The God Box

“You are not upset that we have different boxes. You are upset because my box does not match yours.” ~Rob Lester

MovingBoxToo often we place God in a box, whether it’s a box of our own making or one belonging to someone else that we’ve co-opted for our own designs. We lift up the flaps, place Him in, and think things will be fine from then on because He’s there. We’ve defined Him by placing Him firmly in our own concept of where He should be, of where we think He fits, and we leave Him in there.

And the craziest part of it all is that we don’t realize we’re doing it. You know what I’ve realized, though, after all this time? I see now that the whole time I was growing up I did just the same thing. I placed God inside that box, and it has a name: organized religion.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) (The Bible)

It is this grace that is the key, not anything else. By placing God inside a box it means we believe we can decide what happens. It means we think our works will mark us for salvation. Organized religion the world around is based on this assumption. If we do good works then God will reward us. And each one is different, yet the same. Christians say that God will reward those who have been faithful. Hindus say we need to be dedicated to ceremonies and rituals for a gift from a God in the afterlife. Muslims believe in a God who gives us what we deserve based on our deeds.

In this way too many organized religions place God in this box. It’s understandable, too, because we like definitions. We as human beings like to be able to visualize and define everything. Instead of taking it all in faith, instead of simply accepting that undeserving grace, we look for validation from others, then we translate that validation into a blessing we believe we will get from whatever our version of God happens to be.

“Did man emerge from non-being through his own devices? Was he his own creator? Did mankind create the heavens and earth? Certainly they do not know God.” (52:35-36) (The Qu’ran)

This idea that mankind can know what’s best for mankind is ridiculed by the Qu’ran. This passage is another way of saying God knows best, that we must trust in God, and yet the beliefs espoused by the religion itself shows a God who does not accept all. It is once again not an idea of grace and an all-encompassing acceptance. The only way to know this God is to follow the teachings of the prophet and of the holy book itself. It is simply another way of placing God in this box.

For some people this is the only way for them to be able to understand God, by placing Him in this box, by placing limitations upon a being who is above even the idea of limiting. Even by just saying Him we place restrictions on a being we cannot ever truly contain. Nor should we be trying to contain Him, trying to bend our will and actions to this idea of a God that organized religion imposes on us. For a time it’s necessary, even instructive, to see God through a childlike lens, through that rudimentary belief system, but as we grow in Him we can see more the individual nature of the relationship that has no limitations. Because He has no limitations.

Then we battle over it, as if one religion is better than any other, as if God esteems one more than he esteems all the rest. We are of the “one faith,” the “one church,” the “essential elementary understanding,” and everything else we do to place labels of differentiation and judgment on everything and on everyone, including ourselves.

“What religion needs today is not more flying with God, or leaping with God, or jumping up and down with God, or going into spasms and convulsions and epileptic fits with God. What religion needs today is more walking with God.” ~Milo H. Gates

This idea of walking with God is one espoused by many organized religions, or at least they pay lip service to it. They agree that we all need to walk with God, but they don’t make it a personal walk. Just saying that our walk with God needs to take place alongside others (who are on their own personal walks) undermines the strength of that statement.

I remember when my youngest was in kindergarten, and one of the comments from the teacher was that Madeline was good at “parallel play,” which means playing alongside other kids without playing with them. She said it like it was the worst thing in the world, but it was peaceful. Madeline was doing what she wanted instead of destroying what the kid next to her was doing. I was good with that. It’s how I feel about the idea of having to be with others, to share the “walk” with others. It’s unnecessary, and it can be detrimental. We are all on our own journeys with God, personal journeys that could be disrupted by thinking ours needs to be just like someone else’s.

People often ask me why I don’t go to church now, especially those who I grew up with in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They ask me what’s going on with my personal relationship with God because they fear for me. They’re worried that my lack of fellowship with “true believers” will be detrimental to my soul salvation. And to them I say they should focus on themselves, on their own personal relationship with God, that instead of putting Him in a box, they should actually walk with Him, free of those boxes. Allow for His grace, for His mercy, and for His overwhelming acceptance to help you see that it’s not about organized religion.

It’s about you and Him. That’s all it’s ever been about.



“Oh My God.”

why_me_god“Oh my god,” she said, and to her it meant absolutely nothing. It was a placeholder, another way of saying “What?” in that sarcastic tone I know she means when she pretends to be innocent. But she knows what she’s doing and saying. She knows that I’m not pleased when I put my hands on my hips and say, “It has nothing to do with god.” Then she looks at me like I’ve grown a second head, rolls her eyes, and says, “You know what I meant.” And while I do, I don’t at the same time.

