Sunday, January 19, 2014

A long walk

I go on walks sometimes along a path near my house when the weather is above freezing.   Yesterday, I was admiring these caterpillar weeds. A patch of sun caught the weeds and bathed them in a halo of sunshine, even while the rest of the day was grey. The lighting caught my eye so I had to snap a quick photo.

And here along the path as I walk are these signs that spring is on its way! At first glance, I thought some kid's zip lock bag of Cap'n Crunch Berries Cereal fell open all over the trail, but no... they look like real berries!

The road I walk on just stretches on and on. The trail seems lonely, but in an aching way that feels bittersweet. Maybe it's the bare trees that give off this vibe. But the trail draws me on, and I am propelled forward as if not of myself.

The dead leaves on the trail are soft under my feet, and the brown of the leaves underfoot is dull, but also warm like the sepia tone of an old photograph. The lighting around me is weird, as if the sun is trying to peek in on a grey day.

As I go along, I wonder if I am actually inside a photograph from the turn of the century. 

Then I wonder if I am no longer me... perhaps I am somebody else, just walking inside a photograph that came alive, inside a period of time while others observe me walk. Maybe if I'm no longer in my life, I am someone inside this photograph with unlimited possibilities in front of me... perhaps if I just keep walking, I will end up in another state, another situation, another time.

But then I realize... my desire for change in my current life doesn't have to be a dream... I am the maker of my own reality, and I am making changes in the physical world around me even as I write here and now. I know things are shifting in my life, and it's because of my thoughts.

Walking helps to clear my thoughts. The fresh air helps shake the cobwebs and sort things out.

There has been something on my mind for the last year or so that has been itching me as if I had sand under my skin.

It has to do with this concept called mainstream, evangelical Christianity. After an extended period of questioning my old beliefs, pulling away from them and replacing them with truth (well, truth for me in particular, not truth for everyone else), I think I have finally figured out and put into words why I'm not a Christian anymore.

You could say that I was a Christian since I was a kid, up until a year ago, around the time I began to awaken and started this blog. Although I know I've changed and shifted dramatically in the past year, it hasn't been until recently that I am able to express what has actually happened and what I actually believe.

To be honest, I don't think it matters what religion or belief system a person holds, as long as it doesn't blind them into allowing themselves to be abused or to hurt others.

Even so, we all get where we're going in the end. And in the 'getting there' process, I find it fascinating to listen to others' stories. In turn, I want to share the twists and turns along the way from my own perspective.

So. I have recently been having this epiphany. I have a feeling that what the Christians today call "salvation" is actually a convoluted and garbled version of what Jesus originally taught, and that what Jesus originally spoke of is what spiritualists today call "awakening."

I also have this feeling that Jesus himself did not preach that we needed to be saved from sin.

I think that what Jesus really taught was that we need to free ourselves from our ego, not sin. Somewhere along the line during the last two thousand years, I think the church started taking Jesus' term for "ego" and calling it "sin."

The ego isn't sin, or sinful. The ego tells us that we are separate from Source (God, our Creator, the Universe), that we are separate from others, and that we are less than perfect creatures in need of salvation by a source outside of ourselves.

The ego is an illusion, though. It is fear based, and it isn't real.

So maybe Jesus was encouraging us back then to wake up to the truth, which is that the ego is an illusion. Maybe he wanted us to wake up to the truth that Source is and always has been inside of us, and we can never be separate from it. When we wake up to this reality, we are "awakened," just like Saul/Paul was on the Damascus Road. The scales fell off his eyes, and he was walking on cloud nine. He wasn't saved from sin, he was awakened as he realized he wasn't his ego.

I wonder too about the link between the New Age concept of spirit and Christianity's version of the Holy Spirit.

Although some Christian churches embrace it, most of the churches I've gone to have actually veered away the Holy Spirit, calling it unnecessary, some calling it evil. Some more liberal churches are open to the Holy Spirit, but say you have to get a man of God to give you a special anointing in order to 'get' the spirit.

