There have been a lot of changes going on in my life lately. As I mentioned previously the reason this blog has been quiet has had to do with the “rough patch” I went through over the last several months. Losing your home, and the woman you love (long story) will do that to you. But after 14 weeks of staying at a co-workers, and having all manner of bad luck finding a new place to live, miracles did happen and I moved on July 4th weekend to a pretty amazing flat in Hamtramck, Michigan, a truly multi-ethnic, multi religious melting pot of a city actually surrounded by the city of Detroit.
It was originally a Polish enclave of new immigrants coming to work in the auto factories. Now it has evolved into a melding of Polish, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Bangladeshi, hipsters, convivial drunks (“Hamtown” has held the record of most bars per square mile of any city in the country for decades,) and former punks (in the 70’s and 80’s it was the hotbed of the punk scene in Detroit, hosting such seminal music bars as Lili’s 21and Paycheck’s Lounge.)
It’s a town where people still sit on their porches (and each other’s) and talk to their neighbors, where kids actually play outside, and people still hang their laundry on the line (I did last night- they smell so good.) It’s a great town, I’m close to work, and I have a huge flat in a building constructed in 1919 which huge ceilings, a clawfoot tub, and a kitchen that can hold both the galley kitchens in my previous places with room to spare.
I’m slowly recovering from the emotional upheaval that stepping outside and seeing your home burning can cause, and I am returning to “normal” life; picking up projects and hobbies once again, and getting back on track with writing and preaching about spirituality again.
And of course getting closer to the “threatened” articulation of just what I mean when I keep referring to the need for a new, more mature definition of God. Today, possibly having something to do with now having a new abode, I have decided to change the title and masthead of the blog to reflect this search I have been on to explain to myself, and you, what I mean by all this; just what I mean by a “Grown Up God.” And the journey I’ve been going on to be able to articulate this concept (or concepts because I think there’s several parts to this.)
So here is the new title, and new masthead for the blog. It hopefully conveys what I’ve been trying to do on my own spiritual quest, and hoping, as a minister and a progressive Christian, to encourage others to do the same.
The main reason for writing this today, as well as changing the title of the blog was that this morning the local Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) affiliate aired an interview with a United Church of Canada Minister, Rev. Gretta Vosper who has come out saying that she is an Atheist, and wants to keep her job.
I spent the better part of this morning on Facebook Chat talking with a close friend who works at the CBC (which is pretty much why I listen to that station) explaining to him that I totally understand where she’s coming from and believe that she should keep her job, and that I support her. And applaud her courage.
And that I too, by my standards, or what I think might be Rev. Vosper’s standards, consider myself an atheist too. I haven’t read too much about what she believes but what little I’ve been able to glean is that we share somewhat similar views.
What I heard he say is not necessarily that she doesn’t believe in God…what I hear her saying she doesn’t believe in god as presented in the bible; the Old testament presentation of god as a capricious, judgmental, violent, old man figure sitting on the cloud, demanding sacrifice and destroying his enemies with fires and floods.
I don’t believe that stuff either. And to be honest, neither do many ministers (at least not those of the progressive variety.)
And I bet you, in your heart of hearts, neither do you. That is, if you dare examine exactly what you believe. Most of us don’t, most of us raised in churches were not encouraged to “think” about these things, heck many were not even encouraged to read the bible. Why do you think until late in the last century the Catholic Mass was still held in Latin (a mostly long dead language that few outside of the clergy knew?) We weren’t encouraged to think, to question, merely to follow. To do what we were told, to believe what we were told to believe.
I’m going to be blunt, and ask you dear reader (if anyone is out there after all this time) a few direct questions.
Do you believe that God destroyed towns? Advocated war in His name? Ordered people to sacrifice their own children to prove they “loved” him enough? Do you believe, in the very crude and offensive vernacular of the late Rev. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, that “God Hates Fags?” That God hates any of His/Her/It’s creations?
Do you believe that in the 21st century that God “allows” xy & z tragedies, from shootings, to floods, to earthquakes, to ebola or aids, to god knows what to happen because the Supreme Court allowed marriage equality to happen, or Roe vs Wade, the separation of church and state, took out prayer in schools, or whatever boogeyman the Franklin Graham or the Republican Presidential Candidates claim?
Do you really believe that God cares one whit, and would punish people for, eating shellfish? Touching the skin of a pig? Working on a Sunday? Lying about your virginity ? Planting more than one kind of seed in a field? Picking up grapes that have fallen in your vineyard?
And do you really believe that God will send you to hell (if you even believe in it) for that cool tribal or rose tattoo you got at Bonnaroo, trimming your ironic goatee or that awesome poly-blend hoody from American Apparel you’re wearing?
If you answer NO to any of these, I am going to say, that at least by my definition, you too are an atheist.
