A Simpler Place.

It is late October, 2020.

These are among the worst of times for our world and the United States of America.  Almost everyone seems to agree to that.

As a Country we are as divided as we were during the Viet Nam era; I think even more so.  Read your newspaper or your history books and you will learn about a worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic, of deep division in the U.S. along political and racial lines and also issues and philosophies that are complex and hard to understand.  There are lines that have divided friends and families in ways that are quite puzzling as we live in the chaos that is America today.

I write this much as a catharsis for myself and as a guideline for any who will listen; my appeal to those who read this is to keep an open mind and to pray about these thoughts, pray for guidance, pray for clarity and pray for America.

Faith

I would never consider myself to be a Biblical scholar.

However, I have read the Bible completely several times and have read many of the interpretations, such as the Message and the Living Bible.

I grew up in an Evangelical Church and am currently a member of a Southern Baptist congregation in Georgia.  I spent 4 years in a Sunday School class for adults, at this Baptist church, that seemed to me to be equivalent to a Divinity degree because of the particularly keen insight of a very gifted teacher.  I took it seriously, and from this, I was inspired to teach a Sunday School class myself and did just that for 4 years.  I learned more from teaching the Bible from Genesis to Revelation over this time, than I ever did as a student or member of the congregation.

I have become a fan of Andy Stanley at Northpoint Community Church in particular, over the past 8 or 10 years; he is a man who has some wonderful, and sometimes non-traditional, thoughts and insights about Christianity.

More than that, I have to say that over the years and especially in the last 20 years or so, I have spent a great deal of time and thought in trying to understand God and how the Christian faith plays into the Grand Scheme or plan of the Universe itself.  A few years back I felt inspired to write a book entitled “Baby Boomers Guide: Finding God”

I feel that I continue to grow in Faith and understanding with each passing day.  My understanding of God has changed, I think expanded in the years since I wrote my book and I am gathering my thoughts to the share more in the future.

Essence is defined as “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character”.  Where I grew up in the Ozarks, we used to say ‘when you boil it all down’.  Or another way is to ask you to try to describe the main point of the entire Bible in one word!  Go ahead and try, before you move on.

Love is the Essence

Jesus tried to impart this idea in almost everything He said and did. I think it is the very core principle taught in the Bible.  I do wonder how many people read without understanding; caught in the web of words contained in the Bible. Time and again, even the disciples failed to understand and today we are still influenced by the understanding and often misunderstanding, of the our leaders and of the multitudes who have gone before.

My belief is that the entire Bible can be summarized in one word – LOVE.

If you want a few more words and some scripture to clarify:

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

It is my belief, that any conclusion that a person can make about the Bible or any specific verse of the Bible that runs counter to what Jesus himself told us was the answer to the “Test” is wrong.

In other words, every book has its theme or moral.  As humans, we have difficulty with complex systems of laws, rules and commandments, so I am convinced that Jesus in what is a characteristic way, put a very simple path in front of each of us…Love him and his creation.  If you think otherwise, then I think you have missed the point.

Some may think this an oversimplification, and that is exactly as I think God intends.  And as simple as it seems, isn’t it amazing at how few people actually “get it”?

The church, at times, has been the institution that has most led us astray.  In Revelation, Christ upon His return admonished the Churches of the world for having strayed from the path. Christ was not fond of Hypocrites.

Hypocrisy is not lost on the multitudes of non-Christians, whom we are charged with leading to the Word; they increasingly label Christians as charlatans … in many cases they are right.

Here are some examples.

The Christian churches have often failed in their duty, to call out racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslimism, misogyny and other forms of hatred.  They have done this throughout history and continue to this day.

I am not going to detail the incidences of the failure of Christians to follow this most simple and important of Christ’s commandments, at this time.  The list is simply too long; slavery, the Holocaust and the failure to evolve in our spiritual thinking; not to invent something new, but to discover the fundamental nuggets of truth that have been written for thousands of years.

So what is Love…that is a complex question, but one that deserves our best consideration.

First of all … Love is not hate.  That is easy, but remember the command was not “do not to hate your neighbor”, still hard, but that might be possible to achieve.  Rather, it is saying that NOT loving your neighbor, still falls short.  Perhaps, in God’s eyes it is still an equal infraction of the simple command.  So for all of your good intentions, you say you do NOT hate Blacks, for example, that is not good enough.  You must, at least, strive to obey God’s word and show Love.

A wise man once said that the manifestation of Love is Kindness.  So why not start with that?  How about if we stop denying human rights to other groups of people?  How about if we started to show kindness to immigrants, for example, even if it is inconvenient or we think it will cost too much?

How about if we let other Americans exercise their rights to participate in the American way of life?  Voting, police protection, education and even some respect and kindness?  You know, the Bill of Rights!  Is that too much to ask?  Ask your God about that.

