is maintained as a backup for the articles
written by Doug Sloan and first posted at [D]
and as a space where those articles can be edited and updated.


Usage of terms within this article

all the foundational sacred writings of all the long-established religions.

Ancient Audience
all ancient people who created and received the scriptures
as people of various generations and various communities
both globally and within a single religion.
There is no such thing as a monolithic religion.
Every religion has a history of fractures,
differing threads of theological development,
and communities with their own worship traditions
and their own understanding of the religion.

The scripture was written to and written for and written by ancient people of an ancient culture living in an ancient time. The scripture was written as a metaphorical and thoughtful and faithful witness and record and narrative and explanation. The scripture is how those ancient people perceived their relationship with God and how they perceived the presence and influence and actions of God in their lives and history, individually and communally. Those ancient people and that ancient culture and that ancient time are gone, never to return. It is impossible for that ancient culture and that ancient time to be recreated and it is impossible for us to be that ancient people or to live as did that ancient people. In the same way that we are ignorant of our distant future, in the same way that it is impossible for us to discern the distant future; ancient people had no knowledge, no idea, no vision, no dream, no fantasy that two millennia hence there would be an increasingly global and interconnected culture and economy of 7 billion people, world wars and holocausts encompassing and killing and making refugees of millions, staggering accomplishments in medicine and engineering and transportation and communication, and the development of sciences and mathematics and technologies that did not and could not exist in their time and that they could not have comprehended. Because we have had these experiences and live with these developments and because these experiences and developments cannot be erased or quarantined from our perceptual and analytical processes, we are not capable of developing an adequate or reasonable comprehension of ancient times, cultures and people. We cannot understand an ancient existence devoid of our experiences and developments and knowledge and assumptions and expectations and view of reality and we will never be able to understand an ancient existence because we can neither interact with it nor live in it. Their ancient time and existence are irreconcilably separate from our contemporary time and existence and irreconcilably different than our time and existence. What is “ancient” and what is “contemporary” are mutually incomprehensible. In terms of the original ancient audience and the original ancient purpose and the original ancient usage, the scripture is not ours. The scripture was not written to us, the scripture was not written for us, the scripture was not written about us. Because the scripture is not ours, we are neither bound by it nor obligated by it. We can faithfully use the scripture as a source of inspiration and wisdom, as a way of connecting to or mediating the sacred, and it can become a path to spiritual revelation and epiphany that can be instructive, nurturing and transforming.

The only evidence we have from any ancient culture is a limited amount of architecture, statuary, artifacts, and literature. the evidence is so limited as to constitute a statistically insufficient sample that will not support a culture-wide macro hypothesis and will be completely useless for any viable micro hypothesis and neither will ever rise to the level of theoretical proof. Whatever understanding we have of an ancient time and ancient culture and ancient people is unavoidably imperfect, incomplete and inaccurate. Whatever understanding we have of any ancient people in any ancient culture in any ancient time is wrong in ways in which we will never be aware and in ways we will never be able to discern. Whatever understanding we have of the scripture, and no matter how comfortable or confident we are with that understanding, it will always be unavoidably imperfect, incomplete, inaccurate – it will always vastly more likely be a wrong understanding of the original intent, delivery, reception, social and theological understandings and implications, cultural incorporation and personal use of the scripture by its authors and original audience. The reason is three-fold:

1) we cannot have a conversation with them – the members of the original audience or the authors.
2) We cannot experience the scripture or witness the scripture in its original setting, transmission, reception, response and usage.
3) We cannot comprehend the scripture because the way we use and interpret our physical senses – the way we see, hear, feel, smell and taste – and the way we use and interpret our basic knowledge and our basic expectations and our basic assumptions and our sense of normalcy have been so completely shaped and infused by our contemporary environment that it is impossible for us to construct a usable comprehension of an ancient environment.

