Advent of Light

*This was posted on beliefnet.com & shares some similarities w/ my Child of God Online article, but much shorter as it is a prayer for the season. Since it is uplifting, I am displaying it here (note: my Advent article is available here & on CoG Online).

Link: http://blog.beliefnet.com/prayerplainandsimple/2009/12/advent-prayer-day-13-coming-out-of-darkness.html
By: Claudia Mair Burney

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” John 3:1-2 NRSV

Why do you think Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? He already believed in him. Maybe the quiet nights, free from unruly crowds were the best time for Nicodemus to ask his most penetrating questions. Or maybe, he didn’t want the spiritual leaders he served with to know of his interest in Jesus. Jesus must have startled Nicodemus when he used the cloak of darkness surrounding them as a metaphor. He said, “For all who love evil hate the light, and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” Be it fear, depression, ignorance, or the darkness of sin in our lives, many, many people come to Jesus in their night.

Light of the world,

I’m not wise or self-aware enough to truly know your motivations. God’s Word says, “the heart is devious above all else; it’s perverse–who can understand it.” I’m asking for you to illuminate me. Nicodemus, in coming to you, came to the light. Help me, beloved Jesus, to come out of any form of darkness that may be surrounding me. You are good to make yourself available to me in the night, but I want to know you in the warmth of your blazing sun.

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

The holiday season is upon us. It is the season of light. Light comes from the darkness. For Jews, the celebration of Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the candle that stayed lit for eight days. This miracle is recorded in the Roman Catholic Bible books of Maccabees and Jewish tradition.
For Christians, like myself, it celebrates the light of life that has come to Earth to save us from our sin. This would be the Nativity, the birth of Jesus Christ. For with his birth, the saving light to take away the darkness is here and now. There was a TV series called Miracles that was briefly on the air. In the series, the same message came across: “God is Now Here.”
Thus, with Christmas, the Advent, the coming of the Light, the Living Word, is here upon this Earth. May you all be blessed this season with love, life, and light. Amen.
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Angels

Angels exist in many religions, but particularly in Zoroastrianism, the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and Mormonism.  They are considered the “messengers of God.”  In Judaism, they are considered countless and a part of the “heavenly hosts.”  This carries into Christianity, which inherited the belief, and provided a structure for the “choirs” of angels.  They consist of the lower order: virtues, powers, principalities, dominions, and thrones; angels, archangels, seraphim, and cheribum are among the higher order of angels.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of Christianity have placed special devotion to a few particular archangels: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  Michael is known as the archangel that will defeat Satan and place him in Hell where he many no longer harm humans in the final battle at the Last Days or Final Battle.  It is even to find Roman Catholic statues and statuettes of this prophetic battle.  Mormonism places emphasis on a particular set of angels that guide prophets, visionaries, and leaders in their faith, especially Joseph Smith who is believed to have been given the special revelation that Jesus appeared in the Americas after His resurrection.

In Islam, angels are a fundamental part of the faith.  Humans are also regarded as superior to angels in Islam.  In this faith, angels have particular duties:  at God’s throne, praising God, blessing the righteous in Paradise, and torturing the damned.

Angels also have a place in popular culture.  It is not uncommon to find pictures or statues of angels inside houses and churches.  They also have appeared in television (fictional accounts) in such series as Highway to Heaven and my personal favorite Touched by an Angel.  The latter has been very inspiring to me and uplifted my soul in times of distress or sadness, but also joy and inspiration.  In that series, the angels helped ordinary and extraordinary people in their daily lives and find God in the times of despair.

 

The Dangers of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism exists in all religions and belief systems (yes, there are fundamentalist atheists).  Fundamentalism is the literal belief in a certain belief system, usually a religion.  The most common forms of fundamentalism seen in the news are Muslim fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism.  Muslim fundamentalists are a minority and these are usually correctly identified as extremists.  They take key portions of the Qu’ran literally and ignore the other parts.  Generally, they follow mullahs that lead them to these dangerous line of thinking.