But I believe that spirit and Holy Spirit is just another name for our intuition, something innate to us, and always in us. Some people call it a psychic ability or a sixth sense. We can call it anything we like. But it's not something you have to ask a preacher to bestow on you.

I'm curious too about inspiration, and the way the church views it. Most of the churches I've gone to teach that the authors of various books of the Bible experienced an anointing in the form of divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit in order to pen their holy words straight from God. And that this era of divine inspiration has passed, never to be opened again.

There is something in me that intuitively knows this is not the truth. I believe that spirit, the Holy Spirit, inspiration, creativity, and flow is the same thing, and that it's innate to all of us, always available inside us.

When we tap into it and let go, some of us speak in tongues. Some of us channel ascended masters, and some of us see visions, and some of us get inspired by Spirit to write, design, and create.

Even I have had this experience...many times, since childhood. I get taken up in "flow" and I write inspired things, like poetry, exactly like the authors of the Bible were inspired. When I compose songs on the piano, I get overtaken by this inspiration, and melodies and chords come over me in awesome, intricate ways. I don't see it as sheet music in front of me, I hear it from inside of me, and it's like my hands are guided with inspiration, deftly over the keys without any input from my mind. I always joke that it's like my hands become possessed, but in a positive way.

I still don't know how my hands can find the keys and chords without my knowledge, without me practicing or memorizing beforehand, and without looking at sheet music.

It is one of the most magical things that I have ever experienced.

About two years ago, I was trying to learn how to speak in tongues, because I thought it would bring me closer to God. Oh my, right. Well, the pastors wife who was coaching me over the phone told me to just say random sounds, and let it just come to me. It never did come to me.

But when I recently experienced my first time getting into flow on the piano, I figured that my hands decided to speak in tongues on the keys, and perhaps this was somehow a process that was operating on the same level as speaking in tongues with your mouth. I excitedly contacted the pastor's wife with my breakthrough, but she did not respond. Hmmm.

So I let it be, but didn't forget.

So, back to the ego and religion. I think that Jesus wanted us to wake up to the reality that we are not our ego. This means that we are complete in ourselves, one with our Creator, without the need to be saved from an outside source.

The ego tells us that we are defective, but seeing past the illusion of ego helps us see that we are sinless, perfect as we are. Our creator doesn't judge us any more than our ego-less self does.

Without the ego, when we are stripped bare to our core, and all we are is love. Every single one of us is one in that we are each love.

Love sees no fault, no blame, no judgment. God is not an angry, vengeful God. Our Creator sees no sin in us, so there is no judgment, and no need for a hell.

True, if we think our ego is who we really are, then we will judge ourselves, and create for ourselves knowingly or unknowingly various shades of hell here on earth.

In the same way, we can create our own heavens here on earth. We are creators of our own world, every day shaping and bringing into being situations, just by the color and intent of our thoughts. We are such creative creatures, so powerful.

I wish more of us knew right now how powerful we are. Jesus told us that we are all gods, just like him, and that we have as much innate power as he did. But churches today don't want you to read those verses.

Christians today don't want power. They are afraid of it. They want to give it all up to a higher power and stay low and safe, meek sheep who are too afraid to think on their own and content to follow what an educated pastor or author teaches more than what their gut tells them.

I know, I was there living among them, soaking it up like a sponge. Whenever I try to bring up these particular verses to Christians in everyday conversations, I am told that I am interpreting them incorrectly, and not being humble.

I'm told I'm being too liberal a Christian.

My family and church community are "meat and potatoes" Christians.

In contrast to Christians who are watered down, who go to buffet churches where you pick what you want to hear and don't want to hear, and snack on light snacks and desert. These churches don't preach about sin.

The pastors of the churches I went to would often warn their members that they were going to be real men of God and serve it straight, even if it hurt. They were going to address the 's' word, (sin), so if you wanted to leave and go to a church that didn't preach sin and repentance, then you could go, but you would be facing God's punishment for taking the easy road.