My own epiphany on the issue of race and discrimination did not come easily or naturally, as I suspect is the case with others.  I didn’t understand other ethnic groups, firstly because in my little Caucasian bubble, I had virtually no contact with anyone who was not like me a WASP; white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant and a male to boot.  I enjoyed White privilege, while still being poor as a youth and even experiencing the pain of being put down for being poor and not having the right clothes.  Such a small thing, for me to endure, and such a much larger thing, (if I can even imagine to being put down and discriminated against for skin color, religion, sex or sexual orientation or any number of differences) that make a person stand out from the crowd.  We have all felt it.  It hurts.

At some point, and probably much later in the game than many, I came to the realization that we are all God’s children; that these cannot be just words, that God intends for us to Love all, to not hate.  Furthermore, He put us all on the same, “Team”, as Americans.

Heaven forbid, we should be in a foxhole someday defending ourselves, our Country and we should be next to someone, who we hope will have our back.  Do you want that person to be proud of what America has done for them?  Do you want them to be a lesser person than they could have been in a fair and just society?  Who would?

Another point of curiosity is what is the end-game that Racists recommend?

Shall we ship all African Americans “back” to Africa?  That has been proposed in the past in the “Back to Africa” movement of the 19th Century.

Or would the KKK and other radical Racist groups bring back the idea of creating an “All Black State”? Oklahoma was proposed; presumably before oil was discovered there!

Perhaps a Hitlerian-style eugenics program or even a “final liquidation” holocaust would be to the choice of some?  Sadly, I have heard of these ideas spoken aloud by some extremists.

The current situation for the Racist element seems to be a position of minimal tolerance.  There are ongoing and vigorous efforts to simply disenfranchise minorities, in any area possible; including voting, housing, education and jobs.  White people try to exclude minorities from “their” suburbs, relegating them to the other side of the tracks, to their own schools and even their own churches.

I contend that a “Christian” who participates in this type of “non-love” is no true Christian at all.  If they truly believe then they should ask for forgiveness and try to make amends.  My experience tells me that about 80% of Christians are simply posing, have no real idea of the meaning of Salvation and have entirely missed the most important point of the entire Bible.

Why don’t Christian leaders step up and show their Congregations the way?

There are several possible answers.

The most innocent theory is that they themselves have missed the point.  Even after all the study at seminary the reality is that institutions and particularly religious institutions are among the slowest changing cultural entities in existence.  The Biblical admonition that Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow has led Christians to adhere to doctrines, traditions and concepts that go back centuries but unfortunately not back to Christ.  The interesting thing is that how rarely, the idea of changing the Church’s teachings, goes back to the basics … Christ’s life and of His words.

Instead, much doctrine is manmade and rigid.  This must be human nature; a mistake made by the Jewish people, who converted 10 Commandments in to over 600 Laws and tens of thousand “traditions”.  Of course, Christ admonished them for this and tried to set them straight, all the while saving his most harsh criticism for Hypocrites.  How little we seem to have learned from all of that!

When the Southern Baptist Convention decided to no longer sponsor the Boy Scouts of America, I was sitting in the 3rd pew center in my Adult Scout Leaders uniform, surrounded by my son and grandsons who were also in their uniforms.  It was Scout Sunday.  In retrospect, I should have got up and walked out when the preacher announced that our church-sponsored troop would no longer be supported by the church.

The reason?

The Boy Scouts of America would no longer discriminate against 11-year old boys who might have tendencies to be gay.  I say tendencies, because at that age, are any of them really gay; or even know what that means?

Here is the ultimate hypocrisy; the church says that homosexuality is a choice; my aunt says gays are ‘demon possessed’.  Therefore, it follows that they are not worthy of love because of their horrible sin.

So, if it is a choice then why wouldn’t the church take this golden opportunity to correct these young boys and try to minister to them and show them the way?

The answer is they don’t really believe it is a choice, but to admit otherwise would make them have to treat them as humans, to love them and to accept them.  This they cannot make themselves do. Ask yourself, “What would Christ do?”

Church Leadership

Here is a sad thing to the message of Christ.  Millions cannot understand the separation between Christianity as practiced by many of the thousand denominations and what it means to be a true follower of Christ.  Unfortunately, these are two separate things. According to Pew Research, “in the U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace”  Hypocrisy is a word often used to describe many prominent Church leaders.

This is a crisis for Churches, but more importantly it is a crisis for the Word or the message of love.  How many millions will miss this message because of this decline? Or is it possible that the message taught by the Church is not clear and is lost in all the “laws and traditions” created over the centuries by the Church itself, and often far from Christ’s simple commandments.

This begs the question, WHY is the church in decline.  The reasons are likely many and complex, but one point that is made by Christianity.com is;

“…attitude is compounded by the opinion that today’s church is often judgmental, hypocritical, and unnecessary. This approach has been popularized by contemporary writers and speakers by their use of phrases such as, “They like Jesus, but not the church”, and “spiritual, but not religious.”

The current American culture most likely does not see the church as an important part of their lives and in fact, probably looks at the church in a negative light. It’s no wonder church membership is declining.’

So as the Election of 2020 looms, all of us should express our beliefs and hopes for the future, by voting.

As we pray for a way forward, let each of us search their conscience for what is right in the eyes of God.

Act and vote accordingly.

Peace!

 

 

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