Do I pray and read my Bible?

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Today I was asked if I pray. Prayer means something very different for me than it once did. Once I deconstructed all the premises I had learned about prayer, I realized I could no longer continue with that view and practice of prayer. Ultimately for me, prayer became holding a deep desire for the liberation of another human being relative to their situation, and a willingness to aid that liberation in some tangible way. I came to see that this desire and willingness was a powerful force in the world.

I am also sometimes asked if I read the Bible. These days, not very often. For many years I read the Bible daily as a personal spiritual discipline. I also studied the Bible more academically through four years in seminary and a Master of Divinity degree. And then of course I taught the Bible several times a week for many years as the Senior Pastor of a church. Once I uncovered what I came to see as the message and meaning of Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, it sunk down into me, and became a part of who I am. But I don’t sit down and read the Bible as a regular practice. That doesn’t mean I don’t think people should. And it doesn’t rule out that I might read it more regularly in another season of life. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to how people relate to the Bible or how they choose to incorporate it into their lives.

The last 12 weeks (what you think when you’re going to die)

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Bronnie Ware is a nurse who spent many years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog, which later became a book called, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Here are the 5 regrets:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Do you have a regret from the journey of life that you have lived so far? Does it or will it have an impact on your life going forward in terms of what is important to you or how you want to live or be in the world?

(Photo by Darla Winn)

Is theology the correct discipline to know God?

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You cannot have a clear view of the world as it really is through the lens of theology, ideology, or philosophy. For that, you’re going to have to include the study of the natural sciences. We ought not compartmentalize and segregate these fields and disciplines but see them as working together as an interdependent whole. It is an unfortunate and insufficient path to conclude that God is mostly worked out through theology and doctrine.

If you’re interested in exploring, here are a few books worth exploring:

Consilience by Edward O. Wilson

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking 

The big lie you believe about yourself

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“Love gives. Love is what brought me into this world. I am a gift, offered in love. Love desires your freedom. Love desires your wholeness. Love wants you to know yourself as complete. Love wants you to be at peace. My life was an invitation to this freedom, wholeness, peace and love. But my invitation is a choice.

You have also been fed a lie about yourself that will ultimately destroy you. The lie says you are bad and worthless, irreparably flawed, defective and unacceptable, and undeserving of love and acceptance, even from God. I’m here to say that’s not true, and I’m asking you to believe me. Even when everything in your head or everything n your life seems to be evidence of the lie, I’m asking that you believe me instead.

I’m going to be gone soon, and I need you to get this because I need your life to be that invitation as mine was. You are as much a gift to the world as I am, and I want you to accept and own that for yourself. Love never stopped giving. Love keeps birthing new expressions of the truth to awaken those lost in the lie. First, you have to wake up yourself and then your life naturally becomes the smelling salts this world needs.”

- Jesus, Religion-Free Bible (Jim Palmer) 

What made Jesus different than the rest of us?

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Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Consider the possibility that Jesus invites us to understand ourselves inside of the truth of who he was and is.

In Jesus’ birth, we learn he had both a divine and human origin. In other words, Jesus was a mix of divine DNA (God) and human DNA (Joseph and Mary). This is also true for each of us. Our fundamental Self is an expression or manifestation of the image, likeness, and being of God. That Self is one with God – always has been, is in every moment, and always will be. There is no separation.That Self took on humanity through the process of being born into this world. Jesus was both divine and human, and this is true of us.

Jesus died. His death is a reminder that part of the “truth” he claimed about himself included the impermanence of his human body and mind. Why did Jesus have to die? Because every human being has to die. The body and mind we are born into and develop over the course of our lifetime is not permanent. There is nothing wrong with this. It is not a problem to solve or overcome. The impermanence of our human body and mind does not compromise the truth; it is part of it. Like Jesus, we all will die. In the Bible, Jesus refers to us as his siblings, together in one family. We all have a common origin in God, and we all share the reality of our humanity and the human journey.

Jesus never died. That seems like a contradiction to what I just said. What I mean in this case is that the essence and nature of Jesus is permanent. At the most fundamental level where Jesus and God are one – that reality has no end, and cannot be diminished, compromised, threatened, disturbed, or terminated. This was the basis for Jesus appeal to his disciples to accept his human death in order that they might embrace his underlying spiritual identity. Jesus discouraged others from becoming attached to his human personality, and instead challenged people to find the truth of who he was inside themselves. In my mind, this is what we are celebrating at Easter – the eternal nature of our true Self that never dies but always lives and one with God.

Organized Christianity memorializes Jesus in his birth, death, and resurrection. Jesus taught that the truth of each of these were meant to be claimed as truth for ourselves. What I think is especially different about Jesus was not his birth, death or resurrection, but the life he lived. Jesus gave full expression to the truth of God and humankind as one. We are told in the gospels that Jesus himself went through a process of self-actualization – fully recognizing and expressing the truth of his identity. And then that day came when Jesus spoke those words with full awareness, “I am the truth.”

These are the words that we must now claim for ourselves and live.