All we have for ancient evidence is the silent tombstones and artifacts of archeological discoveries and an inadequate and incomplete and imperfect written record and our own unconfirmed and unconfirmable interpretations and conclusions. All that we are left with and all that we will ever have is our own immediate understanding which is inescapably influenced by and attached to our time and our culture and our experiences in our culture in our time and our assimilation of and our assimilation by our culture and time. The value and truth of the scripture is not in what it was. The value and truth of the scripture is in what it is – for us here and now.

The truth of the scripture goes beyond and is more than any attempt to limit the scripture to historical fact. The truth of the scripture goes beyond and is more than any attempt to limit the ancient languages of the scripture to an arbitrary single “literal” definition or to an arbitrary single “literal” translation. Either attempt would be unfaithful and disrespectful, even abusive, toward the scripture. The truth of the scripture is more than factuality, physicality, requirements and restrictions, legally acceptable objective evidence, peer-reviewed repeatable scientific experiments, statistical analysis or mathematical proofs. The foundational and eternal truth of the scripture always involves “the more” – that which is beyond life, beyond the universe, beyond physicality, beyond factuality, beyond objective evidence and beyond provable theorems. The foundational and eternal truth of the scripture always recognizes “the more” as a perceivable presence and a knowable consciousness that is grace-full and loving and relational and even dialogical. The universal foundational and eternal message of all ancient scripture is that it is possible to live in synchronous harmony with “the more” by living The Way.

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 9 articles he has written, 5 are in the top 10 all-time most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master’s degree and licensure in Special Education.

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These articles by Doug Sloan were previously published at [D]mergent
They are listed and linked here in order of publication:

……….GOD IS…
……….RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS – an epistle
……….RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS – it’s personal
……….GOD IS – an update

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What is not the Good News:

Committing acts of war, violence, brutality, coercion, intimidation, discrimination, or exclusion in the name of faith or religion or scripture or Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or Allah or God or in the name of any entity divine or mortal.

Viewing a faithful life as being in a war or a combat operation or viewing the faithful life as requiring a warrior mentality or viewing faith as a weapon or a shield.

Claiming a specific faith as a national or cultural identity or the practice of that faith as an act of patriotism, citizenship, or civic duty.

Compelling or attempting to compel others – as individuals or as community – to celebrate, observe, or respect religious holidays in accordance with religious or nationalistic or populist or commercially specified behavior.

Claiming a literal or singular or absolute or sole authoritative interpretation of scripture.

Using scripture as justification or empowerment or authorization:
– to commit or to incite murder or violence or physical assault or property damage
– to commit or to incite verbal abuse or the use of demeaning labels or ostracism or shunning
– to commit or to incite intimidation that threatens to use any of these acts
– to control or to attempt to control the lives, behavior, and choices of others.

Responding to theological differences:
– with the commission or incitement of murder or violence or physical assault or property damage
– with the commission or incitement of verbal abuse or the use of demeaning labels or ostracism or shunning
– with intimidation by threatening to use any of these acts.

Standing on a city street or in the middle of a college campus and shouting at people about the supposed errors of their supposed sinful lives.

Practicing discrimination or exclusion or an “us/them” and “here/there” world view instead of an “us/here” world view.

Advocating a patriarchal, matriarchal, racial, ethnic, caste-based, tribal/family-based, or political/citizenship/empire-based social order as the will of God.

Requiring belief in a torturous execution as an atoning sacrifice.

Preaching eternal damnation and preaching that eternal damnation can be avoided only by conversion to or by the acceptance of a rigid pre-ordained belief system or membership in a particular faith, sect, denomination, or congregation.

Preaching that post-mortal existence is a reward for or a consequence of how mortal life is lived, that post-mortal existence is based on conditions instead of grace.

Claiming knowledge of the details or the nature of a post-mortal existence.

Preaching that the Kingdom of God is a future existence or a future apocalyptic event instead of a present reality and a way of living now.

