haven’t already, is that I will seldom, if ever quote directly from scripture, or from any source for that matter.  The reason for this is that I am not attempting to say that my writing is “biblically” sound or that I happen to have the best and most enlightened interpretation of what Jesus or others had to say.  No instead I want you, the reader, to look it up for yourself.  It’s high time we as believers began to use one of our most neglected faculty, our mind.  You see, the problem begins with why the church teaches what it teaches.   It is an unspoken rule in most churches that “you shouldn't question God” or “you shouldn't question the priest or minister.”  In reality, that is exactly what you should do.  All forms of religion are simply man made interpretations of what little information has been gleaned in mankind’s long term existence about spirituality.  
     Every religion and the various denominations within that religion perceive that the information that they hold is “the” truth.  This is really a sociological and cultural issue in that no matter who you are or where you are from, the only truth that anyone of us knows is that truth which we have been exposed to.  Suffice it to say that if you have grown up in a particular church or religion, you really cannot help but be influenced by that religion’s thought and dogma, and those concepts then become the building blocks for what you perceive as the truth.  The problem then becomes that every perception we have comes through the lens of those building blocks, and when we are conditioned, as we are, to hold in high esteem some priest or minister as the interpreter and final word on those perceptions, it becomes very hard to think for ourselves.      
     The truth of the matter is, most of us are just too lazy, too complacent or feel that we are too stupid to understand all of this religious mumbo jumbo, and so instead of tackling the task of really learning and understanding what we believe we just allow ourselves to be spoon fed whatever the church happens to be peddling.  If you have problems believing this is true, look at your local churches, watch how the parishioners dress, talk and act alike.  There is no diversity within our congregations, those that think, question or have varied concepts of belief are quickly made to feel unwelcome and rarely stay in a congregation for long.  Stand outside of your church or any church on any Sunday afternoon and begin asking congregants as they leave the service what it was exactly that the lesson was about that day, most won’t be able to tell you and the ones who do will simply repeat the same tired phraseology that was just regurgitated for them from the pulpit. 
     Years ago when I took my first biblical interpretation class I remember being shocked by what the professor had to tell us.  On the first day of class the professor stood before us and said something along these lines; “all of you are young ministers who have come to learn how to interpret the bible.  The things you will learn in this class may not mesh entirely with what you have long held as deep seated beliefs, and you must be warned that much of what you will learn in this class cannot be openly talked about with your congregations as it could be damaging to their faith.”  My jaw dropped open I’m sure, and I really couldn't believe what I was hearing.  I thought our faith was about truth and openness, and I was sure that every Christian knew the deeper truths of the bible.  As the class went on I began to realize what exactly it was that we were not supposed to tell our congregants.  We were not supposed to tell them that the religious dogma they were basing their entire lives on was simply a bunch of opinions, based on a passed down tradition of opinions, based on a book that we don’t even have any original copies of any of the works within it.  Now before you begin to see me as a bible basher let me clarify some points.  First of all I believe that the bible is a useful and wonderful book for teaching about the human condition and why it is we need God and those concepts like faith, hope and love that God wants to teach us.  On the other hand I do not believe, even for one second, that the book we currently call the bible, is in any way, error free or God breathed or any of that sort of malarkey.  The book that we call “The Bible” has been created from many, many translations, from its original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek roots, through Latin, German and later English languages, our bible is a nightmare of translation problems and inherent bias from various corners of religion.  Otherwise why would we need so many different translations and why would there be so much argument as to which translation was best or most accurate?  The earliest manuscripts of our new testament don’t even exist any longer as far as we know and the manuscripts that we use to begin translation were not written till at least 300 years after the life of Jesus or anyone who actually knew him in the flesh. The bible is a beautiful and useful ancient text, but it is not something to base one’s life around.  Jesus came to lead us away from the need for intermediaries, to lead us towards personal and internal relationship with God.  Putting anything in front of that, whether it’s a book, a priest, a building or whatever is a ludicrous notion.  
     It is vitally important that you, the congregant, the believer, know what it is you believe and why you believe it.  This is exactly why the church doesn't want you to know these things, because you will begin to doubt, and that doubt will, or at least should, lead you to dig deeper and seek more understanding about your faith, and eventually it will lead you to being an autonomous thinker who can and will question the status quo and damage the churches hold on power.  In the long run that is exactly why the church would rather have you ignorant, because as long as your ignorant they can control you, they can set rules and ideals that will decide how you run your life, and they can use their power to guilt you, shame you, or coerce you into doing whatever it is they want you to be doing.  
     Karl Marx wasn't wrong, religion is the opiate of the people, and it’s addictive and tranquilizing power keeps us in line, its take away our freedom to grow and change and understand God on a personal and deeply spiritual level.  So, get smart! Whatever it is you currently believe begin to question why it is the way it is.  This will mean getting out of your comfortable rut, and shaking yourself and others up.  Question everything, the bible, the preacher, the dogmas, and most of all, question yourself.  Why do you believe what you believe?  What has led you to this point in your life and what influences have pre-determined how you will see the world?  Christians spend a lot of time learning things outside of themselves but very little time learning about those things inside themselves.  “Know thyself” is an ancient maxim but it is just as true today.  Don’t be afraid to learn, to research to look up and attempt to understand religious and spiritual concepts.  Step out of the box the church has made for you and expand your knowledge and experience.  Visit other churches, or better yet other religions, and make friends that don’t believe what you believe, these friends will challenge you and help you grow your own spirituality.  Once you begin doing this be prepared, others around you will get uncomfortable, because as you begin to grow, you will begin to change, and if there is any great fear the modern church has, it is a fear of change.  Don’t stop there though, take these new things you learned back to church with you, pass them around, help others to begin to understand their systems of belief.  Set up classes, open discussions or internet groups to help get the word out that every person is responsible for their own faith, and for how that faith affects their lives.  Don’t settle for less, you have the power to understand, learn and teach.  You don’t have to be a minister, a priest or even have been to college.  All you need is an inquiring mind, a library card, an internet connection, and the will to explore and learn. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chapter one – be poor

