Tag Archives: Church

Out-Sourcing Our Responsibilities, Privileges and Power

When Paul wrote his letter preserved in the Bible as the book of Romans, the pattern of the world was in an early stage of the pattern typical of all addictive lifestyles.  The Roman Empire dominated his social environment with its militarily imposed solutions.  Merchants thrived only if they catered to the politicians of their day who controlled the military.  The common folk survived only if they submitted to the authority of the those higher up in the hierarchy of a class-conscious society.  That pattern of so-called civilization reflected the addictive qualities of lust for power and pleasure, greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, vanity and anger.  The seven “deadly symptoms of addiction” were at work in their early stages of destruction of humanity’s destiny.

Paul wrote then “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by a renewal of your mind.”  (Romans 12:2)  And he urged this wisdom upon his audience because that was the way to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  In short, the pattern of his cultural context failed to reflect the will of God as Jesus manifested it.  Paul saw the contrast between the Rome-dominated culture in which he lived and the way Jesus urges us to live.  Today the contrast has become many times starker because our current culture has advanced beyond an early stage of addictive living into a very advanced stage.  (All addictions are progressive diseases.  That is their primary pattern.  That is the kind of “progress” we’ve made over the centuries since Paul wrote his letter.)

Failing to heed Paul’s wisdom, we now stumble all over ourselves in relentless pursuit of universal irresponsibility as we head for the bottom like alcoholics, after spiraling downward over the centuries into a culture awash with addictions so blatant that we market many of them heedlessly as socially desirable qualities of life — while we bitterly complain about others as spouses of alcoholics complain about their spouses’ habits and try to control their addictions.  Even the institution that people set up to supposedly reveal the truth about God that Jesus’ life made known has succumbed to the temptations of the addictive lifestyle called “co-dependency” or “enabling” to become primarily a version of society’s social networking for fun, comfort, convenience and profit.  Maximizing social approval and amassing wealth and power through popularity has consumed our dignity as well as our integrity.  We’ve become more the bride of an addiction-addled Frankenstein than the Bride of Christ.

We who populate the Church that is based on the one foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord fail miserably to honor Jesus when social pressures to conform to the pattern of this world press hard upon us.  Like those in Paul’s day, we prefer to conform to get along rather than be transformed at the risk that we might no longer be welcomed to belong.  To belong within the profit-driven, convenience-supporting culture of our day tempts us too much.  We prefer to give lip-service to Jesus’ teachings rather than risk standing out as an expression of God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace wherever such love, mercy and grace is needed.  We avoid the social lepers of our day rather than walk among them to welcome them into the Kingdom of God’s grace.  And when we do invite them in, we mistakenly equate God’s righteousness with the prevailing norms of our society and help the outcast to conform as we have to the pattern of this world.  We have not allowed it to sink it that that conforming to the social norms is not a high ideal, clearly not an ideal worthy of calling it Jesus’ best to which he calls us.

Instead of following Jesus into the trenches to comfort, heal and bless those to whom he ministers, we out-source our responsibilities to others.  We set up and fund governmental and nonprofit agencies to care for the sick, the lame, the outcast and the socially undesirable rather than care for them ourselves directly within our lifestyles.  We insulate our lifestyles from such misery and prevent the flow of God’s healing power from reaching them as adequately as it reached the woman with an issue of blood who reached out to dare to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak.  We fail to walk among the disabled members of our society as Peter and John did so that we might meet them in the city gates and offer them Christ’s amazing power that Jesus generously makes available through us when we gather two or more in the name and nature of the Christ.

By out-sourcing our responsibilities as Jesus’ followers, we attempt to out-source our privileges and power too.  The power to heal does not flow when government officials and employees of nonprofits gather together as paid servants and pursuers of personal income, power and glory.  That is not the opportunity for which Jesus waits patiently to empower his followers.  He waits for his faithful followers to actively engage in ministry to the least of these for no purpose other than to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  God wants us to demonstrate His/Her divine nature as Jesus once did while walking on the Earth in the flesh.  All who place their faith in Jesus are welcome to model God’s divine power on Earth as it is in heaven.  Few bother to take up God’s offer to do so.  For that reason alone, many are those who fail to encounter God’s love and healing power today.  So long as we refuse to hold ourselves accountable to God for the use of our life, energy, time and resources, we are conforming to the pattern of this addiction-driven world.  And we are failing to live according to our privileges and power as we shirk our duties.