Being focused on or concerned with a post-mortal existence to the exclusion or diminishment of life here and now – especially when it eliminates or diminishes or opposes the active and involved faithful service to and with others – for example: to feed, quench, clothe, heal, welcome, and visit in prison.

Preaching that how and what we believe is more important than how we live individually and as community and in relationship with each other.

Viewing the ascension to free will or the acquisition of free will as a sinful act that eternally separates from God all people for all generations instead of being viewed as a parable of success for both the people and God.

Viewing free will as strictly an earth-based and a human trait.

Requiring belief in the convoluted theology of a divine trinity.

Having to view Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or any person as God or equivalent to God.

Having to view the Cross or the Bible or the Qur’an or any text or any object or any symbol or any person as being worthy of worship or worshipful reverence.

Requiring belief in ascensions, post-death appearances, physical resurrections, virgin births, divine interventions, or any so-called “miraculous” occurrence.

No matter how reassuring it is made to sound, proclaiming that a disaster or a death or an injury or an illness or a harmful loss is the will of God.

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We love miracles – at least the idea of miracles. Each of us wants to be touched or rescued by God in a way that is touch tangible, directly personal, and inexplicably wonderful. We know that not everyone gets to experience a miracle. We know good and faithful people who are deserving, people who would benefit so much from a miracle. We know good and faithful people who suffer so much and never receive a miracle. Miracles seem so rare and fickle. Rarity and randomness seem to be part of what constitutes a miracle.

When we study the scripture and we find an act of divine intervention, a miracle – it is of secondary concern, almost a red herring. The purpose and focus of the narrative is not the miracle. The lesson of the narrative either surrounds the miracle or is much deeper than the miracle. The miracle either draws us to the lesson or is a gateway to the lesson. The miracle always serves the lesson. The lesson is neither subservient nor inferior to the miracle.

Miracles are prohibitively expensive. The cost of living in a universe that includes miracles requires a God who is capricious. Miracles require a Zeus or a Jupiter. Miracles require a God who is – unpredictably – either angry and onerous or calm and benevolent. It requires a God who is petty and arrogant and who has no qualms about interfering in, controlling, or playfully dabbling in the course of human events. This is a Greco-Roman narcissistic deity. This is not a theology that expands or promotes human understanding or raises the human condition. It is not a theology that enriches or informs the human experience. With a capricious God, our lives are a constant gamble and the universe is one big craps table.

This is not the God we worship. We do not worship a capricious God. We worship a God who is consistent – consistently and constantly loving, present, and inviting. A God who is consistent (who is not capricious) does not engage in either miracles of healing or miracles of retribution. God neither intervenes nor condemns, neither rescues nor punishes.

Have you ever been in the presence of an excellent person? Have you ever been in the presence of someone who has a gift and who excels in the use of that gift? A trained gifted singer can raise the performance level of an entire choir. Just one knowledgeable competent person can raise the performance level of an entire office. It is not by their sole efforts. It is by the singular influence of excellence on others, in the way that the presence of excellence inspires and enables others to excel in their respective gifts.

That is how God works. God is a presence – an influential guiding presence of excellence. God is not intrusive or manipulative, demanding or passive/aggressive. God is an influential guiding presence of excellence only to the extent that we make ourselves aware of it and learn to be sensitive to it. God can imbue our being – our thoughts, emotions, choices, actions, our very life essence – only through our invitation and practice.

In that context, in the presence and influence and guidance of an excellent God, there can be a miracle – the resurrection and transformation of the human spirit to a life of Good News, to being the Kingdom of God. Such a resurrection of spirit and radical transformation of character deserves the respect and wonder and contemplation that has always been reserved for the miraculous.

