Another Blog; Another Faith

I had another blog in which I wrote about my faith a lot more explicitly. I thought that by creating another blog, I could compartmentalize that side of me that waffles over into faith and somehow really “be myself” on this blog. I mean, let’s face it, I’m all over the map when it comes to faith. That other blog is now no more, but I managed to export some posts using the “export xml” function on the Dashboard. I’m glad I did, because I wrote some of my best stuff in the throes of the Spirit over there. So I thought I’d “reprint” my favorite posts from that other blog. Here’s one (I believe I titled it “Sermon on the Mount”):

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Of all the passages in the bible that record what Jesus taught, the Sermon on the Mount is the most difficult. Yet, with Dallas Willard’s help, I think I finally understand it. Matthew 5:1-11 is a oft-quoted passage. The implication in reading it is that somehow we are supposed to “do” something that will bless us. But Willard says, “not so” in The Divine Conspiracy, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Let’s look at Matthew 5:3 in the New Living Translation. Now I’m quoting the most accessible translation here, without regard to anything but readability and clearness of meaning. Arguments over translations are fruitless in the Christian walk. We are focusing on the message, not the bible itself (see Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus for an excellent analysis of textual criticism). Anyway, Matthew 5:3 reads, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” I have always assumed that in order to be blessed we must realize our need for God or be “poor in spirit” as some translations read, but Willard writes that, struggling with the translation of this verse:

reflects our intense need to find in the condition referred to something good, something God supposedly desires or even requires, that then can serve as a ‘reasonable’ basis for the blessedness he bestows. But that precisely misses the point that the very formulation of the Beatitudes should bring to our attention.

Jesus did not say, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit because they are poor in spirit.’ He did not think, ‘What a fine thing it is to be destitute of every spiritual attainment or quality. It makes people worthy of the kingdom.’ And we steal away the much more profound meaning of his teaching about the availability of the kingdom by replacing the state of spiritual impoverishment–in no way good in itself–with some supposedly praiseworthy state of mind or attitude that ‘qualifies’ us for the kingdom.

In so doing we merely substitute another banal legalism for the ecstatic pronouncement of the gospel. Those poor in spirit are called ‘blessed’ by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ (page 102).

What a wonderful exposition of the verse! So many of us are legalists at heart. I know I have a tendency in that direction myself and must fight it daily. We want to read scripture and say, “if this, then this” and voile! we are blessed. It’s the particular sin of prosperity gospel preachers like Paula White and Joel Osteen when they cry, “God wants you wealthy!” or “God wants you to prosper!” What they are doing is using the bible as a divine dispensing machine, where you plug in this or that verse, say this or that prayer, and God cannot HELP but bless you, not to effect your salvation, but to bolster your self esteem or to enhance your personal wealth. What a bastardization of the gospel of Christ! Sure it may make YOU feel good, but that’s not what the gospel is for. The gospel is not a new set of rules that needs to be “put into action” or pasted over the “old rules.” In fact, there is NOTHING we can DO at all. Even the social gospel which emphasizes feeding the poor and clothing the naked falls into the same mindset when it mistakes the presence of the grace of the Kingdom of God for a utopian vision of salvation merely from physical need.

No, the beatitudes, writes Willard, are “explanations and illustrations drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus” (page 106). It’s a relationship, not a divine “to do” list! It’s easy for me to write about it, but all too often I slip into that legalistic mode, wondering what it is that I can DO to effect my salvation. But, that’s just it, I don’t have to DO anything. It’s already been done. So what is Jesus doing with the Beatitudes then? Willard tells us that Jesus is using these illustrations to show the state of our hearts AND to show that “no human condition excludes blessedness, that God may come to any person with his care and deliverance…The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That is the gospel of the Beatitudes” (page 116).

Amen to that! God loves you and me whether we “name it or claim it” or whether we learn “his principles to prosper” or not. In fact, God loves us more and more as you consistently fail to live up to a prosperity gospel or to a legalism born of fear. And that’s precisely the point of Jesus’ mission; to show us the state of our hearts so that we might realize our complete inadequacy in saving ourselves. And the remedy? Why, complete and utter dependence on the Spirit of Christ. Complete and utter abandonment and a willingness to be molded into a loving, caring, merciful human being. That’s it. Who doesn’t want to be that?