When Jesus lived on Earth, he walked in his power and privileges as an expression of the responsibilities God wants to take for His/Her creation.  Jesus honored all of humanity and all of Nature throughout his life because he knew his oneness with God, us and Nature.  We can do the same because he shows us how and expresses himself as the Christ through each of us who surrender our lives to that same purpose.  We cannot conform to this world’s patterns of hard-heartedness and still demonstrate the will of God to share Himself/Herself with all of us.  We must serve a risen savior who is in the world today.  As this hymn reminds us, we know he lives because he lives within our tender hearts: I Serve a Risen Savior.

To this mission of mercy and power we are all called.  Let’s band together to heed this call so radically that others will notice as we dare to be that nonconformist — even controversial among the members of the congregations who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord.  It is time to claim him as Lord, the one who rules our lives because we allow him to rule within our hearts and minds without holding anything of our lives back from his dominion.  Either a worldly realm or a heavenly realm holds sway in our lives.  As it has been said before, we cannot serve two masters.  Remaining divided in our allegiance will perpetuate our decline as addicts and co-dependents of addicts.   It matters not the details of the “type” of addictions to which we succumb.  The pattern of all is the same.  We must no longer conform to it if we are to serve according to our responsibilities, privileges and power.

© Art Nicol 2017

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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

Open Letter to Those Reaching Out to Outcast LGBTQ Youth and Young Adults

If you are reaching out to LGBTQ youth and young adults who feel unwelcome in their families, communities of faith, schools and other traditional social institutions, first let me say “Thank you” for your earnest effort to awaken dignity and self-respect in those harmed by the lies by which mainstream society surrounds them and inevitably fills them as these lies seep in to poison their hearts and minds. The harm is oftentimes mental and emotional before its toxicity builds up to the point of causing physical harm.   Self-destructive actions come along after self-destructive ideas about how life works take root and toxic emotions that naturally result from believing lies about being unworthy of dignity, respect and love color self-perceptions. Since self-rejection, self-hatred and self-punishment follows on the heels of social rejection, it is helpful to have society cease to reject and begin instead to wholeheartedly accept LGBTQ youth and young adults as welcome members of society. If given enough opportunity, self-acceptance, self-love and self-actualization will also follow from the healing power of social acceptance. But it is not enough to convert the shame of social rejection into the pride of social acceptance. Why? Because shame and pride are flipsides of the same coin by which an ego-based society enslaves us all. We need to do more than help LGBTQ youth and young adults to adopt the ego’s ways of being enslaved to social approval by pride and taken for the ego’s ride to a destiny unworthy of all human beings.  The ego’s way is not the solution. There is another resolution to the dilemma of being nonconforming or “different.”

Because a spiritually rooted and enriched life is the only true alternative to the ego’s seductive illusions, I especially want to thank those who are doing all they can to alert men and women who claim to speak for God to the harm caused by religious teachings that utterly denigrate the personhood and dignity of people with nonmainstream sexual and gender orientations.  As a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to challenge those who claim to honor Jesus to do much, much more than to stop spreading the lies that purport to condemn people of all ages who live with nonmainstream sexual and gender orientations to lives of guilt and shame and doom them forever to hell as unqualified to ever enter heaven.  To end systemic and individual bigotry is a worthy goal because once it’s achieved, we’ll stop harming our youth and young adults who dare to feel “different” and as part of their feeling different struggle secretly or openly with “different” sexual and gender orientations than the mainstream may admit to sharing.  But ceasing to do harm is not enough.  We must invest ourselves without reservation in undoing harm already done and in healing broken hearts much in the need of mending.  Only then will we face within ourselves the adverse effects of ego on and within all of us and evolve beyond ego’s limitations to embrace lives flowing freely with love’s most desired and treasured experiences.

Until their hearts are healed, those who have been wounded by lies and social rejection carry emotional pain and will continue to act out their pain in ways that socially conformist folks will condemn as “proof” of the wounded’s inherent unholiness.  Inner pain is often acted out in socially nonconformist (even rebellious) ways in the face of the conformity that has caused the pain.  (Such acting out is a way of saying, “No, you cannot do that to me anymore.”)  We must educate conformists (adherents to traditions) to be aware of how their unreasonable, fear-based demands for conformity are themselves a root cause of psychic pain and of the resulting harm that flows from believing oneself to be utterly unworthy of and unavailable to God’s love.  Lies confuse our minds.  Confusion = a form of psychic pain that couples with feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, powerlessness and resentment to imprison a person’s mind in a dilemma from which there appears to be no escape but death.  Death looks like the only relief after forms of temporary relief like drugs, alcohol, sex and other thrills and pleasure-triggering pursuits prove futile.