Christian fundamentalism isn’t too dissimilar.  Christian fundamentalists take key portions of the Bible literally (generally ignoring the parts they do not like and preaching loudly the parts they do like).  In the 19th century, what we know of as modern Christian fundamentalism emerged in Britain and the United States.  They claimed five fundamentals of faith: 1) the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, 2) the crucifixion of Christ, 3) literal resurrection of Christ after three days on the cross, 4) the Earth and the universe was made in 6 literal days, and 5) salvation only came through Christ.  If you were not “saved,” they taught you went to Hell.  While not one of the 5 fundamentals, they also believe in Dispensationalism (that emerged at the same time), which taught the end of the world would be the result of the humanity’s sin and the “saved” would be raptured into Heaven while those that did not convert would be left behind on Earth to deal with the Tribulation period (a 7 yr. period when the AntiChrist would reign and all kinds of tortures would be let loose that accepted the “mark of the Beast” (666; means Nero Caesar in Hebrew numerology) and then the final battle between Christ and Satan would take place.  Naturally, Christ would succeed and tie down Satan in Hell for a thousand years while a New Earth was made where there would be no suffering, pain, or sin.

I was brought up as a child as a Christian fundamentalist.  I was scared all of the time and afraid any minor sin would leave me on Earth to be left behind.  Looking back, it seems silly that I would have such fears, but they were very real to me and scary.  I still have mental scars from that time.  Suffice it to say, once I went to university and learned about other religions (especially how most religions have so much in common) and then found the United Church of Christ (a progressive Christian denomination), the fear was gone, and I realized how ludicrous Christian fundamentalism is as a belief system.  Christian fundamentalism thrives on fear and misinterpreting the Bible by taking advantage of people and their fears manipulated into bigotry and harm to others.

Another kind of Christian fundmentalism exists: the FLDS Church (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints or fundamentalist Mormons).  They believe the men must have many wives like the Old Testament patriarchs and their Mormon founding fathers in order to set up a celestial kingdom of their own in Heaven.  It is quite dangerous.  Fear and bigotry are quite common in this belief system too.

Other belief systems, as I mentioned, have fundamentalists too.  Hindu and Buddhist fundamentalists who have been known to conflict with Muslims and Christians in India and other areas of Europe and Asia.  There is hope: the way to get out of fundamentalism is re-education.  In many ways, fundamentalism is a lot like brain washing, and Christian fundamentalists do not hide that they want to convert children (“so they won’t go to Hell”).  University education saved me from remaining in a horrible Christian fundamentalist mindset and it may easily help others too.  For those that cannot afford a college education, go to a library and read about the facts of life and other belief systems.   You can even do it online by googling things.  A simple google search will show the facts that Noah’s Flood did not happen and likely based on the ancient Mesopotamian myth of Gilgamesh.

If you are a fundamentalist (my readers), please educate yourself and escape that hellish mentality before you harm others and yourself.  It is for the best.

 

Taking away DACA is immoral

Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”

Deuteronomy 6:10-13 – The people of Israel are made aware that the land had come to them as a gift from God and they were to remember that they were once aliens.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I Chronicles 29:14-15 – David praises God:  “We are aliens and transients before you…”

Psalm 146:9 – “The Lord watches over the strangers…”

Ezekiel 47:21-22 – The aliens shall be to you as citizens, and shall also be allotted an inheritance.

Matthew 25:31-46 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Hebrews 13:1-2 – “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…”

As exemplified above, in the Old & New Testaments, God commands kindness and welcoming the stranger or alien (foreigner) among the native population.  The verses above are not the only verses in the Bible that state this message: there are many more.  Trump’s anti-immigration policies are not just immoral; they are anti-Christian.  I know evangelicals and fundamentalists view Trump as the Second Coming, but he is more like an Anti-Christ figure as he illustrates through all of his actions that he is the most unlike Christ.

If you consider a Jew, Christian, or Muslim; then you recognize the God of Abraham and know that She teaches compassion and to welcome and house the stranger or foreigner among you because once the Hebrews (Jews) were once aliens (foreigners) in Egypt before they gained their own land (Israel) and the prophets of God were taught to honor God by welcoming the foreigner among you.  In the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament (13:12), it says you may be “entertaining angels unaware” and there were many instances of this in the Old Testament.

However, that is not the main reason: the primary reason you are to welcome or house the foreigner (or migrant or immigrant) is because it is the right thing to do and the moral choice.  God is compassionate and merciful; loving and just; understanding and luminous (enlightening).  If you ever find yourself in a situation when an migrant, immigrant, or foreigner asks for your help, give it.  Read your Bible, Torah, or Qu’ran; welcome the foreigner among you as that is what God teaches us to do.  Amen.

