Tag Archives: Christianity

Radical Christianity – Where Is It When We Need It?

Today we face an epidemic of wounded bullies who resort to tactics of warfare (violence, threat of violence, propaganda, censorship, espionage, diversionary actions, attacks and counterattacks, toxic weapons of individual as well as mass destruction of persons, social standing and property rights, etc.).  With the encouragement of a culture that mistakes violence as means of promoting safety, they impose their agendas of physical and emotional dominance within our homes, neighborhoods, communities, nations and world. In wrapping themselves in verbal cloaks of self-justifying excuses, they claim as their back-up authority extreme misrepresentations of religious texts, Constitutional provisions, laws and other verbiage that is readily subject to distortion by angry men and women.  And few in their audiences bother to study the true nature of the cited religion, Constitution, laws and other source of justification to discover how completely the bullies are distorting these revered sources.

As anger clouds their reason, bullies seek reverence by association, being unable to feel secure in it for themselves directly.  In truth, they use such revered sources to avoid being aware of guilt and shame they carry in hidden places in their hearts and minds.  While citing external authority for their actions, they know in their hearts that they lack legitimate authority.  Grievously wounded in childhood, bullies turn the tables and do unto others as was done unto them until they experience healing and restoration to sanity.

We call some of these bullies “radicals” or “extremists.”  In fact, all bullies are radically afraid and extremely wrong in their misguided approach to problem solving.  Their fear of failure drives them to stamp out all forms of accountability by which their failures might come to light.  Theirs is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Fear is their deepest truth.  It drives them insane with shame to even consider that their inner pain and turmoil would ever become public knowledge because they view personal struggles and the honesty and humility needed to address them as signs of weakness.  They fear the stigma of being publicly pointed out to be mistaken and deprived of the social acclaim they so desperately crave.  They are the “heroes” who master the art of ridicule and scapegoating of anyone who dares to disagree with them.  Having mastered this art, they fear now that it will be used against them by others who seek to dethrone them and become society’s alternate heroes (“good ones”).

Radical or extremist Christianity offers the true alternative to this self-fulfilling prophecy by offering the model of Jesus’ life and his principles that everyone can put into practice.  Anyone can follow Jesus’ example and put his principles into practice to alleviate the pain others suffer in silence and open the door to reconciliation between bullies and those they have bullied.  There need be no guilt or stigma for being mistaken nor guilt or stigma for having inflicted, silently condoned or fearfully tolerated violence in any form upon anyone. Jesus calls his followers to release everyone from guilt and shame by mastering the art of unconditional love, with its reconciling tools of repentance, forgiveness and acceptance within relationships that set us free from any and all misguided ideas we ever adopted as alternatives to truth.

Radical Christianity can be practiced not merely to first do no harm but to secondly undo harm (heal).  To practice radical Christianity requires that all who have endured harm in any way become masters of the art of unconditional love and grow to apply it in every single circumstance in his or her life, without exception.  Jesus did that.  We can also do that.  We can become aware that all forms of harm done to us are birthed within pain in those who seemed to have harmed us. We can become aware that all seeming attacks upon us are cries for love – cries to be released from guilt and shame.  And we can reach within ourselves to find the wellspring of unconditional love that flows there and offer endless cups of refreshing restoration to innocence to all who seek it from us.

Do we have to wait until someone recognizes his or her own mistake or attack as regrettable before we release him or her from its karmic consequence? No.  We can release as immediately as we become aware of feeling the pain that signals we are in the presence of a carrier of pain.  As Jesus declared from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we can similarly call upon Abba, Father, to shower blessings not curses upon those who spitefully use us — whether by intention or by ignorance.  We who have ever been social scapegoats at the hands of society’s heroes stand in the most favorable position to invoke the same authority and power that Jesus exercised throughout his life.  In Isaiah 53:3, the Bible tells us that Jesus “was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” Likely having even anticipated that feature of his ministry on Earth, Jesus nevertheless prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (as well as other times most likely) for the power to do God’s will and not shirk the opportunity to demonstrate God’s power to bring forth new life from the grave mistakes we are all capable of making.

Let us consider Jesus’ example and assess our own lives for the opportunities we have to follow in his footsteps in radical ways, not just to the cross but beyond it and the tomb.  We who have been scapegoats have already experienced the cross and the tomb.  What now presents itself to us for our exercise is the power of the resurrection and new life.  God offers it both to scapegoats and bullies alike.  We who have been scapegoats have every reason to feel empathy and compassion for the bullies because we know the experience they will pass through in order to be free of their self-inflicted guilt and shame.  We hold the keys to their hell on Earth.  As keepers of the peace, we must use those keys wisely and widely without regard to persons on account of any criteria by which those who do not yet know Jesus nor follow him radically may judge and condemn us or others.  We release ourselves from the remnants of our own hells on Earth when we release others from theirs.

Is it not time to set ourselves free by setting others free?  That’s how the Golden Rule works at this radical extreme in society’s need for an end to interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Advertisements

Immunity of Church Leaders from Criticism Protects Incompetence

On account of the constitutional doctrine commonly called “separation of church and state,” governmental courts, except in instances of sexual abuse, generally refuse to entertain legal claims against church leaders on account of incompetence or unfitness to lead.  The only recourse available for malpractice by church leaders is to walk away from the church they lead and search for a church or community of believers led by leaders truly competent and fit of mind and heart to preach, teach and provide pastoral care on God’s terms.  As a follower of Jesus, I write here of the body of believers commonly grouped under the heading “Christians” and include the Catholic Church and all forms of religion that identify Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Of other paths of faith, I will not write, leaving it to followers of those paths to comment on their leadership’s competence and qualifications for office.

How is a leader in a Christian organization held accountable for being incompetent or unfit to serve as a leader?  Sure, ultimately he or she is accountable to God for failing to lead according to God’s terms.  But meanwhile much harm (for example, neglect of vigorous spiritual growth if nothing else) is inflicted and tolerated in the name of Jesus and in the end all is forgiven anyways.  Is there truly any harm in being a bungling preacher, teacher and pastor who makes a living at that role while failing his or her unwary flock?  Under the teachings of Jesus about forgiveness, is not all harm wiped away in the end?  Do we safely shrug off incompetence and unfitness among clergy as trivial?  Perhaps it is the complacency of church members towards the incompetence and unfitness of clergy that causes the Church as a whole to have fallen into disrepute in society’s eyes.  Neglect of Jesus’ call upon us all infects the whole Church.

These are issues I ask you to struggle with.  How do you know if your church leaders are competent and fit to speak for God as Jesus spoke for God?  I suggest it is the responsibility and power of every church member who follows Jesus as Lord and Savior to master the art of listening to the Holy Spirit as the Voice of God in his or her life.  And if the Holy Spirit disagrees with the church leader, that’s a sign of incompetence and unfitness to lead.  Within the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is the Voice of Truth that Jesus sent us to hear and heed.  He did not promise to send us preachers and teachers to lead us into all truth.  He promised to send us the Holy Spirit.  If we do not yet know how to hear the Spirit’s Voice, we need first and foremost to learn that art.  How can we heed a Voice do not know how to hear?  Has it become all too easy and convenient to settle for listening to well-or-poorly-crafted, artfully-or-less-artfully presented sermons on Sunday instead of learning to listen to God intently throughout every minute of every day?

