Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Reason Why I Am No Longer a Christian

image from here
For a few years now I have been unable to accept some of the doctrines I once held to as a Christian. In many ways, the initial "break-up" of me leaving Christianity was a very emotional and gut-level reaction. I knew that claiming to believe the core doctrines of Christianity was no longer my truth. To continue to pretend it was would be to compromise my own character and to participate falsely in something I could no longer be part of while being authentically me. Lots of people who were anywhere near my facebook, blog or mouth :) could tell you that I expressed a lot of anger and sadness toward God, Christianity, the evangelical churches I grew up in and the Bible. That was real. It was very like the sort of explosive emotions that refuse to be repressed that someone experiences before an actual "break-up," and it is the intensity of such emotions that provide the energy to remove oneself, cut oneself off from and leave behind that which one can no longer participate in honestly, authentically and with a whole heart.

The further I get from the initial "break-up" of me leaving Christianity, the less angry I am. As time has passed I have found I am more able to put what I was reacting to and rejecting into words that are logical and sober.  This is important for me, even if my thought processes and truths don't make sense to anyone else, or if others think they are based on flawed thinking. I don't need to prove to Christians that I am "right," but I do want to be able to communicate why I have personally rejected Christianity, if for no other audience but myself. The simple act of writing or talking helps me do that.

One of the Christian doctrines I have rejected for a couple of years now is that of human beings being inherently sinful and in need of God's intervention, without which they would not be capable of doing "good." You can read a another post about this here. Even more specifically, I no longer accept that good happens only when humans essentially die to their own natural way of living, speaking, acting and even loving, so that the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of God that Christians believe "indwells" them, can live, speak, act and love THROUGH them.

My experience is to the contrary and has led me to believe that there is inherent goodness in every person, and that the manifestation of that goodness (love, charity, kindness, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, courage, selflessness, etc.) is possible only when one draws on one's OWN spirit, which may or may not be connected to a kind of collective spirit. Of course there are those who do bad things; I am one. But I do not wrong myself or others because my spirit (I call it "knowing place") is by nature "bad," but because I am not, for whatever reason, acting or reacting through the lens of ego. That ego is not "evil/bad," and in fact has some very important usefulnesses, but when one only looks through ego's lens (as a young child does) one does not act from that "spirit" or "knowing place." Learning to listen to my spirit is a process and that, I believe, is the journey of life: learning to act from that place, supporting those around me in learning to act from that place and, in any way I can lessening the suffering of those around me.

What's the difference between "my" version of spirit and Christianity's version of "holy spirit?" My version of spirit is already IN you. Christianity's version comes from outside of you. Further, evangelical Christianity teaches that one must intellectually assent to its other core doctrines before that holy spirit can come into and begin to live through the flawed nature that evangelicals say we are born with. My version of spirit can not be taken away; Christianity's version is not mine unless and until I convert, ask Jesus in my heart, or a variety of other actions, depending on the denomination of Christianity you listen to. My version just IS; Christianity's version has a twist in that if you do NOT convert or what have you and invite that holy spirit to indwell you, you not only are incapable of doing anything good in this life, but will be thrown into eternal punishment and separation from God.

I have written quite a bit about my rejection of the Christian concept of eternal punishment/hell and the WAY the threat of that sort of punishment "if you don't...." hanging over a person makes love impossible. Here's one post about this. Basically, if I tell you to love me, or else, all I will be able to get from you is the love that is given out of fear, which is actually not love at all.

But it occurs to me today that there is another important reason for believing that human beings are "good" inside, rather than "evil." The idea that we are evil and that the only goodness we ever do is because God somehow has done it through the filter of us as willing conduits, doesn't just make authentic loving relationship with God impossible. It makes authentic, loving relationship with other human beings impossible, too.

In other words, if you are only as good as you are allowing God to be through you, then I can not even accept your most "ardent love" as authentic. If you are incapable of doing anything good, authentically and from your heart, apart from God, you are nothing more than a machine when you are loving me. You are nothing more than a conduit of God's love.

Likewise, the love that originates in God and comes through me to you is like the air blowing out of a heater. The heat is dependent upon the heating machine; in fact, the heat is a bi-product of a machine doing what a machine is designed to do. If my love is the heat and God is the heating machine, my loving you is not because there is anything about YOU that is inherently lovable or special. You are not chosen, picked or uniquely-loved. You are loved just the same way as everyone one else is, by God, through the machine of a human being. That is not from the heart. That is not a love that you INSPIRED in me.

Not only that, but this also means that if you aren't loving me perfectly, you are an imperfect filter of God's love. You aren't allowing God to love me through you well enough. Again, you are failing. There is no human emotion. There is no "being moved by" someone and love being an expression of that movement. There is only you and I as supine conduits. Willing pipes through which God's love can flow.

Call me crazy but that sounds not only painful, but boring as hell. How then to explain it when I am "moved by" someone or something? My heart and mind tell me that that very "movement" inside is evidence that I am more than a conduit of divine love. My own human feelings, emotions and inner movements betray that I am more than just a pipe. I am definitely not just part of a love machine.

Furthermore, if it were true that the ultimate goal is to become "less" (since, according to this doctrine, that is the only way my sinful nature con be overcome) so that God can more effectively use me as a conduit of his love, I would then feel more able to love when I become "less me." And that is not the case. If that were true, when I am "less me" others would feel more loved. And that's just not so, either.

When I FEEL and then I SEE in the eyes of another human being, the reflection of what they see when they experience me, I feel most loved. When another human being says, "This is what I see..." and I can feel that what they see is the "me" that only someone who really is LOOKING and really is GAZING DEEPLY with loving, adoring, tender eyes could see, I feel loved.