There is something else I've always wondered about. I wonder why Christians want to 'serve' God, as if they are putting themselves in a position as a feudal serf.

Our creator isn't a king from the Middle Ages, demanding service and utmost obedience. I also don't know why Christians call Jesus "Lord." I couldn't bring myself to say "Lord" ever since I was a kid. A lord is a master, and when I think of "lord," I imagine a Dark Lord ruling with an iron fist. Kind of like my father, come to think of it.

Once in Sunday School, my teacher asked me to pray out loud, but stopped me when I opened the prayer with "Dear Jesus," instead of "Dear Lord." She had me start over, but it was distasteful and uncomfortable for me even then. But back then I wouldn't let my mind open enough to ever figure out why it felt so odd. Only today am I putting two and two together and realizing why this title bothered me.

At this point in my life, about 95% of the people who are in contact with me with are Christians.

Since my shift, it has become uncomfortable for me to mingle with them. I feel compelled to keep my mouth shut around them, but this is only because their reactions to my change of beliefs has been negative.

My family has about had it with me, and they vary from guilt tripping me, hating on me, bullying me, or crying for me to come back to God. As if I ever left. You can't ever leave what is innate in you. But, I digress.

I've so far only told a handful of my Christian friends that I have leaped off the wagon, religion wise. There is only so much drama I can take at one time, so I divulge this information at a slow pace.

I think that my one friend who I'll call Ben actually amused me the most. After I told him I wasn't a Christian anymore, it took a few weeks for it to finally sunk in that he couldn't persuade me back into the fold.

After this, he began to use a terse, brief tone with me. Whereas he was all smiley faces and grins, gracious and open for the few years I knew him, after my revelation to him, he did a 180 on me. He became cold, brief, formal.

I guess my sinfulness was too much for him, and he didn't want to stay in contact or the sin could possibly rub off on him.

Or maybe he thought he would be tempted to question his faith as well if he stayed in communication with me, so he needed to distance himself. Or he thought that a form of excommunication and withholding of friendliness might whip me back into shape. Usually, he sends long, exuberant greetings on each holiday.

For Christmas this year, he sent me a text that said, "merry CHRISTmas." The period was huge at the end of that greeting. As if to say, open your mouth and swallow this fact that CHRIST is in this holiday, or I won't text you anything friendly. I will confront you with this solid period. End of greeting.

So personally, it hasn't been that warm of an experience, telling the Christian people I have known my whole life, or a good bit of it... that I am not a Christian anymore.

It's almost tantamount to telling your parents that you are changing your given name, or that you suddenly don't believe they are your biological parents and you want to look for your real birth mother.

I wonder why Christians feel the need to flip out, warn and rescue a person who no longer identifies with Christianity. Why can't I just say, "I'm done with it" and move on peaceably?

Why do my family and friends get hurt feelings, as if I've just injured them by dropping a particular belief. They feel personally insulted that I've left. It's like they identify with their religion so much, that to forsake it is to forsake them.

Why do people have to take so personally my beliefs or lack of them?

Perhaps I do know why people get so bent out of shape and forceful with me when I tell them I'm not a Christian anymore.

Christians fear the punishment God will direct their way if they don't make certain they don't do all they can to restore the backslider back into the fold.

So many Christians feel justified strong arming back sliders out of fear of God's punishment.

I know my mom feels that she will be held accountable to God for my change of heart, if she lets slide even one opportunity where she could have preached to me on repentance and coming back into the fold. My mom is afraid of God punishing her on judgment day, and doesn't want him to come down on her for not witnessing enough to me, thus allowing me to slip through the cracks.

She feels responsible for me, and so that's why she is upset at my decision. It throws a monkey wrench in her life, and she can't rest easy, always afraid to miss an opportunity to bring me back into being "right with God."

I think that most other people I know labor under a similar illusion, afraid of being punished in the future for not trying hard enough to get me to return.

