Right Resolve. Not Just Resolution

Heart by hands in the sunAs I am writing this, It is New Year’s Day of 2018. People love to make resolutions with some of theme having a permanent effect.  Honestly, some of them can be superficial or easy.  They say “I have a resolution to change”.  Resolution means one has resolve to follow through if one takes the wording correctly. 

But people can lose the emotional fuzz and let go.  In fact, give the person enough time and they will forget they made it. 

But conversion is a different thing.  There is an indelible mark on the person’s soul and their biography is not the same.  The story of their life has a reference point for context. 

There are some dramatic conversions that can change someone’s story.  Governor George Wallace was a racist, pro-segregation governor who changed his mind and heart and apologized.  There was one man who was party to religious persecution and the death of at least one good person who changed and became the Apostle Paul.  I knew someone who was a Neo-Nazi, violent meth dealer who came to fulness of life as a Christian minister.  By the time I knew him he was a soft-hearted man serving the mentally ill and addicted with tact and wisdom.  There is a line of before and after in an encounter with divine love.  True Love is a person who loves us as we are but too much to stay the way we are. 

This is why in a way we who call ourselves by the Christian name should always be converting.  Constant conversion speaks to constant grace that stirs us on to our calling.  Jesus said,  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  And this is not impossible to attain at temporary, precious moments to be savored just as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  Standing by grace is good but walking continually in grace is the gospel taking on flesh in our lives. 

I can testify that I became a Christian at a young age but I am having a conversion season right now and it is not the first time.  Below is my history.

1:  A rainy day in Newport, Oregon my cousin explained the gospel and led me in the “Sinner’s Prayer” of the Protestant tradition.  I accepted Jesus in my heart and meandered clumsily through the Bible for the next few years. 

2:  At 14 I met a friend who took me to my first regular church (I was not raised by Christians) and got more grounded on the fulness of Jesus and the Bible. 

3:  At 18 I was stressed with a lot of self-confidence issues, struggling with learning disabilities and discord with my parents when a spiritual older man came into my life with some light and some mixed bag insights.  Some conversions can be a mixed bag but God allows it so we can know more about what the pure is when we get our feet back under us.  When it was good, it was good.  But when it was toxic…Jesus gets very blurry when a pseudo-savior gets in the mix. Long story, ugly story. 

4: At 27 I got my feet back under me.  I went back to a well rounded church on a day they were singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”.  My wife at the time was leaving me for another man.  Our children  were 5, 3 and under 1.  I used only a Bible for a year with few commentaries so that I would be re-grounded with the simple Jesus Christ. 

5:  By 35, life as a non-custodial father was hard and unfair.  Bitterness and entitlement over time had set in.  Through a combination of events and also brothers and sisters in Christ that served me “black coffee with no cream or sugar”.  I really let go of my entitlement. And then I got married to my best friend at 36.  Sigh.  The end.  Or so I thought. 

6: By 42, life was sort of looking good outwardly.  I had finally got my bachelors degree.  My wife and I had two beautiful children together.  We had moved from cloudy Oregon to sunny Arizona.  What could I want spiritually when we were also going to a good, local church with a very committed pastor?

But by then, skepticism had been setting in which is good if you distinguish it from cynicism. Below are some questions that had been on my mind for a few years.  

Up on the stage, there should be some focal, physical point of worship to God that is not some fallible human being.  Why has this not been figured out?

Christianity was so divided with so many voices and divided interpretations of the Bible.  There should be some environmental thing or something by which the Body of Christ can be united.  Why not?

I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer for some reason very often the last two months.  Why do I not see something authoritative that I can recognize? 

Jesus had the answer for all of that.  The answers begin with him and end with him.  After months of prayer, study of the Bible and viewing history I realized the reference point was the Catholic Church.  I “came out of the closet” to my wife that I was being drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Catholic Church.  She was not thrilled but I knew, ironically in the words of Martin Luther “Here I stand I can do no other” and was received in 2013.  She was received in 2014. These recent years have been my most grace and joy filled years as a Christian I have ever had.  

  But I am still converting.  I have discovered the beauty in the Catholic Church with approved ecclesial communities that have respective concentrations on some parts of the kingdom, include intensive Bible study and intentional fellowship.  My wife and I recently discerned out of one and I am investigating another. God’s grace sustains me. 

There is a phrase from Buddhists I like that is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  There is applicable truth from that in how God is living and active with the gift of mystery to our “figure-it-out” tendencies.   

So with that here are my impressions. 

1: Christianity at its core is not as much on the small details one knows but who you know.  And the Who is the central person by whom one is truly known.   

2:  Jesus is The Way.  But Jesus allows in our lives persons and faith communities by which one finds a way that reflects part of the Way.  This is why I still cherish the Protestant pastors and friends that instilled in me much of my understanding of Jesus. 

3:  God is practical.  He took on flesh and bone in Jesus.  Talking up in the clouds gets old and it should. Likewise on click, inside track Christian- see.  Speak plainly when possible. 