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The Second Reformation
Sunday, October 31, 2010
on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the
Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to…

* live the sacred life – here and now – of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God…
………to be unrelenting and unlimited;
………makes no exceptions and has no qualifications;
………to be the constant inviting presence of God; and
………to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to…
………be free and independent;
………be curious;
………be intelligent and wise;
………value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge;
………be creative;
………grow and mature;
………live long healthy satisfying lives;
………live non-violently without vengeance;
………be generous;
………be hospitable;
………be compassionate;
………do no harm;
………heal and rehabilitate and restore;
………forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate;
………be good stewards of all resources;
………live here and now as one family;
………live in a loving intimate relationship with God;
………be transformed through resurrection; and
………be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture…
………as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God;
………for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and
………spiritual truth and insight and illumination about
………how God is a presence and influence in my life and
………to better understand the love and grace of God and
………to discern how God is calling me forward and beyond
………my previous understanding of God
………to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and
………how God is calling me forward
………to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires…
………a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and
………the linguistic devices used in the scripture
………(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole,
………poetic metaphor, etc.),
………of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written,
………of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus:
……–– as the first followers of The Way;
……–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation;
……–– as the first example and witness that
……–– resurrection and transformation do exist and
……–– do not require death as a precedent;
……–– as example and witness that
……–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and
……–– as example and witness that
……–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is:
……–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love
……–– and always has been;

……–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us
……–– without exception and without qualification;

……–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

……–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

……–– in healthy partnership,
……–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

……–– be generous and hospitable to all;

……–– live non-violently without vengeance and
……–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

……–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do –
Whatever we are –
Wherever we are –
– can never separate us from the love and grace and
the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

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God has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, destruction, murder, violence, oppression, retribution, vengeance, hate, or conditional acceptance.

God has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, healing, reconciliation, liberation, resurrection, transformation, love, and grace.

God has always been the same. God does not change. What is changing is our expanding view of God and the increasing wisdom of our understanding of God and the Godly life we are called to live. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, through the entire course of the Biblical scripture, God is calling us from within the scripture to grow and to continually move forward and to mature beyond the view and wisdom found in the scripture. From mere existence through tribal justice through the detailed code of the Law of Moses through the revelation by Jesus of the dual foundation and purpose and expectation of the Law through the invitation to live a new life of resurrection and transformation with God as the only ruler of our new life. God is continuously calling us to grow and to move forward and to mature beyond our usual human existence to be the Kingdom of God. Without the requirement of death as a precedent, we are constantly invited to be resurrected for and transformed into the Kingdom of God for our life and especially the lives of others. We are called to live here and now a life of resurrection and transformation as the Kingdom of God –  this is the Good News.

The “will of God” – what God wants for us – has always been for us to:
*  Be Free and Independent
*  Think
*  Be Curious
*  Be Intelligent and Wise
*  Value Knowledge over Ignorance and Compassion over Knowledge
*  Be Creative
*  Grow and Mature
*  Live Long Healthy Satisfying Lives
*  Live Non-Violently Without Vengeance
*  Be Hospitable
*  Be Generous
*  Do No Harm
*  Heal and Reconcile and Rehabilitate
*  Be Good Stewards of all Resources
*  Live Here as One Family
*  Live in Loving Relationship with God
*  Be Transformed through Resurrection
*  Be the Kingdom of God

God is love and grace. These are the two most important characteristics of God that define who God is and who God always has been and who God always will be. God is timeless. More precisely, God is beyond time, beyond the constraints and confines and control and currents of time. God is not bound by the events or expectations or dimensions or constructs of this universe. In the same way that God is beyond time, God exceeds the bounds and bonds of this universe while being constantly present and immediately accessible in the universe. Even so, God has bounds. God is bound by love and grace; – God is bound by the conditions imposed by the act of creation by a God of love and grace; – and God is bound by the conditions imposed by a God of love and grace being in relationship with creation.

