Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chapter seven – Be open

People are very open-minded about new things - as long as they're exactly like the old ones.
~Charles Kettering

     New wine doesn't go well in old wine skins.  Meaning that; new ideas are not always easily accepted, especially by those already established in age and power.  The Christian church has adopted particular behaviors that have been passed on as tradition down through the ages.  Tradition itself is not wrong or bad in any way, but the ideas and behaviors that pass down might be.  Time for another history lesson; let’s begin with the early church.  Well actually, there wasn't an “early” church, at least, not really.  You hear a lot of church folks talking about wanting to “worship” like they did in the first century church, but the problem is, no one really knows how that might have looked.  We can conjecture based on some historical records and archaeological findings, but that seems to paint a very different picture of what the church was in those days.  
     First of all, there was no bible, no amalgamation of books designed to teach from, there was some small access to the Hebrew Scriptures, but even that was limited.  There were also no church buildings per se, just small groups of Christians meeting in the homes or public spaces around their towns.  There was also little or no structure to speak of, sure there were guys like Peter and Paul who were there to give some guidance, but in a world with no access to long distance communication other than letters or messenger, it was almost impossible to keep any sort of structure afloat.  Rules are a big thing in today’s churches, rules about music, dress, what it means to be “saved”, and so on and so forth, but in those days without some integral structure, there really wasn't a framework to hang such rules on.  So, in a nutshell, the early church was actually regularly disorganized, guided by the whims of those in control in whatever town the church had grown in, and each group was for the most part autonomous, and without any distinct guide towards some sort of structure.  
     Now about 350 years into the new millennium  Rome decides to adopt Christianity as its state religion.  It’s only at this point that we actually begin to see some kind of structure develop.  The bible is brought together; some books or letters are approved while others are thrown out.  A structure of leaders and rules are then applied to make the new religion digestible for the largest part of the citizens.  The “new” Christianity does not make everyone happy, many Christian sects rail against this new concept and get exiled or killed for speaking out.  Many of these groups fall under the term “Gnostics”, and Gnosticism becomes the hated enemy of the Roman church.   Any books not approved for use in the newly formed bible now get the label “Gnostic text” and are destroyed.  The Roman church becomes a juggernaut of power and control and then it becomes apparent why all of these changes were made.  Rome needed something to bring together the varied and often warring groups of pagans within its citizenry.  A single religion, with a set system of behaviors, and built in controls would give them exactly the kind of organization and power that they needed.  These “traditions” of control have been passed down within the organized church for over two thousand years now, and it is these traditions that I find despicable and deadly to the faith of the common people.  Every step we take, every new challenge within spirituality is meant to grow and eventually free us from the bondage of fear, doubt and suffering.  But the traditions that have been passed down by the ancient church do exactly the opposite, they incite fear, doubt and suffering on a global scale.  
     I remember when I was about seven years old; I had gone to spend some time with my brother who is much older than me.  He took his family to a new church the first Sunday that I was staying with them.  I won’t mention the denomination, but the church was a well-established group in the small town we were living in.  Upon arriving I met the preacher, and although he was a bit old and seemed somewhat distant, he won me over with a piece of candy from his jacket pocket.  As we sat through the service I hung on every word, as I had been informed by my brother that this man spoke with the authority of God.  At first his words seemed gentle, but as the sermon drew on he began to increase his volume and his aggression.  Soon he was slamming his fist onto the pulpit, and vehemently decrying the sins of mankind.  As his fervor increased, I began to sweat, and shift uncomfortably in my pew.  Soon he was rattling off lists of sins, and talking about the awful punishments that would be doled out by God on the poor souls who dared commit them.  Several of the sins on that list I was pretty sure I had already committed, and I was frightened beyond belief.  As soon as the invitation was given I knew I had to be first in line, so I ran up the aisle as fast as I could, weeping tears of fright, and knelt before this man of god, and confessed my sins asking for forgiveness.  I was told I had done the right thing, and that I must be baptized and must choose to sin no more.  Thus began a lifelong struggle with my own sense of value as a human being.  That preacher did not just implant fear into a child’s mind that day, he implanted that fear into my heart and I continue to struggle with it to this very day.  Was this preacher a bad man?  No, not really, he was simply regurgitating what had been forced on him by his mentors, and this lineage follows all the way back to those men in Rome.  We have passed down the instruction of fear and self-loathing as a tradition in our churches.  No one is good enough, no one is without sin, and all of us are condemned because God seeks perfection. It is for this reason that Jesus came and died and that we all must be saved, we all must fall in line, act according to the rules and regulations and do as we are told, so that our vile nasty self won’t get the better of us.  
      Complete and total rubbish…to assume that the race of mankind is flawed is to assume that our creator made a mistake, or at least was set upon by unforeseen happenstance, either way that god is apparently not very powerful or wise.  We were not “born in sin” we were in fact conceived in love and compassion, children to be grown, taught and encouraged.  Do we make bad decisions?  Sure we do, and we probably always will, but the issue is that we must realize that we are not flawed at our center.  We are flawed by our teachers, parents, relatives, and the society we grow up in.  Flaws come from outside of us, not inside, and as children we are blank slates ready to adapt ourselves to whatever our authorities want to teach us.  If we are broken, sinful, and misguided it is the fault of those in authority over us, not to relinquish us from responsibility, but to say these things have a reasonable and obvious starting point.  The church’s implementation of deceit and fear as tools to control the populace has done more harm to mankind than a thousand wars.  The very way we see and understand our own value has been tainted and distorted.  The reasonable God that we have spoken of made no mistakes, we are each created perfectly, full of potential and open mindedness, and it is the venom injected by our authorities and society that damn us.  
     As Christians our first and foremost teaching should be that God loves everyone, no matter what, no matter who they are or what they have done or will do.  I see it much like the relationship I have with my own children.  As a father I often get disappointed with my kids.  They don’t always listen, and they often have a mind of their own to do things that I know and have taught them are not beneficial to themselves or others.  Yet time and again they make the wrong decisions and reap the consequences.  Now, in the mindset of the old “god”…I would need to dig a pit in the back yard and fill it with burning sulfur and brimstone, and throw my kids in there after they had disappointed me too many times, or at least admonish them to the point where I have stripped them of all dignity and self-will and made them into my own little automatons, to be used or abused at will.  All of that is nonsense of course, because the truth is, no matter what they do, or how many times they miss the mark, I will always love them.  They are my children, and although I may at times be disappointed in their behaviors, I always hold out hope that they will grow and learn, and eventually just that happens.  Now, I know I am by far not the best father in the world, but if I love my own children that much, how much more does God love us?  Again, it only makes sense, if God is a god of love and compassion, there really is no other option, He loves us all, or He is not the god He claims to be.  
     It’s time we opened our minds to some greater possibilities…what if God is really on our side?  What if God doesn't hate anyone?  What if we truly are loved no matter what our mistakes? What if Jesus didn't come to die for our sins, but died because of our sins?  It changes the playing field to think this way.  It changes what we should be about, what our teachings should carry to others.  It changes everything, and that change is good.  Don’t be afraid to be open to change, our openness to a realization that God truly is on our side, that He truly does care about each one of us, and that we are precious in His sight, makes all the difference in what the church is, and what the church could be.

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