May 1, 2009

Waiting To Be Harvested? Religious People It Is Time To Move On

Part IV. Moving Beyond a Religious (Foundational) FrameworkI have experienced firsthand the difficulties associated with motivating individuals to move from one benchmark to the next. Upon reaching a benchmark, most individuals become complacent and are reticent to move on to the next one.

When you think about it, given all of what was required to reach the first one, who wouldn't want to remain right where they were and continue to celebrate that accomplishment.

And that is the problem, as I see it with religious groups and individuals who are satisfied with an initial accomplishment, as if it was the ultimate goal.

Most religious individuals and religious organizations agree upon a foundational benchmark and as it were it becomes law. It is all that they teach, and it is as far as they will ever go for both the organization’s hierarchy and its members prefer it that way. To them their basic teachings are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Next, they dig in and defend their conclusions, and nothing and no one is going to move them any further; and sadly, as we have witnessed from the history of many religious groups in the past, not even the entity that we refer to as God is going to move them either. When you think about it, isn’t that the epitome of arrogance for an individual or a group of individuals to believe that because they believe or see something a certain way, that it must be true.

In a sense I cannot argue with someone who picks up a document and reads it who will explain, well I know what I read. However, there is more to it than that for one must also ask this question, who wrote it and why? Jesus on occasion would debunk what the writers of old said, which had for years become a part of epistolary unquestionable truth; and that was one of the reasons that they killed him.

Each one of us ought to relate to this simple illustration, the first step is only the beginning step; however, there are many more steps to climb before one reaches the top of the staircase. In the Christian faith, when one becomes born again, an idea that is borrowed from the process of human reproduction.

A person is born into this world, however, they come into this world as an infant and not fully grown, even though they may have a full contingent of digits, a head, a nose and so on. I used to explain this to my congregation, for just like in any other congregation I would also experience new converts who felt that once they were saved that they were fully grown and ready to witness, teach, preach and pastor.

Or, to put it in other terms these new babies in Christ were ready to walk, talk, consume solid food and to do everything someone else could do that had been fully developed. I would explain it to my newborns this way, no one is saying that you haven’t been born (again), all that I am saying is that just as a newborn human baby requires an individual or a group of individuals to nurture them and help to foster their growth through various stages, that they were at the same stage as a new born.

We all know that when a newborn comes into the world, a lot is required to guide the newborn from entrance into this world unto maturity. And from birth to maturity in the human family often requires nearly 2 decades, and for some humans 3 or 4 decades! In my view, we have a lot of individuals in religious organizations, including within the hierarchy of many religious organizations that have never matured. Many of the ranting and raving at the top are still stuck at the foundational level themselves.

The terms that Paul used when he compared newborns to Jesus was, ‘and that we may grow up in him’ in terms of maturity in other words. Sadly, too many individuals believe that they were mature at birth and no one and nothing is going to tell them different.

On the other hand there are those newborns that are submitted to teachers whose job it is to nurture their growth, and they assume that their teachers have been called and are skilled at their craft. Most new and some old converts are vulnerable at this stage and they understandably assume that assume that the information that has been passed on to them from their teachers has been verified and is authentic.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There used to be a saying around the church some years ago that went something like this: God said it, I believe it and that settles it. In other words and as the saying goes, ‘my mind is made up and don’t confuse me with facts’! That statement reminds of what I refer to as closed minded religious people, and there are many of them around.

What they should be sure of before making that statement is whether or not God said it or not, or did someone simply tell them that God said it; in other words what proof is there that God really did say it. Humans have historically been known to attribute to God, sayings that did not originate with God. Many religious writing were oftentimes conceived and written by men.

However, many religious people feel trapped, because they are under a ministry where they are not permitted to question, or to use their own minds to figure out what is or is not true, or to determine whether what they are being taught has a few holes in it or not. Dogmatic teachers do not allow any room for questioning what they teach. And if their dogmatic teacher or teachers teach something, it is a fact in their minds, and that is the end of the discussion.

And sadly parents will raise their children up under this kind of ministerial bondage. Other believers and I mean that in a colloquial sense are afraid not to believe what they have been previously taught by some religious guru, preacher or teacher. Oftentimes, what information they have received has become hard-wired into their brains.

What has become lost on believers is that religious organizations, ecclesial bodies, clerics, rabbis, imams and others have a vested interest in confronting challenges to their orthodoxy as well as to their heterodoxy.

The fact of the matter is that either what religious people believe is absolutely true, and we all know that different religious groups do not agree with each other (so which one is right), or either way there are I suspect going to be a lot of disappointed people around someday.