I suggest that a church leader who does not know how to hear and heed the Spirit’s Voice is unqualified to lead. He or she should step down from positions of leadership, confess his or her failure to master the art of hearing and heeding and take up a position in a pew other than the front row to reflect in humility upon the error of claiming to lead when unqualified to lead.  That a man or woman knows how to read a printed text and study study-guides wherein human “experts” purport to tell him or her what the text means does not qualify that person to speak for Jesus or for God. It merely qualifies him or her to be a parrot, not a spokesperson for God.  Many a religious leader in Jesus’ days on Earth had the capacity to read, parrot back and therefore claim to lead.  Jesus used harsh words to describe those supposed leaders in their failure to hear and heed the Spirit’s Voice.  He called them hypocrites and other clearly unflattering terms.

When will followers of Jesus within institutions of religion claiming to be Christian stop allowing seminary training to be the qualifying mark of leadership within the Body of Christ?  When will an education provided by mankind stop being accepted as sufficient to qualify a man or woman to lead a community of God’s people?  Until we demand that our leaders not only be called by the Spirit to lead but also qualified by the Spirit to lead, we’ll suffer from a Church corrupted and compromised by the politics of social niceness.

Just when we most need men and women who put their minds upon the things of God and not upon the things of humankind, we, the Christian Church, have conformed to the world by accepting educational certifications issued by human religious organizations as proof of a person’s qualifications to speak for Jesus.  We have rendered unto Caesar what is God’s by surrendering the Body of Christ to the holders of diplomas who do not hear and heed the One whom Jesus sent to lead us into all truth.  We who sit in pews listening and sensing that something is missing within our church need to take responsibility for the ones we call “leaders” and either remove them from leadership or vigorously support their acquisition of greater mastery of the art of hearing and heeding the Spirit.  We can no longer sit complacently in our pews and allow those who speak before our congregations to commit malpractice unchallenged.  If the courts of law will not grant us redress, then we need to stand up for Jesus on our own and trust in the Lord to grant us redress.  If we do not stand up for Jesus when our leaders fail to stand with and for him, who will?

We have learned so well to feel powerless and follow like sheep to the slaughter that we hesitate to rock the boat and call out incompetence and unfitness among church leaders when we sense it is present.  Among the flock are ones who know better than to sit silently while church leaders pretend to know the full truth of God and fail to disclose its most challenging aspects.  The church is too often led by men and women who carefully censor and dilute their teachings to make sure that those sitting in the pews continue to put money in the offering plate and support the church financially – all so the Church’s budgets will be met, including the salaries of the very leaders who fail the Church.  The cyclical Catch-22 of social approval operates to confine the Body of Believers to the comfort zones defined by clergy who have succeeded in charming the religious leaders who have gone before them out of credentials that qualify the new generation of leaders to follow not in the footsteps of Jesus but in the footsteps of the church leaders who have betrayed Jesus before them.  If current leaders make sure to grant credentials only to those who will not later expose their earlier reigns of incompetence, no leader will speak up.  The conspiracy of clerical silence insures continuation of the cycle of incompetence unless the laity speaks up.

Will we, the People of the Body of Christ, sit idly by while church leaders defile the Church, distort Jesus’ teachings into self-serving doctrines and otherwise commit spiritual malpractice right before our eyes – just so we can huddle in our respective comfort zones in complacent silence?  If we see with our hearts, we will see what the Holy Spirit is showing us and we’ll not sit still while being asked to follow falsely. We cannot expect government regulators to rescue us from our own complacency. We must rebel from within the Church against smug clerical incompetence and break up the cozy clubs by which the clergy control the Church and convert the high calling of Christ into a den of thieves.  It is theft for incompetent clergy to accept salaries and other remuneration while failing to provide leadership commensurate with Jesus’ standards.  Will we allow ourselves to be victims of theft simply because we too crave social approval and don’t want to risk the vulnerability required of those who blow the whistle?

Are there any among those who read what I write here who dare to speak up, pro or con?

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Not Yet Dismiss Jesus As Impotent and Irrelevant

In the United States, we are surrounded by massive evidence proving beyond all reasonable doubt that Jesus is condemned to impotence and irrelevance within a nation that claims to adhere to consumerism-gutted Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas and accounts for large, if dwindling, attendance at churches who give lip service to Jesus as the divine entity they honor.  The overwhelming majority of jurors gathering at such places of worship have declared Jesus to be irrelevant as well as impotent within their lifestyles.  They prefer to substitute a watered down, plastic, artificially distanced version of Jesus in place of his living vitality at work within their hearts and minds.  They prefer to hold Jesus in a social chokehold, silence his voice and condemn him to a life sentence of imprisonment within their egos as they bar the door against wholehearted surrender to his call upon their lives.

Every foreperson of every jury handpicked by the prosecution in favor of violent reactions to other people’s violence has declared the verdict:  Jesus is “Guilty as charged” and condemned to oblivion!  Jesus has been on trial across our nation for generations and is now presumed to be guilty of irrelevance and impotence until proven innocent, of which proof there scarce is hope. The only evidence he ever sought to leave on Earth was the evidence provided through the lives of wholehearted followers in his footsteps.  Today few followers are willing to seek the faded signs of his divergent path among the crowded ways along which as lemmings we scramble towards the cliffs over which others have flung themselves. Thus the evidence he seeks to reveal is faint because we are faint-hearted.

The prevailing presumption in favor of Jesus’ impotence and irrelevance is the predictable outcome of our devoting the resources of our legal systems throughout our lands to exacting retribution for every perceived wrong committed by one person against another through all forms of legal process, both criminal and civil.  In the face of Jesus’ model of forgiveness, despite claiming to be a Christian nation, not one state within our Federal system offers its citizens the opportunity to experiment with non-retributive responses to wrongdoing across the board as a systematic norm.  Occasional programs of restorative justice and mediation notwithstanding, the social norm of a retribution-purposed legal system offers little room for Jesus’ voice.  His has once again become a voice crying in the wilderness.  This time that wilderness is our nation of violence and knee-jerk tendencies to use the law to augment personal anger into a national tragedy and twist all legal proceedings into venues for personal revenge.

In Romans 12:2, followers of Jesus are (note: “are” not “were”) admonished, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  In willful disregard of this admonition, the vast majority of those who claim to honor Jesus prefer to react to wrongs with the same patterns of thoughts, words and actions as the mainstream society around them.  Patterns socially engrained in our thinking since infancy are not readily uprooted.  Like dandelions casually yanked up by their tops, they spring back from deeply buried roots. They are tenacious weeds eradicated only by persistent application of the Holy Spirit as the universal herbicide for the mistake of putting our minds “upon the things of man instead of upon the things of God.”

Based on worldly patterns, we allow the early stage of grief commonly recognized to be “anger” to motivate our actions in response to wrongs we perceive to have been done to us and to others towards whom we feel protective.  Anger is the mainstream, deeply rooted pattern of motivation behind both criminal and civil “remedies.”  Although called “remedies” as if they offer some form of healing, they are not remedies but reminders of the vicious outcomes of cycles of violence perpetuated by anger.  They are institutionalized, socially conformist forms of revenge not anything close to what Jesus presented as the model response to wrongs of criminal or civil nature.

