• einstein-quote

    Explaining God to a Child

    A lot of Christians have a strong desire to ensure that their children follow them in the faith. And to that end, a great deal of energy is expended in teaching them what to believe. Which, to a certain extent is OK. Our faith is not endlessly malleable and there are core beliefs that have been carefully passed down through the millennia for a reason. Yet knowing what to believe about God is very different from actually knowing God. And ultimately, it is knowing God that makes a person’s faith stick. So that’s what I want for my kids and what I focus my attention on when it comes to passing on the faith.

    Of course, anyone who has tried explaining God to a child knows that there’s a very good reason we tend to fall back on explaining doctrines and telling stories. God is not very easily put into words. So, as someone with a bit of a way with words and a couple decades of experience trying to explain God to children, allow me to share what’s worked for me. Feel free to steal as you see fit. ;)

    What is God?

    God is not a thing. Usually we say that God is spirit. Can you imagine what a person would be without their body? That’s a bit like what it means to be a spirit. Except God is much more than just one person. Try to imagine if you could take the spirit of every person and put it together to make one spirit that included every person’s spirit in it. God’s like that, except with the spirit of everything that exists added in. And then a bit more because God is bigger and more than everything that exists even.

    The bible says that God is love. So you love me and I love you. Here – let’s look into each other’s eyes and you think how much you love me and I’ll think about how much I love you. Do you feel that? That’s God right there between us.

    On God’s Omnipresence

    God is like air. Air is all around you and it’s all around me and every other person alive. In the bible is says that “in God we live and move and exist”, just like we live and move and exist in the air that’s everywhere. I breathe air in so there’s air inside of me. And you have air inside of you. But the air in me doesn’t take air away from you. It’s all the same air, but there’s still plenty of air for all of us. And that’s what it’s like with God as well.

    Sometimes we notice air. When it moves we feel it. Most often, we don’t even think about it. But it’s always there. And it’s always keeping us alive. In fact, it was keeping people alive for a long time before people knew what it was or why we needed it. And God is the same way.

    On God’s Omnipotence

    Now, air is a thing. It’s made of little bitty atoms and molecules. But air isn’t alive. So far as we can tell, it doesn’t feel or think or know what it’s doing. God, on the other hand, is alive. God does think and feel and know what he’s doing. So imagine if the air was able to know and feel and watch everything it touched. It would know what was happening on the outside and on the inside of everything. That’s kind of what it’s like to be God.

    On Prayer

    Even though God is everywhere and knows everything, God isn’t rude. God’s not going to come barging into your head without a very good reason. Instead, God waits for an invitation. And that’s what happens when you pray – you invite God in to hear what you have to say and think. And then if you get quiet and listen, sometimes you’ll even hear something back from God. It’s a little weird and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re just talking to yourself. And that’s OK. God made you to be an awful lot like him, so talking to God isn’t always going to be all that different from talking to yourself. But sometimes, you will know that God is speaking to you. Usually because what you hear touches your heart or surprises you or even takes your breath away. And when that happens, try to remember it. Because sometimes God is pretty quiet and when that happens, it helps to remember what was said before.

    Who is Jesus?

    Remember how I said that God is spirit? That’s kind of confusing, isn’t it? Even if we pray and think about these things, it’s still awfully hard to understand. God knows this. So, when the time was right, Jesus was born. Jesus was a human being just like us with a body and a family and a mind that worked just like ours. But his spirit – what we are when we don’t have a body – was God. Jesus shows us what it looks like when God lives as a human being. So we can see what God looks like, acts like and cares about when he exists not as air or spirit, but as a human being.

    Jesus shows us the truth about God. Because of him, we have a way to examine God. Let’s say that you tell me that you prayed and found God to be mean, harsh and angry. And I say that I pray and found God to be kind, gentle and loving. How can we know which is right? Well, we can look at Jesus. Sometimes Jesus was angry and harsh. But mostly he was kind, gentle and loving. So maybe there are times when God seems angry and harsh, but mostly we can expect him to be kind, gentle and loving.

    Or let’s say that someone tells you that it’s really important to God that we dress a certain way or not listen to certain music or not spend time with people who aren’t like us. And they even have a bunch of bible verses to show you that this is true. Well, you can look at Jesus and see that he never showed any interest in how people dressed or what they did for fun and he spent time with all sorts of people. So even though someone might have a bunch of bible verses that they are using to tell you these things, you can be pretty sure that they are confused. Because of Jesus.