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I’m so full of faith in this post. I wonder where that goes sometimes. I wonder that I’ve wandered (nod to Heather) far afield many days. Where is that comfort and joy now? I want to be that faith-full again. I want to experience that peace that seems to exude from those posts. Deleting the blog seemed like a childish attempt to eradicate that part of myself that still had faith. It didn’t feel like the “most me” at the time and yet, at other times it did feel like the real me, but maybe that’s the point. I want to bring the two together. I will never forget these lines from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love:

God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are. God isn’t interested in watching you enact some performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person looks or behaves. We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality… To know God, you need only to renounce one thing–your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your own natural character (page 192).

I agree with this, to a point. If you are an angry murderer or love to rape children, please, by all that is holy, don’t stay the way you think you were made! ! But when it comes to personality; if you are a boisterous, aggressive, loud laughing, bull in a china shop type of woman (as I am), it’s ridiculous to try to turn yourself into a quasi-feminine, wispy-voiced, obedient-to-the-last caricature of a wife that fundie Christians seem to love and worship. It ain’t gonna happen! Hopefully, this will mark a new point of authenticity for me. Faith when there’s faith and honesty when there’s not. Blessings!

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16 thoughts on “Another Blog; Another Faith

  1. **I wonder that Iโ€™ve wandered (not to Heather)**

    I love shout-outs! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I often wonder if Christianity runs into problems by stressing that we can’t earn God’s love, because that’s often one of the first things we hear: you’re not good enough to earn this, but you have it anyway.

    Yet, if we take this down a notich, and use our human parents (as parents are supposed to be, not the parents that we might have), when has “earn” ever been part of the equation? I mean, if we were told that we can’t earn our parents love, we’d look at the person as though they were crazy, because when did we ever need to? When did “earn” ever even play a part in the parental love a parent has for a child? Can it even be a parental love if “earn” suddenly enters the equation?

    We are loved by a parent because of who we are. Same with God: if God is our parent, then we are loved because of who we are. That’s the lesson I see in Christianity. As soon as you think earning is applicable, you’re distoring what a parent/child love is. It’s like as soon as “earn” even enters the whole salvation idea, you’re almost creating the legalistic situation you’re trying to avoid.

    **writes Willard, are โ€œexplanations and illustrations drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesusโ€ (page 106). **

    I am curious about this statement, and wonder about your thoughts as well. One of the things about the Sermon is that it doesn’t state anything about a personal relationship with Jesus. Indeed, the crowd that was hearing the Sermon wouldn’t have known that redemption would come through Christ, or that they needed that relationship. Jesus really just says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” He doesn’t say that they’re blessed because they’ll inherit something through him, or have something through him. They’re simply blessed.

    Not only that, but the thing that was “done” hadn’t been done at that time. He had a while to go before the crucifixion.

    As for the peace from that post — perhaps part of why you’ve “lost” it is due to the journey you’re still on? Maybe it’s one of those things where if you returned to that kind of peace, you’d also have to sacrifice other things from where you are know, such as refusing to compromise (to go along with the idea of not being the “docile” woman and such). That might’ve been the peace you needed for that time, and now you’re on the road to a “fuller” peace. Because one of the things I noticed here is that you state in the earlier post:

    **to show us the state of our hearts so that we might realize our complete inadequacy in saving ourselves. And the remedy? Why, complete and utter dependence on the Spirit of Christ. Complete and utter abandonment and a willingness to be molded into a loving, caring, merciful human being. **

    And yet you state in your examination: **if you are a boisterous, aggressive, loud laughing, bull in a china shop type of woman (as I am), itโ€™s ridiculous to try to turn yourself into a quasi-feminine, wispy-voiced, obedient-to-the-last caricature of a wife that fundie Christians seem to love and worship. It ainโ€™t gonna happen!**

    Perhaps earlier, you were trying to “abandon” the wrong person — a quasi-feminine sort of person, the caricature. And maybe now that you’re grabbing hold of your authentic self, you’re slowly learning about the person who God truly created?

    My opinion is that the only thing you’ll truly abandon is the “false self,” and through journeying with God, you’ll learn more and more about the “true self.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Mystery:

    There were a few points that I disagree with here, mostly it was the “relationship” aspect. I’ve always had a tough time with that. I think that it’s an Americanized version of gospel because we are still so hung up on our individuality. I remember reading–TRYING to read–Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life” and it was just…there was such a focus on individuality and relationship and the whole feel good stuff that that guy just should have chosen the title, “God Knew You Were Going To Buy This Book!” Drove me crazy.