Which one is right then Reverend know it all, you might be asking? It is academic, all of them are right simply ask them.

But seriously, how can all of the religious groups be correct since what most of them teach can be so broad and varied. Oftentimes members and teachers in the same group don’t agree on their group’s doctrinal positions, even though the members of said organizations wouldn’t know it. Why? Because publicly the teachers often put on the ‘we all agree face’, in light of the scripture that teaches that there must not be any divisions among you, and to let everyone speak the same thing.

However, the fact of the matter is that not only do the members not always agree, the leaders and the teachers do not agree either, in the Apostles were rarely in agreement themselves. To prove my point, if you are a Christian simply ask your religious leaders to explain the book of Revelations, then observe how many different explanations that they will come up with in one setting. There will be a lack of unanimity between the pre-trib’rs, the amilenialists, the historicists and so forth.

This problem has persisted for years going all the way back to the beginning of religion if not human kind itself. The fact that worshippers don't always agree I suspect is healthy. It would suggest that believers have the freedom to explore and determine what is and what is not valid.

Also, then new and old converts would understand that there is not unanimous agreement on everything that is being taught by religious organizations or from their sacred texts. New and old converts will also understand that no matter how sacred the leader pretends the scriptures and their rituals to be, that some things are merely based upon speculation, or upon what some group of individuals believes to be correct.

Years ago, a young man named Angel joined our transdenominational fellowship; our church family was cross-denominational and included everyone. How could that work? We simply asked everyone to seek the truth, regardless of what you called yourself. Included in our congregation were Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Pentecostals and more. At the conclusion of the service, Angel who was Latino, and I suspect a previous Catholic immediately made his way back to me, his new shepherd.

He wanted to know why he wasn’t given the book of do's and don'ts of the church". I explained that we don’t have one of those. What was he looking for? Angel wanted to receive a book or a manual outlining in detail what things he could and could not do. He gave one example, may I drink wine or not?

Frankly, I felt that was his business, for Jesus not only drank wine, but he made it, and Paul encouraged Timothy to drink it. Why was he instructed as such, because Paul even believed that wine was good for his protégé, the nascent Timothy?

Well my God, Angel never came back to the church. Perhaps I should have told him not to drink wine, and that it was a deadly sin, except when it was drunk during Eucharist of course. Remember, Jesus served it to his disciples. This is just another perfect example of how religion goes wrong. Clearly Angel had been raised up before in religion, and he had learned some of the former ways of doing things.

And whether right or wrong, once the idea gets into a religious individuals, his mind is made up for ever more. And using this illustration with Angel and his companion is a perfect example of how and where I believe that all religious groups of the world get stuck.

Oh I know what you’re thinking, The Rev has a liberal church that teaches licentiousness, or as some put it, they abuse grace. No, frankly, I simply do not believe in teaching people to feel guilty about doing natural things, particularly, to make them believe that they will go to hell and burn forever, for doing what Jesus, Paul and most of the individuals in the ‘circum-Mediterranean culture did’.

I was the guest minister at one church and I referred to what Jesus said and did when he made wine. The pastor of that parish became upset because he was one of the ones who taught his congregation that drinking wine or any other thing was a sin. He also pointed out to them that if they did it, they were going to hell. I asked him, well what about what Jesus said and did. He countered, that wine was not fermented. Well for his sake then, how about if religious people drank unfermented wine then?

Do you believe that he would be happy then? Anyway, let’s move on because I happen to know that this same preacher would sneak off and smoke a cigarette when no one was looking. If I had raised that issue he would have likely responded as I have heard some say when referring to their vice, well the bible never said anything about cigarettes. Er herm!!!

And this is where believers of all of the world's religions get stuck at, they are looking for a book, a group, or a person that makes them feel guilty over the things that they do that are natural. In other words, give me do’s and don’ts or give me death! I wonder why Jesus didn’t bring a book with him when he was born? Could it be because he was more interested in a ‘living word’ than a dying one?

Even if you were to provide this genre of individuals with a book of do's and don'ts (and some religious organizations do), I suspect that as Peter explained to his fellow Apostles following the Apostle Paul’s return from his missionary journey, that we have never been able to live up to the rules in the rulebook ourselves, so why put Gentile converts under the same pressure? I suspect at the time, that the “I don’t eat anything unclean switchblade cursing Apostle’, wished that he was a Gentile convert at the time, then he could enjoy the freedoms that were being extended to the Gentiles.