“We have grown literally afraid to be poor.  We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life.  If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition.”  ~William James

     The words above ring to true in the ears of the church.  If a person is poor, whether by their own choice or by circumstance, they are seen as “less worthy” than those who can put money in the plate and heft about wealth as influence.  As a minister in the modern church for years I saw this play out time and again.  Those who were truly needy were never part of the “in” group…they were looked down upon, talked down to and generally treated with at least a mild form of derision.  In the board rooms and leadership meetings the same words would be bandied about.  “They don’t bring in any money.  They consume but never give. We love them but they do little for the church.” In almost all cases the problem is that the “church” is not concerned about the people as much as it is concerned about its business.  The church has become a corporate machine meant to make money and create jobs for a particular “in” group so that they can coerce and create more of their own kind.  
     The original intention of Jesus’ ministry was to aid the poor, the sick and the down trodden, to specifically target those people whom the religious machine had disregarded or crushed in its run for power.  The words of Jesus speak volumes on this topic and his anger at the merchants in the temple put an exclamation point on what his intentions were.  It is high time the religious powers that be stopped using a spiritual context to rape and pillage those who already are struggling with life.  The church should be an institution based on loving and caring for people no matter what state they happen to be in, and I know what some will say; “Well some will take advantage of us if we are not careful about who we help.”  And to this I say yes, yes they will and then you should help them some more and then again and again as many times as they come to your door because it is the example that Jesus gives us.  I worked at a small church some years ago and there was a man there who was relatively wealthy.  Often we would have folks stop in to see if the church could help with their bills and they would be told that, sure the church would help them once.  Now several of these people would return again the next month seeking aid and would be told that the church couldn't do any more to aid them.  This man I speak of, I saw him numerous times follow these folks out the door, and give them money from his own wallet.  Not just once, but time and again he would give them what they needed and never once did he ask for one penny back.  So I asked him one day, “How is it that you’re helping these people because aren't they really just using you?”  I had been well trained by the system at this point and could not fathom what this man was doing, but his reply floored me, he said “every time I help them I get their address and phone number if they have one, and I make it a point to visit with them or call them regularly to see how they are doing.  The money I give them really means little to me, but the chance to connect with them and let them know someone really cares about them, that is why I do it.”  I walked away from that conversation a changed man.  I started seeing that people and money do not have the same importance.  
     We guard our money better than we guard our children and spend more time acquiring money than teaching our children.  It’s this sort of mentality that is destroying us as a society and has been functional within the church for millennia.  We give so much importance to money that it rules our lives, it takes away our vigor, our time and eventually our lives.  I don’t know how many children I have worked with in ministry that were troubled and damaged mainly because they had no relationship with one or both parents because those parents were always working.  Parents often think that by working hard they give their children a nice home to live in, nice things to own, or the best educations, but none of these things can replace the love of a parent.  So what can we do about this aspect of church life?  First and foremost get onto the leadership committees and boards of your local churches and ask a ton of questions.  Ask where the money is going, why it is going there and to what end the church hopes to use its donations.  Find out how much is going into the minister’s pockets and how much is being given to the needy.  I guarantee you will find that the amounts are drastically different, in favor of the minister’s pockets.  Ask your minister’s why they make so much more money than those down trodden folks.  Ask them why they pursue money instead of ministry and then ask them why there isn't a more even spread of salaries among all the church workers and ministers.  
     These churches belong to you.  It is your money that is going into the pot and the majority of that money is going to pay a minister to live comfy while the people he or she should be ministering to live in squalor.  You have the right to decide where that money goes and to what end it goes to.  Withdraw your donations and give directly to those in need, build relationships with them and let them know that there are real people who care about them and want them to be part of the congregation.  Most importantly, if money is getting in your way, follow the example that Jesus gives the rich young man…let it go, let go of your need for that money by giving it away.  If all we have in the world could be pooled into a pile and meted out evenly to each and every person we could all live comfortably with more than enough to go around, it is this kind of idea that Jesus calls us to, to share of ourselves, even give our coat, our money or our lives so that others might see the love of God.  This is a hard concept in our money hungry society.  Money cures our ails, it brings us status and it washes away our tears, but in the end it leaves us empty of true relationship, of grace and forgiveness. 
      In the end it is money that is the first and foremost damaging aspect of modern life and economy, and it is money that has blotted the face of the church and left a stain on the ministry that may take millennia to remove.  I hope not, I hope that people can come together and change that stain overnight, and give away what they have in hopes of getting something far greater…the love of God in our hearts and minds.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to get kicked out of church in Ten easy steps...Preface