As an innocent human being, Jesus was subjected to harsh treatment as if he were a criminal.  Amidst that cruelty, as he hung at the behest of religious leaders of his era on a form of torturous death popular among the politically powerful, he hung there between two others condemned to the same cruelly prolonged death for their petty crimes.  There Jesus continued to minister mercy, acknowledging the humility of one of his cross-hung compatriots by welcoming him as a guest of Jesus in paradise.  Throughout his ministry on Earth, Jesus encountered, healed and welcomed many whom the mainstream, religiously self-justifying, status-quo-reserving law-abiders called “sinners” and would have stoned to death or banished from their “good company.”  He dared then to say (and would say again today howsoever unpopular it might make him), “And neither do I condemn you” to the woman caught in adultery (having no opportunity to say the same to her male collaborator in adultery since no one sought to stone him at the moment of the story preserved in the Bible).

On another occasion, Jesus taught that the person who visited an inmate in prison was counted among those who had ministered unto him.  It is doubtful that he had in mind that such a visitor would go to the prison to chastise and condemn the inmate as if he or she were chastising and condemning Jesus.  More likely, Jesus expected the visitor to show mercy upon the inmate and share kindness and other acts of mercy with the inmate as Jesus would have done.  He would have visited the inmate as an expression of God’s unconditional love.  How do we view and treat those we incarcerate or others whom we relegate to the margins of society as undesirables? How rigid is our caste system?  To what extent do we dare violate it?

In modern society (one that ironically we claim to be a civil one), we function like a gang of mobsters. We who claim privilege status within the “gang” we call society do not directly sully our hands in the dirty work of harming others.  We hire agents to do the dirty work, just as any seasoned gang leader does.  We hire prosecutors with orientations as bullies who lust for power and hunger to exercise dominion over others to accuse and condemn members of our society as scapegoats to contrast to the heroes we hold up as paragons of virtue.  Sometimes we are so disappointed with our heroes that we topple them off the media-elevated pedestals upon which we had previously installed them and cast them down as scapegoats of the most useful kind.  The media profits from both these false elevations to and the subsequent sensationalized falls from social grace.  In contrast, regardless of the judgment of people in dispensing social grace for temporary, shallow, self-serving reasons, God’s divine grace remains relentlessly extended to us all — howsoever others may judge and condemn us.  Such is an example of the pattern of the world as we put our minds not upon the way of Jesus as an exemplar of God’s way but upon some alternative our egos in our fear prefer.

Followers of the ways of the world who conform mindlessly to its patterns are not following the one who walked the Earth as Jesus, suffered upon the cross of social condemnation to demonstrate his divinity and would even today lead us all to co-create heaven here and now upon this Earth if only we would follow him in all our thoughts, words and deeds.  To do so, as Paul wisely and insightfully observed, we could not allow our minds to remain imprisoned within the patterns of worldly thought of our current, ego-confined, adolescent society but would instead intentionally and relentlessly allow our minds to be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit until our every thought, word and deed revealed the perfect will of God as mature children of God according to our true identity.

As one who had throughout his life on Earth grown in “wisdom and stature in the eyes of man [and woman] and God,” Jesus’ life revealed the will of God in his thinking, speaking and acting.  We are called to do likewise to overcome our identity crisis and refuse to linger any longer in it.  To fulfill our high calling as inheritors of the Kingdom of Love, we must divest our energies from the false calling of condemning others and re-invest these God-given energies with steadfast, uncompromising devotion of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to ministering to the “least of these” as if each and every one of them is Jesus – without even one exception our egos would prefer to make because we are afraid to appear foolish in the eyes of those who conform to the patterns of the world.  Whom would Jesus reject from his ministry?  Which social leper do we condemn as if he would?

One pattern most fondly adhered to by the world who condemns Jesus to impotence and irrelevancy is the pattern of carving out exceptions to the lifestyle principles he both espoused and modeled.  If you claim to believe in Jesus, follow him as he has called you to do, not compromisingly or lukewarmly – at risk of being spit out of his mouth – but instead radically, wholeheartedly and passionately as if Jesus is not only your savior but your Lord as well.  Allow fear to carve out no exceptions to his mercy and grace lest you discover that the exception you carve out also encompasses you.  Seek full release from the pain you struggle to deny you feel as you fail to live according to your true identity as a child of God. It is that pain that causes you to believe you are being punished and sustains the guilt you feel.  That pain is not punishment.  It is merely the natural result of not allowing yourself to expand beyond your ego’s concerns and undertake your own growth in stature and wisdom.  It is the pain an eagle’s developing chick feels while confined within its egg.  Struggle to peck your way free of the ego’s imprisoning shell.  In the pattern of your creation, you are like Jesus, destined to grow relentlessly in your unique expression of God’s grace.  It is painful to allow your socially reinforced fears to stunt your growth and confine yourself within your ego as if it were your identity.  The ego is a false identity.  You are a good egg but more than an ego.  Accept your true identity as a sibling of Jesus within God’s family and let go of the pain of denying that identity.  Through letting go of your ego, you will discover the freedom from painful guilt and shame your heart desires.

No longer be careless about your heart’s desire to do the right thing even when it is socially unpopular to do so.  Instead care less about the opinions of those still entrapped in the judgmental attitudes of their egos and care more about the judgment of Jesus upon your life.  Seek his mercy as you extend yours.  Let divine love be perfected within you as it was perfect in Jesus so that love casts out all fears that might otherwise falsely convince you that some exceptions to the universal extension of unconditional love to all have merit.  Argue with if you must (as most of us do!) but eventually do not defy your Friend and Master.  Surrender to his loving, merciful wisdom so as to come to know your true, forgiven, grace-empowered nature as God’s child ever as much as Jesus knew and knows his own.  That is what it means to belong to him.  It is the path to service by which you come to know the fullest joy life offers.  It is the pathway to relief from grief that otherwise lingers when it need no longer linger.

To whose pattern do we conform?  Whose view of us matters most to us?  To whose image and likeness do we seek to conform so as to beam the radiance of God’s grace across the heartscape of our nation’s ills and bring forth relational healing instead of condemnation?  We have a choice between the pattern of the fear-filled, fear-controlled ego or the pattern of the love-embodying, love-surrendered follower of Jesus. Let go of ego’s reign and embrace the reign of love offered to you unconditionally by God through Jesus.

In that manner, let your heart not be troubled, nor let it be afraid that upon your death bed you’ll find yourself alone, while drowning in regrets and awash with grief you could have faced and overcome so many years earlier.  Why let the anger of grief rob you of years of peace, hope and joy that await you here on earth as a gift?  Accept the gift.  Linger no longer in the darkness of your prolonged grievances. Instead allow the light of love to shine forth from within you as you know in your heart you can and desire.

The impotence and irrelevancy you choose to assign to Jesus is actually a false belief in your own impotence and irrelevancy.  Neither you nor Jesus is impotent or irrelevant when you team up to respond with grace, mercy and love by faith in the Divine Parent whom Jesus called “Abba.”  The time of the grace of our Father/Mother God/Goddess is upon us.  Accept and embrace who you are and cease to hide isolated in the shadows as if you are impotent and irrelevant to making a difference in how others experience their lives.  Join love’s revolution as a welcome member of the team who wholeheartedly, without reservation embrace Jesus as our wayshower.  And find yourself welcomed home as you welcome others as your sisters and your brothers.

© Art Nicol 2016

Has Christianity Functioned as an Invasive Species?

The habitat of the lionfish used to be limited to warm parts of the Pacific Ocean but now lionfish have begun to occupy reef marine communities in warm Atlantic waters too. It is likely that humans introduced the lionfish to these waters by releasing them as no longer-wanted pets. In the absence of natural predators for lionfish in Atlantic waters, the lionfish population in Caribbean waters has grown unchecked. Since lionfish prey upon the young fish of other species, populations of native species in these reef communities have inevitably declined as lionfish consume their young and wipe out future breeders. In this manner, lionfish have functioned as a typical invasive species to reduce populations of native species by their predatory actions. Lionfish have no interest in preserving native populations when those populations feed their appetites.