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works,
otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
(NRSV Romans 11:6)

Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law
but through faith in Jesus Christ.
And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus,
so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,
and not by doing the works of the law,
because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
(NRSV Galatians 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God – not the result of works,
so that no one may boast.
(NRSV Ephesians 2:8-9)

Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.  Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes.  That will only lead you to false notions about me.  Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.
(“The Shack”, William P. Young, pp. 187-188)

Grace is not awarded for the satisfactory completion of a spiritual check list – and grace is not earned for works or acts – and grace is not part of a quid pro quo arrangement or relationship – and grace is not a stipulation of a contract or covenant – and grace is not right thinking or thinking right or thinking good thoughts or having the right beliefs – and grace is not about rewards and punishments – and grace is not about later. Grace is not about heaven or a post-mortal existence or guaranteeing a future occurrence because grace is not about having an after-life insurance policy or hedging our spiritual bets. We live in, we exist in and have always existed in (not “by”, not “because”, not “alongside”, not “under”) in the grace of God. Grace is now – constantly present and immediately accessible. Grace is always freely available and freely supplied and supplied freely unconditionally and abundantly without exceptions and without restrictions and without qualifications. Grace and conditions are mutually exclusive, even oppositional. A faith full of grace has no conditions – meaning no qualifications and no requirements and, consequently, no exclusions and no differentiation. A faith with any condition or any qualification or any requirement or any exclusion or any differentiation has no grace. God requires nothing of us – this is grace.

God accepts whatever we bring to the God/person relationship – our physical and spiritual condition, personality, connection to reality, our participation in relationships, talents, inabilities, cognition, knowledge, ignorance, life journey, spiritual journey, walk about, wandering, seeking, questioning, questing, acceptance of God, rejection of God – and our emotional and mental status: hate/love, anger/peace, sadness/happiness, hurt/health, feeling lost and abandoned/feeling found and included, agitation/serenity, apathy/passion, confusion/clarity, fractures/wholeness – all of this, all of whoever we are and have ever been and every action committed or ever contemplated and every thought we ever explored or entertained or that flitted through our mind – all of this, we bring to the God/person relationship and God accepts the totality of who we are and every component that comprises who we are – as a gift. The constant inviting presence of God and this unconditional acceptance of us in our entirety as a gift – this is love.

Because of the way God is defined and bound by love and grace, God has never required and never recognized and never accepted any sacrifice by anyone for anything. The love and grace of God requires neither a sacrificial tortuous execution nor a death-defying miracle to prove or perversely demonstrate its existence and worth and validity – God is not an abusive parent. Through the constant presence of God, we are constantly invited by God to have an intimate loving relationship with God. We have a constant opportunity with God to accept and acknowledge the love and grace of God and to live a life imbued with and guided by the love and grace of God. Each of us has something to offer to God and God has only good – unrestrained love and unconditional grace – to constantly offer to each of us.

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Early in the multimedia-based study of Christian theology, “Living the Questions 2.0: An Introduction to Progressive Christianity” (LtQ2) the question is asked, “What is the character of your God?”

This question has become an on-going personal reflection on what God is and what God is not. I continually elicit input from others. Regardless of how much personal contemplation is involved or how much input from others is folded into it, this reflection will never be authoritative or definitive or complete. I am not writing a creed.

To use this reflection as a personal or group exercise or meditation;
1) First, use two people, who are very good at interpretative reading, to present the list as an uninterrupted dialogue. One person reads the “God is” statements, the other person reads the “God is not” statements. Present it carefully and let it breathe – do not race to the end. Instruct the listeners to withhold judgements and evaluations and responses until the reading is finished. Do not attempt to discern the meaning it has for the author or the intent of the author. Do not, in any way, critique the list. Instead, use the reading of the list as a tool or path for personal introspection.
2) After the reading, provide the listeners with a copy of the list. Also, supply them with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Have them draw a line down the middle of the paper. At the top, on the left write “GOD IS” and on the right write “GOD IS NOT”. The only requirement of the exercise is that every “God is” quality (sometimes expressed as more than one statement) must be paired with a “God is not” quality (which, likewise, is sometimes expressed as more than one statement). Ask the listeners these questions, pausing thoughtfully between each question.
* What was obvious?
* What was confusing?
* What was surprising?
* What was an epiphany?
* How should this list be edited?
* What should be re-worded, rearranged, re-sequenced, added or changed in some way?
* What should be rejected?
* What should be questioned or examined or given more contemplation?
* What should be affirmed?
* What does your list reveal about your relationship with God?
Let them have time to work solitarily. Then, break into small groups – each person in turn is to share one item from their list. Continue sharing until everyone has expressed most or all of their list. Every response does not have to be unique, duplication of a response among different individuals is permitted. This is about listening and sharing, not arguing, not labeling items as “right” or “wrong”. As they hear responses from others, they can edit their own list. Faith is never a strictly personal journey – it is more meaningful and more fruitful in the company of other travelers and seekers.

