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“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.

Sam

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th“Well, I used to stand for something. Now I’m on my hands and knees, turning in my god for this one, and he signs his name with a Capital G.” ~Nine Inch Nails

You know god, the guy in the sky who looks down over us and says stuff like “It’s good.” From the time I was little I was well-acquainted with the big G, or at least I thought I was. My father was a preacher, and my mother was heavily involved in the church too, so I thought I was positioned closer than most to a true knowledge of the true god. I figured if anyone was going to be saved in the long run it was going to be me. I mean, it had to be me, because I had a close personal relationship and everything. I knew to spell his name with a capital G.

But somewhere along the line I realized that my father’s personal relationship, and my mother’s personal relationship, they didn’t equate a single bit to my own personal relationship with God. I had to figure that one out on my own, and that made me exactly equal to every other bloke on the planet who was also clueless about how to go about doing that. Sure, there’s a manual that starts with a capital B, but it’s so old and the language is so dowdy that I had no idea what any of it meant anyway, and the things I thought I understood could have easily been misinterpretations as well.

When do we use capital letters anyway? I mean, in our society they’re superfluous even when they are used. Generally I only see them anymore when someone is trying to write “scholarly,” not even in emails or text messages. Some people don’t even use a capital letter when signing their own names. I’ve seen more and more of that lately, so when we do use capitals it really is for special occasions or for special people. So this capital G that set God apart even before all this technology, even eons ago, it serves to set him apart even more now. When I use that capital G I know I’m talking about the one and only, not just some people’s approximations of who they think he is. Because it’s not about our perceptions. It’s about who he is.

Wow. So it makes sense that getting a personal relationship with God wouldn’t be an easy endeavor. I’ve spent nigh upon 30 years working on that one, and some days I don’t think I’m any closer to comprehending him, much less to having a relationship, some kind of give and take, with him. But I do know that it all starts with humbling myself, because God doesn’t go for all that confidence stuff. Why would he? None of us have done anything that’s worthy of his love, of his answering our prayers. He loves us in spite of ourselves, so going into it thinking that I was a preacher’s kid so God would take notice, that was entirely off point.

Maybe that’s the key. We can’t assume with God. We just need to be still and wait. It’s not about us, and it never was. It’s about him and his gift to us, his sacrifice for us even though we did nothing to deserve it, any of it. That’s how we get a personal relationship with the maker of all things, perhaps. We admit that we can’t do anything, that it’s all him, and we humbly bow and wait. It’s in the stillness, in the acknowledgement that we can do nothing, that’s when we can truly appreciate our God.

Because he is indeed awesome.

Sam

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“Yeah, I found God and he was absolutely just like me. He opened my mouth, looked down my throat, and told me I was thirsty.” -Ed Kowalczyk

I thought I knew who God was, back when I was little. My parents taught me to pray to this supreme being, this ruler of the universe. They taught me that God was always there for me, that He answered my prayers, even if sometimes the answer was no, or wait. And I couldn’t wrap my brain around someone who wasn’t able to be seen, who didn’t speak to me like my friends spoke to me, but they told me that He was my best friend, and that He was to be honored at all times, through my actions and through my words.

The first time I said a bad word I thought God was going to knock me dead right there on the spot. And when I snuck out to the movies with my sister against His teachings, I thought the world was going to come crashing down on my head, because not only did my parents teach me that God was there for me, but they told me that He was also firm.

Of course the Bible did nothing to dispel either one of these primary assertions, either. In the Old Testament the God I saw was unyielding, the firm God that was liable to strike me down for swearing or for sneaking out to the movies. While in the New Testament the God I saw was represented by his “son,” Jesus Christ, who was for the most part non-violent and spoke in a quiet but effective voice. Which one was the real God, the tough one who took no guff, or the one who was slow to anger and who believed in second chances? They were both supposed to be, but I could never reconcile it.

Interestingly enough, no one else could reconcile it for me either. And I asked everyone. What I did get from all the searching was that God is simply unfathomable, in both who He is and in why He does what He does. Simply put, that means don’t question Him or His motives because we will never know. I found it ironic, though, because God supposedly gave us free will, and a questioning nature, but when it comes to Him we aren’t ever going to know. And we should be alright with that. Apparently.

“I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for his reputation if he didn’t.” -Jules Renard

For a while I honestly didn’t know if God existed. I bought into the whole idea that people wouldn’t be dying in Ethiopia or Chicago if there was a God who truly cared about them, that women wouldn’t be raped, and that there would be no hardships in life. If there were a God, and if that God honestly loved everyone as the good book says, then why did bad things happen to good people? And it all came back to free will. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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His God

death-glare-147585The glare comes from his god
Obscuring what he cannot fathom
And leaving alone what he comprehends
No matter how small the latter
He stares through the advancing haze
An exercise in futility, it seems
But he cannot make himself stop
This endless cycle of dependence
On what he cannot see
Or just a glimpse of his soul
Reflected in the simple glass
Coming back in shadow light
Faint but gaining momentum
Like a newborn dove
Leaving the nest at dawn
To fall from heights so high
And do it all again
As random as an autumn day
That leads to silence
Before exploding in sound
And drowning his god
In the shallow end.

Sam

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