Christians used to live in certain parts of the European continent where they identified themselves with the empire-building practices of the Roman Empire and used their religious beliefs to justify conquest of other people and their lands when the resources and peoples of conquered populations fed Europeans’ appetites for pleasure and for power. Many Europeans who traveled to the continent of North America to occupy what they claimed to be vacant lands brought their version of Christianity’s attitudes, beliefs and conquest-justify orientation with them to justify taking the lands occupied by indigenous members of the human race away from these native populations.

In the process of insuring that native populations (called tribes) would not resist the empire-building of European Christians, the European Christians removed the young of native tribes to teach them in schools away from their families and native traditions. They taught them a Western language, Westernized modern values and Westernized thinking to replace and wipe out the native language and rich heritage these young would otherwise have acquired from their tribal elders. As a result, the population of native tribes declined as their young became consumed by Western values and identified with Western lifestyles. The reefs that previously covered the continent where native tribes once thrived shrank into tiny remnants of the lowest quality lands least desired by the European conquerors. Today those shrunken reefs are more commonly known as “reservations.” They function as a patchwork of impoverished sanctuaries for the endangered indigenous members of the human race who occupied the North American continent before the arrival of Europeans.

There are parallels at work here. Do these parallels demonstrate the invasive and parasitic nature of the form of Christianity that Europeans exported to the North American continent? In the process of this exploitative exporting of toxic distortions of Jesus’ teachings, what happened to his teachings about how those with greater power should treat those with less power? With their superior weaponry and access to continent-spanning communications and transportation systems, were not the Europeans the more powerful? But which espoused true wisdom – the version of Christianity exported to the North American continent or the spirituality of the native populations? Centuries have passed. The evidence is now in. European values and methods have exploited the lands and waters and air as no native population has had the means, heart or will to exploit. We have become a nation rich on material terms and impoverished on wisdom’s terms.

Perhaps it is time for those who have subscribed to the justifications of modern Christianity to repent and turn away from their traditions as their ancestors once demanded that Native Americans turn away from their native traditions. Perhaps it is time for all who have subscribed voluntarily or involuntarily to the language and mindset of domination, conquest and exploitation to repent and learn the language and the practices of Jesus, the language and practices of divine love shared among the peoples of the Earth about which Jesus spoke and according to which he lived while in an earthly form. Beyond his earthly form, Jesus continues to call us to turn aside from the ways of the world, take off our shoes when we are on holy ground and listen to the voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. It is the same voice Jesus heard while in the wilderness and invites us today to hear by the power of the Holy Spirit blazing in our hearts.

Could it be that Jesus is so invested in the welfare of the whole human race (and every member of us) that he calls for each and all of us to stop doing unto others what has been done unto us and turn away to do unto others what we prefer from the depths of our hearts be done to us instead? Might we reverse the tides of toxic relationships that are washing across our lands if we were each to become totally committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to detoxify our own hearts and minds and to supporting each other in doing likewise? Could that be Jesus’ plan for ending the suffering we otherwise inflict upon ourselves and others in self-condemnation on account of our buried guilt and shame? Let us hear and honor by word and deed the message “Neither do I condemn you” as we turn away from our stony hearts and instead listen to the stories our hearts yearn to share about the love we want to dare and the miraculous ways we want to care.

© Art Nicol 2015

Cancer in the Body of Believers in Jesus

Cancer begins as a few cells rapidly multiply without the purpose-driven orderly structure that controls the growth of healthy cells elsewhere in the body.  These rapidly multiplying, disorderly cancer cells form masses of tissue we call “tumors” and may eventually spread throughout the body to generate out-of-control cell-production that proves contrary to the purpose of the host organism.  Once the cancerous cells populate too much of the host organism, death looms as the original life-purpose of the organism is lost amid the disorderly purposelessness of the cancer cells.   Cancer is characterized by a disconnect between the main organism’s life-oriented purpose and the process of cell production and tissue regeneration.  Some people say that cancerous tumors “grow.”  But if the term “growth” applies only to orderly cell production that aligns with the life-orientation and purpose of the main, overarching organism then cancerous tissues do not grow.  They merely expand in a disorderly fashion that mimics growth but does not contribute to life.  Once the main organism’s health declines enough to bring about death, even the cancer cells die. They have sabotaged their host to their own detriment.

If Jesus’ institutionalized Church is Christ’s body of believers on Earth then what might be the cancer that is causing the Church’s decline and bringing the body of believers nearer and nearer to disintegration and ultimately death?  I suggest that the cancer can be spotted in every idea and resulting practice that disconnects the Church from the life-oriented purpose God gave it through Jesus.  Ideas and practices not in alignment with the God-given purpose of the Church are generating cancerous cell-production throughout the Church that mimics growth but does not contribute to the life of the Church as God defines that life.  These forms of illusory “growth” are sabotaging the Church and contributing not to its life but rather to its decline.

I believe that God is working through paths of faith other than the one associated with Jesus. Be that as it may, I’m devoted to the path of faith along which Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to lead all who believe in him.  As a believer in Jesus, I seek to hear the leading of the Spirit within my heart and to heed its guidance and honor the wisdom it transmits to faith-oriented believers in Jesus.  I accept without qualification Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  John 16:13.  That is why this article is devoted to spotting the cancerous ideas and practices at work within Christ’s Church rather than focused upon the possible shortcomings of other paths of faith.  Until the Church of Jesus Christ has submitted itself to healing of all cancerous ideas and practices at work within it, it is in no position to point out the possible ills of other paths of faith. The Church must allow the Holy Spirit to point out and remove logs from its own eyes before it tries to point out splinters in the vision of other paths of faith.

To whatever extent any other path of faith may be failing to adhere to God’s purpose and plan for that path of faith, it is the responsibility of faithful adherents to that path to assess those shortcomings and take steps to rectify them from within the borders of that faith as a follower of that faith. Within the body of believers in Jesus we have our hands full addressing the ills of Christ’s institutionalized Church and cannot afford to cast our eyes upon other religions or paths of faith until we’ve resolved all of our own issues between us and God.  That is to say that the fact that I take up the task of identifying some of the Church’s blind spots does not imply that there are none present in other paths of faith.  It means only that I adhere to the principle of the Fourth Step of the 12-steps and suggest that believers in Jesus must focus on taking our own inventories and repent of our own ill-conceived ideas and sabotaging practices that have led to the decline of the Church at large. Once we’ve humbly submitted to the Holy Spirit’s removal of the logs from our own eyes, we can seek God’s guidance about what to do next with our clarified vision.  In the meantime, to honor Jesus as the head of our body of believers, we need to refrain from violating his principle of not judging others.

In this article I do not pretend to present an exhaustive list of the ideas and practices rampant within Christ’s Church that are proving to be cancerous.  I intend here only to highlight a few so as to contribute to a dialogue within the Church that may lead the Church, its leaders and its members of all stripes and flavors to humility, repentance and healing.  I believe that the process God calls us to engage in is akin to the repentance that Jonah’s message to Nineveh invoked.  Ideas and practices not aligned with God’s holy purpose for the body of believers in Jesus are “wickedness” (failure to adhere to holiness) in the eyes of God whether or not they qualify as “wicked” under popular definitions of the populace at large. If God’s people who are called by His name desire with all their hearts to see the world healed of all forms of violence and oppression and the resulting harm, we must heed God’s definition of “wickedness” in order to humble ourselves before God and participate fully in the conditions that permit healing to flow from God unlimitedly.

