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Archive for April, 2009

imaginary friend by creativethursday.com

imaginary friend by creativethursday.com

I did finish my read of The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud as promised, and I have actually decided to read it over again, more carefully, a second time and now a third time. It is going to take me some time to gather all of my commentaries on it, but I plan on doing a chapter-by-chapter record of my thoughts/ideal concerning his points to share with you all online here. Which is funny since I complain about teachers giving me their opinions on books, telling me what they “mean”, and here I am about to do the same thing.

However, I now understand (thanks to this book) that it is not the fact that teachers are presenting me “short truths” in school, which in this book Freud refers to as dogma, that is upsetting me. Especially since that is basically what all people do when educating in such a setting. This is normal, and acceptable.

No, the issue is that if a person conducts research and comes to a conclusion that, say for example, the earth is round — you (as the student) can then now without taking all the same steps of discovery share in this realization (dogma, or short truth) that the earth is round in shape. But! (Yes there is a but.) But, you (as the student)  should always be able to reproduce the same result yourself if you wanted to.

So if you could sail around the world, travel to space, fly around it, etc… sooner or later you should be able to come to the same conclusions as the ones you were taught, as short truths (dogma), if you were so inclined. We are told there is a country of France, but have you been there? We take it on good faith that we are not being lied to, but in truth any lesson you are told in short you should be able to see for yourself in real life; meaning, you should be able to go to France and see it.

So my real issue with what I am being told to believe or not believe in church or bible school is not that it is dogma, but that it can not in any way be substantiated. In fact, in most cases, to question their teachings is “sin”. Furthermore, every time I do dare to question or try to replicate their findings I find them to be falsified or highly inaccurate. It would be like hopping on a plane and then finding out that there really is no France, no Germany, that the earth is still flat, and then wondering why you still need to keep on listening to your geography teachers.

I am glad that Freud put my frustrations into words for me, and helped me understand what it was that I was actually upset about here. I should not be opposed to “short answers” of knowledge that someone else took the time to look into and prove, and I can get a basic understanding of. I can then choose to take this basic understanding and expound upon it — if I so desire. What is frustrating is when all the dogma you are being fed can not be taken any further in practice or validation beyond the class-room (as in nobody could produce for me a Trinity to observe). It is even harsher when you can research it some and find out that many of the facts, history, stories, or claims were falsified; or atleast contradict history and it’s scholars (as in church history, authorships, or findings).

Instinctual, or Intuitive, Religion

Anyway, so I feel OK now about writing my own commentary for you all, and I am glad to have greater clarification as to what was bothering my with the “knowledge” that has been handed to me as-of-late. Give me some time to get it all down.

In the mean-time I wanted to share a quick thought (before it escapes me) on human instincts and religion. Please look at these comments as “food for thought” and nothing more for now; since they are still ruminating in my head.

So Freud equates religion to a neurosis in this book, and for a justifiable reason as far as his logic carries him. One definition of neurosis is (in paraphrase) a human or a group of humans creating an ideal for themselves that they could never live up to. If one were to look at religion as an external ideal that imposes standards or beliefs on us that we could never fully realize, but only cause anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame — then this is a very fitting assessment.

What I am wondering though is: how this fits in with his belief that man created religion? How can we speak of religion, and especially its morals, as something outside of the scope, want, nature, or ability of man and then at the same time state that man came up with the concept?

Is it in our nature to dream of things, create things, or have ideals that we can never accomplish? Would we create speech if we lacked the ability to vocalize? Why would we envision written language if we lacked the ability deep down to communicate? It would not happen. We do not long for creating things that we can not attain. It is not in our nature to long for things that can not be fulfilled. If we are feeling lonely it is because there is a void there that can be filled. If we hunger — there is food. Any instinctive thirst has a counterpart that can quench it.

I will concede that there are non-natural desires or ideals that have no counterpart, but I wonder if religion is or is not one of them? Especially when it comes down to moral ideals. Never-mind the gods; Freud even states that the ideals are not natural for man, but they were made by man naturally were they not?

