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Peace of Heart in All Things
By: The Taize Group
A Heart After God: Loving Him With Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength
By: Elizabeth Hoekstra
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Other Articles By John H. Campbell:
Gratuitous Gratitude (or, Actions Speak Louder Than Prayers)
I once, when asked what my favorite Christian holiday was, actually said "Thanksgiving," as I am very grateful to God for so many things. Beginning with the basic things-life itself, my life and all life. Life of those who are close to me and whom I love. The evidence I see of God when I look all around me, the evidence I see of the sincerity of Jesus' teachings that results from putting them into practice in real life, the evidence I see of Spirit in the sacredness of life. The ability to share this with others.
The Value Of Compassion
I truly believe that one of the key teachings of Jesus' message was the importance of love over law in how we treat and interact with one another. It is our capability to allow our love for others to override our inner need to be "right" about something, to override the value we place on the way each of us understands and sees God individually.
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Another year goes by, and most of us choose to observe the time-honored tradition that accompanies the passing of the year we have just completed into a fresh beginning: That of the "New Year's Resolution(s)." Some resolve to set, keep and maintain goals for physical self improvement, such as shedding extra pounds, making use of the gym membership or the piece of exercise equipment that we have mistaken for a clothing rack for quite some time, or implementing new and healthier habits. Others resolve to set boundaries in their personal lives, to abstain from old habits or incorporate new ones. To read certain books we bought but somehow never got around to reading, to enhance the depth of our spiritual walk, embark on a new career or education venture, or just to smile more every day. Still others resolve that they will forego making any resolutions for the coming year, as all too often the resolutions that are made with such enthusiasm on December 31 are forgotten before February 1.
This year I only had one resolution, and that was to take a little more time to take care of myself as I sometimes get so busy engrossed in work or doing for others that I forget to care for my needs and health. One should do it this time, I would hope, as every time I attempt to make more than one, sometimes I end up keeping none.
But I thought that this might be a good time to discuss another manner of resolution; that of ways to resolve the conflict so many, even in this enlightened day and age, seem to find between knowledge of the mind and knowledge of the heart and spirit.
Often times, being a very open minded person who chooses to attempt to befriend those who have different beliefs, I have found myself interacting with individuals who deem the fact that I believe in God, or hold on to the spiritual beliefs of Christianity in a different way as "irrational." When I tell them I am bisexual, and that I have partners of both genders openly, they think it even more absurd that I am a Christian. I am not alone in this: I have talked to a great many LGBT Christians who have echoed the sentiment that some seem to believe that "gay (or lesbian, bi, or transgendered) Christian" are two words that blend together as harmoniously as oil and water, or "compassionate conservative."
I recall a bisexual friend of mine who was in a support group for LGBT
people, and was nervous as he was into alternative lifestyles he was anxious that the group would find "shocking" for their being different from the mainstream. They were nonplussed by this, but the whole room was aghast when he admitted that he was a Christian. "How can you support a religion that teaches that your very being is evil and in opposition to God and that teaches the Bible is literally true?" Alas, they were stuck in the popular black and white mentality that says the Bible must be accepted as literally all true, or literally all false and fabrication; in other words, "there is either no God, or the Bible is verbatim." I too have seen this. And for far too long, fear based on that misinformation inhibited me from knowing God, Jesus, or Inner Peace.
I'm one of those "liberal intellectual 'perverts'" that many fundamentalist Christians consider the undoing of the Kingdom. They believe this simply because I have searched both my soul and my mind and cannot find a legitimate conflict between embracing rationality and embracing the mystery, wonder and what is to me, ultimately, the eternal reality of an Unconditonal Loving God that I feel created the universe and all that is in it.
Take the whole current fracas among much of Christianity on the matter of "Creation Science" versus "Evolution." There are, in today's society, Christians who think that it is an utter blasphemy to even consider the proposition that there is truth in Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to even give it credibility is offensive to God. Could the scientific discoveries humankind has made concerning our origins, our existence, and the universe be not a "lie of the devil", but rather, humankind becoming aware of some of the knowledge God is constantly revealing to us as we are ready and capable of understanding and comprehending it? I feel that Jesus Himself knew that humankind would discover and learn more as the years and years went by; therefore He did not teach "head knowledge" but rather, "heart knowledge" that would not pass away as we discovered and learned for ourselves the miracles, mysteries, and majesty of life.