(Photo by Darla Winn)

I don’t read my Amazon reviews (and other strange habits as a writer)

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12 Random Things About Me As An Author:

1. It was never a goal of mine to become an author. My writing career started when a publishing house contacted me and asked if I would write a book.
2. I don’t read my Amazon reviews because I take negative reviews too personally.
3. The promotion and marketing side of publishing doesn’t suit me well. I have an aversion to self-promotion, which is not good since it’s a critical part of making a living as a writer.
4. Despite my publishing house turning down The Shack, I wrote the first endorsement that appears in the book.
5. Never learned how to type, but I’ve perfected the hunt-and-peck method, using my middle fingers.
6. Typically I listen to music as a write. Half of Wide Open Spaces was written to U2. Several chapters in my books have been written to film scores.
7. My publishing contract for Being Jesus in Nashville was canceled because the book was determined to be “outside biblical orthodox Christianity.”
8. I still play my cards close to my vest. There’s a lot that has happened in my life that has never made it into a book.
9. I wish I had thicker skin. Being an author isn’t such a good match for someone who wears their heart on their sleeve.
10. I secretly wish that the people who hate me the most will come around and we’ll be friends.
11. My best writing time is 3:30 a.m.
12. I consider myself a better speaker than a writer, but I don’t like being the center of attention, and I abhor being given any kind of special status because of it.

When the Gospel is a lie

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Personal Enemy # 1 -> Shame

I’ve been pondering lately what holds me back on my journey. I know shame does. Shame is normally deeply rooted in a person, especially those who have endured severe abuse, whether it be mental, emotional, physical or sexual. Shame is the feeling and belief of being flawed and defective. Before you even recognize it or can defend yourself against it, shame severs your soul and pierces you to the core with feelings of distrust, ugliness, stupidity, doubt, worthlessness, inferiority, and unworthiness. It makes you feel different. It tells you something is wrong with you. It soils your divine identity. There are some days when I expend way too much time and energy in this conversation in my head about what’s wrong with me. At every turn I am finding something else I don’t like about myself or another way I’m not measuring up. On some days, the moment my eyes open and feet hit the floor, shame appears and follows me like a shadow. It can be the master emotion. It’s that internal voice, whispering words of condemnation. The pain of it can be so intense, that you learn to numb out so you no longer feel it.

Too often religion adds fuel to the fire by telling us that God shares this same disgust about who we are. After a childhood and youth of abuse, I turned to religion to save me from my prison. Instead, it threw away the key.

What people often hear as the so-called Christian gospel is:

“You are a filthy, dirty, incurable scumbag. God is perfectly holy. If it were up to God you’d be tossed into Hell to burn in conscious torment forever. That’s what you deserve by being you. That’s how bad you are. Thankfully, God worked this out by brutally executing his innocent son by death on a cross. If you believe and accept this along with other central doctrines, God will forgive you. God will never be fond of a scumbag like you, but at least you’ll make it into Heaven when you die. In the meantime, you’re off the hook because when God looks at scumbag you, God magically doesn’t really see scumbag you; he sees Jesus instead. You will never amount to much in God’s eyes anyway. But how amazing that God loves someone like you who doesn’t deserve it.”

None of the above is true.

You are not bad. You are not separated from God. You are not repulsive to God. Jesus did not die to save you from God. Please stop telling your children this.

Too often religion tells people that Christ is of the same substance as God but that we are a different class of being, inferior and unworthy, who deserve eternal punishment. By reinforcing this sense of separation and inadequacy, the church teaches us to think and act like sinners. The religious notion of our original badness is a ball and chain that prevents us from embracing our original goodness.

 

 

Moving on, letting go, and the conflict of religious holidays

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Let’s say you are standing on the banks of a river and decide that you’d like to live in the land on the other side. So, you find a canoe, start paddling, and successfully make the journey there. Once you make it to the other side, would it be necessary to strap the canoe to your back and lug it around on your back all the time? Of course not, the canoe did it’s job by getting you there; it served its purpose.

Likewise on our spiritual journey, there are many different tools that help us get unstuck, resolve or address something, or stretch out into new dimensions of freedom. Once you get unstuck, resolve the issue, or find the freedom, that tool (concept, teaching, understanding, practice) did its job and served its purpose. My point here is that it is okay to move on. You may start to feel a bit bored or empty with some of the concepts, teachings, understandings, and practices that were once very significant and worthwhile for you. It’s okay. That’s what happens. There’s nothing wrong with that. The letting go part can be a bit uncomfortable, and sometimes you’re not quite sure what’s next. But holding on too long when it’s time to move on will only deepen that emptiness, and make you sick inside.

I’ve been wondering this week if this even applies to religious holidays. The thought crossed my mind with Easter approaching. My personal interest in Jesus has steadily grown over the years as I have personally become less and less connected to organized Christianity. But despite my interest in Jesus, the idea of celebrating religious holidays doesn’t resonate with me personally anymore. Even for a period before now it seemed like I was simply going though the motions. Can anyone else relate to this? How has it played out for you? I don’t think this is a “right” or “wrong” thing. I’m just sharing where I am.

 

Everything I needed to know about God (I learned at Waffle House)

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Chapter 3 of Divine Nobodies is titled: “Waffle House Theology (Wanda the Waitress).” Wanda was a waitress I got to know at a nearby Waffle House that I often went to. She was an important person in my journey of shedding religion to find God. I’m not sure I’d even be here if it weren’t for Wanda. I received word today that Wanda died of pancreatic cancer.

That’s all I have to say about that…

“For years, I prided myself on having right theology, but Wanda got me thinking about whether any theology can be “right” if it doesn’t motivate you to treat people with love and respect. For whatever you did for the waitresses, cashiers, and all the other invisible people we cross paths with each day… you did unto me.”

- Jim Palmer, Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to find God (and the unlikely people who help you)

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