And if you go one step further and think to yourself, “if I don’t believe that God would do these things, or judge me for these things, then what do I believe about God?” Then I’m also going to say that, again by my definition, you’re also an Agnostic, (again, like me.)
Now I don’t know if that part of the equation is a part of Rev. Vosper’s dialogue with herself, and with her congregation, but I’m pretty sure it is.
I know that is part of my journey now, to figure out just what I mean when I talk about God, or the Divine, or whatever I use at any given time. It’s an ongoing process and I’m still working on it. Heck that might the whole purpose of my spiritual journey- just to figure out what I mean when I say that even though I’m an atheist I believe in something bigger than myself… just not the God of the Old Testament (and probably much of the new too.)
And I also believe, as does Rev. Vosper, that not believing in that concept of God (being an atheist) doesn’t make one a bad person. Nor does it preclude us from being a follower of the teachings of Christ.
I believe that concept of god was literally created to “put the fear of god in people” to get them to behave. It was a control mechanism, a form of early psychology, based on the parental threat that if we didn’t be good, mom would tell us to “wait til your father get’s home.” Telling us to be nice or the boogeyman, er… God will get you. It was/still is morality through fear.
Jesus rejected that concept of a punitive God, and said “I have come to replace the law with one commandment only, that you Love one another.”
In the interview’s I’ve heard and read, Rev. Vosper said that her views “…hearken to Christianity’s beginnings, before the focus shifted from how one lived to doctrinal belief in God, Jesus and the Bible.”
She asks the questions; “Is the Bible really the word of God? Was Jesus a person?”
And said that she felt that we have built, “a faith tradition upon it which shifted to find belief more important than how we lived.”
None of these things are new to anyone who is involved in Unity or other forms of New Thought Christianity; we ask these questions and talk about these things all the time. We encourage these kinds of questions. And least I do.
In fact one of the common definitions of New Thought is that it is not a religion about worshiping Jesus, but a day to day faith journey based on the teachings OF Jesus.
That’s why I have written on here about rejecting or at least de-emphasizing everything in scripture beyond the Gospels, where the core teachings of Jesus are found; about loving our neighbors, practicing charity, compassion, healing, and forgiveness. I believe she and I are saying that we need to lose the mythology, lose the superstition and fear, and simply concentrate on the idea of loving each other; Living life as a moral, decent human being regardless of ether you believe in God or not.
I’ve found that many religious people feel you have to believe in God to be a good person, that not believing makes you evil, or bad. That’s sadly the argument many Christians make towards Atheists, or members of the Church of Satan for that matter.
But I have found that some of the most kind, decent, loving people are Atheists, while many “good Christians” are judgmental assholes, plain and simple.
Heck, sometimes I’ve been a judgmental asshole myself.
This lesson was brought home to me a couple years back, at the time of the death of Fred Phelps. My reaction was shamefully further away from the teachings of Jesus, than was my friend Mike, a pretty outspoken atheist, and one of the kindest, most decent people I know (He took all my pots and pans, dishes and my huge beer glass collection to his house after the fire and washed them all and re-packed them for me to have when I moved into my new home.)
I talk about the lesson of compassion I learned from him in my sermon “Loving Fred Phelps,” which you can listen to here (will open in a new tab.)
You don’t have to believe in God, to be the embodiment of God’s love on earth.
The sad part of all this coverage Rev. Gretta is and will be getting over the next few days, since the story has broken, is that I doubt any journalist or most of the people listening will press further beyond the surface statement “she doesn’t believe in god.” Their shields will go up, they’ll judge her.
But no one will go deeper, and ask her, if she doesn’t believe in the anthropomorphic, old testament God, what does she believe in?
It’s a sexy, scandalous story. And we love juicy stories about ministers losing their faith, which I don’t believe she has, by the way. Her faith has just grown, and matured beyond the superstition that has fostered so much hate, and intolerance in the name of Christianity.
In the Globe and Mail article linked above, Randy Bowes, board chairman at West Hill who led the search committee that hired Vosper, said he’s had no complaints from congregants.
He said that, “People want to engage in critical thinking as they explore new ways of expressing their faith and values, Bowes said, and that conversation is “alive and rich” within the community.”
That’s what you do in a “grown up religion.” You think, you question, and you be open to new answers.
Blessings to Rev. Gretta, that she may feel supported and loved during this trying time in her life, I hope she finds out that she is not alone among clergy, and if you stumble upon this blog, if I can support you in any way please don’t hesitate to contact me. And I’d love to know your thoughts on what I’ve been gnawing on throughout this blog the last few months.
And Blessings to you, readers, that this conversation may be an open door to your own quest for a “Grown Up God” of your own understanding.
You’ll find more of my exploration of this by clicking on “Grown Up God” on any of these posts.