Only two assumptions are made. The second assumption is that each individual is in relationship with God and that something of the nature of God can be discerned through that relationship.

The first assumption?
God Is.

* * * * * * * * * *

God Is
God is Only Is
God is not was
God is not will be

God is Reality
God is not imaginary

God Exists
God is Important
God is not superfluous
God is not undeniable
God is not inescapable

God is Mystery
God is not unknowable – God can be experienced
God is not confined or constrained by any list
    – including this list
God is not completely enclosed or fully defined or fully detailed by any list
    – including this list

God is Divine
God is not mortal or finite or ordinary

God is Expecting Us to be Divine
God is not made in our image
God is not anthropomorphic or an action figure

God is Infinite
God is not limitless

God is Good and Holy
God is not bad or evil

God is Love
God is not hate

God is conciousness and concious and mindful
God is not mindless or unconcious or unaware

God is Choices
God is not forced options

God is Questions
God is not answers

God is Grace
God is not spiteful or rejecting or conditional

God is Relationship
God is Freedom
God is not regulation or regimentation
God is not a megalomaniac or needing to be in control

God is Truth
God is not a liar

God is Wise
God is not foolish

God is Light
God is Color
God is more than the Spectrum
God is not darkness

God is Peace
God is not angry or violent or punitive or warring

God is Reconciliation
God is not divisive or feuding or a holder of grudges

God is Vibrant
God is not inactive or lethargic
God is not unresponsive or passive

God is Life
God is not death

God is Growth and Maturation and Forward
God is not shrinking or regressive or stagnant or stuck
God is not infantile or Peter Pan or backward

God is Always New
God is never old

God is Always Speaking
God is never silent
(Bruce Epperly, “Why Progressive Theology Matters: God is Still Speaking”, July 20, 2010)

God is Listening
God is not deaf or inattentive

God is Intelligent and Knowledgeable
God is not stupid or ignorant

God is Creative and Imaginative
God is not destructive or innovation-averse or boring

God is Artistic and Musical
God is not unexpressive

God is Inspirational
God is not depressing or jaded

God is Always-Inviting and All-Accepting and All-Inclusive
God is Welcoming and Hospitable
God is not exclusionary or exploitive
God is not unwelcoming or inhospitable

God is Ever Present and Ever Engaged
God is not absent or unreachable or uninvolved

God is Patient
God is not impatient

God is Challenging and Insistent and Relentless
God is an Educator encouraging Learning and Questioning, Knowledge and Wisdom
God is not stopped or paused or giving up on us
God is not a trainer or a score-keeper or an examiner or an inquisitor
God is not dismissive or authoritarian

God is Sympathy and Empathy and Caring and Generous
God is not petty or insincere or callous or greedy

God is Trustworthy
God is not treacherous

God is Careful
God is not reckless

God is the Creator, Artist, Designer, Engineer, and Programmer
God’s Creation is Designed as a Fractal
God’s Creation Works Chaotically
God’s creation does not work randomly
God is not a dictator, puppet master, control-freak, or mechanic
God is not micro-managing or fixing the universe
God is not experimenting or playing with the universe

