Creation

Many religions and mythologies tell the story of how the world and universe was created.  The Bible says it began with a word, and perhaps God did say a word that initiated the Big Bang and sent the universe into being.  This is how I view the Creation of the universe as science tells us and most progressive Christians like myself view it this way.

Let me tell you that story.  The universe was nothing and then suddenly with a big bang, the universe began forming and continues to form as it ever expands.  Our planet Earth was a lifeless rock until it collided with another planet, which also resulted in the moon, and that was the beginning of life itself on our third planet from the Sun.

Slowly, over time, atoms formed.  Much later, lifeforms began to form and evolve.  Over many, many million years, humans would eventually come into the picture.  This is the part I love of humanity’s story.  We are all made of stardust.  Yes, the collisions in the universe (that still happen today) slowly formed stars, and that dust, it’s debris, created us ultimately.

This version does not contradict the origins of the universe (it just didn’t happen in 6 literal days) in Genesis.  If anything, it supports it, and even the stubborn Vatican came to agree with this assessment.  This is what I do not understand: if the conservative Roman Catholic Church can and does support that Creation was the Big Bang and evolution: why won’t other conservative Christians jump on board.  Why is it that only liturgical and progressive Christians, progressive Jews, and other progressives of faith support this worldview?

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Lost…and Found

 

Today, I re-watched the series finale of the great series Lost titled “The End.”  I have to admit I cried watching it.  It was so emotional and touching.  Anyway, for a theological nerd like me, the series is full of theological metaphors.  The final scene has Jack and the others involved in the jet crash reunite in a church.  The windows have icons from all religions and ironically, Jack’s father, is named Christian Shepherd.

These characters have been in metaphorical  Heaven and Hell together.  Some have bad pasts they must atone for and do.  Others explore science and faith on the island.  It is Jack who, the true skeptic, finally accepts the truth at the end: they all died in the plane trash.  The island was a place they somehow metaphysically created to work out their life issues together so that they could eventually move in to the next phase of existence: heaven or reincarnation.  The show doesn’t give us that answer as no one really knows what happen or where we go when we die for a fact.  Yes, we all have theories and speculations, and some have had near death experiences, such as myself.

However, I do believe the Roman Catholics are right about Purgatory: a state of limbo where we repent for our sins until we are able to go to Heaven.  This is essentially what happens on the series Lost.  Some find redemption sooner than later and leave the island, but when they arrive at the church: no time has passed there.  As Jack discovers when he enters the church sanctuary, he sees all of his friends there, and they all talk and hug.  Then, Jack’s father opens the door, and they see a great light, and move on…  They are no longer lost, but found.

Reflections on the movie “The Shack”

I recently saw a great movie at a local theater.  I went and watched The Shack, based on the bestselling inspirational book.  It is about a man who loses his daughter to death (she is kidnapped and murdered) and his loses his faith in God, but God hasn’t lost his faith in him.  The man’s name is Mack and one winter morning he receives a letter in the mailbox saying “Come to the shack, Papa” (parahrased).  The shack was the place where his daughter was murdered.  Papa is the name his family gave to God.

This movie breaks all traditional perceptions of God.  He is not a man with a big white beard standing on a mountain.  Papa exclaims when Met states that description, “I think you have me confused with Santa Claus.”  We are shown Papa as the Trinity- Papa (in 2 different forms; a kind, compassionate mother figure portrayed by black actress Octavia Butler and a Native American man), Jesus (in Middle Eastern Jewish form, naturally), and the Holy Spirit portrayed by an ethereal Asian woman.  They all help Mack see that he is judging God based on his limited perceptions and that God doesn’t cause pain – people do that to people due to sin in the world.  We have free will, after all.

“Love leaves a mark” – Papa.  Papa and Jesus show their marks from the crucifixion.  I don’t want to give too much information away on this beautiful movie, but it is ultimately a love story between humanity and God.  The Trinity is explained in such an understandable way.  The relationship between God and humanity is made simple so that anyone can understand.  Theology doesn’t seem so difficult to understand after watching this movie or reading the book.

Please go watch this movie, cry as I cried during the movie, and listen to what the film has to say.  The film is also about forgiveness and mercy, a lost concept in these modern times, but it’s wonderfully there.

Peace be with you & Blessings,

Josh

Revolutionary Love

Jesus came to Earth to preach a revolutionary and universal understanding of love.  He said it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles; not comes from the body as the majority of Jewish sects believed in the 1st century CE.  He preached that we must love everyone, including our enemy, and our neighbor.  I did an exegesis of Galatians and discovered that the verse has a universal meaning: we are to love everyone, no exceptions.

This is what Jesus taught.  I will admit loving everyone, especially the worst of people, is hard, but we must do it as the Lord Jesus commands it.  This type of love is revolutionary even for today’s standards and in today’s divisive times.  We must love the most conservative Republican and the most liberal Democrat as the same.  We must love the bigot and the tree huger.

