Tag Archives: seeker

The God Box ~ Part the Sixth (and Last)

So, now we have reached the turning point. The end of one journey, and the beginning of the forever journey. The day I threw all the boxes away.

It was while I was active in the Adventist Church that I began to further widen my reading base. I have to admit, there were some authors I avoided because they were caustic, and adversarial, without clear, and logical arguments supporting their assertions. Calling me an idiot for my beliefs will get you nowhere. Telling me why you don’t believe might get my attention. I explored those who believed differently, or not at all. I read their bibliographies, and thought about the reasons they chose the paths they did. I had developed, at least in my opinion, the spiritual maturity to determine if the steam held any substance for my own journey.

I also discovered that the writings of other faiths, and devotional paths, had much to say about the same topics with which Christians wrestled. Some arrived at similar conclusions, even if the source of focus, or worship, was different. The similarities were eye-opening. So much argument, even hatred in the world, when there were so many fundamental points that we all agreed on.

How humans define something they call God has a great deal to do with culture. In the West, where individuality is the purported standard, we tend to find comfort in a God (or Goddess) that is much like ourselves. In the East, deity is represented with interpretive natural forces, animals with specific powers, creatures molded from the attributes of animals, and symbols familiar to the culture. But I still saw a box: a box of human perception. Allegory may be well and good, and it does help us build on what knowledge we possess, but it is still allegory. It is only representative of the real thing.

If I wanted to ever have a sense of the real thing, then maybe all the boxes had to go. How else could I find a way to separate the metaphor from the object defined?

Then something magical happened. I met a man who took my amateur interest in science to a new level. With a background in philosophy, mathematics, medical sciences, and physics, he gave me the key to my own, special space. With his mentorship, I was able to understand, at least at a layman’s level, some of the magic of the universe. I learned how stars were formed, how galaxies worked, how the smallest bits of carbon-based life worked. I found quantum physics, and I grew in wonder.

I have always held that it is not necessary for a Creator to hang around to guide every atom of the universe through its life cycle. A really great Creator would set the whole thing in motion and, with a few simple rules, let it all find its highest, and best purpose. This was a God that needed no box, could not be contained in any one universe, and did not pursue His/Her/Its creation with a petty and unrelenting vengeance.

This was a God I could worship.

I have continued on this journey, this quest to find my place in a beautiful, sometimes violent, sometimes gentle, but always passionate universe. I never cease to find wonder. Wherever there is destruction, new life emerges. Wherever there is an end, a new beginning springs forth. It is a universe that is forever redefining and re-applying the most simple, most basic rules.

I had no wish to walk away from my faith because so much simply made no sense. Nor was I willing to bend scripture into some complex origami project to make it all work. I don’t want a God stuffed into a box. A being that thinks, and acts like the humans around me. What sort of God would that be?

I spent my whole life looking for a bigger box. Then, I realized, I could throw them all away.

Did I give up on prayer? No. What I found was that prayer became a conversation between myself, and something much greater than me. Prayer isn’t a Christmas list, or a gripe session. I do not mean that prayer is cosmic chitchat. There were times when I felt that everything in me would break if I could not find an answer. But when prayer becomes an ongoing conversation, it’s like walking through the day-to-day with an old, and familiar friend. You tend to be a bit more honest, even with yourself. And sometimes, once you are at peace enough to see all of the pieces, and not just the ones you want to see, the answer does become clear. It may not be what you wanted, but you come to understand why a certain path is the right way to go. Is that guidance? I believe it is.

Such a path has also taught me more patience. It’s not always evident, I’m sure, but more than once, when I was unduly held up, took a wrong turn, or couldn’t find what I was looking for, some instance presented itself that told me I needed to be where I was, when I was there. It might be meeting someone I would have missed. It might be avoiding some catastrophe, such as a major accident. It isn’t because I’m special, or particularly blessed. It’s because I have learned to listen to the still, small voice, at least most of the time—especially when it nags. It means I have learned to be open to possibilities. We find the most fulfillment when we work within the rules of the universe that is our home.

The point is that the creation we call the universe does have a course. I don’t think it wants a plan. I think the simple rules on which this creation is built provide it with all the variety it needs or requires. I feel we can find our space within it if we choose to.

Want to solve world hunger? Get up off your knees, and feed the hungry. Want to solve the problems of the incarcerated? Find out why, or what happened, and actively pursue preventative, and restorative plans. Want to end hatred? Start in yourself. Put aside the fear, and learn to know, and respect others. Will we eliminate hatred, wars, abuse? Probably not. That, however, is not an excuse. We are each responsible for what we contribute to the world, not what someone else takes from it.