I know his argument that if we took a child and raised him in seclusion without religion, he would never come up with the idea of a God, god, or gods on his own. That is a very good argument, but the hole that I see in it is simply that this experiment already took place in our own history. Trace our roots far back enough, and sooner or later someone came up with the notion of God… without it being imposed on him or her. If we invented this, then there had to have been a point where it did not exist and we thought it up… so your child in seclusion did already create a God… maybe even the one that you are rejecting right now.

The only other possibilityI can see is that the concept was imposed on mankind from an external force. This option would go along a lot better with the notion of it being un-natural, imposed, and an ideal that we can not attain; however, the external force would probably have to be… a god of some kind.

I would assume that this argument would eventually go down the road of: “Well those old humans were “primitive”, and knew very little. We are saying that a modern man would never come up with a religion on their own.” So basically, that our stupid ancestors did not understand birth, death, sex, storms, nature, etc — so they invented gods to take the anxiety away. We however, would not do this since we know more about nature and science. So a child raised in seclusion, but with science, would not invent a religion.

I do not know if I quite agree with this train-of-thought. For one, I do not think that we give our ancestors enough credit of intelligence; furthermore, I think we give ourselves too much credit for ours. Finally, many and most religions went beyond “appeasing the gods of nature” and went into things quite more esoteric, relational, or transcendental.

I would argue (although at this time without sufficient proof) that an awareness of something existing that is greater than ourselves (flesh or the temporal) is intuitive, or instinctual. I wonder if it is this way because, as in all of our other natural hungers, it can be fulfilled? I acknowledge that many (if not all) of our current religions have abused, added on to, darkened, and twisted our natural curiosity or longing for the divine into something else — something to control, manipulate, or mislead us; yet does that negate the fact that something greater exists?

I would like to do some research on Intuitive Religion and see where it take me. I had some brief encounters with this concept when studying Shamans and other more ancient, tribal practices. I am sure it does not end there though. Heck, look at Job (in the O.T. Bible); according to most scholars (who are not biased by the actual religion itself) they conclude that Job was not a Jew, in fact there was no such race yet (and obviously too early to be a Christian). This book pre-dates Moses, the Law, temples, practices, churches, priests, etc. Take all of that in, and then realize that Job was seen by God as a spiritual man, a holy man, just and upright. Job was the “priest” of his own home/family, knew God, and pleased him.

Not that I believe in the story, but it does point out that the concept of religion before and without “religion” exists in the history (or heritage) of many different cultures at various times. I believe it should be looked into further.

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honda logoMy Father thought me a basic principle when buying a car that I have learned to apply to all aspects of my life; that when you see commercial after commercial from other auto manufacturers comparing themselves to, or stating how they are better than another vehicle (which was at that time a Honda), that you should probably check out the Honda.

It is a pretty simple rule-of-thumb to follow. If this is the standard, or the thing by which everyone is trying to state that they are better than, it would be good to check out the thing itself and see what all the fuss is about; and in most cases the object by which all other are trying to compare themselves to as better is better in itself than these other objects.

In theology or philosophy we take many classes in which we get brief statements of other thoughts and ideas that are instantly discredited before moving on to another subject. Most of my counterparts seem to be quite content in simply being told how the Ford that they are driving is better than a Honda, but I for one prefer to take as many things out for a test-drive as I can. Although I must admit that at certain times this process gets a bit muddled, or confusing, due to the fact that after a while all these things seem to perform very similar functions more than they have their difference.

I suppose that a main difference is that I consider myself to be searching for truth instead of simply studying to reassure myself that my particular religion, thought, or belief system is the correct one. I am not trying to gain knowledge to validate or expand on my knowledge of a certain God, but I am simply looking for truth — no matter where that takes me. This allows my studies to be very fluid, or organic and nature, and I am not encumbered by a tendency to have to ignore, be offended by, or stumble over things that do not line up with my belief system that I come across in my studies. There is no knowledge or truth that causes my faith to stumble, since I seek truth itself; therefore my faith can adapt without losing itself.