In saying that I have identified a few of the Church’s misalignments with Jesus’ directions to his followers is not to say that I mention them in order of significance or priority or have cited the most important ones.  To contribute to the dialogue about Church-wide humility, repentance and healing, I cite only these for now:

  1. The error of judging people of other faiths, as mentioned above. We are not qualified to assess from beyond the borders of any other path of faith how that path of faith is best lived. That is an internal affair as to which responsibility rests with those who claim that path of faith
  2.  The error of citing quantifiable statistics as signs of growth while measures of quality are neglected. When quantity is valued over quality, the Church has dropped the ball that Jesus handed off to the Church. Throughout the Scriptures referenced by Jesus and the Church are many passages indicating that God is more concerned about the quality of life people are experiencing than about the quantity of people who are claiming to believe in Him. God has often preferred to rely upon a few people to accomplish His goals than to rely upon great numbers to prove His significance. In short, God is not concerned with social approval ratings as if God is a politician or Earthly monarch. God does not put His mind upon the things of man. God puts His mind upon the things of God whether or not humankind approves of God’s values, ideas or priorities. For the Church to express God’s orientation, the Church will have to stop catering to social approval, no longer seek to amass quantities of members or money and focus on God’s values, ideas and priorities. To measure the success of the Church by numbers is to measure by the same measurements attributed to newly released movies or TV shows. Audience ratings are not symptoms of the health of the Church except to the extent that high popularity may be a symptom of poor health. Ratings measure the cancerous illusory “growth” and call it admirable. Not so in God’s eyes.
  3. The error of measuring the quality of a believer’s faithfulness to Jesus by the financial prosperity or social popularity of his or her lifestyle. By his example, Jesus revealed the true measures of a believer’s life while he was on Earth. He was neither financially prosperous nor popular. In fact, he allowed himself to walk through life with few possessions and admonished his followers to do likewise. He traveled light but he did not travel far. He remained focused on a relatively small territory of personal concern rather than roam throughout the wider territory using means of transportation then available to him. Today the industrial/technological world has developed means of transportation that enable humans to travel the globe. The Internet empowers our minds to travel everywhere at any time. The practice of traveling widely is promoted by commercialism and mass media as “good.” Good for what? Good for profit-making by purveyors of travel-related services, including the marketing industry. Good for allowing those with wealth to congregate as mutual admirers around the globe and fancy themselves to be participants in a diversely multicultural world when in fact all they are doing is sharing their escapist activities and self-indulgences with other members of their economic class while remaining indifferent to the plight of other classes. I suggest that God disagrees with the standards of the world on this point and prefers that believers focus on local concerns in-depth, moving among all economic classes and other indices of human diversity as Jesus did, rather than spread themselves so thin as to have little significant, long-term impact on anything anywhere. Jesus impacted the lives he touched in significant, life-transforming ways (called “miracles”) and predicted that those who were his true disciples would do likewise, even having greater significance and impact than he had. Jesus was able to perform miracles because he developed relationships locally and allowed the least of these in his locality to have access to him personally. Although he participated in discussions with elites and allowed himself to be interviewed from time to time by representatives of the media of his day, he did not make a priority of doing so. Instead he remained directly accessible to the masses and most importantly to individuals who separated themselves from the masses to approach him one on one. In interacting with Jesus’ energy personally people were brought to faith and offered opportunities to act upon their faith to receive miracles of healing. The Church’s mass-media-influenced values and priorities today turn Jesus’ values and priorities upside down.
  4. The error of catering to worldly powers rather than serving those that worldly powers look down upon, exploit and oppress. The Church has become an apologist for those who wield social power instead of being an advocate for those the powerful disdain. Nowhere in Jesus’ model of life to which he called his disciples did he serve in the role of sycophant to the elites or aristocrats of his time. Moses set captives free. Jesus set captives free. For the Church now to cater to those who hold powerless people in captivity is an anathema to the Father who loves all of us. The modern world is awash with captives of all kinds. Many workers around the world are held captive in one way or another by their employment’s meager returns and harsh conditions. The worldwide trade in sex-for-money in all its forms imprisons participants on all sides of these transactions within walls of secrecy and shame. To help build prisons and justify their existence rather than to visit prisoners and help them never to return to prison ignores one of Jesus’ most strident quality control standards for his followers. To fail to invest its all in helping the least of these to take up lifestyles of freedom and no longer risk going to prison, being homeless or exploited or going without the necessities of life, including personal dignity and the capacity to provide for one’s children, indicts the modern Church.

Christians believe that God’s nature and priorities were expressed in a physical body through Jesus and that Jesus intends the Church as an institution to continue to express God’s nature and priorities.  After starting out so well in Jesus’ life, it may be hard to understand how Christianity drifted so far afield from the truth he promised would set us free.  But it’s vital that we admit the drift and correct the errors if ever we want to allow the truth to set us free from mistakes humans made in the past.  Self-examination, repentance, correction of errors and granting and receiving of forgiveness are not the ego’s talents because these disciplines to which Jesus calls us are expedited by humility and resisted by pride.  So long as spokespersons for Jesus filter their information through the ego and water down their ideas and their experiences – their principles and their practices – to suit their egos no significant correction will occur and the power of forgiveness, once so radically illustrated by Jesus, will remain stillborn.

It is essential to rise free of and beyond the ego to correct the errors that the ego has so diligently preserved.  Overcoming the ego is what the passages in Chapter 3 of Revelations beginning with “He who overcomes shall” refer to.  By the power of diligent self-examination, change of mind and forgiveness of errors, we can join together to resurrect the Church from the tomb into which popular opinion has shoved it by crying out for the crucifixion, censorship and silence of minority members of the Church who have called the Church to account for its harm.  It is a mistake to focus on errors as guilt-and-shame-ladened “sins.”  To encrust our errors with barnacles of guilt and shame only makes them all the more difficult to acknowledge and shed.  Let’s stop adding to the difficulties of the task of resurrecting the Church and simply let Jesus call us forth from the grave as he once summonsed Lazarus, as a friend he missed and wanted to see alive again.  We are each Jesus’ friend, no matter how far we may have gone astray.  He has not forsaken us.  We need no longer forsake him.  By God’s grace, we have the power to redeem our error-prone lives and live lives renewed by forgiveness and mercy and overflowing with liberty and justice for all.

The Church’s healing from spiritual cancer awaits us as individuals who accept healing on behalf of the whole.  The healing begins one by one and gains momentum as the healed ones gather as a healed body of believers.  Healed twos become healed threes, fours and so forth until the heart-count becomes too numerous to quantify.  There is no need to count because once we are healed we are all one.  When Jesus calls you to join the healing movement by submitting yourself to its heart-cleansing flow, remember that you as an individual do not need the permission of anyone else to participate in the healing. All you need to do to respond to Jesus’ call to be healed is to declare with all your heart, mind, body and soul, “I can, sir,” in the face of the Church’s cancer.  As we each do our part as Jesus did, God will do the rest.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

While the Unrepentant Church Defies Jesus’ Authority Believers Can Still Be Faithful Followers

Despite the best efforts of teachers of divisive doctrine who have risen to falsely represent Jesus throughout the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, Jesus continues to this day to espouse the same all-inclusive, non-divisive plan for building the Kingdom of God on earth that he announced originally.  He foresaw what was necessary and put it into motion. He has not changed his mind.  To carry out his plan it is his followers (“us”) who need to change our minds from being faithful to the Church in some Church-institutionalized format to being faithful to Jesus in his non-institutionalized format. Anyone who seeks to modify Jesus’ plan simply is defying his authority and failing to acknowledge him as Lord as well as Savior.