    Not only that, but have you ever thought that maybe God didn’t really understand what you are dealing with? Like maybe God’s on the outside looking in but doesn’t really get how hard life is sometimes or what it’s like to really struggle? I think that sometimes. But Jesus went through all the things that we go through. He was called names and got sick to his stomach and felt alone and misunderstood. He got hungry and crabby and was treated unfairly and wasn’t always allowed to do what he wanted. So we know that God actually does know what it’s like. He really can understand what we go through. And now we know that because we know that Jesus went through all those things as well.

  • Why You Should Always, Always, Always Listen to Your Heart

    keep-calm-and-listen-to-your-heart-35One of the things that I learned while researching the bible verses that say that “the man is the head of the woman as Jesus is head of the church” is that in the days when Paul and the rest of the bible’s writers were living, no one really knew what the brain was for. It was widely believed to be some sort of cooling system. But there were cases where brain damage caused changes in people’s behavior and abilities and no one could quite figure out how damage to the cooling system could cause the problems they were observing. So no one knew quite what to make of that. There was even one school of thought on the brain which had sperm being produced in the brain and transported to it’s destination through the nervous system. It wasn’t until the 2nd century AD that Roman physician Galen popularized the idea of the head as controlling the body and storing memories, and thus thought.

    Prior to that, it was believed that the seat of thought, emotion and will was the heart. Which actually makes sense because if you’ve ever paid attention, we feel emotions in our bodies – particularly around our chest. Thoughts quickly follow from emotions and our will is determined between the two. Today we think of the heart as symbolic of our emotions, but in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman worlds, the heart was the center of not just emotion, but of thought and will as well.

    So there’s your completely pointless history lesson of the day. Use it well. I’m sure you’ll be able to fascinate people at your next dinner party with it. (Make your donations to support this amazing ministry today by clicking HERE.)

    Anyhow, I actually do have a point. My point is to explain to you why you should always listen to your heart. Here’s the thing about your heart: Continue reading

  • The Spirit In You Knows the Truth

    That hopeful feeling you experience when someone tells you that God is better than you’ve been taught is the Holy Spirit moving. I know a lot of churches tell you to ignore it. To settle for a God who isn’t really good enough. But listen when your heart leaps with hope, joy or peace. That’s the Spirit in you.

  • The Mystery of Faith

    “Go that way! Towards the sun.”

    I always wondered about faith.  Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it.  Calvinists say that you are predestined to either have it or not.  It’s a free gift that you cannot earn.  But you have to nurture and hang onto it.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals.  So many contradictory ideas.

    What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God.  It tells you something true. sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear.  But it’s true and you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward.   When times are hard, you have to really listen for it.  You have to really hold onto what you hear.  Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away.

    Why do I say that these words and their amazing power to sustain us are faith?  Scriptures describe Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  In the beginning there was the word and the word was God and the word was with God.  Listen and you will hear words pointing you back to God.

    A couple of months ago, I read in a devotional: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?”  And regularly when I have been ready to consign myself to a life of permanent misery, those words: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” would drift into my mind.  And I had a choice.  I could believe these words pointing me back towards God or would I continue embracing the darkness.  The darkness seems so reasonable and safe.  It’s real.  I can think of 100 reasons to just let go of what I have put my faith in until now and give myself up to misery and call it my fate.  But every time I am quiet, every time I cannot hold onto being miserable anymore, the words of faith keep coming back.

    For years I heard them, read them, sang them, prayed them, studied them – these words that are truth pointing me back to truth.  And now, they come back to me.  They are songs running through my head when I wake up in the morning.  They are words I have planted in my children repeated in their own voices for their own reasons.  They are the words that come to the surface every time I pause my recital of the litany of reasons I just cannot and will not continue.  And consistently they point me back to God when hitchhiking to Vegas starts to seem like my only hope for survival.

    This is how faith works: what you allow in, will come back to you when you need it. It’s not magic; it’s a free gift we all have thanks to these amazing brains we have been given.  Our brains will take the smallest good thing we give it and when we most need it, spit it back out at us.  I cannot tell you how often when I have been quiet and just listened, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant will come to mind and that’s just the little boost I need for the moment.