We must learn to say to inflexible traditionalists “If, in order to please God and experience Divine Love in abundance, I have to be 100% like you and not deviate in any way from the model of human life that you have adopted, then you are saying that God did not create diversity within the human race even though God created diversity among all other realms of Nature.”  Minerals, animals and vegetables embrace diversity without judging any aspect of diversity unworthy of belonging.  We must be willing to ask “What other expression of Nature polices its members to demand conformity and penalizes by rejection the minority who may not conform? Are not other species wise enough to accept nonconformity as a source of new-and-improved versions of the species that may prove to be more adaptive to changing conditions and capable of causing the species to survive those changes? Might demanding conformity and rejecting nonconformity doom the human race to extinction? Might a holy race include nonconformist expressions of holiness in all innocence as a way of ensuring that the race thrives beyond its currently limited vision for itself? Might God’s vision for the future of the human race encompass more than past traditions have embraced? Might future traditions embrace more of life, love, liberty and laughter because ancestral traditions learned to be more open to God’s creativity as a (re)new(ed) tradition?”

I’m not qualified to address how people of other religious flavors may view the socially marginalized (social “outcasts” or “rejects”), but I am qualified to speak to my brothers and sisters who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior, as their primary Teacher and Friend.  We who follow Jesus are called to go far beyond stopping the transmission of harmful lies.  Yes, we do need to stop spreading messages of condemnation in the name of the one who said to the adulteress “And neither do I condemn you.”  Her sanctimonious, self-righteous neighbors accused her of “sin” and then dropped their stones when Jesus reminded them to look into their own hearts at their hidden, unconfessed and unrepented shortcomings.  All “sin” means at its origin is “separation.”  Jesus came not to separate from but to reconcile us to the Creator of Us All who loves and favors each of us as the individual and collective apple of His/Her eye.

The shortcomings of followers of Jesus include not only 1) accusing others of different sexual and gender orientations of being lifelong, irredeemable sinners (forever “separatists” from God doomed to suffer throughout all Eternity) but also 2) failing to heal and comfort those who are condemned.  It is not enough to stop condemning.  Jesus is a healer.  His followers must take up healing as their primary avocation until the harm done by the Church (and others) is undone.  We must heed the call to be allied not against but alongside those whom less understanding members of society have rejected as unacceptable family members, friends, classmates, fellow worshippers , co-workers, etc.

As an example of the misguided conclusions researchers are coming to about how to respond to the harm such condemnation causes, I cite this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/lgbt-homeless-youth-survival-sex_n_6754248.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices.

As this article evidences, researchers tend to intellectualize their way through data to spot the harm (as if it needs to be proven, which it does only to those who otherwise restrict their lives to associating with other members of the privileged class and remain blind to the plight of the less privileged). But they know nothing of the response followers of Jesus are called to provide in response to such harm.  We are not called to study “the problem” in order to gain “insight into a little-understood world and demonstrate the need for more government-funded shelter beds and other resources focused on LGBTQ youth.”  Government is not the answer here anymore than government-run orphanages and foster care meet the needs of unwanted children and youth to be welcomed in homes where they are wanted.  Plenty of followers of Jesus have homes that have room to welcome unwanted youth to be included there as members of the family, as spiritually adopted children and siblings simply because they are already divine children of the Divinely Loving God Jesus called Abba.  We need not out-source the care of the unwanted youth and young adults to governments or any other resource beyond the Christian community itself.  We who claim to occupy the privileged status of having Jesus’ care and guidance must take into our hearts and homes those Jesus says he identifies with, whom the Bible says he called “the least of these.”

I urge you who advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and young adults not to settle for speaking to believers in Jesus as if the government is the resource Jesus calls upon to serve God in his name and nature.  Jesus calls upon his followers to serve according to his way, truth and life.  He says we will do what he did and greater things will we do.  He does not teach that his followers should badger politicians into spending taxpayers’ money to provide for the socially marginalized.  He calls for his followers to serve directly in accordance with the blessings that they have received, to dig into their own pockets as the Good Samaritan did to provide for the stranger found beaten and abandoned along the road.  Emotionally beaten and abandoned LGBTQ street kids (as well as LGBTQ youth elsewhere in society) need more followers of Jesus to heed their Lord’s commandment to love God and one another and to leave no one out of their circle of love.