I recently had a class that briefly covered Sigmund Freud. We read a simple book by a religious author discrediting Freud, and focusing mainly at poking holes in Freud’s The Future of an Illusion. This book was specifically targeted because of comparisons between religion and neurosis, as well as statements comparing strict religious upbringings to certain forms of mental or emotional abuse — resulting in fear, guilt, shame, and other feelings of inadequacies.

This author is younger, less educated, less accredited, less accomplished, and less recognized than the man’s whose very large body work he is attacking; therefore in keeping with the wisdom given to me by my dad when I was a child looking for my first car — I am going to have to check out the Honda. Which in this case would mean that I am going to have to read for myself The Future of an Illusion.

I picked up a copy of it today from my local bookstore, and I will share with you all any insights I get from the book after I have gone over it a bit. One thing that I will point out already is that Freud takes careful time to mention that his definition of Illusion does not mean falsehood or lies, and that just because something is illusion it does not mean that it is necessarily in error, false, or unhealthy.

Anyway, I will post more on this when I have something more to say on the matter. In the mean-time, consider applying the “Honda principle” to your own life and see how it goes. I challenge you to stop just taking someone else’s word on a matter, and try checking out the very things they are comparing to. Instead of reading a book on why Taoism is wrong — read the Tao Te Ching for yourself. Do you fear Muslims? Well go talk to one. Read the works of Søren Kierkegaard for yourself instead of getting your teacher’s notes on existentialism. Even if you come to the same opinion… own it. Own your opinion.

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White BearThis was a simple exercise that we did today in my Buddhist meditation which I would like to share with you all. Like anything, I am sure that it can have multiple applications or meanings; and you should feel free to adapt this to your life as you see fit. I would be curious to know what any other person gets out of this simple exercise, but I will share with you mine.

This exercise normally works best with another person leading the meditation in a small-to-large group.

Step 1: Not Thinking

Relax and calm your mind as best as you can. Let it slow down, take some deep breaths, just make sure that no matter what… you do not think about a white bear.

Not thinking about the white bear, enjoy the emptiness of your mind; feel your consciousness expanding–not being held back by pesky little thoughts of the white bear.

Anyway, you get the point. Most people will think about the white bear. It is hard not to.

OK, so then lets take the opposite approach and make the white bear the focus of our meditation for the day. It will be like counting, or following our breath. That should work.

Step 2: Thinking

Close your eyes, and think about nothing but the white bear. Dwell upon nothing but this beautiful white bear. No others thoughts are allowed to exist apart from this wonderful white bear. You musn’t allow yourself to think about any other object, corncer, or matter other than this white bear.

In most cases we can continue to focus on only the white bear. Odd? It seemed like it was all we could think about before when we were trying not to, and now that we are trying to think about it… it escapes us.

Nice little exercise, but what does it all mean? I am sure that it “means” different things to different people, but I really enjoy the idea of how by trying to not focus on something you are inadvertently already focusing on it. There is also the notion that certain things are simply in our system and need to be dealt with. Letting these things naturally come to the surface during our meditations, then addressing them, and finally letting them go is a healthy part of the practice. We do not dwell on things longer than we should, but we do not suppress them either.

Application

If you are having a hard time emptying yourself and thinking about “nothing”, then try instead to make yourself think about everything that comes to your mind. Sit there are think about your day, the dog, the car you want, the noises around you, that movie, your sore foot, the weather, a book… whatever. Try to force yourself to do nothing but think, and do not allow there the be any “gap” in thinking. Let there be no emptiness inside of you. You will come to find, after some time, that this is also impossible. Even if you allow yourself to follow every thread of every thought, that thread will eventually come to it’s end and disappear. You will notice that there are natural gaps in your thinking, and as you think through your matters these gaps will increase, last longer, come more frequently, and be more and more enjoyable moments of silence.

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maybe im trying too hard © 2008 Sam Brown, explodingdog.com
trying too hard. image © 2008 explodingdog

I decided to go to an Easter service this morning at a Christian church. I checked out the church that the majority of the people involved in the food for the homeless program seem to go to, and actually, it was an “OK” experience. What really strikes me though is how hard they were trying to be something that they were not.

It is kind of sad really. It was one of those churches, that we find more and more these days, that are trying to do all the other cool things that seem to be working for some “other” church, but just not quite as good.