    This is God teaching me to see and be nourished by even the tiniest things and the smallest drops of water so that I can survive in a desert place.  This is Jesus authoring the words which point me in the direction I need to go on the path that leads to God.  Faith is a tiny mustard seed sprouting and pointing towards the sun, however dim and distant it may be.  Go that way.  Towards the son.  There’s love there.  S o you hope that God is as good as he says he is and hold onto the light for as long as you can, letting it strengthen you to endure the darkness from the next wave threatening to rip this little bit of comfort away.  And somehow, it’s always enough.

    *First published 12/2011

  • Prayers of Faith

    Earlier this year, I did a series of posts on why God doesn’t answer prayers. My reason for writing the posts was to push back against the common church narrative which says that if you just have enough faith, God will answer your prayers. I think this is such a problematic teaching as it basically teaches us that if our lives are hard and God is not answering our prayers, it is because our faith is inadequate. We didn’t believe hard or well enough to be rewarded with answered prayers. Which just isn’t true and encourages us to engage in the sort of magical thinking that keeps fairies alive. I suspect that this teaching results in very few answered prayers and a whole lot of burnt out, discouraged Christians.

    The other day, I read a wonderful post on just this topic titled “Why Your Prayer Will not Be Answered” which pointed something out which I wanted to pass on to y’all. It was written by John Igbinovia. (Yes that John Igbinovia, also known as XTsamurai, also known as the Nigerian musician I wrote about yesterday. I wasn’t kidding when I said that he was an exceptional person.) At any rate, in it John explains a few things about what faith is and what faith is not:

    Faith is NOT the same as belief. . . If GOD has not given insight about a situation to you, there is NOTHING to faith.

    All you have is passionate ardent belief that is your HOPE – and it is fine to act with the hopes of getting what you want and telling God, your Father, what your desires are. . . Faith is acting based on a KNOWING of God’s intention about something. Basically, there is a plan about a person or situation that God is bringing about and somehow, you have been able to hear or “hear”, as in know SOMEHOW on the inside, what God intends to DO. Praying with that understanding simply aligns with what God plans to DO already

    “Faith cometh by hearing the word of God”. If you have not heard, what are you “faithing’’?

    Mmmmm . . . Doesn’t that explain so much? We have our hopes and desires and even bible verses which can be read to say that God will give us what we hope for and desire. Then when God does not answer our prayers of hope, we feel betrayed and confused. But it’s not our prayers of hope that God answers, it’s our prayers of faith. And faith comes from the promises we’ve been given, not from our own desires for what we want: Continue reading

  • Fighting God

    If you are a Christian who takes the bible seriously, there will often come a point where you feel hamstrung by the bible. You may be inclined to, say, allow women into ministry or accept gay marriage or get a tattoo. But there are those bible verses which clearly speak against them. So, out of obedience to God, you accept that God works in mysterious ways, his ways are always good and some things are just beyond us.

    In response to your faithfulness, other people get mad at you and call you sexist or homophobic or legalistic or whatever. And depending on how well you know Jesus, you either humbly take it in stride or you fight back. (You have to know Jesus really, really well to be capable of taking it all in stride, btw.) After a while you can end up feeling like you’re standing on the razor’s edge between being faithful and being a loving, decent person.

    But Jesus said that the truth would set us free and standing on a razor’s edge doesn’t leave much room for freedom, does it? Somehow, simply being faithful to scripture has left you standing on one spot, unable to move, exposed to the world’s wrath and struggling against your own weaknesses. It doesn’t feel much like freedom.

    The problem is a problem which God has been dealing with since time immemorial. The problem is with us and lies at the very heart of our relationship with God, self and other.

    You see, God loves humanity. He’s on our side. We, however, struggle to love ourselves and each other. And the only way we can comprehend God’s love for humanity is if it is foreign and strange. If God loves humanity, he must not love the same way that we love, because there’s no way God can look at us with all our sin and failure and be happy with us. So we’re not too surprised when God tells us to do things which don’t make sense; we’re really not capable of understanding God’s love, after all.

    Great, you say. That may well be true, but what does that have to do with the uncomfortable position Christians often find themselves in when following the bible? Well, let I explain. Continue reading

  • A Prayer for Easter Morning

    Father God,

    We come to you today as a family of the broken, the humbled, the weak and the victorious. We have walked down dark paths and through dark places. We have been wounded, we have been lost and we have been foolish. Yet no matter how hopeless or empty our spirit’s dwelling places have been, Easter morning is always there speaking victory to us.