So they use any means they can... force, guilt, prayers, crying, bullying, the cold shoulder, gossip behind the back, threats. I've got some wild cards in my family, and various relatives... even friends outside the family, have utilized each of these tactics with me.

And to think I haven't even told all my old friends and acquaintances, just a few. I am planning on not telling too many people, as I can take only so much drama at once.

Another reason that I believe many Christians are OK with acting like a bully toward the unsaved or backslidden is that they are out of touch with their heart to some degree.

The church teaches you that your innate nature is sinful, and it's not safe to trust what your heart tells you. It is no wonder Christians are often so cold to each other, not just the unsaved.

The verse "the heart is deceitful wicked above all things" was foundational in my home and church. It caused my family and church crowd to cut themselves off from compassion in favor of strictly heeding the rules in the Bible word for word, with no regard to the spirit underneath because they didn't feel safe or comfortable listening to their heart's guidance.

So Christianity was rather militant in my home and church. If we didn't pay enough attention when Christian radio was on, my dad would berate the one who seemed a little too unenthusiastic in their body posture, and he would threaten us into mustering up more of a smile while the program was on. We were forced through fear of him and fear of God to play the role of perfect Christians.

Our every word, facial expression, and body language was monitored  tightly and we were held accountable and judged each day, several times a day or as needed.

My father called it exhortation, and he often told us he was given the gift of exhortation by God. Really, though, his gift was criticizing us in the name of God within an inch of our life, beating the devil out of us with strict rules and no love.

Emotions like love made him and the other members of the church uneasy. Emotions scared him, since they came from the heart, a place that was deceitfully wicked and not to be trusted.

How could he or anyone in the church trust their emotions? The churches I went to were full of robot like drones who looked as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders, out of touch with their emotions and love. They were so weighted down that it took extreme effort for them to even lift the corners of their mouth in a smile in greeting each Sunday.

Still another reason why many Christians are so cold is that they are taught to not love themselves. When you can't love yourself first, it is impossible to love others. We were taught in church that self love was vain and dangerous. We were taught that your inner, innate self was evil, and to love it was equivalent to loving sin, or worshipping the devil.

The only part of yourself you were allowed to love was the part of you that you worked diligently to allow God into, through self denial, vigilant Bible study, repentance and prayer. We were taught that God could come into your life only if you invited him in. And even once he was in, he was only there to the degree that you worked hard enough to keep him there. He wasn't innate to you, he was separate from you.

I wonder if people who look to religion are secretly masochists on some level. Of course they are if they agree to believe that their innate self and heart are and always will be sinful. This is a depressing line of thinking, and it shocks me how anyone can believe that something this toxic can come from God.

It shocks me to realize I believed these things for so long, but I don't judge myself. I know as a child I was so scared of my dad, and so desperate to get him to pay attention to me instead of hating on me, that I was willing to do anything, even if it meant dumbing my mind down like a good little sheep and blindly believing.

As a very young child, I sensed that there was something terrible in the church, and I knew that as I grew older, whatever had infected and depressed the adults would fall like a heavy cloud on me, too, if I didn't do something about it... fast.

Knowing that I couldn't leave the religion since I was just a child, I felt trapped. But I had a sense that staying a child would protect me from whatever it was that had weighted down the adults. The kids in the church still laughed and seemed unaffected.

So from age six and upward, I prayed in desperation every night that God would not allow me to grow up.

Most other kids had a life dream of growing up, getting a car, being a teenager. Not me. This process scared the living daylights out of me.

I was thoroughly convinced that God would make a miracle for me, and that I would just simply remain a child forever.

I became very pious and followed every Christian rule I could in order to bend God more favorably in my direction. I developed hunched shoulders and poor posture as a kid because I was helping God along in my lack of growth.