How to get kicked out of church in ten easy steps
 By Eric S. Melton

 Step 1, be poor
Step 2, be smart
Step 3, be Challenging
Step 4, be interesting
Step 5, be aware
Step 6, be angry
Step 7, be open
Step 8, be practical
Step 9, be serious
Step 10, be a follower of Christ
Chapter 11, a final note on authority

     This book is written as a treatise of aggravation. If you read it I want to warn you ahead of time, take great care! What is written in these pages is not for the common congregant or happy church goer. If this describes you then I suggest you put the book down and walk away. What you will find in these pages may damage the happy and trusting faith that you currently hold and this is not what the book is intended to do. On the contrary, I am writing this book specifically for those of us who have a hard time with faith, especially faith in the organizational and social aspects of the modern church. Although I am writing this from a Christian perspective and will often use words such as God, Jesus, etc. Feel free to replace such proper nouns with similar concepts from whatever religion you may be involved in…as the problems and solutions I will herein denote can be applied in any and all organized forms of religion.
     This book is specifically for those who have had their faith injured, trampled, damaged, stomped on and destroyed by the modern church and its mechanized, dogmatic and destructive agenda to spread its cancer far and wide and suck every last congregant dry of money, effort and loyalty. The modern church is a deadly tumor on the faith and spirituality of mankind, and its minions are brainwashed far and wide to bring in more and more gold for its coffers. The “truth” that the modern church teaches is infantile, vacant and self-serving and its vacuous need for servant minds is never ending.
    I know, at this point I sound like another ranting psychotic atheist out to take a shot at the church, but there is one major difference…I am not an atheist…I am a true believer in Jesus, I am a scholar of the Bible and have worked in ministry for many years, and most importantly I have a deep and abiding love for the people who truly seek out and want to follow the Christian spiritual path. It is for that very reason that I am so angry and disappointed in what the modern church has become. Something must be done! But I am only one person, only one voice among a multitude of hurt and broken people, and so I find myself typing away in hopes that someone, somewhere, someday will read these words and perhaps find the strength to rally support for a major change in the church itself.
     I do not hate God, nor do I hate the church at large…only what it has become and I have great ire for the people, who through their own selfish ineptitude have used the church to their advantage. In the very beginning, as Jesus of Nazareth went about preaching and teaching in his homeland, he spoke out against the very institution that the modern church has become. It is not hard to see, read his words. In simplified language the entire ministry of Jesus of Nazareth can be broken down to this; “People of the world, I want you to know that you do not need a priest, you do not need a temple, you do not need a sacrifice, instead you need to know that God loves you, no matter who you are, where you are from, or what you believe. God is there for you, you can openly communicate with God yourself, you need no intermediary, and God is not angry or vengeful or wrathful. God wants to help you, to guide you and to give you a chance to grow and become the people you can be, but you’re going to have to set aside all of this bullshit religious business and start taking responsibility for yourselves and your world.” I know that seems a bit snappish but at the same time I see Jesus as a practical sort of guy who was obviously aggravated by the state of religion in his day.
        The truth as I see it is that Jesus didn't come to start a new religion, he came to abolish the old system, a system that was persecuting, and taking advantage of the common people to supply wealth and power to a select few. So the problem is this; nothing has changed in over 2000 years. What Jesus attempted failed, because the power and the money outweighed the want to do good and just things. When Rome acquired the concept of Christianity it was simply a power move, a way to amalgamate the warring tribes of pagans that made up the majority of the empire. The Romans took down one totem and put up another for the people to follow. This is not to say that there were not, and are not, still good people who love Jesus with an innocent faith. Those people exist in droves but it is they who are being taken advantage of, and it is those very people who can change the system. Our current political and religious system is one of “ants and grasshoppers”, a system of haves and have not’s. The few grasshoppers hold the wealth and influence and so seem untouchable, but the ants who work and slave to provide for the grasshoppers don’t realize their immense numbers and the power those numbers hold. A slight shift in mentality and things could be very different, and it is that very difference that Jesus spoke of…not a heaven somewhere in spiritual la la land, but a heaven right here on earth, for every person.
     So in the following chapters I am going to set down a methodology of change. It won’t be perfect and it definitely won’t be easy but I feel it has been placed here in this time and space for a reason. Each chapter will deal with a definite problem brought on or supported by the modern church and also a possible solution to that particular problem. If you’re one of those innocent believers that I spoke of early on in this introduction, the time to walk away is now. The gloves come off here and where this will end will be up to you, the reader to decide.