This is also true of discoveries humanity has made in regards to human sexuality and sexual orientation. The Bible was written in a primitive culture, and civilization as we know it today was in its infancy stages; the mysteries of human development and psychology still lay undiscovered and unstudied, as vast and unknown as the universe. No one yet knew the complexities of the Earth and just how incredible a creation God had really made! The things we know today about the body, about sexuality, about gender, about sexual and romantic attraction were not common knowledge; the essence of life itself was a mystery to many. Yet, I feel that the knowledge that so many would pass off as "lies of the devil" (when it contradicts a literal reading or inerrant interpretation of Scripture) is the exact opposite. It is merely God teaching us how it all comes together; yet fear holds back so many from embracing the potential gift and blessing of understanding.
Both fundamentalist Christians and atheist extremists seem to respond to this information fearfully in two ways. Instead of seeing the things science has taught us as further evidence of a Creator, tragically, a lot of Christians have cowered from the idea of intellectual reasoning and scientific discovery, and using the abilities God gave us, as being somehow "blasphemous." In my opinion, today's Creation Scientists and conservatives who deem not only the idea that there may be merit to the Theory of Evolution as the design by which God Created life, the idea that males are superior to females in every way, and the evidence that the world was not Created in seven days but over millions of years, but also the idea of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, certain sexual practices and acts among consensual adults, and alternative forms of relationships all being wrong, unnatural, and against God's Will are echoing those who cringed at the idea long ago that the Earth revolved around the sun and was round rather than flat. Just as I feel the fundamentalists who have painted a picture of God as Lawgiver and Dictator as opposed to Loving Creator seem to echo the Scribes and Pharisees in Jesus' time. In fear, all of these people insist that anything that does not translate with a literal understanding of the Bible must therefore be false, and using one's mind becomes allowing the devil to take one over. It seems to me that these people have replaced God with the Bible itself.
There is yet another camp of extremists: those who have totally rejected any sense of spirituality in favor of making science alone their religion. They choose to call the concept of a Creative Intelligence responsible for this miracle laden universe an "irrational delusion being clung to" by those of us who may have rejected staunch traditionalist fundamentalist views, the concept of total Biblical innerancy, or a primitive understanding of life based in knowledge that had not yet been developed or completely revealed to humankind by God in the times in which the books we now know and identify as the Bible were written. This group has taken science and reason and made it their God just as fundamentalist Christians have made the Bible their God. Some do so because they had the concept of complete Biblical inerrancy forced upon them using fear tactics. In their effort to run from the terror that such a portrait of God painted by a literalist interpretation of Scripture delivers, they choose not only to insist and prove that such a God does not exist, but choose to throw the baby out with the bath water in an attempt to assert and impose their opinion of truth upon others that there is no God at all. Many in my experience have done so with the same veracity as those who insist that the Bible is face value and inerrant and literally true. Yet just because the Bible has been proven to be not literally true, does NOT, in my opinion, dictate that there is no God, or that Jesus was a myth.
I would have to add in this discussion about "black and white," "either/or," and "for us or against us" vein of thinking that as a bisexual, I have seen a similar mindset applied to human sexuality and sexual orientation. I have had heterosexuals condemn me for my attraction to and intimate involvement with the same sex and homosexual people condemn me for my attraction to and intimate involvement with the opposite sex. The latter I found surprising. Many were as aggressive in their condemnation of bisexuals (especially those of us who have a partner of both genders) as the homophobic religious right are towards homosexuals. Again with the same veracity in negating the validity of bisexuality being a legitimate sexual orientation; just as there are many who deem homosexuality "unnatural," many of these people condemn bisexuality as unnatural, a choice rather than the way some of us were made. Even if one's sexual orientation were found to be a choice, I do not feel it should matter as much as what kind of people they are. How they treat others, for that to me is the measure of their faith in God: their ability to treat others with love and respect. Yet, I hear the same thing at times from homophobic heterosexuals and a few homosexuals, towards the bisexual and the transgendered community. And towards those in the LGBT Community overall who are involved in certain consensual sexual practices that are not the "mainstream" or consensual non-monogamous relationships: "You are either for us or against us; you are either all gay or all straight; you are either one of us and think as we do or you do not belong." It does not matter to them that bisexuals get bashed as well, especially those of us who choose to come out and not conceal nor attempt to hide our sexual orientation.
