Ask the Pastor:
On the Topic Prayer
Q: I have noticed that we sometimes pray for leaders by their first name. Why don’t we use their full names when we pray for them?
A: It is a very old tradition to use only the first names of those one mentions in prayer (it isn’t a formal address TO them, but a compassionate offering of prayer FOR them). In fact, one’s first name (if one was Christian) used to be referred to as one’s “Christian” name. So it was the Christian name that was used in prayers by Christians when praying for others. Our prayers are a demonstration of love, and as such, are properly “informal” when we offer them for our sisters and brothers in the human family, regardless of the positions they hold in society.
On the Topic of Jesus
Q. Who Is Jesus
A. The Christian doctrine has always been (well, since the early councils anyway) that Jesus was fully HUMAN as well as fully divine. And yet, in most of our churches, we are led to believe that Jesus was God wearing a disguise rather than a real human being who was in “essence” divine (and really, isn’t that true of all of us?).
So, while Jesus was in essence divine (whole, perfect, etc.), his lived experience was human, just as yours and mine is. So, no, I can’t believe that Jesus knew more than what was possible for people in his day to know. He didn’t know about the egg cell. He didn’t know the earth wasn’t flat. He didn’t know that North and South America existed. But he did know that God is Love and that divine Love is the Source of all life and because he knew and accepted this truth and allowed himself to express this truth in his life, he was divine. Put more simply, he became so fully human that he expressed divine potential.
In any case, one can certainly accept the divinity of Jesus (and the innate divinity of all people, and perhaps of all life) while still knowing that Jesus was a product of his time, culture, and lived experience (as are we all). To say that Jesus is divine is not the same as saying he was God in a human disguise…that sort of god-man/god-woman/demi-god image was popular in Roman, Greek, and Egyptian cults, but was never considered orthodox Christology in the Christian Church.
On the Topic of Being Gay
Q: Your sermon last week about Jonathan & David was very enlightening. I wish I had heard something like that 20 years ago; it would have made my journey easier. I had never heard that story. Is it really in the bible? And do you really believe that there is nothing wrong with being gay?
A: I’m glad you found last week’s sermon uplifting. The story of Jonathan and David is absolutely in the bible. It comes mostly from the book of 1 Samuel, though David’s lament for Jonathan when he is killed in battle is in the first chapter of 2 Samuel. Regarding your second question – Yes! I really do believe there nothing wrong with being gay (or straight, or bisexual). In fact, I believe that human sexuality is a gift to celebrate, honor, and for which we can be grateful. Some of us will enjoy and express that gift authentically with persons of the same gender, while others will enjoy and express that gift authentically with persons of the opposite gender. It’s all part of the wonderful diversity of life. Being gay isn’t a burden to bear, it is a special gift…it is part of what makes you, you. And you, just as you are, are made in the divine image and likeness. When people use the bible to justify their prejudices, it of course hurts those of us against whom those prejudices are directed. But we can know for ourselves that we have a divinely appointed place in the human family, and we are a gift to the world. Jesus said, “You believe in God, believe also in me.” I would extend that sage advice to your particular place in life: You believe in God, believe also in yourself. I trust that God in you is leading you to wonderful blessings.
On the Topic of Diversity at Sunshine Cathedral
Q: Who makes up Sunshine Cathedral:
A. The majority of our congregation is gay/lesbian, but certainly not all. Our unifying characteristic is a progressive view of Christianity. You’d certainly be welcome and I bet you’d feel right at home. In a recent survey, the overwhelming majority of our congregation identified as Liberal, Very Liberal, or Moderate (with liberal being the largest segment). But there were also those who identified as conservative. We’re a pretty healthy mix…that’s what happens when you encourage people to think for themselves.