To see human beings as a conduit of God's love ignores the risk and the courage that it takes to love someone else, as well. When someone, in spite of the very real fear that their expressed love will not be returned by me, allows their feelings toward me and the beauty they see in me to float fearlessly into their eyes so I can see it there, and cares enough to put the things they see in me into their own words, I am changed utterly.

Not only that but when the person doing that courageous mirroring of me to myself has seen me at my "shadow," as Carl Jung called it...and can look past that to see the truth that I AM ONLY PARTLY THAT SHADOW... I feel loved. That kind of love is more intimate and more personal than the act of physical intimacy. Anyone who has been on the receving end of that kind of love knows the way that "I've seen you AND I love you" kind of love is more transforming than almost any other human experience.

The person who, without regard for whether their unconditional love will be returned, who STILL persists in loving someone in such an active way is not being a willing pipeline or conduit. This is an active love.
This sort of love is risky. This sort of love IS being alive. It requires a kind of standing in the fire of relationship in order to even SEE those truths of someone else, let alone SPEAK/mirror them back to the other person. It requires a kind of recklessness, even, since it is the bucket of one's own soul (or it feels like it is!) that one lowers down into the deep well of someone else's real self in order to bring back the real water that's deep, deep down.

This is unconditional love: being a mirror, mirroring the goodness in the other to them, not knowing if they will reciprocate.

This is unconditional love: knowing exactly how one wants most to be loved and giving that to another without strings attached.

This is unconditional love: loving fiercely and extravagantly without holding back.

This is unconditional love: loving the other in all these ways EVEN IF the other person doesn't even "get" or "appreciate" that you are doing so, or understand/acknowledge the risk that it took for you to do so.

This is unconditional love: even allowing the person you love to walk away if they decide to but allowing your love to follow them for the rest of your life.

This is unconditional love: to choose to continue to see the other person for who they really are, and not to label them in a negative way, even if they reject you.
This is unconditional love: to, even after you are rejected, persist as far as you are able to communicate to the person in that mirroring sort of way all the beauty and goodness you experienced of them. In other words, thank them for the gift of the time they did give you, the parts of you they did show you and the way that you were altered in positive ways by having had contact with them.
I have felt this kind of love, coming and going, with and through other human beings. I have loved this way. I have been loved this way. And the only way to give this sort of love to another being is to look for, see and mirror the "real them" that I experience. That "real them" IS their spirit. The unconditional love you and I both long for is not the kind of love that says, "if...." "unless" or "until." It doesn't know time; it positions itself with arm outstretched, love offered, without condition, Now, Yesterday and Tomorrow. That love is IN ME. Not from an outside source or in spite of my nature. That love is called forth in me BY YOU. That love in me is only possible WHEN I am fully, completely and authentically ME.

Or perhaps it's this simple.

If I was standing before you and the fullness of who you are was visible, and I said, "I love the you that you are, no changes necessary and without regard to whether or not you love me back," how would you feel?

If I was standing before you and the fullness of who you are, and I said, "I love you because God is loving through me, and here is the goodness I see in you, which is only possible because God is good through you," how would you feel?

It IS that simple. Perhaps the last two paragraphs were all I really needed to write.

p.s. If you want to read more about some of my discoveries/experiences/thoughts about unconditional love, here are a few:
This one. But only if you don't mind the "f-word."
This one, inspired by a Ghandi quote.
This one about tattoos and love is one of my most-read posts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

"There are four questions of value in life:
What is sacred?
Of what is the spirit made?
What is worth living for?
And what is worth dying for?
The answer to each is the same.
Only Love."

An old Valentine's Day pic from (omg!) 5 years ago...still my favorite!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

One year ago

I wrote this a year ago but saved it in my drafts. I just found it again. Can't believe it's been a whole year. Missing my Pop Pop so much ...

My grandfather is dying. I am hopeful for him that death comes soon, since he is in pain, confused and has had a full life. But at the same time I don't even know what to do with the fact that this is the person who has loved me the most...the most unconditionally...the most purely...the most without expectation...the most extravagantly. And the fact is, there is no person who will love me like that when he is gone. Never before have I found myself wishing that someone so precious would die, but I know he's ready and I want him to be happy and whole again. I know this is part of being human. But I can't help feeling like I won't ever feel love like we have ever again. I know I can and will be on the "giving" end of this same love, even if I'm not on the "receving" end of it again in this lifetime. That IS comforting. But I don't even know what life will be like with him not here in the flesh, looking at me with adoring eyes that reflect and mirror back to me the way he sees me: PERFECT. I can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that one of these times when I kiss him goodbye and he looks at me that way and says, "I love you. You know that, don't you?" will be the LAST TIME I hear those words from him. And...I also feel that I hope he passes quickly, and for his sake I hope that today was the last time I will ever hear those words. I knew this would be hard, but I didn't know it would feel like this.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sadness and Silliness

What a strange season this is.

There are hard things happening. My precious grandfather's health is declining and it is such a heart-rending thing to watch. Some days I feel strong and then other days the tears sneak up on me when I least expect them. Today it was while I was on the treadmill. I ran while I sobbed.

But at the same time there are beautiful things happening. My nephew, Jack, will be born in just over a month, and we are all so excited to meet him. Three of my four sisters and I spent a sisters weekend in Napa this last weekend and had a good time.
In the middle of my sadness this morning about my grandfather, my sister, Whitney, sent me some wonderful photos from this last weekend in Napa that made me giggle out loud. I don't have any doubt that my grandfather would have had a huge smile on his face if he could have watched and listened to our sister silliness.
This evening I am struck by the fact that what is good, happy and fun weighs just as much as grief, pain and sadness. That I can feel "both/and," and that what really matters is the heart-to-heart connection with those I am sharing this life with that exists in, around and through both the sadness and the silliness.