I also helped God out by not eating much at all.  I figured you couldn't grow up if you didn't eat. By the age of nine,  I realized that I was taller than I was at age 6, which turned out to be a major shock and depressed me to no end. But, I was one of the shortest kid in my class, and my sister younger than me by three years was mistaken for my twin because we were about the same weight, so maybe my prayers did work to some degree.

I didn't feel safe telling my parents about the failure of my plan, as it wasn't safe to speak to them about anything, and they didn't bother to speak to us, except to admonish us in the Lord. We were invisible, especially to my father, but we were brought into the world because there is a verse that says God will bless a man that has a full quiver of arrows, with arrows being translated to mean children.  

So things like fear of God's punishment, being out of touch with the heart, and not loving themselves could explain why many Christians act mean and overbearing towards each other and the unsaved.

They aren't able to feel remorse for being mean because they are out of touch with their heart.

And they feel justified in being rude, because they feel any tactic they need to use is justified by God, their Lord and Master.

They are more afraid of potential punishment from God than they are concerned about hurting the feelings of the person that is being administered the beautiful experience of being witnessed to.

My mom often tells me that she cares "too much," but she doesn't come to the aid of any of her children, and she has let us fall through the cracks repeatedly. If anything, her practical efforts show she cares too little.

But what I think that she means is that the teachings of the church require her to shut down her caring side too far beyond what she feels comfortable doing. But what does she choose to attend to, the crying of her heart and children, or the rules of the church and domineering control of my father, who doesn't let her come to the aid of her children?

She doesn't choose her children and the crying of her heart.

She chooses God.

My brother in law is another example of a Christian who has lost contact with his heart. He admires the work of Jonathon Edwards, a turn of the century preacher who wrote the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

I once told my brother in law that most people wouldn't want to come to God for salvation from a standpoint of fear.

But he told me that if fear is what it takes, then fear is what was necessary, and that once in the fold, it didn't matter how you got there.

I said, "But this gives people a false impression of God and makes them cower in fear, which is not good for a person's health, physically or mentally."

My brother in law laughed and said that didn't matter, that the bottom line was salvation, and that it didn't matter what you had to do or say to get a person saved, as long as the end goal of salvation was met. Hmmm.

He also goes around saying things like, "The gospel is supposed to be offensive, folks. Being told you're a sinner is not supposed to be easy on the ears. But we need to preach the hard truth to folks."

I have to be honest here. Ever since, I was a child, I did not have a desire to share the gospel. I wondered why preachers called the gospel the "Good News." When I sat in the pew in church, I always thought, "It sounds like the 'Bad News' to me."

I mean, honestly. To have to tell someone they are a sinner is bad news. Even if you try to soften the blow and tell them that there is an escape hatch if they admit they are a sinner, and then confess their sins.

What if someone doesn't want to admit they are a sinner? Then they're condemned to hell!

I don't know, I just never wanted to get around to witnessing and telling someone they were a sinner. To tell someone they were a "sinner" felt rude, like telling someone that their breath smelled, or that they had body odor.

I just couldn't bring myself to tell anyone this, even if it made God mad, disappointed or upset. Even if it made God punish me for not doing my Christian duty of witnessing.

Believe me, the pressure was on me to get out there and witness, ever since I was a kid. Big time pressure. I was afraid of what God would do to me if I didn't get out there and start serving him and winning souls.

When I was a young child, from age seven and upwards, I used to agonize over my lack of desire to share the "good news." I grew up in an atmosphere where it was shameful to admit you hadn't won anyone to the Lord yet. Even though this posed a huge dilemma for me, as I would get in major trouble at home for talking to an unsaved person. How could I witness if I would be beat with a rod for talking to an unsaved person.

Me: "Oh, dad, I was talking to so and so because I was leading her to the Lord."
Dad: "Yeah right you were. Go get me the rod, and meet me in the basement in ten minutes."

But I digress. In my Sunday School class, other kids younger than me had numerous conversions under their belt. God's word said I would be held accountable for any soul I came in contact with if I didn't put forth my best effort to save that soul.