It’s a very big universe out there, and Whoever, or Whatever, started it all is neither small nor petty. Sometimes boxes are comfortable and they help us grow in relative safety. There comes a time, for some, when the boxes must be thrown away.

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The rest of the story:

The God Box ~Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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The saga continues. While living in southern California, I was introduced into another evangelical congregation. I name this church organization because I still admire much about it. After cautiously investigating the core beliefs, I determined to learn more. Eventually, I became a functioning member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They should not be confused with Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their fundamental beliefs are very similar to mainstream Pentecostal beliefs, though there are differences. They do believe that the rules still apply, and that when God says keep the Sabbath, He means keep it. You know, just like you aren’t supposed to steal and covet and murder and such.

Adventists love to study. They have the second largest educational system in the world, and their students consistently score higher than the average population. They are also religiously zealous about health, both in the area of medical research, and in strict adherence to dietary laws. Some members are vegetarian, some not, but all follow some form of Biblically supported diet. Anywhere in the world they go, they first build a clinic, and a school. They have one of the largest disaster relief organizations in the world. First, they meet the basic needs of the people, then they build the church. This was an approach that resonated with me.

I grew comfortable enough that I became a speaker in the organization, and was sought after as a teacher in adult classes. I enjoyed my relationship with a group of honest, still-seeking individuals. Even those who were absolutely sold on one aspect of their faith or another. I still find it amusing that many pages of thought-provoking text were written on such topics as whether or not fermented wine was used in, say, the Song of Solomon. As much as I loved these people, I could not imagine the poet expressing a thought like, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than [grape juice].”

This organization also has a wide base of scientifically-astute people. Research in the medical field is something that a number of people are aware of (such as Loma Linda University), but there are those in other scientific areas, as well. It was through an Adventist minister that I met my late husband, who was a brilliant research scientist. These people take learning and exploration seriously. There was only this one little problem: there was still an element of control.

Some members buried themselves in church-affiliated reading material. They had little time for anything else. As in all organizations, there was an underlying “them and us” attitude. It never affected the hand outreached to teach or to heal, but there was still this need to belong to something with homogeneity.

I was, again, baptized. (By now I was beginning to feel like an Easter egg). In this instance, the pastor was very clear to the witnesses that this was a reaffirmation, a sign of commitment, and support for my then spouse. He was being baptized for the first time that day. I thought the pastor did a lovely job of clarifying the issue. Before we left the building one of our friends approached me and welcomed me “into the family.” But I thought I was a member of the family. I was speaking from the pulpit, teaching adult classes in biblical studies and aspects of theology and philosophy. Why did I need a bath to join “the family?”

Trapped in another box. A nice box with quite a bit of room, but a box nonetheless. I was still constricted by what others felt was, or was not, good and right. It was respectable to explore the universe, but one had boundaries. Predefined roles, if you will. We were still a group of bungling Homo sapiens writing a script for a sovereign deity that could create universes.

It was a cushy box, but it had to go.

One more installment, folks!

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the Fourth

I was getting far more serious in my search for a shape to my faith. As part of my degree, I attended a few introductory classes in Old and New Testament studies. These classes were designed, and taught, within the evangelical theological structure. I found the material interesting, but much of it was no deeper than many Sunday School lesson plans. What I did find was an aroused interest in digging further. Was learning my true faith?

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Initially, my quest for a congregation of seekers led me to a small, non-affiliated church in the upper desert of California. The study groups were attended by serious explorers, and questions were not viewed as doubt. The pastor was a man who taught rather than preached. It was a refreshing experience.

It was the kind of church that knew it did not have all the answers, and the members felt seeking was an act of worship. When I approached the pastor with a conflict between my own convictions and the lesson assigned to my 6th grade Sunday School class, he was understanding. He gave me the freedom to arrive at a focus point that expressed the desired theme, but did not force me into a personal conflict. The instance that started this arrangement occurred one spring when I realized I was teaching the story of Easter a full month before Passover.

Most Christian churches never visit the disconnect between Easter and Passover, partly because there is shamefully little attention paid to the underlying history of our celebrations. Once a holiday becomes Christian, it always has been from the beginning of time. Easter is a good example. I go into detail here because it is symptomatic of the attitudes that drove me from institutional religion.

The “delivered word” is that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But it’s not. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is a holiday derived from ancient, spring fertility rites. The symbolism is still there. Easter bunnies, because they go forth and multiply, eggs as the symbol of birth, and feasts with all kinds of spring bounty. Even ham. Have you ever wondered how ham came to be served on a holiday celebrating the resurrection of the Lamb of God? A man who considered pigs unclean animals?

In contrast, we have the celebration of Passover. An observance that celebrates the release from captivity, and a reminder of the mighty power of God. If we are, indeed, celebrating the resurrection of the ultimate sacrifice—God’s Passover Lamb—well, shouldn’t that occur on the third day after the crucifixion? Shouldn’t the two observances at least superficially relate to each other?