    I did write my own interpertation of The Beatitudes on my site. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s called “When Lightning Strikes.”

    It was good to get a breath of fresh air here. Heh. Thanks for writing.

  3. I enjoyed this post MOI. I’ve really enjoyed The Divine Conspiracy. I’ve only got a couple of chapters to go on the audio book. I think I’ll buy the actual book version and also the study guide.

    Did you ever see this post that I wrote about the Beatitudes and Willard’s viewpoint:

    http://theriverlethe.com/the-beatitudes/

  4. I loved your post – must admit I got a little nervous when I reached the break, wondering what would come next. I’m so glad it’s God judging the hearts and minds and not us! I think I am where you were – although I’m not about to be some wimpy woman that can’t share her view! (How does one with a loud voice choose to become wispy – she must not be Texan ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    I believe that the first beatitude is an invitation into the Kingdom – those who recognize their poverty of spirit, their inability to save themselves, will possess the Kingdom of Heaven.

  5. OneSmallStep,

    Well said! (I changed my typo “not” to Heather to “nod” which is what I meant)

    In context Willard’s quote about relationship reads, “The Beatitudes in particular are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings. No one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, and so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him the rule of God from all the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.”
    You’re right that they don’t specifically mention a relationship with Jesus. I think Willard is assuming this in the context of the rest of Jesus’ message in the Gospels, especially the “Come to me..” passages in John, etc.

    I like your analysis of my casting off personas. I think I am rebelling against the pigeon-holed Christian version of me and trying to reconcile the other parts. It is a journey and I have to keep telling myself that! The emphasis for some Christians is that it is all done. Well, it is spiritually, but in actuality, I’m still “arriving.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. NorEaster,
    In fact I did read your post “When Lightening Strikes.” It was very good. I realize all the interpretations of the Beatitudes out there really focus on different things. I think Willard is trying to save them from being an entirely “Social Gospel” where individuals are not important. It’s a balancing act that Christians are still trying to reconcile. Are we here to save others in their atrocious circumstances or to save ourselves? I contend that nothing changes if it isn’t in the heart first. I contend that we change from the inside out as do others and that we can help others all we like, but if people do not change their hearts first, with the Spirit’s help, we are fighting the wind. Willard emphasizes this point throughout his analysis of the Beatitudes and passages following. It’s not that we lust or murder (which is bad of course), it’s that our hearts have the propensity for lust and murder always. The only way to rid ourselves of this propensity is to come to Jesus first and our helping others stems from that.

    I too did not like The Purpose Driven Life. It was a cutesy message without substance. It was another “self esteem” book on the order of Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale, as is Osteen’s book and others.

    Good points!

  7. Hey Michelle,

    Yes, I have that affect on people… “hmmm, where’s she going with this?” ๐Ÿ™‚ My mistake is excising the part that I think doesn’t reconcile with me altogether. It’s just that I can hold some pretty weird opinions at the same time as holding others and some people have a hard time with that. But I think we all do and are just afraid to say it out loud. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I think it makes you very interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

    To find safe people who can handle our opinions is the challenge.

  9. Well, in many ways this is beyond my learned ken of understanding. I am not a sophisticated biblical scholar; yet, I take from this that God is within us and that we search to be the best version of ourselves, by using our heart well.

  10. I just wrote a post on this understanding of God within us – that’s all the self-promotion” I’ll do.

    Yes, MOI, I think it fits the challenge ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. SE,

    Well, I’m not what men like to call a “sophisticated” bible scholar either. I reads it, and I comment on it as I sees it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, our hearts are what we are to use. Many, many of the biblical set forget that.

    Good to see your posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. MOI,

    Thanks for the expansion on that quote. It’s funny — I never read the Sermon on the Mount as something that told us how bad we were and thus how much we need a Savior, nor did I read it in a legalistic way. Such as, “I must be a peacemaker in order to be a child of God.” Mostly because the statements were using the present tense — Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger/thirst. It was a condition that people were already in, and didn’t have to “work” at. It was more of a natural condition.

    **Well, it is spiritually, but in actuality, Iโ€™m still โ€œarriving.โ€ **
    Been there, still there, probably not leaving anytime soon. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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