They read, saw, or heard about some church that has a great audio visual (AV) gift, and is reaching people with all their cool projections and nifty little presentations. So they try it here as well, but to no real avail.

Why? Well, not only is this a different demographic of people, and region, but also… you do not have the same gifted group of people operating in those God-given talents, nor the budget or equipment to really pull this off. Besides, just because God may (or may not be) “moving” that way in one church in say Texas, does not mean that we can mimic the Holy Spirit in a new region with the same sequence of events.

They also did some skits there, which I have also seen God use before in other churches, but here it was not the same. I was a part of a team before that trained every day on our acting skills, expressions, dance, and routines. We had professionals coaching us; we had costumes, gifted writers, and choreographers; there were people there who lived and breathed this stuff as their natural gifting, and acting was an expression of their passion and love for God and others. You can not see this take place in this context, and then move it into a new context and expect the same result. You can not take your youth group and practice your little skit 2 or 3 times, and reason that it is going to be on par with what others are doing.

Maybe you could say “Who cares if it is professional or not?”, but seriously… why do something so half-assed for God? Do it right or don’t do it at all. Don’t your people have their own gifts and talents that can be used to do their “own thing” that is unique to your congregation? Learn what that is and develop it instead of trying to copy what others are doing. If not, you are not really helping these people develop and grow; instead, you are setting them up for failures.

Then they all the sudden switched modes and tried to fit in the word “cardboard” so they could transition into their rendition of that whole “Cardboard Testimonies” thing that I already have seen done better on YouTube over a year ago after getting some viral Xain video email forwarded to me by my father.

I swear the preacher only preached for less than 10 minutes in order to fit all this media into the service and still get us all out in time.

After his quick reading of one short verse about Jesus being “thirsty” on the cross, and how he believes that when Jesus said that he was really alluding to this conversation with the woman at the well earlier in his life he moved on to the next skit. Seriously though, I know that he was Christ and all of that, but I highly doubt that after his beating, torture, and crucifixion the man was taking the time to be witty here. I think he needed some water.

Finally, we move onto a freestyle poetry reading… that they saw another church do online and downloaded the poem from, then gave to his daughter to read.

It was a well written poem, but it was not deliveredby a person who knows how to do spoken word properly. She stressed all the wrong areas of the poem, so none of it wound up having the correct rhythm or rhyme to it that was intended. Say that we have the words “far from justice” in the first sentence and in the second sentence we have it ending with the word “car”; the speaker would put emphasis on “far” and then “car”. This person though would stress the word “justice” and then “car”.

Is this just me being cruel? No. No it is not.

If you are going to use media, skits, or the arts in your church then do it well. Do it very well. You can’t go to some church in Seattle that has a great poet there who was inspired to write and deliver a poem to his or her church, but then copy that poem and put it in the hands of your poor kid to redo in your church; no more than you can see a talented painter paint in his church for God and then stick a brush in your secretaries hands and tell her that she’s doing it next week.

Be yourselves. You are all fearfullyand wonderfully made. Who cares if you do what the others are doing? Why even want to be like all the others? Are we seriously out of all of our own ideas? Do we want to take so little time to invest and trust in our own communities giftings? Or do we think that God really is some formula that can be reproduced from town to town so easily?

The funny thing is that I still consider it to be an “OK” experience, and that I may go back. Why? Despite all this other stuff that was probably meantto impress people like me (or maybe just entertain themselves) I was greeted there warmly and genuinely. A few people there, in this large church, actually noticed me and really took the time to say hello and make me feel welcome there. It was sincere. I could tell.

I feel sorry for them though as a body more than I am ripping on them for all this media nonsense. There should not be so much pressure and emphasis on all of this media junk. It doesn’t impress anyone really, and it is outside of your gifts and abilities. There are people there I bet who are just dying to be noticed and to use their talents… not the ones copied from another, larger, more successful church model.

Besides, I was just happy that someone greeted me properly and made sure I sat in a good place.

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three step programThis is an honest question that I am putting out there for anyone to answer.