Others may be free to insulate themselves from direct involvement in the lives of those whom the distorters of Jesus’ teachings have harmed.  We who live by the truth of Jesus’ teachings must step forward to demonstrate by the congruency of our words and deeds that the age of  hypocrisy is over and a new age of integrity has begun.

To those who advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and young adults and seek to serve their best interests, I say, “What you are doing is a much needed beginning to the age of integrity.  I encourage you to take it all the way and call upon followers of Jesus to confess their own shortcomings as followers, turn from their adherence to habits of falling short, take up their responsibilities and follow the One who sends the Holy Spirit to leads us into all truth.” And I repeat, the gratitude of all whom you serve and of the God of Love who watches over them goes with you always. May you be open to reaping as you sow from the One who sows generously within the hearts and lives of all who serve in the nature of truth and love!

© 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

Deliverance from Suffering Delivers Us from Sin – Jesus’ Vision of the Way – Part 1

Although the relationship between suffering and sin may seem obscure, it may be helpful to realize that the Church that has purported to represent Jesus has obscured rather than clarified this relationship. Charged with spreading Jesus’ teachings about the relationship between suffering and sin, the Church has, for over 2000 years, failed to preserve and present his message as he first delivered it.  Instead of preserving the heart of Jesus’ message, the Church became distracted in preserving itself against political forces that resisted Jesus’ message and persecuted those who believed it strongly enough to live according to it.  In its fight for self-preservation, the Church fell into the same fundamental error that Jesus’ message is intended to correct and from which Jesus still intends to deliver all of humanity, with uttermost commitment to the proposition that all people are cherished children of God and with undying determination that no child of God be left behind.

The human cure for suffering seemed just as self-evident to Jesus’ earliest followers as it seems today to his current ones.  Peter exemplified it when he denied Jesus three times while Jesus was standing up to persecution by political institutions and enduring suffering at their hands.  The cure for persecution and its consequential suffering, Peter’s example teaches, is to not follow Jesus “too” closely.  Instead find safety by wading along in the shallows and not venturing into deeper waters as a follower.  Compromise your devotion when threatening political forces challenge you. Instead of standing up to them cozy up to them as closely as you can so that you present no threat to their social privileges.  Stay along the shore in shallow waters where the social elite frolic. Don’t dare them to swim beyond their safe comfort zone of social approval to encounter God’s grace that dispels all fear only when fears are fairly faced.

To human beings accustomed to surviving amid competing social pressures, the end of suffering seems most readily achieved by associating favorably with the most powerful cause of suffering so as not to be the target of its persecution. According to that theory, the goal is to shift violence away from a favored person or group towards unfavored persons or groups. The “favored” person or group hopes to remain within the protective shield of the “friendly” source of violence – and not have violence directed his, her or their direction (e.g., avoid friendly fire or being an injured bystander or collateral damage) – and to be protected from any violence potentially directed towards him, her or them from any other source of violence.

To achieve this end, systems of attack and defense are established to keep ahead of competing systems of violence.  Arms races and armed conflicts are examples of this competition. Other examples include systems of law enforcement and prisons, gated communities and security systems in response to crime, well-guarded, rigorously restrictive national borders, rival gangs, family feuds and domestic violence orders of protection when they are applied to sustain victim-victimizer polarization rather than promote restoration of peace and health for all parties.  The slogan of all such systems is “Join ‘us’ and be safe from ‘them.’” The idea of rethinking these systems is itself controversial because any de-escalation or modification of such systems renews our fears of the “worst case scenario” imaginable.  There is no end to the degree to which we might be carried away by our fears into greater commitment to the perpetuation of pain and suffering.

In contrast, Jesus took and still takes the position that suffering’s end will come only when we change our structures of thought and our implementing institutions that cause and maintain suffering and embrace instead the divine alternative way of thinking and implementing that Jesus modeled. In Jesus’ vision of suffering’s end, tradition-bound human institutions that cause and maintain suffering and their ways of thinking must be replaced by freer, more spontaneously Spirit-guided dynamics that do not cause or maintain suffering and that, by necessity, are based on another way of thinking.  This position he espoused when he declared, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  His declaration translates today into “Think differently about how to end suffering because present even now are spiritually oriented social dynamics and a personal way of life that cause healing instead of suffering and restore and sustain our health as well.”  Jesus anticipated Einstein’s observation that a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which it was created.  He offered to show us how to access God’s thoughts, which are at a higher level than human thinking. There Divine Wisdom’s solution awaits.