Many have been the modifiers and defiers in the time since Emperor Constantine first declared himself to be a believer in Jesus and insisted that leaders of the Church defy Jesus’ authority and instead knuckle under to the Roman Emperor’s authority.  The first council of Church fathers who gathered by Emperor Constantine’s command in 325 CE at Nicaea formulated a conformist creed that sought to impose on all believers a uniform set of beliefs akin to the uniformity of thinking Caesar demanded of his subjects.  In publishing this creed, the Church fathers adopted the political pattern of the Roman Empire and rendered unto Caesar what was God’s.  From this centuries-old error the Church has not yet repented nor recovered. The Church remains a monument to institutionalized cowardice-induced error, a whitewashed sepulcher filled with dead men’s boneheaded ideas instead of the light of Christ.  Until Church leaders humble themselves before Jesus as the only head of the Church, believers have the option of acknowledging Jesus as Lord independent of the failure of Church leadership to do so.

Since 325 CE, Church leaders have continued to adopt Caesar’s pattern of political oppression and repress all other voices of diversity and disagreement within the body of believers. Each fragment of the Church designated different voices to repress but all repress some voices to make repression and censorship their universally accepted norm.  In ancient times, those who did not adopt the Nicaean Creed or disagreed with the conformist Church fathers suffered and were silenced by the Church.  Caesar lacked the capacity to tolerate open dialogue about the distribution of power among men and about the purposes of power when wielded by men (let alone by women!).  Although Jesus cautioned against seeking power over others and advised that the greatest in the Kingdom would humble themselves to serve others as he had done, Caesar demanded absolute authority over others and claimed to be a god.  Caesar was in no way servant of anyone.  The Church fathers who conspired together to appease Caesar bowed to his claims and substituted him for Jesus and God within the Church.  By doing so, Church leaders subservient not to Jesus but to Caesar abandoned their responsibility for teaching believers how to share and wield God’s power of love in the best interests of the human race as stewards of God’s power and servants of God’s people.  To hide this blasphemy from common people who believed in Jesus, the Church fathers assumed the role of the Holy Spirit and like blind men led their congregations downward and stray into ditches rather than allow the Holy Spirit to lead them upward in God’s way into all truth.  In this manner, truth became the enemy of the Church fathers.  Truth became unknown to any but the most daring members of the congregations and to those who fled into regions beyond the reach of Church authority.

Those who dared to listen to the Holy Spirit and not limit their thinking to ideas authorized by the Church fathers, disagreed with the Church fathers’ politically expedient and cowardly positions. The Church branded them as “heretics” for sharing ideas of leadership in the direction the Holy Spirit led.  That label was accurate, because “heretic” means “one who thinks for himself” instead of knuckling under to false leaders.  However, the Church fathers added another element to that definition by declaring that one who thinks for himself or herself apart from the Church fathers – especially anyone who heard the Spirit accurately as revealing the errors of the Church Fathers – was guilty of offending God, as if offending them and Caesar automatically equated to offending God.  And they took another step in declaring that anyone whom they declared offended God could not be forgiven even by a gracious, forgiving God and had to be punished severely, ultimately put to death if he or she were unwilling to be silenced in any other way.

In taking these regressive steps in abusing their roles as leaders, Church fathers took upon themselves the role of declaring who offended God and what consequences the offenders they identified should suffer.  Their pattern was not Jesus’ pattern of forgiveness and reconciliation but was instead the pattern of Judaism, the Old Testament Jehovah and the New Testament Caesar – a pattern of unforgiveness and retribution.  This was the very pattern that had led Jewish leaders to conspire with Roman leaders to crucify Jesus.  When Jesus’ pattern of forgiveness and peace among men did not suit their political ends and threatened to be inconvenient for those who preferred to appease Caesar to preserve their comfortable lifestyles as Caesar’s cronies, the Church fathers dispensed with Jesus as an authority figure in the Church and substituted themselves in his place.  In this manner, the Church fathers insured that believers would be conformed to the world Caesar wanted to rule over and not be transformed by a renewal of their minds.  And they insured that believers who conformed to the world about prove the popularity of the polluted and polluting will of Caesar and relegate to obscurity the perfect and perfecting will of God.  That is why Caesar’s will that we be as unholy, selfish, arrogant and ignorant of love as ego is has long prevailed in the world despite Jesus’ will that we all become holy as God is holy.  If the Church as spokesperson for Jesus will not speak up honestly in his behalf, how will the truth of Jesus’ living presence on Earth be shared?  It will be shared only as the Holy Spirit whispers in the hearts of those who doubt the validity of the Church’s stands and confirms their doubts about the Church.  Ironically doubters of Church authority now have the best chance of learning the truth that sets us free.

Thus it came to be that the Church was indeed founded upon the example of Peter who denied Jesus when his personal safety was threatened.  When Roman persecution threatened the safety of Church leaders, they ran for protection under the cover of conformity to Caesar’s demands.  Cowardice rather than courage became the Church’s norm in the face of opportunities to stand up to injustices generated by abuse of power.  With rare exceptions such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s standing up to Hitler, modern Church leaders adhere to the ancient norm of supposedly benign cowardice today. Modern politics models itself after Roman intolerance for courageous freedom of thought and expression and the Church knuckles under as if God were powerless in comparison to popular opinion.  Church leaders justify their cowardice as necessary to keep the collection baskets full, their salaries fully funded and attendance numbers high.  They are willing to betray Jesus and those who look to them for trustworthy spiritual guidance in order to maintain their opportunities to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and collect retirement checks at the end of their illustrious careers as cowardly frauds.

Almost 1700 years have passed since the Nicaean Creed was first published and imposed as the conformist thought system of the Church.  Subsequent councils have revised the Church’s creeds but have not repudiated the Church’s choice to knuckle under to Caesar and substitute political and social conformity for God’s supreme authority.  For centuries this unrepentant attitude towards God has been passed down from one generation to the next leaving Church-trusting followers of Jesus with a diluted, inaccurate vision of God. Only those who dare to defy the Church’s politically expedient stands and listen to the Holy Spirit directly become aware of God’s true nature and position on issues central to life.

By and large, as predicted in Revelation 3:16, Jesus has spit the Church out of his mouth as lukewarm, rendered neither hot nor cold by its compromising ways.  The Church has failed to align itself radically and unequivocally with Jesus and will continue to fail to do so until it repudiates and thoroughly roots out the doctrine of political appeasement that the Church fathers adopted at Nicaea.  The Church must muster the courage instead to stand for all-inclusive peace, justice, mercy, forgiveness and grace at any cost to the Church’s relationship with politicians and no longer stand for appeasement at any cost to the Church’s relationship with Jesus.  If ever Jesus is to build his Church upon the Rock that the disciple Peter represented, the Peters within the Church will have to repent of their habits of political expediency and learn to but their minds upon the things of God and not upon the things of man, as Jesus admonished the first Peter to do.  They will have to step out of the comfort zones of their political boats, walk on the stormy waters of life and learn the self-disciplines needed to “serve a risen Savior who is in the world today” and no longer serve their ravenous egos over whom the world holds too much sway. It is time for Church leaders, individually if not yet collectively, to decide whom they serve, for they cannot serve two masters.  Each must decide for himself or herself who is the Master he or she serves.  Each must learn what it truly means to sing and live “What a friend we have in Jesus” as well as “O, Jesus, I have promised” with Jesus being truly honored as Master not merely trusted as Friend.