On the Topic of
Q: What are your thoughts about sin:
A: Sin is missing the mark…what is the mark? To do unto others as we would have others to unto us, to love our neighbors as ourselves. I honestly believe it’s as simple as that. When we are kind, generous, ompassionate, justice-seeking, peace advocating, examples of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love…we’re hitting the mark (we’re right on target, or “righteous”). When we are selfish, greedy, mean-spirited, violent, or unconcerned with the needs of others, we have
missed the mark. Of course, we all find ourselves falling short of our highest ideals and forgetting that we are meant to be expressions of divine love…so, one could say we’ve all “sinned” and fallen “short of the glory of God.” But, atonement (at-one-ment) happens when we remember our truth (we are children of God, made in God’s image, part of the creation God calls
very good) and live from that place of righteousness (right thinking and right action). So, sin is the mistaken notion that we could ever be separated from God (and the unhealthy behaviors that result from that mistaken notion), and atonement is remembering our at-one-ment with the Source of all life, which is divine Love. When we remember who we really are, we live in love, because Love is what God is, and we are made in God’s image and likeness…we are “right” when we live in love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13.10). A spirituality based in love (as demonstrated by the life and ministry of Jesus) will save us from despair, loneliness, and degradation and will help us live out the wholeness and liberation that is God’s will for us. But ultimately, we can’t be separated from divine Love…Love is what God is, and we are God’s beloved children in whom God is well pleased. We need not be saved from God’s wrath or from an afterlife experience of torment…we do need to embrace our wholeness and the joy it offers…that is the salvation that a life of love offers…that is the way, the truth, and the life demonstrated by Jesus.
Q: God is perfect. The angels are perfect. Satan was perfect. If heaven was perfect along with Satan how did Satan sin? Why did God allow sin to be known in heaven?
A: The first time we see “the satan” (i.e., the accuser) is in the Book of Job. In that story, “the satan” has full access to the heavenly council and is apparently simply doing his (or her) job as an accuser (sort of a prosecutor). It isn’t until much later (and probably as a result of Persian influence) “the satan” becomes “Satan”…the cosmic boogie man who is the cause of all mischief, suffering, and evil. In the first century, it was commonly believed that difficulties and diseases were caused by evil spirits, and so “Satan” not only came to be thought of as the personification of evil, but as a leader or driving force of supernatural evil entities. Satan as a sort of Lord or Potentate of an afterlife prison called “Hell” is an even later development most vividly depicted in the literature and art of the middle ages and the Renaissance (e.g., Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and Dante’s Divine Comedy). The story of Satan misbehaving in heaven and getting cast out isn’t really told in any one place in scripture. To form that story, one has to piece together unconnected texts: Luke10.18 (quoting Isaiah14.12, with some license…Isaiah is calling a political ruler “Lucifer”/Morning Star, the planet Venus), 2 Peter 2.4 (referring to angels being chained in “Tartarus”…a term borrowed from Greek mythology), Jude 6 (speaking of angels who did not keep to their proper domain, probably referring to the story in Genesis 6 where angels were said to have seduced humans), and Revelation 12.7-12 (a battle between angels and a dragon, the dragon probably representing Roman imperial power). By taking these disconnected texts and combining them together (and assuming that Lucifer, Satan, and the dragon are all the same character), the story of Satan as a fallen angel emerged. It is a story that developed over time, and one that I do not take literally. Now, “Satan” is a convenient way of blaming the appearance of evil in our world on “someone.” But let’s also look at the rest of the Satan myth… “in the end” we are told, Satan is finally defeated by the forces of righteousness. What the story illustrates is that evil is not ultimately real. Evil is the absence of or the opposition to Good; but God, the Good, is omnipresent and so for God to be omnipresent means that there is nothing “real” that can ultimately oppose God/Good. A Course in Miracles states, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists; herein lies the peace of God.” Nothing can ultimately threaten or oppose what is truly Good. The appearance of evil must eventually give way to the Truth, just as darkness must be expelled the moment a candle is lit. Satan, as a literary figure representing evil, is only a temporary appearance, or illusion, which ultimately must be banished by the light of Truth, which is that God is omnipresent and God is All Good. Good is what is true, what is real, and what must ultimately be experienced.
On the Topic of Divorce
Q: I am currently going through a divorce. Things haven’t been right in my marriage for a very long time and as such it has broken down beyond repair over many years. Marriage is obviously very important in the eyes of God, and I was wondering about how to ethically form new relationships now. I am from the UK where it can take up to 2 years to get divorced. Can I enter into a normal relationship during this time?