I was not prepared to teach a fertility rite of spring. I wished to focus on the celebration of the central theme of Christianity: the risen Lamb of God. My understanding pastor told me to teach it as I saw it. Even with all the Easter festivities going on throughout the church, he freed me to find a path to the message I wanted to give.

I was again lulled into a comfortable box that allowed me some latitude for my need to study and learn. It gave me a forum to share my faith as a teacher. There were Bible studies where I could express my thoughts and not feel out of place. But as the church grew, things changed, and the nature of the communion I enjoyed with that church changed with it. By that time, though, I had already begun to make the connections that led me to my next spiritual encounter.

This series began a bit ago, so here are links to the other articles.

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the Second

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Picking up where we left off, why was it so hard for me to follow the “delivered word?” Peer pressure was not part of my lexicon, and rebellion was not part of my thought process. Due to the circumstances of my childhood I was a loner, and I did not engage with people my own age. I was an observer, a patient planner towards the day I would be on my own. Somehow I was able to hide from the deeper impact of childhood abuse. Certainly, once I was grown up, I would be able to avoid these sorts of things. I just had to wait it out. That thought process was part of what made me question the theology I was being taught.

The problem began with the God of Job. Or, perhaps, the popular interpretation of Job. In the book of Job we see a man that God himself declares righteous, and without fault. Then all hell rains down on the man, and his so-called friends spend the majority of the book trying to discover what horrible sin he committed in deed or in thought. Toward the end, God steps in and tells them they are full of hot air. The debate about the real meaning of the text has gone on for centuries, but the vast majority of interpretations lean toward figuring out what evil thing Job did, what higher level of spirituality he obtained, or what lesson God was trying to teach him. My problem was that God said Job was righteous. There was nothing to “punish.”

Something simply did not add up.

If I were to take church doctrine at face value, God was something like a Santa Claus, watching my every thought. If I was a very good girl, good things would happen. If I was a bad girl, God would punish me. The trick, though, was that I might not always know what I had done that was bad. Just like Job, I felt there was something really important being left out of the debate. Was I being punished for something I didn’t know I had done wrong?

That didn’t make sense. God had time to watch my every thought? A personal God is one thing, but one that follows you around and pokes you for every wrong—real or perceived, acknowledged or unknown—seems to be a tragic waste of creative power. If we are supposed to receive undeserved grace, then how could my being good influence the outcome one way or the other? Wouldn’t that be a reward system? Ask these questions of a church leader and they would smile, with a knowing look, and tell you that you just don’t understand.

Yes! I get that. So, please, explain it to me.

Silence.

Was it valid to pray for success? Perfect health? Or, say, healing when you refused to give up what was making you sick? Was is fair to accuse a dying patient of not praying hard enough? After all, “God wants to heal you.” Then bring it on, brother! Let’s get the show on the road! Was I subjected to years of mind twisting childhood abuse because I didn’t pray enough? Does an entire state or country deserve to suffer massive devastation because of the perceived infractions of a few? Is it fair or right that some people could tell lies in the presence of those who knew they were lying, and still be allowed to bear witness against another person?

Try as I might, I could not worship a sovereign that plagued His creation with constant earned, and unearned trials, and tribulations. Try the same program on a human teenager (or anyone except a fanatic) and watch the results. It just doesn’t fit with human nature. If a Sovereign Creator should know anything, it should be the nature of His created beings.

I had no choice. Even freed from a specific church body, the theology just did not fit. This God Box had to go.

Part the first can be found here.
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the First

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Have you ever received a present that was wrapped up in ever larger boxes? Each time you unwrapped a box there was a smaller box inside until you finally reached the tiny, probably very precious, or very expensive, gift in the middle? That is how my spiritual journey unfolded. My perception of what God should be was the tiny, precious gift I thought lived in the smallest box. I struggled to set Him free, especially from the institutional constraints imposed on Him. It took me a long time to learn that the best box is no box at all.

I was raised in two opposite, and sometimes conflicting worlds. In one world, my family attended an evangelical church three times a week. The denomination was hierarchical, and authority rested with the church leaders. They were supposed to know how to interpret scripture as it applied to every facet of our lives. I attended the church school for a few years and became further indoctrinated into the “delivered word.” This was the church of my father’s youth.

In the other world, my mother taught me to read at an early age. My questions were answered with, “Go look it up.” “Think about it.” “Learn what we know for sure and why.” “Know when opinion is appropriate and useful.” My mother was a saboteur of religious conformity if ever there was one. She had been raised in an entirely different atmosphere than my father was.