The issue yet to be decided righteously is the identity of the Chief Authority in Christ’s Church.  Who reigns supreme as head of the body of believers – Caesar and his political successors in humanity’s various forms of government or Jesus who has and needs no successor because he lives beyond death?  Who among us desires to honor God and Jesus no matter how the egos of Caesar and his minions inside and outside of the Church may take offense?  We need not wait until the Church leaders repent of their errors.  We can repent, seek God’s face, pray, humble ourselves to experience God’s dominion beyond ego’s dominion and forsake the ways of the world in favor of the most excellent way of Jesus. (See 2 Chronicles 7:14, Micah 6:8 and Matthew 6:33 for interlocking Biblical guidance on this point.) In doing so, we will make ourselves available to enter into oneness with the Father as Jesus did and set a flood of healing power free to sweep across all nations of the world.  By that flooding power of God’s presence, we will do the works Jesus did and greater things shall we do, just as Jesus foresaw.  It is up to each of us to stop inhibiting the flow of God’s healing grace by our adherence to socially conformist ways.  We must dare to be radically alive as Jesus sets before us his model of life! Jesus did not wait for the permission of religious leaders of his day to step forth as God’s child and we need no wait for permission either.  To defy the Church’s mediocre, lukewarm leadership is either to reject Jesus entirely or to embrace Jesus as the Holy-Spirit-fired leader he is and become Holy-Spirit-fired ourselves.  To stand with Church leadership in this day of suffering and loss is to stand not on compassionate holy ground but on cold-hearted, stony ground. Jesus was moved by compassion to work miracles.  What moves you to what work?  Does money move you to work for a paycheck and that’s it?

Perhaps if we show the way, the truth and the life, Church leaders of modern, technologically overdeveloped and spiritually underdeveloped societies will join us by following our example. Or they may continue to follow the example of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time on earth and declare that the long-awaited Messiah has not yet come.  That may be their choice but it need not be yours or mine because we are free to be heretics who faithfully invite the Holy Spirit to liberate us from chains forged of our appetites for social approval.  It is by this appetite that Church leaders have enslaved us to conformity rather than trained us to be transformed by the power of Divine Love.  To be liberated from the mind-and-heart-enslaving chains of social approval, we need not flee along the Underground Railroad.  We escape to freedom within God’s kingdom by seeking first His/Her Presence within our hearts and allowing the Holy Spirit to add there all the love, grace, wisdom, courage and power that we ever need.

As God comes to reign within our hearts, perfect Love will cast out all fears.  As clouds of fear and doubt fade from our minds at the Sonrise of our renewed lives, we will see God’s nature with increasing clarity and never again wander into ditches under the Church’s fear-befuddled blindness.  Those who Jesus sets free are free indeed – free to live and move and have our being in the Holy One for Whom Jesus is Ambassador Supreme on Earth.  For believers in Jesus nothing else really matters.

Imagine the chagrin of Church leaders if they were to open the doors of their bogus churches and no one showed up because all their former sheep-like congregants heard and heeded the Holy Spirit’s voice within their hearts and no longer went astray.  Sheep who learn to hear and heed their Master Shepherd’s voice do not need compromising Church leaders to show them the Most Excellent Way Jesus reveals. They already know it by heart and remain faithfully within its gracefully disciplined and elegantly anointed pathway by using the GPS guidance of the Holy Spirit — the God-Positioning Spirit.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

Social Justice Impact of Idealizing the Nuclear Family

Many conservatives among Christians, including those grouped as fundamentalists but also many members of mainline churches, idealize the family structure of a married man and woman together with their one or more biological children as the optimum goal for families. This idealized configuration is called the “nuclear family.”  Some flexibility is allowed for adding non-biological children and perhaps even an occasional step-parent into the mix.  Typically little or no flexibility is allowed for parenting by same-sex couples or for recognition of single-parent families as potentially healthy models for raising children. As is typical of moralistically oriented believers in God, the top-down thought-structure of this ideal renders anything less than its attainment a failure to comply with God’s only ordained family lifestyle.  Those who fail to engage in child-rearing as continuously married, opposite-sex parents are second class citizens who deserve to be burdened by guilt and shame for their failure to “do family” God’s way.  Conformity to the “model” nuclear family many conservatives claim as their narrow definition of family is frequently at the heart of what conservative advocates mean by “family values.”

In the days when wealth was deemed proof of one’s worthiness in the eyes of God, poverty was a sign of sinfulness and disfavor with God – or at least a sign of second class citizenship and loss of voice and influence in the Church.  In modern times, participation in a man-woman nuclear family is similarly argued to be necessary to prove one’s worthiness in the eyes of God and to qualify to be empowered within the Church while participation in any other style of family is deemed a sign of disfavor with God, mostly likely associated with sin.  In Jesus’ days on earth, legalistic religious folks asked him if a man were blind on account of his sins or the sins of his parents on the assumption that sin had to be somewhere in the family tree to cause his blindness.  Today, legalistic believers now seem to ask if a child’s participation in a family structure other than a man-woman nuclear family is due to the child’s sins or the sins of the child’s parents.  The assumptions inherent in this question overshadow the child with dark implications of unworthiness and disfavor before God – either directly or by parental association.  Although the child has no choice in structuring the family in which he or she is raised, legalistic folks place false burdens of guilt and shame on the child on account of the family’s structure.  Where poverty once condemned children regardless of the fact that they did not determine their economic status today both poverty and family structure often cause a child to suffer from self-doubt and loss of social status regardless of the child’s lack of power to control either social factor.

Children raised in poverty and/or within non-nuclear family structures have an empowering opportunity just as the blind man had.  They can turn to Jesus to gain freedom from any blinding pain and distress caused by their society’s misrepresentations of God’s standards.  They can regain clarity of sight by learning to allow God’s grace to be proven to be sufficient just as the blind man proved it in Jesus’ day by accepting sight at Jesus’ hand.  So long as believers in Jesus continue to adhere to their myopic prejudice that gives higher social approval and value to families structured as a married pair of opposite-sex adults plus child(ren) they will remain at odds with God’s position on this matter and continue to mislead many others to believe as they do.  God’s position is based on grace, not upon any moralistic rules or rigid definitions about family structure.  If believers want to reflect God’s position on this issue and “do justice” towards children raised in non-nuclear families, we must “love mercy” beyond the law and “walk humbly with God” as if God knows better what our position on this issue – and our response towards members of these families – should be.   We distort and impair social justice so long as we allow any position other than God’s gracious one to prevail within the body of believers upon whom Jesus calls to comfort, heal and bless the children who come unto him.  We are precisely the ones Jesus expects to set the children free rather than burden their innocence with false guilt and shame on account of matters beyond their control.