I would have to add that in all of these situations, where a person feels compelled to assert their personal beliefs on an issue on another in a very black and white manner-as in, this is the only way things can be, be that the Bible is "all literally true" or "it is all false and a human invention or a crutch" or "everyone is supposed to be heterosexual and anything else is unnatural" or "one is either gay or heterosexual and those are the only possible ways to be and all others are unnatural" seem to me to be motivated in fear rather than in reality. All of the evidence I see seems to suggest that those four statements may seem to be true to the individuals who assert them as truth, they are not universal truths that everyone must be governed by. However, they do seem to originate from the mind rather than the heart or the spirit, negating the emotions as well as some evidence in favor in need of a solid and comprehensible explanation for reality that is tailored to one's opinion at the expense of the reality which may be true for others, a reality that brings them a sense of oneness or peace. It could merely be that some individuals allow their distaste, fear or misunderstandings of the differences they have from others unlike them to disregard the validity of a different perspective, even when that perspective is quite valid. Some merely choose to paint the world God created in such a multi-hued rainbow of diversity in shades of black and white in an imagined need for self preservation, as if unless certain narrow parameters are met, their faith or sense of belonging is built on a precarious foundation.
But does this kind of "either/or" rationale really provide an answer? To them, perhaps; and so long as these individuals can hold to and carry this belief system within themselves without harming others or forcing it upon others, I choose to grant them that freedom if it brings them peace, as that is what I would want, and wish them well. But for me, the concepts of black and white thinking in a world full of diverse colors merely create conflict. I do not find the person of Jesus in such a worldview. In Jesus, I see someone who embraced and cherished life in all of its diversity, and encourage the individual to find God for themselves within themselves instead of seeking God externally within the beliefs, doctrine and individual opinions of others. In His teachings, I see an urging towards seeking balance. Jesus, to me, is the Great Mediator for any imagined inner spiritual conflict between the rational knowledge of science and the unknown wonder, the mystery that we call God. He gives merit to the idea that "God" and "Science" are not an "either/or" proposition but rather, His ideas of God suggest that we can embrace a "both/and" philosophy. We can see science and reason ways to better balance the known and the unknown, to better comprehend the manner in which the universe is stitched together by God.
I personally think that there is a way to reconcile everything through the teachings of Jesus. I feel He came to show humankind that there is a better way than rules and Biblical "legal-ese" -- a code for a people that lived in a different generation than we, and that no longer apply in light of the knowledge God has blessed humankind with over the years. He taught of principles and concepts that are to me timeless and that do not fade in the shadow of any wealth of new knowledge. Yes, there is evidence to suggest affirmatively that the Earth was not created over six days as we know them. There is evidence to suggest that we are not all the offspring of one man and one woman in the Garden of Eden and that there are no talking snakes who tempt us with apples. There is also evidence to suggest that some of the biblical events are scientifically inexplicable. But that does not change the fact that when one puts the teachings of Jesus to practical application in their lives, miracles-perhaps not ones as literal as water into wine or people suddenly appearing before us out of nowhere-but miracles of love, inner strength, healing, kindness and accomplishment become a reality. There is magic in believing, power in faith, and no greater connecting energy than love. Experience has given me all the evidence I need to feel that to be true.
Yet, it does not stop there for me. While I value the things that my mind has helped me to discover a great deal, I could not have done any of it without faith in God. I see the things that I have been able to work out by studying the knowledge others have shared, by using the mind and reason and ability to learn that God gave me. Most of all I see things by having faith in the belief I feel Jesus was really teaching, that God is within all of us and that all of us are a part of God. That Heaven is not a place we go somewhere, but a place we must find within our own soul, a state of being and condition of the soul as opposed to a literal physical "place" as we define them in reality.
I know that no matter what we discover, what wisdom God unfolds before us about the nature of life and the universe, that the message of Jesus is truly timeless, and is not dependent upon scientific facts, evidence, or "proof" but rather can only be felt. That no matter how much intellect we develop as human beings, it does not change the basic spiritual teachings of Jesus nor His greatest Commandment: that we love one another as God has loved us.