Why is it that in order to have a proper Christian theology a belief in the physical resurrection of Christ’s mortal body is such a pivotal matter?

It has beome so integral that it has made it’s way into the Apostles’ Creed, many congregation’s core beliefs, Sinner’s Prayer; it is considered to be one of the fundamental things one must profess to be “saved”. I simply ask why?

I am not going to waste anyone’s time by insulting their belief in Jesus; nor am I going to stoop to such trite, juvenile conclusions such as:

i) His body is missing conveniently because he never existed
ii) His followers stole the body
iii) Zombie Jesus!

I think that having a missing body does more to complicate matters for the argument of Christ than it helps; instead of people arguing if there was a historical Christ or if he was pure fabrication, we could just say “and there is his body–see“. I see no solid theological argument as to why he could not have left his old body in the tomb, gone to heaven in spirit and still be Christ.

If the body was stolen that would imply that the bible is actually truth, and according to the bible it would have been quite a task to get that body out of there. Also, the body would have to be put somewhere eventually, and seeing that it would be considered a holy relic, would eventually turn-up somewhere. Besides, if the disciples knew their Messiah was a total fake I highly doubt they would have allowed themselves to become persecuted and martyred in order to keep the world’s longest running gag going.

I kind of like that; thinking of it all as the world’s longest running joke. From Wikipedia,

A running gag is a literary device which often takes the form of an amusing joke or a comical reference and appears repeatedly throughout a work of literature or other form of storytelling. Running gags can begin with an instance of unintentional humor that is repeated in variations as the joke grows familiar and audiences anticipate reappearances of the gag.

Finally, even though Zombie Jesus makes for some very funny posters, stickers, t-shirts, and now the new motion picture (I have got to see that one); it does nothing to really help us… except maybe laugh.

Anyway, my question is why it so important? What does a resurrected Christ with his old body accomplish for the religion that a Christ who died, went to heaven in spirit and then got a new body can not?

Christians believe that the resurrection is basically their souls entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. Some also believe that they get new “perfected” bodies in heaven; others that they eventually come back to earth in these new perfected bodies and live on a new earth.

Christians do not believe that they keep their old bodies. They believe that these current bodies of flesh simply decay and die. Furthermore, they do not believe that if they were missing an eye here on earth that after the resurrection their new body would be missing an eye as well. Or that if they are fat here they will be fat there; that if they lost a leg in the war they are going to be limping around heaven for all eternity. So I do not see why the idea of Christ needing to keep his old body is one of importance to this community of believers. It actually seems to disagree with their own beliefs on what happens to their own form after death.

Jesus however seems to have not received a perfected body, like a good Christian would, but instead is still lugging around his old one. We even see him coming back down to the earth sometime later in the Scriptures, and he still has physical wounds, and holes that people can see, touch, and stick their fingers into. I feel kind of sorry for the guy; since all the Christians get shiny new bodies, and he has to spend the rest of eternity with a scarred up back, holes in his hands and feet, and  God knows whatever other kinds of damage–I hear that thorny crown leaves one hell of a rug burn.

The Jewish religion, unlike the Christian on, does/did (depending on the various sects) preach that the resurrection was of this current physical body; there was no new perfected one. In fact, looking back at Christ’s preachings on the resurrection of the dead and the second coming–it pretty much reads like Jewish philosophy and not a very Christian one.

The whole theology of his resurrected body seems to be very un-Christian to me. It is starting to look to me like Jesus was “gasp” more of a Jew than a Christian.

Anyway, if anyone can explain any of this to me please feel free to do so. This is not an argument, this is me posing questions and seeking answers.

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For more heresy please join me on my new blog at www.evolitionist.com

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KFCToday in Bible College we learned Jesus’ secret recipe to miracles. Want in on it?

We start with Luke 6:12-19,

He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was  a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.

We can then logically break this down into the 3 fundamental ingredients to a miracle:

1. Get alone and pray
Although we are still unclear as to if it must be on a literal mountain or not, we are 100% certain that it must be alone and all night long. Note: if you live on the prairies you can try a hill, or simply think about a mountain as you pray.