James 1:27 reports that the “[r]eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  At the outset of the industrial age, as family units moved from rural settings, where extended families were normal, to take up residence in urban settings, many family units rapidly trimmed down to parents and children as older adults failed to survive the transition.  To make ends meet the parents in many families worked long and exhausting hours, sometimes even dying in their attempts to provide for their children. Children were also put to work.  This two-tiered, struggling family unit became the new ideal due to economic realities as interpreted by adults who proudly strove for independent self-reliance in cities where they often did not know who else to trust.  Success was defined as having struggled to achieve financial stability sufficient to support a nuclear family while not allowing anyone to play you for a fool.  The stresses of the identity crisis of the industrial age coupled with the assumption that independence was the touchstone of maturity as an adult drove a wedge between adult generations.  A similar wedge-mentality now justifies a belief among many youth and young adults that older adults are too “out of touch” with modern advancements to have much of practical value to offer to the young.  What some conservative Christians lament as the “breakdown of the nuclear family” began as a breakdown of the extended family and advanced into a breakdown throughout all strata of society.  Over the course of several generations, the cohesive village so needed by children vanished into a pile of disintegrated lives.

At the dawn of the industrial age it was deemed necessary to set aside the traditions of extended-family, village-like societies and adopt the nuclear family as a new-era practicality.  The tyranny of the old had to be thrown off just as the tyranny of King George had been thrown off.  Pioneers moving into the industrial age to settle it with a new population capable of surviving there had to leave old ways behind and fend for themselves in self-reliance as they fashioned a new set of values and priorities suited to the industrial age.  By institutionalizing the nuclear family as ideal, subsequent generations of settlers in the industrial age have kept pace with the demands of change that became even more accelerated under the influence of increasingly expanding technology.* Today the accelerating pace of this technological revolution is driving wedges between thinner and more fragile layers of society and splintering the whole into wafer-thin shards.

Along with the wafering of society came a decline in parental energy, focus and attention directed towards child-rearing.  When parents allowed conformist pressures of the marketplace economy to shape them into income-earners and product-consumers, the quality of life for all family members declined as media-driven standards of comfort and convenience became new social norms. The absence of extended family structures and “villages” to offer children alternative havens of physical safety, emotional comfort and exposure to elders’ wisdom has been an unrecognized source of harm one might call “passive neglect” of the best interests of the children.  Yet this neglect is hard to spot when it is the normal condition under which children grow up.  What is missing and forgotten for generations becomes invisible.  This invisibility is a form of blindness that Jesus would help us to overcome if we ask him to.  He will restore the sight of those who want to see what’s best for children.

On account of social wafering, emotional as well as social orphans and widows abound in modern society in various disguises.  Yet many who call themselves Christians fail to look after them in their distress and instead look down upon them to add to their distress.  Such so-called followers of Jesus fail to follow his example when to follow would conflict with their desire to ascend into and conform to the conveniences and cordiality of modern society’s more privileged ranks. Even the modestly privileged focus on advancing up the social ranks rather than follow Jesus into fields that are white with the harvest.  Of course, those who conform to the world rather than be transformed are reluctant to classify their conformity to convenient social norms as “being polluted by the world,” but that’s precisely what it is.  To focus on building, maintaining and providing for a nuclear family to be proud of on society’s terms too often leaves the orphans and widows unlooked after in their distress, feeling ashamed as second class citizens in both the world and within the body of believers.  Prideful glorification of the nuclear family and of so-called family values that idealize a narrowly defined family structure shortchanges Jesus’ ministry to all whom society (including many Christians) presumes to be unworthy of God’s grace and favor.

Social justice is the core of God’s outreach on Earth.  God would use believers in Jesus as restorers of justice – as ones who give sight to those who are blinded by the guilt and shame that society shifts to them to excuse its neglect.  There is no excuse for conforming to the values of the modern industrial-technological era in place of the values, priorities and perspective Jesus modeled while on Earth and calls us to honor even now.  Perhaps for a person who never heard of Jesus or, having heard, chose to ignore what he or she heard, there may be the excuse of ignorance.  But for those who claim to know and honor Jesus there is no excuse.  It is not enough to rely upon the grace of God and assume that Jesus will once again pray “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  It is time to stop relying upon God’s future forgiveness.  It is time instead to repent of our mistaken preference for worshipping socially approved pride in place of spiritually disciplined humility, accept forgiveness now and rise up to serve as the Father would have us serve.  As Jonah demonstrated, the forgiven make powerful messengers of God’s grace and forgiveness.

As he promised, Jesus has sent us the Spirit who leads us into all truth. The Holy Spirit exists.  Its holy function is to comfort us in our afflictions and lead us beyond them in service to others to whom God assigns us.  The afflictions of pride are multiple.  The afflictions of pride associated with idealizing the nuclear family are not our only afflictions but we need to be set them aside and overcome them for the sake of the orphans and widows who remain in distress until the people who call themselves followers of Jesus come to their aid. In God’s eyes, the race, religion, creed, ethnicity, economic class, educational status, gender or sexual orientation and historical background of the orphan or widow do not matter. How they may have become orphaned or widowed does not matter.  Jesus calls us to care for them in their distress until their distress is fully relieved and their vision of God as their loving Divine Parent is restored.  Jesus calls us not only to pray for them but to be his means for answering those prayers as we welcome them into his Kingdom.

If we have any style of family we take delight in, Jesus does not object so long our delight remains laced with gratitude to God and does not turn into pride and cause us to fail to invite others to participate within those experiences that delight us.  If our families are valuable to us and to God, sharing them with others who lack such family delights will relieve them of their lack-based distress and loneliness as social outcasts who are all too well-acquainted with grief.  To invite orphans and widows to be included in our family delights and to welcome all who co-create delightful families by any structure pleases the Divine Parent of us all. It matters not to God whether our family structure is traditionally rural, industrial or post-industrial or innovatively adaptive to prevailing social conditions.  It’s time to focus on pleasing the Head of the Family instead of making elaborate plans to please ourselves while we forget the orphans and widows routinely left out of our self-indulgent plans.  It’s time to suspend our habits of judging those who live within non-nuclear, non-traditional family structures, especially if they are reaching out to orphans and widows in distress more effectively than we are.  Until we’ve learned to reach out at least as effectively we may need to admit how much we have to learn from those we’d previously looked down upon and failed to welcome with humbly open arms and hearts.

* The potentially toxic bloom of technological algae has been labeled “high technology” but it remains to be seen by what measure it is deemed “high.” Perhaps the high is false.  If “high” refers primarily to the capacity of such technologies to produce higher outputs per units of input by humans at faster and faster rates in order to generate greater financial profits with declining payrolls and other benefits to human resources, it may not, in the long run, be directing humanity towards anything higher.  It may promote the worship of mammon.  As a reflection of the worship of the false idol of maximized profits, “high tech” may be leading humanity towards adopting lower and lower standards of character and conduct as “normal” while humans fail to learn to make wise decisions in nano-seconds.  Wisdom may take longer to process and adopt – perhaps the length of time that councils of elders used to take before deciding the fate of their communities.  Data-crunching computers may not be capable of discerning wisdom at any speed.  Like the Corvair, computers may turn out to be unsafe at any speed unless their friendly users are intentionally setting adequate time aside to commune with God at the speed of Stillness.  Stillness may be the escape velocity humans need to attain in order to escape the downward pull of ego’s brazenly self-congratulatory gravity.  Otherwise we risk remaining trapped in orbit around the ego while spinning evermore chaotically and oblivious to the more expansive and enriching possibilities that await us if we were to travel serenely inward to know ourselves as one with God and not as a separated, self-reliant, lonely egos at all.

© Art Nicol 2015