I had numerous unsaved kids cross my path in my young life and I had clammed up about the Lord. I knew God was keeping track, and as my Sunday school teachers shared, I knew he wasn't happy that I hadn't won them over to his side.

Feeling guilty, I one day promised God that I would make up for it by witnessing to Mandy. Now Mandy was a neighbor who lived down the road. She had two long pigtails, dimples and was always laughing. She was an unbeliever. And during the day when my dad was at work, she rode her bike near our house and horror of horrors, I actually rode bikes with her.

Every day, 15 minutes before my dad was to get home from work, I'd say goodbye to Mandy and high tail it home, very nervous to hear my dad's car engine and hoping to not get my back side beat by the rod if he ever caught me socializing with an unsaved person.

I knew that step one in witnessing was telling Mandy that in order to get saved, she had to first admit she was a sinner. I knew the ABC's of salvation. A: Admit you are a sinner. B: Believe that God sent his son Jesus to die for your sins. C: Confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

However, I didn't want to tell Mandy that she was a sinner. I cared more about Mandy's possible hurt feelings than God's.
The problem here, though, is that I made God a promise. Once you made God a promise, you would be forever bound to it, and if you didn't follow through on your word, God would punish you in a way that would be far greater in intensity than if you hadn't promised.

My pastor admonished that it was better to not enter into a vow with God, if you weren't sure you could uphold your word because the repercussions for not following through would be serious, perhaps even leading to death. I was mortified that I had entered into a vow with God about witnessing to Mandy.

I spent many an hour soaking in the family bathtub, worried about my predicament and upcoming punishment.

Turned out I didn't ever witness to Mandy. Eventually, I decided it would just have to be a major strike against me in His book, like my pastor said, and I would have to pay for it sooner or later down the line.

I learned from this experience that God is a harsh, demanding God, and like my church said, I was indeed a horrible sinner. I figured that my willfulness in not witnessing was evidence enough that my nature was indeed sinful.

Now I realize I was believing an illusion, though, and I have much relief that I'm not trapped in that cycle of  shame and guilt.
My sister Louisa recently told me that she thinks I am letting go of my Christian beliefs because I was traumatized by our dad, and that  I shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water.

She does make a point.

It was extremely painful to look at my past and to finally take my dad off the pedestal where he bullied us all into placing him. It is true that at the point when I finally became disillusioned with him, that I first started to question the entire Christian religion.

In my questioning, I quickly realized that my father is no example of a good hearted, typical Christian. He is one in a million, and most Christians he rubbed shoulders with were embarrassed by his extremes.

So I clearly see that he is not a healthy representation of Christian living.

But once I was finally fed up and allowed myself to question Christianity for the first time in my life, I quickly saw some things that didn't add up.

My questioning didn't inherently mean that I would automatically reject all aspects of Christianity. My questioning was just simply that... questioning. If things in the religion had made sense to me while I was sifting through them, and if things had settled well in my gut and heart, I would have stayed a Christian.

But the things that had bothered  me  in the past about Christianity, the things I smothered as a child and didn't allow myself to question.... now came up in extreme clarity, and this time I  allowed myself  to listen to my heart. And my heart told me that I didn't agree with most of the tenants of Christianity.

Louisa asked me how I know I am right in making a decision to no longer be a Christian.

I told her that I  knew that I was on the right path for me because my heart told me so, and that immediately, I had that high that most people who get "saved" talk about.

It's funny, when I got "saved" at age 8, there was no high. It was just an ordinary day. But now, it's like I'm floating in a sea of joy whenever I remember that I'm no longer being judged, that I have everything inside of me that I'll ever need, that I am connected to Source and always have been, I am loved and supported exactly as I am, and that there's nothing I need to do to make myself more approved.

I can just BE, and in that state, I need nothing and have everything. It is such a relief after all these years of being in a prison in my mind. 

I am so relieved now to be free of illusion. It gives me so much joy, that every time I realize how free I am, I feel like I'm walking on clouds.