    Where we have been overwhelmed by sin, the empty grave tells us of victory over sins that have wounded us and sins we have wounded others with. Where we have been terrified by insecurity, want and uncertainty the empty grave speaks of victory that is always secure and a future that is always certain and abundant in every good thing. Where we have been brought low by despair and hopelessness, the empty grave shines through to assure us that however low life can bring us, that is as high as God will raise us.

    Today we gather in our broken, humble, weak and victorious families to bask in the risen light of the world.  We ask that you allow the Spirit of Christ to permeate our being and nourish our souls through the season of growth and change which lies ahead.

    And when we again find ourselves in those hopeless and empty places of life, we will thank you and praise you nonetheless because you are not the God of death and sorrow and despair. You are the God of the empty grave. Our victory has been won, our future has been made secure. No matter the cross we carry or the darkness of the hell we journey through, that empty grave continues to testify to victory. Today we rejoice that our God is love and peace and joy and hope always and everywhere. Bless us, sustain us and restore us in Jesus the Christ who reigns in glory until the age of the ages.

    And all God’s people say – Amen and Amen!

  • It’s OK To Say . . .

    It’s OK to say to God, “I don’t know how to do what you’re asking me to do. I don’t know how to be loving or kind or patient or forgiving. I don’t know how to want to do any of those things!”
    Christians who can’t admit this inability to perform the basic requirements of Christianity are like toddlers who won’t admit they need help carrying the milk into the house. And the results can be just as messy.

  • jesus-meditating

    Meditate Like Jesus

    jesus-meditating

    What if I told you that I held the secret to meditating like Jesus did? And that I have been practicing it with amazing results for 15 years? And I can teach you the secret to meditating like Jesus did. Would you pay me $29.95 for access to an online book explaining the secret of this great mystery? Pay to attend a seminar to learn under my expert guidance? How about if I threw in a money back guarentee – use the technique for 90 days and if you are not completely satisfied, I’ll refund your money (upon receipt of documented evidence of practicing this meditation technique for 90 days, of course).

    Yeah, well, if you want to send me money, you are always welcome to – there’s a donation button on the right side of the page on my site. But don’t worry – I’m just going to tell you what I know. Making a book, seminar or marketing plan out of it sounds like way too much work. Maybe one day when I’m feeling less busy/lazy, I’ll work up the ambition to build a multi-million dollar enterprise sharing my expertise as a spiritual scam artist leader.

    First, a quick confession; I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I have learned to pray and meditate almost entirely by instinct and/or following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I’ve never read a book or had any training or gone on a retreat to learn to meditate properly. I’ve probably read a couple of magazine articles or blog posts over the years, but that’s about it. My only actual training in prayer was memorizing prayers for Catholic catecism classes when I was a kid. So what I share is my own idiosyncratic understanding which may or may not meet the standards of Meditation, Inc.

    So, first allow me to explain my own understanding of how to meditate, which probably isn’t too much different than anyone else’s. Then I’ll explain the part about meditating like Jesus. (Which may or may not actually be how Jesus meditated, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

    Because I was Catholic when I started learning to meditate, I used a candle. Catholics really like candles, you know. I would simply look at the flame of a burning candle and try to focus on nothing but the black wick at the center of the flame. Of course, this is almost impossible to do right off the bat. Your brain keeps wandering off and before you know it, you’re trying to figure out why Justin Donnelly, the boy whose children you plan on having, should he ever notice your existance, has a British accent even though he’s been attending school with you in the midwestern United States since second grade. Once I realized that my mind was wandering, I’d just let it go and refocus on the flame. Over and over and over and over.

    I won’t go through the whole process, which I’m sure has been documented in excruciating detail elsewhere, but eventually the brain chatters itself out. It’s replaced by silence, for just a few seconds at first. But eventually, for extended periods of time you can silence your brain and just focus on your breathing or a flame or a word. This can take time – like years. My sister once attended a week long, silent meditation retreat in Thailand and was able to do it in 5 days. I’m sure she could give you a reference if you need one.

    Being able to meditate like this is a great skill to have. And it is a skill which requires regular practice. But for my purposes, being able to sit with a blank mind without thinking wasn’t really the point. Yes, there are benefits to meditating in this fashion, like reducing stress, increasing mindfulness, etc. But this is my own idiosyncratic version, so for me, being able to sit with a silent mind wasn’t an end to itself.