I didn’t bother myself too much with the contradictions between what I was taught in church and what was evident to me in my own world. I believed these older, wiser people knew something I did not, and that I must read more; think more. By my mid-teens, all that reading and thinking began to make a substantial impact. In my world, those adults lost their firm grip on the “delivered word.”

At the age of 16, as a voting member of the congregation, I formally resigned from the church. The move was initiated by a squabble over the alleged behavior of our pastor. To this day, I have no idea what was true and what was not. What bothered me was that much of what was said about the man from behind the pulpit of our church was pure fabrication. I knew the sons and daughters of these leaders, and I knew what was going on in their homes. Throughout the debacle I would often watch the sons of these so-called leaders break down in tears and leave the sanctuary. How dare these so-called leaders use the pulpit to create the illusion of holiness, on a foundation of lies, while they massacred the reputation of another person?

My two-page resignation letter stated that I did not believe I knew it all, and that I was painfully aware of how much I still had to learn. I had, however, lost faith in the leadership of that church to show me the way. It was a letter that gained infamy. When my parents asked the new pastor for advice regarding a trip I wanted to take a few years later, the letter was used to defame me. Both of my parents rejected the assault on my morals, and ethics, and told me to do what I felt was right for me.

There was no going back after that. I was off on an adventure that would lead me through several Christian denominations in search of those who, like me, were less certain of the details but still firmly rooted in their faith.

Throughout my journey I have never lost faith. Faith is a quiet, warm campfire deep in my soul that lights the night around me, and occasionally retreats into glowing embers so I can see the brilliance of the night sky above. It has been my guide, my own personal Philosopher’s Stone.

Although blatant hypocrisy played a role in my initial decision to become a seeker, it was not the driving force. For me, the number-one problem with the faith of my youth was that God, as described within that faith, did not fit with my perception of the universe around me. In my opinion, the God of that faith was little more than a cosmic Santa Claus.

Join me, over the next few weeks, as I take you on my journey. It is a journey that may resemble yours, or maybe not. It is, however, a journey that might give you thought. At least I sincerely hope so. Just what kind of God do you believe in?

The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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30 Cubed – The Second Born

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Dakrri stirred in his woolen cocoon. The early morning mist still covered the valley of their camp and the day was barely a whisper in the east. He knew his day would be well started before the sun kissed the mountain tops. Much depended on the choices made in the first few hours of this first full day on their journey.

Crawling out from his warm bed, he stood to begin the process of stowing his bed roll and finding the morning’s small portions and feed his two yaks. Soon, in the pre-dawn light, they would start the fire they had laid the night before and prepare their early breakfast. When ready to travel, lots would be drawn to determine which path each of the seven seekers would take.

Dakrri was not on this mountain top to seek the wisdom of the ancients. To him all paths led back to his village as quickly as he could manage. It was tradition that the second son of the bese’ commit to the life of a seeker while his elder brother was trained to become the next leader. Dakrri’s brother, however, was no leader. To protect his village he felt he must return before tragedy struck. To make matters worse, the young girl that had captured his heart had been given to his brother to avoid a possible conflict in leadership. A year had passed and there was no sign of an heir. No longer able to put off this journey, Dakrri had become one of the seven. Returning from the mountain safe and sane could be a sign to the village that he was the rightful leader. As he thought on these things and his plans for the day he was startled by a shout from a copse of stunted pines at the edge of the clearing.

“She is gone! She, her animals and all her supplies, they are gone!”

Dolma, the only woman in the group, had sought privacy from the rest by taking her bedroll and yaks into the pines. Tired from the day’s journey, and knowing that she, as they, had been well trained in the ways of the mountain wilderness, no one had questioned her move. Now, in the pre-dawn hours, Isho had found her missing.

Dakrri had no idea why Isho would have ventured to visit Dolma’s campsite and suspicion began to fill his mind. Dolma was the sister of the woman he had loved since childhood. He knew her quite well and Isho never was and never would be a person she would take into confidence. What had possessed him to attempt to enter her camp uninvited?

He knew Dolma had her own agenda. They had spoken of it often. It is most likely that she chose to avoid the morning rituals because she knew where she wanted to go and no lot would change her mind. Her disappearance may have troubled him, but not deterred him from his own goals, but now he was concerned about Isho’s agenda. This early morning visit could not have been one of goodwill and it was only the shock and surprise of finding her gone that had exposed him.

Isho came running back to the light of the now growing fire. It was anger that Dakrri saw in his face and not fear or concern. Perhaps today was not the best day to start his ride home.

NOTE:  Although a continuation of “The Seeker,” this piece does use a different character.  Hopefully it is acceptable within the guidelines.  My guess is this will grow into a book one day, we’ll just have to see.

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