Rulebooks lead not only to discrimination, but rather to a spirit of judgment and afterward intolerance. For example, the Pharisees were aghast at Jesus when he failed to live up to some set religious standard that came from the tenets of their rule books. I suspect that Jesus willfully ignored the practice of ceremonial cleansing on one occasion, and did not wash his hands before consuming what was put before him to eat, just to teach them a lesson about following empty man-made rules.

To these self-righteous religious fanatics, Jesus had summarily violated a sacred principle. In their minds I suspect, Jesus had just forfeited his entry into heaven and was on his way to hell too. I was thinking today; imagine if there was no heaven or hell. Or, let's put it another way, imagine if humans had never been taught that there was a heaven or hell, then how would it affect their behavior towards others and their assessments of themselves?

Would we be as harsh then in terms of our judgment of ourselves and others, or would there be more of a sense of understanding and tolerance for differences in people to include our family and non-family member, friends and enemies who haven’t lived up to our set standards? For after all, each one of us is fallible, none of us is perfect.
Adultery was a capital crime according to the Mosaic Law. A woman who was taken in the very act of adultery by self-declared good religious people, wanted her put to death under their form of Sharia Law, however, she was spared the death penalty by Jesus. Jesus clearly believed in mercy and grace, these hardened religious rulebook espousers did not.

The woman did not deny that she had committed adultery, a punishable crime under their Law, but nevertheless Jesus gave her a new lease on life. Now we don’t know if the officials recaptured her later and had the sentence of capital punishment imposed anyway, however, given the spirit of self-righteousness that was operating in them, I would not if surprised if they did.

‘Does God have a double standard? In one of my sermons entitled: God Knew About Your Problem Before He Chose You, I use examples of biblical icons like Moses the Murderer; David the Womanizer and taker of another man's wife (having had put that man who came to serve his cause put to death); and cursing Peter the Knife; call fire down from heaven and burn them up disciples or even the Apostle Paul a frequent accessory to murder.

Now, if a good religious person had the ability to select his team at the religious place where he attends today, I doubt that he would have selected any of these gentlemen, unless of course they were a dear friend or relative. Most humans have different standards for themselves, their friends and favored relatives, more than they do for other people. The Apostle Paul (a Pharisee) had very tough standards in all cases for everyone who was to serve, apparently having forgotten his own shortcomings, and yet he considered himself an Apostle.

And if it seems like I am being tough on the Apostle the Pharisee of Pharisees, I am. Why because clearly he still made judgments based on a spirit Pharisaism that was still inside of him. In fact, if King David showed up today and wanted to compose songs or direct the choir at any of our religious assemblies today, given his reputation, he would likely be declined the position. Why? Most religious individuals would say to him, didn't you steal another man's wife, impregnate her and surreptitiously have the man murdered in order to cover up your murderous tryst?

He would likely reply that that he had since been washed with hyssop and cleansed as white as snow; and the religious among us would likely reply, yeah but you aren’t going to be the director of our choir homey!

Peter, the knife wielding Apostle, would not be a prelate in any of the religious organizations that I am aware of, and he certainly wouldn’t be preaching on the day of Pentecost. But let’s move on.

Throughout my religious life, I have been taught that the problem with Judaism and its followers, the forerunner of Christianity and Islam, is that the Jews have failed to move to the next dispensation which followed the dispensation of the Law. I t is referred to in Christian circles as the Dispensation of Grace and Truth, with Jesus being the embodiment if not the harbinger of Grace and Truth.

And Christians, despite their romantic feelings and eschatological conclusions about their Jewish religious counterparts, have pretty much given up on their Jewish counterparts, the chosen people. Most Christians do not believe that they will ever accept Grace and Truth or Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Christians, believe that the Jews are still waiting for the real Messiah to show up on the scene. And as far as they are concerned, there is little hope of moving them from their entrenched religious foundational positions that is based upon the 613 precepts of the Mosaic Law, or is it 631?

And again what is so striking about this is that according to Jewish and Christian history, the Jews, descendants of Abraham are God's ‘chosen people’. So God’s chosen people don’t agree with what their offspring religion Christianity believes; and Jesus and Christians descended from them?

This again creates quite a dilemma for Christians who cannot believe that the chosen people, if any people, would not be first to accept the complete word of God as Christians understand it to be. Will this matter ever be resolved? Given the nature of humans, I doubt that it will ever be resolved, at least not in my lifetime.

In the meantime, Jews, the ones that I know believe that it is the Christians who are in error, and they are perfectly content to believe what they believe, while Christians continue on believing what they believe, even though the two communities come together to wage war together against non-Christian and non-Jewish foes. And the Jews aren’t ashamed to look the other way given the financial and military aid that they receive from Christian and Christian nations, which replaces the aid that they formerly received from Russia.