4:  Take the Bible thankfully but not literally.  Sounds blasphemous?  Should I take the library literally? Depends on the genre. 

5: Thomas Jefferson said ”Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question even God.  For if there be a God, he must want honest questioning rather than blindfolded fear.” We are invited by Jesus to ask the touch questions.  And so, dear reader, come to Jesus and bring your honest questions with you.  Jesus can take it and any movement connected to him can take it too.      

So, there your have it.  It is not the end for me.  It is a process by which faith and reason work together.  

—— The Ongoing.

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Totally Religious But Skeptical

Be Bold Challenge With Lion Face

There is a fine point between cynicism and skepticism.  It is like fine point between going forward in a faith community with an engaged mind with critical thinking like the Drive gear and being too passive with ones mind on Neutral.  Neutral could mean that even a weak thing can push me around.  God, who is good, does not mind honest questions.  Thomas Jefferson addressed this saying, “Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question with boldness even the existence of God.  For if there is a God, he must want honest questions rather than blindfolded fear”.

True spiritual seeking is not an objective experience. It is fully informed Christian is engaging all of the person.  If someone sells you Christianity allows no questioning, run!

There once was a man who grew up in a spiritual community that did not allow members to even read materials critical of their faith.  He started seeing holes in their doctrine and their history not adding up so he confided to someone to listen to his many struggles in faith.  Days later he was disfellowshipped and no one could speak to him. Supposedly, “blind folded fear” would be better with a focus on that group alone.

Below we see Jesus having a healthy attitude to skepticism and expanding the conversation to how “God so loved the world……” (John 3:16).  Too often those on spiritual journeys overlook the value of questions though Jesus does not.

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51).

Phillip was dedicated to Jesus by the time he approaches Nathaniel.  When he approaches him he communicates on what they knew were their signs of hope in what Moses and the prophets said.  He uses a common faith related shorthand to communicate the historical context and momentum that is realized in Jesus.  This is an informed faith and culture perspective.

But Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  He hears the deposit of faith context, yet the name of a backwater town seems too simple for any far reaching consequence.  He was likely a spiritual seeker to begin with or Philip would not have approached him right away.  His emphasis was on how God would bring out greatness from what is already impressive in the Old Testament history.

But my above statement rings true in how there can be subjectivity, a bias, that the seeker brings in applying the critical mind to a spiritual picture.  But the beauty of the pattern of Jesus is he dwelled among us.  He had a footprint without a flashiness or faith would be too easy.  When faith comes too easy it leaves easy.

This is why skepticism is valuable.  Skepticism is a way to look at the merits of something with honest questions.  For example, Mary asked Gabriel how she could be pregnant since “I know not a man”?  She was not punished for it since she was staying in touch with that which was revealed truth up to that point.  Skepticism is healthy because it protects the good.

Using skepticism is also good for one obtaining a personal ownership on the matter. An example is of two personality types in a cancer study.  They examined two personality types of men in their mid-fifties with the same cancer.  One was skeptical and wanted to know all of the process.  The other was passive with whatever the authority says.  Of the two, the passive had lower survival rates. Likewise too much passivity in the spiritual life with ones reason leads to spiritual death.  There, ownership saves.

Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him—- This is a turning point.  Jesus respect Nathanael’s response even in his error.  A true Israelite would highlights of salvation history engrained and Nazareth was not in one of them.  Though there is presumption or conjecture in Nathanael’s doubt there is a single-mindedness on the God of his understanding having continuity with earlier works.  Jesus sees him as a glass half full and is able to work with him. Jesus is open here to the hard questions of honest inquiry and compliments Nathaniel for that. For a future apostle who would pass on the faith, he sets the table for a refined balance of faith and reason.  “To believe is nothing other than to think with assent… Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe… If faith does not think, it is nothing” (Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 2, 5: PL 44, 963).

You will see greater things than this—- Jesus honors the tenacity of Nathaniel.  In that, Jesus explains how and why his supernatural knowledge of the spiritual and physical location of Nathanael is a fragment for kingdom perspective.  By speaking of angels Jesus makes reference to something even larger than Israel since being the “King of Israel” is not the limit for Jesus because he was also the king of spiritual Israel to come.  This reference of angels ascending and descending goes to a transcendent nature of God’s kingdom.  Jesus makes a  vague reference to the life of Jacob that points to both that and how even more expansive the grace of God will be shown.

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Genesis 28: 12-14).

Jesus relates to Nathanael in the Old Testament reference, knowing his bias, and emphasizes how individual journeys have meaning partly in God’s grace to everyone and, sometimes, through humble beginnings.  Personal conversions should add up to God’s agenda for the world that engages God’s grace to humanity.

Philip was only extending the invitation of Jesus.  Jesus promised in the context of making disciples and baptizing them in the Trinitarian formula (Matthew 28:20) that he would be with us to the end of the age.  How deeply he will do that is up to us, as we ask honest questions but open to the fullness of Jesus.