I wasn’t allowed to say “God” when I was growing up, because it was taking the Lord’s name in vain. There’s some scripture about it, about not taking the Lord’s name in vain, that there will be serious consequences, or something like that. And I took it seriously, but sometimes I got into saying “Geez,” and “Gosh,” and even “Golly.” But we all know what each one of those affectations really means, right? They’re just another way for saying God, and just another way to take the Lord’s name in vain.

But it never stopped me from saying it. It just stopped me from saying it in the presence of my mother. To this day I don’t think my mother has ever heard me swear, and to my mother the G-word was even worse to say than the F-word, at least that’s the way it seemed at the time. Then I grew up, and it was all around me, so it lost its cache. Everyone said “Oh my god,” and “Geez,” and “Gosh,” so I stopped saying all of them. Instead I began using the F-word, but never around my children. I’d like to try and keep them innocent for just a little while longer (he says, while writing about it on his blog).

Now it’s all come full circle, because my oldest is saying it… all the time. Every time I turn around she’s saying it again. It’s become her mantra, as if it’s the last phrase on earth and she’s using it up because she’s worried that it too will disappear forever any second. I’ve tried to explain to her like my mother explained to me, that we shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, but she asked me, “Who’s the Lord?” That’s when it hit me that I’m not my mother. I don’t have some kind of solid faith that keeps me grounded, or chained, whichever verb you prefer. What I have is a personal connection with some form of a god that hasn’t been introduced to my children.

So I don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to the phrase, because we don’t have any religious rules to follow in this house. It makes me realize, this grand battle, that we do need to start explaining to our children what our faith entails, and that it’s real even though we don’t go to church, that faith isn’t organized religion for us but that it can be for them. It’s time to start discussing those difficult subjects, because Alexa’s obviously ready, if just in the question she asked me as a response to my chastisement.

“Oh my god,” she told me when she got home from school today and dropped her bookbag down on the floor like it had been cutting into her shoulders. And I began to scold her, but I stopped myself instead, for a change. Because it’s not taking the Lord’s name in vain if she doesn’t even know who He is to her, and for her. There’s no frame of reference, so no wonder she is so miffed when I just say it’s wrong. It’s time for us both to work through the idea of religion together, under the shining lights of the Menorah.


Fountain of Youth

FOUNTAIN-OF-YOUTH1The explorer Ponce de Leon was desperate to find a land of riches and the mystical “fountain of youth” when he landed in Florida in the early part of the fourteenth century. It was apparently a get rich quick scheme that had much more to do with finding gold and precious jewels than in locating the magical fountain that was said to reverse the aging process. In the Bible there is a similar fountain mentioned, in a place called Bethesda, where the sick and infirm came to touch the waters and be healed. Does it in fact exist in this day and age? I believe so.

First off, before you think I’m some kind of kook, I’ll explain. I don’t actually think there’s a basin with water in it that will bring back your youth. I don’t believe in magic of that kind, and neither, I think, did Ponce de Leon, or Hernando de Soto after him. I think they were fascinated by the idea of something otherworldly that could make them live forever, but aren’t we all? It’s one of the reasons I think we are so into vampires, zombies and the like right now. Just look at television shows, books, and movies.

Is that the answer? As a writer I am very sensitive to the idea of words being that source of everlasting youth. When I go back into my earlier writings I am transported back in time, and to an extent all readers are when they delve into literature from when they were young. The body secretes a hormone that emerges when those memories are triggered, creating a sense of release, not unlike letting out that breath that you were holding, like coming home and relaxing. The same is true of anything that triggers those memories, in essence bringing each person back to the time of his/her youth.

I believe it’s more than that, though. Continue reading “Fountain of Youth”

Another Version of God

crying_out“You’re a god, and I am not, and I just thought that you would know.” -Vertical Horizon

There are some days when I strongly believe in a higher power causing the sun to rise in the East and set in the West, a being stronger than us who gives us free will but also pulls the strings when necessary, an iconoclast who by his very nature defies his own existence, who is revered by many but truly loved by few. Lip service, that’s what we usually pay to such a god, and we do it in prayer, sometimes down on our knees, sometimes standing up, sometimes over Skype with our grandmother who is in the home but we choose not to visit. And she believes in such a god who sits high and judges low because so did her grandmother who has been gone lo these many years, a woman who took religion as seriously as she did her shaving rituals.

Then there are days when I honestly don’t see how there can be a benevolent god in a world so full of misery and devastation, when good people die daily and bad people live to be a hundred. Then I stop myself because are there really good people and bad people? There are just people who do bad things, right? And sometimes those same people also do good things, but of course that’s when no one is paying attention. What kind of a god lets things happen, even in the name of free will, that could have been easily prevented? Some days I sit high up in my chair and judge low, feeling like maybe I’m that god I’ve been doubting all along, that maybe being made in his image means I’m upholding an image that is just that, an image, a mirage, a picture in my head that is shared by many who also doubt. Continue reading “Another Version of God”

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