There is no conflict for me between my spirituality and sexuality. The knowledge in my mind gained through study of information about science, biology, physiology, psychology and sexuality tells me that the things that are part of my sexual and intimate life that some might deem "unnatural" are, in fact, very natural. My heart tells me these are gifts from God, not things to be ashamed of or guilty about. My understanding of history and culture, human sexuality and psychology tells me that the biblical writers who wrote of their belief that anything other than heterosexuality is "against God" were writing based on the culture of their time, and not scientific data about sexual orientation. They also wrote based upon fear that same sex relations would result in genocide and fear of the other religious cultures of the time. My heart tells me that God made me to be bisexual and that the way I treat others is more important than my sexual orientation.
My understanding that other bisexuals have been able to have open and honest relationships with partners of both genders has told me that although this arrangement may not be suitable for some, it is very natural and normal for others. My heart tells me that this is a way to fulfill my need for such a relationship in a way that is consensual and not deceitful and harmful to others. My mind and the amazing discoveries science has made about humanity, the nature of life and the world and how it came to be and the constant evolution and growth of the human mind tell me that while the Bible may not be literally true, it does more to affirm the existence of a Loving, Creative Intelligence behind it than negate it. Especially if one does some research at the odds against life as we know it happening from a scientific standpoint, and my heart and faith does the rest. But most of all, my heart and experience tells me that no matter what my mind knows, the teachings of Jesus are liberating, affirming of all humankind, and emphasize love for one another above anything else.
Looking at the research that has been done in support of the LGBT community to affirm that we are not abominations, and then looking at the message of Jesus that we are all equal and loved in God's Eyes, I see a parallel rather than a conflict. Could it be that the knowledge and the acceptance that has been gained in this society by the LGBT community including places on the Internet like this, be answered prayers -- God answering the call of those of us in need by way of discovery and using the minds God gave us? I certainly think so. I feel that the knowledge and information is truly a gift from God. It has helped me to know I am loved as I am as part of God's Creation, regardless of what some may claim to the contrary.
Comments that this is coming from a bisexual aside, I see that it truly is possible to have it both ways - to be able to wholly embrace the wonder of the mind and the wonder of God and the Spirit. The conflict that so many tragically seem to see between science and reason and religion and faith and spirituality and sexuality (or being LGBT and Christian) to me has no foundation in reality. Science and reason teach me how to think with my mind. Jesus tells me how to think with my heart. Both can coexist in my being without any semblance of conflict.
I watch the Discovery Channel or read a book or an article and that tells me about the nature of life; what we as human beings have grown to know about if not yet fully understand. I read the words of Jesus, and put His teachings about love, compassion, forgiveness, peace and faith into practice, and that tells me about the nature of God, that which I may not fully understand yet know. And I see God. Often I am asked by those who see my belief in God as a delusion, "How can you believe so strongly in something for which there is no proof that you cannot see?" And I tell them, "I see God in everything, in all of life" because I do. I see Jesus as well. No, not a vision of Him, but I see His Spirit wherever there is compassion, love, gentle kindness, mercy, and forgiveness practiced; wherever there is faith and hope against all odds. At times I think people are so busy looking for proof that God exists that they miss it right in front of them. Just as Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within and if we look and search for it we will miss it, I think many of us don't see God because we expect God to be somewhere else than right here with us. I feel far too many miss the fact that the Spirit of Christ can be in our hearts and lives here and now, instead of watching the skies and pondering the question of His physical return.
Perhaps it is simply my core nature to see life not from an "either/or" but a "both/and" view. But I know that it was stepping away from the fire and brimstone, legalistic idea of Christianity I once knew to one based in the love that Jesus taught about that really helped to resolve any perceived conflict I once imagined between heart and mind. It is really simple to me: my heart knows God is; my mind attempts to understand God and when it cannot, my heart, focusing on the love I feel from God in the world I see around me and all the blessings in this life does the rest. I try to think with both my mind and my heart, as often as possible. Bringing both in unison took much soul searching, learning and study, and experience often accompanied by life lessons. But resolving the conflict I once imagined between the two was among the best resolutions I ever made, and I am eternally grateful to our loving God for helping me to see it through.
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