By following Peter’s example instead of Jesus’ model, the Church learned to deny Jesus as Peter did to whatever extent necessary to avoid the persecution and suffering it had previously endured at the hands of political forces arrayed in opposition to God’s social alternative on earth.  Eventually the Church compromised with a Roman Emperor who supposedly embraced Christianity and made it the official state religion.  So as to remain the “official” religion of the Roman Empire and thereby placate and be cozy with the powers that once persecuted them, the Church knuckled under to the Emperor’s demands for conformity in the Church’s doctrines.  In what would prove to be a progressively more complete manner, the Church rendered unto Caesar not only what was Caesar’s but also what was God’s. Such is the progression of all forms of addiction and co-dependency.  The modern Church still suffers from this cowardly lapse into ill-health as it became the bride of Caesar instead of the Bride of Christ.  For centuries since its marriage to Caesar, the Church has sought for security through being a social insider rather than through being aware of God inside where Jesus said the Holy Spirit will access awareness of Truth’s courageous kingdom in our hearts.  Looking outward for its social cues from other social insiders, the Church maintains its marriage to socio-political institutions by collaborating with them much as an abused spouse collaborates with his or her partner because independence seems to come at too great a cost.

As a shrewd politician who knew that openly discussed and disputed differences in beliefs would undermine the value to his empire of Christianity’s system of beliefs, Emperor Constantine the Great demanded that the Church fathers clean up their act and stop tolerating controversy and diversity among themselves.  So as to line up his collaborators, subjects and slaves in unflagging allegiance rooted in their fear of suffering, the Emperor demanded conformity to his will from everyone who claimed to be his ally.  So, the Church fathers gathered at Nicea to find a way to provide it.  Eventually they found a way, a way akin more to Constantine’s politically motivated machinations than to Jesus’ spiritually motivated mission.  The key to avoiding persecution turned out to be for the Church to become an arm of the Emperor’s persecution and play the political game of eliminating all diversity of viewpoints.  In the process of purging diversity of beliefs, the Church fathers introduced the practice of justifying their persecution of those who disagreed with them by citing texts deemed sacred (known today as The Bible) as their “infallible” authority (while they, by no small coincidence, also simultaneously took up the twin role of defining which texts would be declared sacred and being the texts’ sole authorized interpreters).  In this manner, the Holy Spirit’s role as revealer of All Truth was subordinated to texts that supposedly already contained all the “truth” we’d ever need to know.

Thus began the Church’s devotion to its self-preservation as a political institution, its misuse of sacred texts to justify its actions and its sliding away from its devotion to preserving the message Jesus lived, died and rose again to spread to all corners of the earth.  To compromise this message of God’s eternal and unqualified grace as the true end to suffering eroded and eventually erased the message all together.  To temporize it destroyed the eternal nature of Jesus’ message.  To introduce favoritism based on political considerations undermined the unqualifiedly inclusive nature of the message.  In a stunningly short time it became only logical to adopt Constantine’s ways to enforce conformity within the Church: extermination of diversity of viewpoints as if penetrating contemplation, passionate conversation and patient consideration of what Jesus meant as he lived his life on earth were totally intolerable.  The hierarchical power structure of the Church came to emulate the top-down power structure of the Empire and other monarchies precisely because its aim and function were the same as that of other human institutions.  When self-preservation is the primary purpose of an organization’s life, it is only logical to develop structures that effectuate this purpose primarily.  A pyramid of loyal subordinates who are dependent on the leader’s power for their own self-preservation suits well the purpose of the leader to preserve himself in power – regardless of declining commitment to the organization’s initially stated mission to establish an alternative way of life awash with healing and health in place of suffering.

Once the primary purpose of the Church came to be its own self-preservation, the amassing of power to itself became a logical next step.  This step brought the Church into direct competition with other social institutions such as monarchies, merchants’ guilds and military engines that likewise were appropriating power, material resources and loyal adherents to themselves for self-preservation.  Power-hungry, politically savvy men (and less frequently women) gravitated to opportunities to amass personal power under the guise of aiding institutions in their struggle for power.  Political struggles and their corresponding manipulations of minds within and among these organizations inevitably became the main game. To accomplish their goals, monarchs, merchants, the military and missionaries joined forces in mutually supportive ways.  The Church’s claim to speak for God was one of its most useful contributions to empire-building by others.  Through fear of God, the Church recruited loyal followers and increased wealth to the service of the monarchs, merchants and military who in turn aided the Church’s rise to power. In addition, the Church pronounced divine justifications for God’s favor falling upon the Church’s allies instead of upon those who opposed the Church’s allies.  The Church’s rhetoric became increasingly and then unceasingly self-serving, inflicting suffering on those who opposed the Church in any sphere of life.