However, we must not be the bigot ourselves.  Jesus’ love is universal.  You must love everyone, and that includes yourself.  Do not hate anyone.  You must love the undocumented, the migrant, the atheist, the LGBT community, the fellow Christian, those of other faiths, and anyone not mentioned.  Jesus did not insert a period.  In the United Church of Christ, we are known as the “comma people” because our motto is “never place a period where God has put a comma.”  Love is hard, but wonderful too.  It is bigger than one individual and it surpasses the population of this world.

Universal Salvation

Universal Salvation

To begin, universal salvation is the belief that everyone goes to Heaven after death.  I believe in universal salvation.  The reason being, why would a deity be so cruel as to send all of his / her creation to Hell (actually, the word is Hades used in the Bible, the ancient Greek Underworld) for any reason.  Yes, we have free will (or do we?  That is a debate for another time).

Indeed, according to legend, on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter), Jesus is said to have visited Hades and liberated all the souls to Heaven.  The Catholic and Anglican traditions hold this belief to this day.  For Protestants, it is a mixed bag: some believe this story, while others simply don’t believe it.

Roman Catholics also believe in Purgatory, a place between Heaven and Hell, and a place where one may repent for one’s sins until they have achieved liberation and go to Heaven.  I can accept this, but I don’t believe anyone goes to a fiery Hell or to Hades in the Afterlife.  Throughout the New Testament, Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God is full of love and we must all love one another.  If one is sent to a fiery Hell, then it rather moots the point that God is all loving; for a loving God would not send his/her children to burn for eternity: it is beyond cruel.  Keep in mind, this is my opinion and I would not force my views on anyone.

Indeed, while in seminary, I received a few odd stares when I stated I believe in universal salvation.  It is nothing to be ashamed about in any way.

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice

“He has told you, o mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with the gates burned.  Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we may no longer suffer disgrace” – Nehemiah 2:17

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those that abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.”  – Luke 6:27-29

Micah said to do justice (not avenge); Nehemiah said lets rebuild the gates (not attack those who tore them down); Jesus said love your enemy and let them take more away from you (not fight to get it back).  The Bible, when read appropriately and in context, teaches great lessons.

Yesterday, my church, North Congregational UCC and several other churches had a large rally in Columbus, OH for restorative justice be put in place in our community.  Indeed, I think it should go further – statewide and nationwide.  Restorative justice is a way of reforming and redeeming the prisoner without putting him or her in a physical jail or prison and suffer the negating consequences as a result of a mistake that put him or her in that situation.  For example, non-violent offenders should not have to suffer a prison sentence, but instead, do community service and help the offended party in some way.  Another way is that a person who murders another human being should not be given the death party, but life in prison instead.

In case you missed the point, Jesus made it very clear: love your enemy!  If they take something from you, give them more to take away!  I wrote an earlier article about Jesus’ revolutionary teaching of love and it applies here too.  Love.  Love.  Love.  Restore.  Restore.  Restore.

Bless the Broken

“To heal the helpless heart and bless the broken” – Karen Clark Sheard, “God is Here” song.

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” – Matthew 5:5.

Jesus Christ often spoke of the poor, the last, and the meek as people in His Kingdom of God.  He said if you want to be in his kingdom, or as my church refers to it – the kin-dom, then the last shall be first.  In Luke’s Gospel, he said it was better to be poor rather than rich.  Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth.  In my interpretation, this means, if you follow Jesus’ teachings, and are humble, and even perceived as weak by others, then you shall become a leader in this world.

One of my favorite hymns, cited above, “God is Here,” Karen Sheard states God heals “the helpless heart and bless the broken.”  She continues to write in the hymn, “lay down the burdens you have carried; for in this sanctuary, God is here.”  None of us are perfect.  We are all flawed.  We have all made mistakes.  I’m sure many of us have some regrets about our life.  So, do as the song says, “lay down the burdens you have carried” – you can do this easy – pray, speak aloud, or simply to think to God about the burdens you are carrying, and God is here to comfort you in this broken time; or broken life.

God may not take your burdens away, but She will be there with you, and ease your burden.  The Apostle Paul often spoke of “carrying our own cross;” sometimes the cross is your burdens, your problems, your insecurities, and your sin.  Jesus wants to make your burden light.  *Notice: I am a member of the United Church of Christ and we view God as “Mother and Father,” and so I will interchange between She and He when referring to God.*  The song/hymn of “God is Here” continues to say “He is here.  He is here.  He is here.  God is here.”

The UCC (United Church of Christ) is a Reformed tradition and considered the most liberal of Christian denominations.  Thus, I do not say you need “to be saved,” because, in my view, everyone is already saved.  I believe in universal salvation (in other words, everyone goes to Heaven).  However, it might help, to find a church and become a member and learn about the teachings of Jesus Christ.  It might make you a better person.  Like I said earlier, you don’t have to be perfect; just be you and let God worry about the rest.  God blesses the broken.  God is here.

— Josh Spencer

6/22/2017

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