A: We sometimes attribute our cultural norms and national laws to a divine Source. In my view, marriage is a covenantal relationship…that covenant is between you and your spouse, and if you have both agreed to release each other from the covenant, then I would guess the marriage is in actuality over (regardless of how long it takes for the paper work to reflect that). I wish you could repair your relationship, but if that isn’t possible, then I see no reason to avoid living your life as fully, joyously, and responsibly as your circumstances will allow. My hope is that you and your spouse will experience healing in the ways that you most need and that you both will find happiness again. I wish every couple success in their relationship, but I can’t believe they should be punished if for some reason the relationship fails.
On the Topic of Afterlife
Q: What is your understanding of where we “go” after death? When someone dies, invariably people will say, he or she is now in heaven, but then what is the reference to the second coming of Christ when the dead will rise?
A: I know that energy can’t be destroyed, it only changes form; so, I assume the energy of consciousness is also never-ending. As a person of faith, I trust that life is somehow never-ending. Beyond that, I probably don’t know anymore than you do. During Jesus’ execution, a fellow “rebel” who is being killed next to him reportedly says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Realm,” and Jesus responds, “…today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23.42-43). Luke also has Jesus telling a parable about a poor man who suffered in life but who, after death, was “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16.22).Luke is writing at least 50 years (and some scholars think as many as 90 years) after the crucifixion of Jesus. The Apostle Paul, only about 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, writes, “…we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep; for the Lord…will come down from the heavens, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are…left, will be caught up together in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). Luke’s idea seems to be that consciousness survives death immediately, while Paul, at least in his early writings, suggests that maybe those who die are simply resting and will be raised back to life later.Paul believed that Jesus would return to earthly life in his lifetime. So, the resting period, in Paul’s mind, wouldn’t have been a long one. Decades later, when Luke is writing, no such “second coming” had occurred, and so Luke may be rethinking the issue. In any case, Paul and Luke have different ideas of how consciousness survives death; what they both believe is that consciousness does survive death. Paul and Luke are each making their best guess, but what happens beyond this life is a mystery to us until we experience it. What the writers are saying is that the value of our lives is not limited to our earthly years, but as far as what is next, we may just have to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5.7). What we can trust is that life is good and sacred and that its importance is not limited to the years we spend on this earth. That’s pretty “heavenly” regardless of how it plays out.
On the Topic of Dating Someone With Different Beliefs
Q: I am dating a non-Christian. I didn’t expect to fall in love with her, but I have. Now I’m concerned that our difference in religious outlook might become a problem. I grew up believing that Christians had the only true path to God. I don’t want to insult my girlfriend, but I feel like I should try to convert her too. What would you suggest?
A: Let’s consider the Golden Rule (treating others the way we would like to be treated). What if your girlfriend decided she needed to convert you to whatever her faith tradition is? Would you appreciate that? What if someone who claimed to love you had prejudged your entire faith experience as insufficient and tried to take it from you? You probably wouldn’t respond warmly to that. Sometimes in our insecurity, we try to convince ourselves that we know all there is to know about the infinite, universal, eternal Principle of life (often referred to as “God”). We make ourselves feel better by pretending we are “in the club” and only people who agree with us can be in the club, too. This imaginary, exclusive club makes us feel “safe” or important or even superior to those who have different experiences and beliefs. We even find a proof-text or two from our scriptures (usually horribly out of context) to justify our “Christians are in and everyone else is out” attitudes. But the result is that those who don’t share our experience and views find us to be judgmental, unkind, arrogant, and sometimes even mean. Can that be the best way to honor the God that our tradition says is Love? God, being omnipresent, is surely able to embrace us all. Our humanly constructed religions can help us feel and trust this closeness to the divine Reality, but the grace of God cannot be limited to our human understandings, scriptures, traditions, vocabularies, motives, or experiences. I would suggest that you continue being Christian because Christianity is the path that helped you believe in yourself and experience the goodness of God in your life; and allow your partner the joy of celebrating her tradition which has offered her the same gifts. And maybe, on occasion, you can even worship together…not as a way of changing the other, but as a way of sharing something important to someone you love.
On the Topic of Raising Children
Q: I have two adult children that I raised with my partner. My daughter has no interest in church or any “religious” services, and my son is an atheist. My son surprises me most as there were many times in adolescence that only divine grace kept him alive! My son is a good parent with this one exception. I feel bad for what my children and grandchildren are missing. Any advice?