In tugs-of-war among power grabbers and megalomaniacs throughout history, even helpful human institutions suffered from abuse of their ideologies and rationales for existing.  Distortions of their purposes twisted them into convoluted structures and dynamics unrecognizable in comparison to their origins – converting them from helpfulness to harmfulness.  As a result, institutions of civilization of all types have risen and fallen because the sustainability of human institutions is based on honesty and integrity in remaining true to each institution’s purpose.  Wandering off target from the true purpose is called “hypocrisy.” It is a toxic condition that will not sustain life. No form of life that pretends to be something it is not can sustain itself.

Any form of life that fails to remain faithful to its true purpose inevitably disintegrates for lack of internal integrity as its immune system attacks the artificial aspects of its pretense and parasitic organisms convert it into their host for their contrary purposes. A self-deceiving life form topples as its infrastructures weaken. Its decay is the opposite of health. In the absence of continuously maintained healthy integration organized around its true purpose, an organism disintegrates and falls.  Splintering into pieces is one natural outcome of becoming excessively rigid while trying to maintain uprightness artificially and then falling down. Over the centuries, the Church, in the course of its cyclical decline, has splintered into many denominations large and small.  With few exceptions, most of these fragments of the professing followers of Jesus, in attempting to assert their independence from the declining Church, have taken on some form of political structure designed to promote the superiority of each splinter of a community that ironically purports to be one whole and indivisible body of believers in Jesus.

Splinters cause pain.  Shattering of communities into subparts that war against each other in their respective quests for members, wealth and power causes pain.  Instead of remaining true to Jesus as a Bringer of the Light of healing and the end of suffering, the Church in its many shards has become itself a source of pain and suffering.  In this manner, the Church has wandered progressively farther from Jesus’ unifying cry to all humanity, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  The Church no longer believes uncompromisingly in that cry or in the process Jesus introduced for implementing the Church’s divine charge to lead humanity into its unified destiny of oneness. Until the Church repents and believes again with a purity of faith in the mysteries of God and the Divine Wisdom of God’s Plan, both the Church and God’s Plan will continue to fail due to the Church’s noncooperation with the Plan.

God will not impose the realm of divinely inspired grace and love upon humankind against our will. We must choose freely to receive and enter into the experience of the realm of grace as an act of free will or we’ll not receive it at all.  By God’s choice to remain eternally faithful to humanity, divine grace continues to be available to individuals who single-mindedly determine to enter into the kingdom of God even in the face of the Church’s failure to carry forward with its divine charge to be God’s kingdom on earth.  The Church will repudiate these individuals as heretics until the Church learns to recognize them as the cutting edge appearance of the very mission that is its to carry out.  Such individuals are budding mystics (sometimes called Gnostics and heretics) whom the Church’s traditionalists scorn and reject because the traditionalists know not what they do. Today they crucify the mystics who dare to show up openly to fulfill the Spirit of the law and traditions just as the religious traditionalists of Jesus’ day on earth crucified him.

Meanwhile the dismembered Church will continue to teach and explain “about” Jesus through a variety of stories and doctrinal positions but it will not serve as his unified spokesperson on earth until its scattered elements, in concert, lean towards, listen to and loyally obey him as Lord.  The most the modern splintered Church is willing to do today is to acknowledge Jesus as the Church’s Savior when it inevitably fails to carry out its mission because it will not cooperate with Jesus as Lord (Chief Authority Figure of and within the Church).  To accept Jesus as Lord requires one to repudiate prevailing power Caesars (and their model of doing organizational business) and risk instead the persecutorial wrath of politicians near and far who serve and preserve the current empire as faithfully as one hopes to serve Jesus in the presentation of his divine message and mission.