God is Consistent
God is not capricious
God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution
God neither intervenes nor condemns

God is Guiding
God is an Influential Presence
God is not intrusive or manipulative
God is not demanding or passive/aggressive
God is not arrogant or tyrannical

God is Liberation
God is not enslaving or restrictive or confining
God is not judgmental or condemning

God is a Good Companion and Friend
God is not arrogant or mean or vindictive
God is not retaliatory or punishing

God Acts only out of Love
God Acts only with Love
God Loves Unconditionally and Uncontrollably
God Invites and Welcomes and Includes without exception or qualification
God does not act out of either vengeance or a sense of punishment
God does not provide either vengeance or punishment
God does not act out of either favoritism or exclusion
God does not choose any person over any other person
God does not choose any group of people over any other group of people
God does not eliminate, abandon, or exclude anyone for any reason for any length of time

God is Singular and Solitary
There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces

God Acts only To Create or To Transform or To Be in a Loving Relationship with creation
God does not destroy or abandon

God is Humorous and Funny
God is not a prankster, joker, jester, comedian, clown, or fool

God’s Power is Relational and Persuasive
God’s Power is Subservient to the healthy and dialogical relationship God has with creation
God’s Power works through a Shared Vision
God’s power is not unilateral or demanding
God’s power is not definitive of God’s character
(Bruce Epperly, “Divine Power – Unilateral or Relational?”, May 25, 2010)

God has Limits
God without limits is too small and too thin and too diffuse
God is not omnipotent or omniscient or omnipresent

    God is not omnipotent
    God cannot destroy, control, hate, lie, impose, manipulate, exclude, punish, retaliate,
         judge, condemn, act vindictively or capriciously
    God does not imperil our existence or our humanity
    (LtQ2, John Shelby Sprong)

    God is neither omniscient nor omnipresent
    God is Always Here with us in the Now
    God Permeates and Imbues our being – our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions
        – only through our invitation and practice
    God is an Influential Presence
        only to the extent that we make ourselves aware of it
        and learn to be sensitive to it
    God is in Relationship with us
        while being deliberately unaware of our future
        and forgivingly dismissive of our past
    God is not in the past or the future
    God cannot intrude in or interfere with or impose on life
    God does not preplan or predestine the course or end of life

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How many of us have seen or participated in placing a hand on the wall of the sanctuary and then said, “This is not the church.” With this act, we were trying to illustrate that it is the people of our faith community who are the church and not the building. Do we have any idea what we just said? If the building is not the church, why do we spend so much time and effort dealing with it? If the building is not the church, why is it so important to us? After we have said, “This is not the church,” have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought?

     Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
        where moth and rust consume and
        where thieves break in and steal;
     but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
        where neither moth nor rust consumes and
        where thieves do not break in and steal.
    For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(NRSV Matthew 6:19-21)

    No one can serve two masters;
        for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
        or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
    You cannot serve God and wealth.
(NRSV Matthew 6:24)

    As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him,
        Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
    Jesus said to him,
        Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
        You know the commandments:
            You shall not murder;
            You shall not commit adultery;
            You shall not steal;
            You shall not bear false witness;
            You shall not defraud;
            Honor your father and mother.
    He said to him,
        Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.
    Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said,
        You lack one thing;
            go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
            and you will have treasure in heaven;
            then come, follow me.
    When he heard this,
        he was shocked and went away grieving,
        for he had many possessions.
(NRSV Mark 10:17-22; Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 18:18-23)