 

Natural Disasters are Not a Punishment from God

Hurricane

Lately, due to the extreme weather, televangelists have been declaring that hurricanes, earthquakes, and firestorms, etc. are a judgment of God, a punishment, against humanity or a particular population, especially in the United States.  For anyone who has read the New Testament, one would know that Jesus is not a deity of punishment.  The only time he is described as punishing people, namely Satan, is in the Book of Revelation, and even modern theological scholars have stated that this book was written by a man named John of Patmos who claimed to have visions while a prisoner in the Roman Empire during the mid- to late first century CE (or AD).  It is a book of hope and written while Christians were being persecuted by Emperor Nero (the name of the Beast; 666 in Hebrew decoding means Nero Caesar; Caesar is another name for Emperor) and later Emperor Diocletian.

God loves Her people.  She is not one of terror and destruction upon humanity.  The crucifixion would be meaningless if we look at God this way: the sacrifice on the cross for humanity’s sins would be for nothing.  He is love.  God is love.

Why do natural disasters happen?   Because Nature has cause and effects.  As the planet warms, there are dangerous effects upon the planet.  There are stronger wildfires, stronger hurricanes, and more powerful tornadoes.  It is not because of the wrongdoing of a single person or group even if a greedy televangelists tells you so because he wants to profit off of your fear.  Any preacher, minister, or pastor that teaches that natural disasters are the result of God’s judgment is a false prophet, and if you recall your Bible readings, Jesus repeatedly warns of false prophets.

— Rev. Josh Spencer

Universal Life Church

The Theology of “Breaking Bad”

“Breaking Bad” is a crime western that aired on the AMC network from 2008-2013, and full of drama, crime, mystery, and western style fights.  It is also full of theology.  The term “breaking bad” equates to saying “raising Hell” or being problematic.  Thee main character, Walter White, is a high school chemistry teacher that becomes a meth dealer in his New Mexico town, which later expands to all of the Southwest.  He does so, as the series suggests, because he is diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer.

Due to his condition, and the poor state of his family finances (his wife is a bookkeeper, he has a special needs son, and a newborn daughter) all while living on a teacher’s salary.  However, throughout the series, he is offered chances of redemption, but turns it down each time.  First, due to pride (one of the seven deadly sins), he refuses charity from a friend who is an affluent chemist in New Mexico to pay for all of his medical bills.  He refuses because he doesn’t like the idea of taking charity, and so he makes and sells meth instead.

Second, he goes into remission from his cancer.  He no longer needs the extra financial support, but he states he needs to have money for his family after he dies, and so stays in the illegal drug trade of meth.  Time and again, he refuses help, and becomes a villain in the process that kills other drug dealers, drug lords from Mexico, and etc.  In the end, he is shot and dies alone.

The moral of the story: if you are given a chance for redemption, take it.

The Sacred

 

Recently, I was baptized (sprinkling on the head with water) in the United Church of Christ.  I have been a member of North Congregational United Church of Christ since 2013.  It may have been my imagination, but I felt a sweet spirit surrounding me after it happened.  Churches are sacred spaces.  Any place that is holy is sacred regardless of religious affiliation.  In my opinion, nature is also sacred and has a free will of its own.

We should respect the places that are sacred and respect the ministers who have the duty of initiating the rites of the sacred.  I am not Roman Catholic, obviously; I just stated I belong to the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org).  However, when I see a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian church, one appreciates its sacred nature.  Statues and icons of divine figures from Christianity are throughout these churches, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the Archangel Michael.  Sometimes, saint figures are displayed too, especially on their feast days (when he or she is celebrated).

Christian churches do not hold an exclusive right to being sacred.  Jewish temples and synagogues, mosques from Islam, Hindu temples (which in style are somewhat similar to Roman Catholic), Buddhist temples, Sikh temples, Jain temples, and any faith or denomination’s holy place I neglected to mention are sacred too.  Nature is sacred to Neo-Pagans and Wiccans – those that worship nature itself represented by a God and Goddess (some include entire pantheons of deities not unlike Hinduism).

I am writing this to connect to you to honor the sacred places of your own and of others.  This forum, Spirit Walk, in its latest incarnation, is my personal and public space to talk to you how I honor the sacred.  As I stated earlier, I am a progressive Christian (belonging to the U.C.C.), but I honor all the sacred places.  I remember the first time I went to a mosque in seminary in Columbus, Ohio.  It is also a holy place even if it is not my religion.  I do not hold exclusive rights to say what is holy and sacred and neither do you.  Think about it and I hope you enjoy reading about my spiritual journey as expressed in contact with me and on this blog, Spirit Walk.

Namaste.