A clash between the divisive faith agendas of political realms and the unifying faith agenda of God’s Plan to End the Suffering of All of Us is, by definition, unavoidable.  This clash of wills manifests in a variety of ways, chief among them being political persecution directed against any whose uncompromising commitment to God’s Plan remains unshakeable.  In the clash of commitments only a small minority of Jesus’ followers are willing to expose themselves to politicians’ lashings as Jesus did. The vast majority of his followers duck into the shadows as Peter ducked, compromising their personal allegiance to Jesus because it’s socially or politically rewarding to do so. So long as being popular or seeking votes matters, the likelihood is great that public displays of ugly ducking will continue to be more prevalent than courageous stands for justice on behalf of the least socially powerful, who are more popularly scapegoated as villains than cast as heroes and yet find an advocate in Jesus.

Another vital point to note is that serving Jesus does not require one to fight for his preservation.  He cannot die or otherwise be unpreserved.  By his very nature as an eternally alive child of God, he is already preserved by a Power greater than any power that might come against him to threaten his preservation.  That fact relieves his faithful followers of having to be concerned about protecting him. As he cowered in the courtyard during Jesus’ interrogation by the politicians of his day, perhaps Peter trembled in part because he felt powerless to protect one he loved as he loved Jesus. Perhaps he felt guilty and ashamed of his failure and was paralyzed with fear. Believing past stories of God’s wrathful relationship to humanity, Peter may have been confused about how he was to draw guidance from those stories to apply to Jesus’ strange manifestation of the promised Messiah.  Confusion is a form of pain that may have added to his paralysis and feelings of helplessness.

Perhaps it would have been helpful for Peter to know then what he learned later, namely that Jesus would overcome death and not be defeated by the worst that the politicians of his day could throw at him.  One can only imagine how it might have helped Peter to stand stronger had he known the outcome and realized how little Jesus needed Peter’s help to be preserved.  Perhaps then Peter might have been freer to consider how he might choose to relate to that mysterious new process of overcoming all fear that Jesus modeled. Had he known then what we know now, perhaps he too might have allowed Perfect Love to cast out all fear and stood alongside Jesus even in the hour of his appearing to be powerless.  Jesus tells us that when two or more gather in his name (and nature of the Christ), there is greater power than when one stands in his or her divine nature alone. Today we who believe in Jesus with all of our hearts, minds, wills and spirits are called to stand together to invoke the Divine Power of our gathering and allow God to manifest in all His/Her grace and glory as Love for all.

Today we know what Peter did not know.  Yet we who purport to follow Jesus while living comfortably as privileged members of society continue to cower in the face of suffering as if its power were greater than the power of the Father manifest through our Lord and Savior.  Like the rich young ruler who was dismayed by Jesus’ instructions to sell all he owned, give the sale proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus, we are dismayed by the prospect of no longer focusing our energies on self-preservation (or only on the preservation of our personal loved ones) and instead surrendering our wealth and welfare into the hands of God as Jesus modeled – for the benefit of all of God’s loved ones as God determines is best.  Understandably, we cower at the prospect of trusting God so utterly while yet continuing to witness the failure of any other approach to ending the world’s suffering.

Many are scared to follow Jesus as radically as he requires because they fear losing their current lifestyles and being ridiculed for being so overly idealistic.  They interpret ridicule and loss of social status and comfortable lifestyles as shame, a “sacrifice of pride” rather than seeing this “loss of pride” as a sign of humility gained to empower sacred lifestyles rooted in ancient wisdom.  God calls us not to be a sacrifice but instead to be a sacrament, not to martyrdom but to mastery of the art of thriving fully beyond the ego’s stifling criteria of shame and pride.  We need to lay down our former ego-based lifestyles for Jesus as our friend and Master in order to receive life back again with humility and God-defined purpose, far more empowered to enjoy life fully than we’d ever be in any other way.  We need to trust Jesus to be our Lord and Servant too.  We need to turn the world on its head as Jesus did to become aware that God’s call to service is supported by God’s promise to serve us as we serve others in God’s name and nature.  We don’t need “more faith” in God. Rather we need to know God more accurately as the egoless God who serves us as His/Her servant-children, not as a false, ego-bound God who expects our all from us without giving God’s all in return. The truth is that as we give our 100% to serve God’s purpose and Plan, God gives His/Her 100% back to us to the full extent that we expand our capacities to receive all He/She gives.  Surely this is an exchange that promises substantial benefits, many of which cannot be accurately foreseen and simply must be expected and accepted by faith.  It is not impractical to follow Jesus radically – from the very root and core of our beings where the Christ Light shines – but it does feel scary.

© Art Nicol 2013