Ironically, some time ago, I made a critical observation with respect to the Christian community. I concluded that the majority of Christians weren’t any different from their Jewish counterparts whom they are often wont to criticize. Why? Because, the majority of Christians are also stuck within their own religious foundational framework; Christians believe in their paradigms. And, the Christian book of ‘the Law’ is better known as Constantine's Canon. And Christians are dug in, for in their minds, Constantine's Canon is 'the final authority on everything.

And to the Christian mind the Canon is sacred and God spoke or inspired every single word contained within its sixty-six books. Now having said that, even the least educated ministers who have completed in-depth Canonical research know better than that, and still many of them continue to teach their audiences that the Canon is inerrant. One of my favorite teachers, Dr. Gene Scott once taught his TV audiences that you either accept Constantine’s entire Canon (all of it) or you accept none of it.

And as much as I admire Dr. Scott’s teaching abilities, as far as I'm concerned even he went 'too far'. Since the Canon to Christians is as sacred as the Madras, Torah or Talmud are to Hebrews, or the Koran is to Muslims; and other sacred texts are to members of other faiths, it is almost a waste of time trying to get any of these groups or individuals to admit to the flaws, insertions, misinterpretations, deletions, lack of manuscript support, motivations ..., that plague each and every one of their respective sacred texts, and their belief systems.

However, the fact of the matter is that in that regard they are all just alike. But what do the rest of us do? Should we behave like them and become so stubborn and entrenched in our historical belief systems that we cannot pull our heads up out of the sand long enough to reason whether or not everything that we have been taught is factual or non factual?

Are we so narrow to believe that whatever source document that we use to teach from is absolutely sacred? So what does one do when he or she encounters disparate groups of religious organizations, and their followers insist that what he or she believes is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? May I suggest that you run for your lives? For how in the world can you reach individuals who have been conditioned to believe that what they believe, or have been taught to believe is absolute and there is no if, but or maybe?

And on the other hand if you fail to accept everything that they believe as the final word you are an infidel and going to go to hell instead of to heaven? Now let's refer back to what the writer of Hebrews wrote about moving beyond a foundational framework. What she wrote was that new that converts ought to build upon the foundation, but they should not stop there at the foundational faze. Instead she said that they should go on to perfection.

Perfect what? Perfection in this sense means wholeness, as opposed to basing your whole praxis on fractious ideas, which may in fact be true, some of which may be true but are not all that you need to know. For what is more important folks, where one begins or where one ends up? If anyone were to engage in building an edifice for example, and they stopped building right after the foundation had been poured or laid, then the building would not be complete.

Of course we could all go by and sit with the builder on the foundation and enjoy a cup of ice tea perhaps, however, the ice would quickly melt in the hot sun given that we wouldn't have a roof over our heads, and given that the builder stopped building after he laid the foundation. The same is true of religious foundational frameworks.

Some individuals have been exposed to a foundational framework by some teacher or preacher, or Imam; they are impressed with what they have heard and embraced it without doing any further homework. They don’t want to know whether it is true or not, all they know is that it makes them feel good. Love, Peace & Grace
Rev. C. Solomon
To be continued…,What Should Have Happened By Now: Here are a few examples, can you think of any more? The life cycle would have been extended even more than it has been, and we would likely be living what I refer to as time-independent eternal life reality. The suppression of females would have ended, assuming that we continued to occupy gender-based bodies. We would have done a better job of understanding and dealing with what we consider to be the more complex issues such as homosexuality (remember some humans have been born with 6 fingers and toes), stem cell research, the environment, infant mortality, autism, retardation...! We would have dealt in an intelligent manner with those forces that encourage suppression, divisiveness, war and discrimination; the latter would likely have been eliminated. We would also be able to communicate by now, in the language of what we refer to as God, instead of through the use of gibberish, nasal and guttural sounds. The means and the methods that we would employ in order to relocate in space would be far more advanced. Living on other planets (rocks), if we were to still exist in our current biological forms would have taken place by now, albeit we would have still been existing in a fairly primitive state of being inside of carbon-based bodies. We would have had a direct encounter with, and likely have understood better, and co-existed alongside the entity, sovereignty or principle that we refer in today's nomenclature as God. Remember this entity has been referred to by many names and inscriptions including El, Adoni, Ywvh, Allah, the Great Spirit..., in the past! Finally, if we don't get busy soon, future generations will consider us to have been nothing more than primitive failures.

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