What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage amount) and sanctuaries with high vaulted ceilings and proper acoustic resonance and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and sculpted altars and carved pulpits and custom-built communion tables and decorative carpet and imported floor tiles and plentiful paved parking lots and meticulously manicured gardens have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do fund-raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and time and finding and organizing the required workers have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do praise bands and church orchestras and bell choirs and octaves of tuned bells and multi-rank pipe organs and grand pianos and synthesizers and adult choirs and children choirs and choir auditions and choir robes and music folders and the search and review and selection analysis and purchase of new music and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and live broadcasts and recorded broadcasts and hours of rehearsal time and church bulletins and church bulletin art work and church bulletin paper and designer fonts and newsletters and mailing lists and advertising and advertising placement and multi-media web sites and visits by unique IP addresses and the use of and the presence on new media have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and tithing and bequests and endowments and liturgical employees and non-liturgical employees and salaries and benefits and committees and committee meetings and church boards and church board meetings and the consequential and unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

Much of what we call successful Christianity and successful worship and successful congregations has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of largeness instead of largess or in terms of measurable success or significant achievements or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or congregational models or appropriate budget processes or cash flow direction or generally accepted accounting practices or independent audits or administrative requirements or managerial transparency or proper leadership roles and boundaries or membership trends or effective organizational structures or a current and accurate vision statement – at that point, we have become the money changers – we have lost our faith and deserve to be driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News.

    Then they came to Jerusalem.
    And he entered the temple
        and began to drive out those who were selling
        and those who were buying in the temple,
        and he overturned the tables of the money-changers
        and the seats of those who sold doves;
        and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.
    He was teaching and saying,
        Is it not written,
            My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?
        But you have made it a den of robbers.
(NRSV Mark 11:15-17, Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 19:45-46)

    The Passover of the Jews was near,
        and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
    In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves,
        and the money-changers seated at their tables.
    Making a whip of cords,
        he drove all of them out of the temple,
        both the sheep and the cattle.
    He also poured out the coins of the money-changers
        and overturned their tables.
    He told those who were selling the doves,
        Take these things out of here!
        Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!
(NRSV John 2:13-16)

What would happen if the church universal – every congregational property, every regional office, every national office, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were used to establish a trust fund endowment to support nutritional, medical, legal, and educational services for the poor, the lost, and the hurt?

When you want a new status quo – a status quo different from the current status quo – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you are tired of capital campaigns for more structural imagery; nauseated by controversy over who is fit to be a church member, deacon, or elder; repulsed by the aggregation and protection of authority that defines narrow rigid paths to ordination; grievously hurt by the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and living the Good News; or sick of choosing better organization over better outreach – you are asking for revolution.

“Doing” has to be the new definition of faith. A “new definition” will not be statements of purpose/mission/vision or political participation or public stances on issues or styles of worship. It will be specific activities; specific ways of living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and definitive of who we are. Supporting a free clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Worship will not be every Sunday morning – it will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News. Indeed, “doing” will be about living and being the Good News, not scheduling it as a repetitive activity on our digital calendar on the same day at the same time that always occurs at the same location and always follows the same program and sequence just so it will be easier to update the Sunday bulletin. “Doing” our faith does not require capital campaigns; local, regional, or national governing boards; seminaries; or licensing/ordination policies.

“Doing” our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant way of living. By its very nature, our faith is not supposed to be institutionalized and not measured by largeness, cultural pervasiveness, or authoritarianism. Our faith is supposed to be personal and divinely humane. Our faithful doing is to be delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committee or collective or on-line flash mob. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and not with more technology that is “better,” more pervasive, more invasive, and increasingly remote and detached.

Congregations need to consider gathering for worship and meetings in homes. The home congregation is not an act of isolation or withdrawal. When used honestly and openly, the home congregation is a rejection of the costs and traps and abuses of church and denominational institutionalism and authoritarianism. A home congregation is an act of wholly embracing and finely focusing on missional generosity, hospitality and justice. Just imagine: A congregation that gathers only for worship or organizing direct missional outreach. Just imagine: Church with no church governing boards and no board meetings, no committees and no committee meetings, no rehearsals, no fund-raisers, no capital campaigns, no finances, no buildings, no property, no maintenance or repairs or replacements, no employees, no membership drives. Just imagine: Church as only worship, only studying, only witnessing in word and service to each other and the world.

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