A: I share your appreciation for the religious community. I love the people I worship with every Sunday, and the bonds of friendship that are formed when people pray and play together. But of course, your adult children must make their own choices. What often happens is that people come to a point in their lives where they miss something positive that regular worship and service provided in their lives, and then they “come home” to religion. But remember, their sacred value doesn’t depend on church membership. They are loved by God just as they are loved by you, and that love is unconditional and everlasting. As you pray for your children to be happy, well, and fulfilled you can trust that the spirit of Love is guiding them in the paths that are right for them. God has a wonderful way of meeting people where they are, even if where “they” are isn’t quite where “we” are at the time. Remember, “wherever we are (including your children), God is, and all is well.”
On the Topic of Grief and Loss
Q: In he past few months , I have lost my partner to cancer. We were both active in the Church and together, we loved worshiping with you. When I attend now, I feel a presence there that I did not before. I am brought to tears by many of the sermons preached and singing at communion. Could it be that, through the loss of my loved one, God’s love for me is being reinforced within my spirituality or am I just feeling too emotional?
A: We all know that grief is painful, but it’s important to know that it is also a healing process. As you move through your grief, you may be experiencing the warmth of community, the power of beautiful memories, or the appreciation of all the good that remains in your life. It could also be that in the discomfort of loss you became even more open to the healing power of Spirit, and now open to the Spirit more fully, you experience the power of Spirit more dramatically. And finally, spiritual growth, like all growth, is also a process. It could simply be that after years of reading, praying, studying, filling your mind with positive messages, you have merely grown to a new level of spiritual maturity and awareness. Whatever has sparked your spiritual renewal, I wouldn’t dismiss it as being “too” emotional, but I would encourage you to make the most of it and be thankful for the sweetness of deeper communion that you are experiencing. And certainly, God does offer comfort in our times of trial. I trust that God will bless you as your journey continues!
On the Topic of Meditation:
Q: Do you have any tips for meaningful, quality meditation?
A: Meditation is simply quieting our discursive thinking. Sit in a straight back chair (comfortable enough you won’t experience pain, but upright, so you won’t fall asleep). Focus your eyes on a small object, a flickering candle, or place right in front of you on the wall (or close them if that keeps you from getting distracted). Breathe naturally, but follow your breathing…just notice your breath going in and out. And that’s it. Don’t “think” about anything…just enter into the Silence, and stay with it. If random thoughts pop up (and when you are new to meditation, they will), simply notice them; don’t judge them or get upset because they floated across your mind. Just notice and release them and return to your breath. If you can’t just jump into the Silence, you can pray your way into the silence. Do that by repeating a bible verse over and over (silently, non-verbally), like a mantra. Psalm 63.1 is a good one, “O God, you are my God, eagerly I seek you.” After a couple of minutes of that, just sink into the stillness and follow your breathing. If thoughts pop up, notice them, release them, and return to your breathing. If you can’t seem to do that, return to your mantra for a while, and then ease back into the Silence. You can also try “Lectio Divina.” There are Lectio Divina exercises in Spirit & Truth. Just read a passage from a sacred or inspirational text. Then notice what word or phrase jumped out at you when you read, and think about that word/phrase for a while. Then, mentally, respond to that word or phrase. After you’ve read, reflected, and responded, move beyond this internal dialogue into the Silence and just sit quietly for several minutes. This is another way of praying your way into the Silence. Meditation becomes easier once it becomes habitual. So every morning or every evening, at about the same time, meditate. If you can’t seem to sit still, try movement meditation, such as Yoga or Tai Chi or Qi Gong exercises. Even walking meditation is good. Simply walk in a circle around the room, very slowly, eyes forward, feeling the full impact of each intentional step, conscious of your breathing the whole time. If you have access to a labyrinth, walk within that maze-like pattern, quietly, slowly. Walking meditation is something I particularly enjoy. Finally, set realistic goals in the beginning. Don’t try to meditate for a whole hour. Try five minutes. If in five minutes you have 45 completely tranquil seconds with no discursive thinking, you will have done well. After five minutes become easier, increase to 10, then 15, then 20. If you can never get past 20, just stick with 20. If you enjoy the practice and want to increase to 30 or 45 minutes, do it incrementally. Any attempt will be useful as long as you stick with it.