    Rather, the bible says repeatedly that we should meditate on God’s word and ways. For me, being able to get my mind blank and quiet provided a good, clean starting place for me to do this. I could introduce a bit of scripture or an idea into my meditation time and rather than having a brain that wandered off or engaged in free-association from the starting point, I could concentrate fully on what I was meditating on. The thoughts which came up were purposeful rather than random. Often I could see connections or gain a deeper understanding while engaging in this sort of meditation.

    So, that’s all well and fine, but I started by positing that I might know the secret to meditating like Jesus did. And I might even have been practicing it for many years. Which might be true. You see, many years ago, I read an article, written by a Jewish person, which claimed that the ancient Hebrew style of meditation was to take two ideas which were seemingly in conflict with each other and meditate on them. The ancient Hebrew thinkers, they said, would hold these two seemingly opposing ideas together in their mind until the connections between them revealed themselves. In the end, not just the connections, but the interdependance of thse two seemingly opposing ideas would become clear and then the meditator would be able to see the reality of the situation and why God had made it so.

    It’s been many years since I read this and honestly, I’ve never been able to find this explanation for how the ancient Hebrews meditated anywhere else. So maybe the ancient Hebrews really did meditate this way and maybe they didn’t. But when I read that, it occurred to me that, if this were true, then this would be how Jesus had meditated. Plus, it seemed like a good approach to try and I did.

    After many years of engaging in this sort of meditation, I am inclined to think that this may well have been how Jesus meditated on God, scripture and theology. If you look at his teachings, you can see that he was the master of the third way. That he was able to find a way to be faithful to scripture without ever sacrificing the primacy of the command to love God, neighbor and self. In my experience, meditating in this way – by taking two things which appear to be in conflict and holding them side-by-side – is an excellent way to find this third way. Especially, if you choose Love as your north star – the thing that everything must be measured by – this sort of meditation does allow you to see connections, recognize what’s extraneous or an unwarrented assumption and eventually, how what you once though was in conflict fits together.

    I suppose that I really could write a book or put together a seminar or retreat explaining the ins and outs of how this works. But this is a blog post, so you’re getting the cheapy, free version. ;) However, if you are intrigued and want to give it a try, I’ll just leave you with a few tips.

    First, examples of subjects which this style of meditation can be useful for:

    • Bible verses which appear to contradict
    • The science of creation vs the creation stories in Genesis
    • Christian customs or teachings which are in conflict with human nature or culture (ie women’s roles, homosexuality, wealth)
    • Theodicy – why we live in a world where there’s suffering if God is good

    When you have a subject you are meditating on, these can be useful questions to ask yourself:

    • What if this were true?
    • What if I let go of this assumption?
    • Why do I think this must be true/false?
    • Am I making connections between things that aren’t really connected?
    • Is there a different way of understanding this word or concept?

    And finally, if you do adopt this method of meditation, know that it’s not a quick fix. On occasion, I puzzle something out quickly, But there are subjects I’ve been meditating on, off and on, for years. Usually, you gain greater understanding without necessarily resolving the whole issue. So it’s not a panacea.

    As for whether this is actually a good way to figure out what is true or just a nice way to make your own arguments, I’ll just share this. Over the years it has been incredibly common for people to ask me, “have you been reading so-and-so? Because what you’re saying sounds an awful lot like what he writes about in such-and-such.” The answer, nearly 100% of the time is no, I haven’t read and unless they are a church father, I probably haven’t even heard of the person they are asking about. My book budget is non-existent and I don’t have the sort of education where one would read or learn about various theologians. Nearly always, what I’m sharing which bears such a strong resemblance to what someone else says comes out of this habit of meditating.

    Because we each bear God’s image, I believe that we each carrying within us the answers to everything. It’s just a matter of uncovering them and separating the wheat from the chaff and what is particular to me from what is universal. So, maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I can’t help but think that the frequency that I am told that what I am saying is much the same as what some church mother or father or some theologian says is a pretty good sign that this way of meditating has been quite productive for me. I think it’s a bit like how scientific discoveries or inventions tend to pop up in multiple places with multiple people all at once – a sign that something solid has been hit on. Or the way evolution tends to produce the same traits repeatedly in different places and settings – a sign that something useful has been produced. The fact that I’m often reaching conclusions that others have seems to be a good indicator that meditating like Jesus (presumably) did works.

    Anyhow, if I ever decide to become a charletan guru and sell my super secret, revolutionary method for meditating like our Lord and Savior, y’all will be the first to know. In the meantime, give it a go yourself!

    Related: Just A Housewife In Wisconsin