2. Get involved in a local community of believers
What did Jesus do next? He created a community. He picked 12 disciples out; thereby creating and then entering into fellowship with a religious community. Community (being involved in your local church) is a necessary thing we must do before proceeding to step 3. Heck, even Jesus can’t do miracles without community.

3. Awesome Miracles!

The end.

Sometimes I leave class actually feeling dumber than when I entered it.

It’s like having some kind of evangelical screwdriver stuck in my ear and then twisting it around until a bit of the brain gives way.

With all-due respect to my professor:

There is never a secret recipe or formula to a miracle. Well, not unless you are practicing witchcraft. God rarely does the same thing twice. Jesus won’t even heal a person the same way twice. One time he will just lay hands on someone, and the next he is spitting in some mud and rubbing it on them. God is just like that–likes to keep you on your toes.

Jesus in this story was not “creating a community of believers“. Nor was it any indication that community plus prayer equals miracles. The text states that he already had a whole slew of disciples (or community) there with him; he was simply organizing and structuring them–he was picking out his leadership team. Why? Well most likely because he knew (from his prayer night) that he was about to go into a really crowded city and that God was going to move. He knew he needed a well organized leadership team along with him to have his back and keep things going smoothly.

If anything this verse here is a great reference for us to use about the importance of leadership and proper organization. Could do a teaching on that whole “Even Jesus understood the need for good leadership teams…” kind of thing.

We cannot however, bend these verses to fit our talk for the day on the importance of being involved in a local church community. As you all have taught me, “A text without context is a pretext.”

I would be interested though in knowing how many cases we can come up with in the bible that show an example of someone getting alone with God; receiving a vision (quest, goal, mandate, etc); and then gathering about them a team to better accomplish the goal. Anyone want to research that one? Let me know if you got some examples.

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1_fallen_angel_5723If you had to choose between God and doing something to help others what choice would you make?

Funny, the other day I was praying… well it was more like a mixture of prayer, meditation, chanting, and singing mantras…. I switch back and forth between all kinds of things since I study them all. Anyway, it turned into a direct prayer. I was praying to God for the ability and the power to do something to really help people and my environment. I don’t know who God is, but I still pray to it anyway.

During this prayer I felt as though I was asked (or asked myself) the question of if I was praying to God to get to know God or if I was praying to get direction and empowerment to help people. Immediately I thought to myself the “correct” or churchy answer of “this is for God”. Then the question came back in a different form. Would you rather know God and help nobody, or never know God and heal others? I thought about it and decided that wrong or not my motivation is to help others–God or no god.

There was a sense of guilt there, knowing that was not the politically correct church answer, and a feeling of release and joy from stating it.

After a brief moment of not knowing if God was going to strike me with lightning or not, some ideas rushed to my mind that made me feel a ton better. I will go over a few of them quickly with you.

I do not think that it is even possible for me to really know God until I am actively participating in love and in showing compassion to humanity and the environment. I think that when we do these things is when we are truly able to experience God; not the other way around. Furthermore, God does not give us “power” to do things unless we are already in the place where we are doing things that are in need power. He does not simply speak to and engage people who are not engaging others in life.

Plainly speaking, God isn’t going to come and zap me with something while I am here alone in my room sitting on my butt doing nothing. Although even if he never shows, if I have to choose between one and the other–I would rather help some people.

I think God would make the same choice. This scripture then came to my mind (Phil 2:5-8),

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

So Jesus made the same choice. Be with God or help people? Give me the people.

Why isn’t God’s presence and power present any longer in all of our safe, little Christian bubbles? Because God isn’t in the bubble; He is out in the world, and wants us to go out into it as well.

This reminds me of a Buddhist story I heard weeks ago in a Zen class:

There was monk who was very frustrated. He had done everything that he was supposed to do, but had not yet found any enlightenment. He was disciplined, well studied, meditated daily, even gave up all of his worldly possessions and moved into a secluded monastery. One day he heard that a Master was visiting the commoners in a village nearby; so he left to get his advice. He said “Master, I have done all these things. What must I do to reach enlightenment?” The Master replied “Leave the monastery, and go out into the world and feed the hungry.”

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