Today religious thinking is all over the landscape with respect to people’s interpretive minds.  Mainline denominations are losing members while the independent groups are gaining strength.  Faith-based communities are looking for more efficient ways of managing their infrastructure.  Numbers concerning attendance and cash flow, for example, are becoming increasingly important.  Denominations struggle with too many small congregations that are unable to meet their financial obligations and yet remain unwilling to merge with other churches or quietly go out of existence.  What has happened to the
magic of gaining more disciples of Jesus Christ?

     We are entering a day when labels are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  When we use the description of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, that label may presume that there is a specific group of people who have something that others do not, namely a more informed path to salvation or an orientation toward life that is distinctive.

     There may be little difference between what supports such a label and the label that ancient Israel gave to the Pharisees, i.e., only those who were deeply learned, committed and faithful to the teachings and traditions of the Laws of Moses were proclaimed as pure in the eyes of God.

     Thus, the practice continued for centuries of refining and defining what it meant to be a Pharisee.   There was little growth of thought or wisdom for hundreds of years in Israel.  No one dared to proclaim different thought patterns regarding what it meant to be a fully alive human being who could be successful, loving and committed to the growth of an integrated community when that meant departing from remaining faithful to the prescribed Laws of Moses.

     What the Christian Church is experiencing today reflects the same pattern.  We simply dare not depart from what has been handed down for centuries, i.e. the interpretation of the divine wisdom contained in the Holy Scriptures.   Rather than trust their own thinking, many clergy have eagerly turned to those who could recite the centuries old message more creatively, replete with remarkable, impressive illustrations.  Rather than being the friend of clerics, the computer and its vast resources for refining what is preached has only further numbed the spirits of priests by removing their need to struggle, struggle that is absolutely necessary for inspired leadership to be made visible.

     What is needed today is not the story of old repackaged in new and clever ways.  What is needed is a new story.  Jesus saw the need for a new story and for that he paid with his life.  Tyndale saw the need for a new story when he translated the Scriptures into the common language, an act that caused him to pay with his life.  The Reformation of Christianity happened because the Church had secured control over the minds of the faithful and ruled them by fear.  Rebellion against such rule by more free-thinking individuals caused many of them to pay the ultimate price as well.

     How many times does this theme need to repeat itself before people awaken to the fact that the Christian Church may not always be leading people toward higher levels of understanding the nature and role of the human spirit?  The Church has made sacrosanct beliefs that were never held by Jesus.  He never taught, for example, that his death on the cross would save humans from their sins.  Jesus never mentioned his birth stories, or the significance of his mother, Mary, or that he would return and rule for a thousand years.

     The Bible comes to us after centuries of refining by the priesthood who copied it.  Later their work was declared by the Church Councils as the Word of God.  Thus, the New Testament has become as sacred as the Torah for the Jews or the words of Mohammad for Islam.  Who dares question what the Church has declared?  Did God say this about the chosen books that make up the Scriptures or was this a theme devised by the church to solidify its power over believers?  Such a designation for the Scriptures would forever halt or slow drastically any departure from words that reportedly came from God.

     What we learn from reading the Gospels is that Jesus could not successfully instill his wisdom even into the minds of his own disciples.  Toward the end of his ministry, Peter not only wore a sword when the group went to pray in the garden but he used it when Jesus was arrested.  What happened to love your enemies?  What happened to the Master’s lessons when James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who refused to allow Jesus to enter their village?

      Jesus’ message was not about the truth that he taught, nor was it about having the correct beliefs.  His message was basically, “Look inside yourselves where you will find everything you could possibly need.”  As a vehicle to communicate where his lessons could be found, he used the metaphor of the Kingdom of God.  This reality is not only true for his listeners but it is true for all humanity as well as every life form on earth.

     Right actions will not save us.  Right beliefs will not save us.  No one is coming who will save us.  Basically, we do not need to be saved from anything.  What we need is for a stimulus to awaken us to the reality to which he bore witness.  We can live abundantly by making visible the potential each of us holds within our seed.  Each one of us is quite different and distinctive.

     Such a message may be far too simplistic for believers who cannot imagine an understanding so universal, so undemanding and so undisciplined.  However, why would our Creator make anything as complex and as separatist-oriented as Christianity?  No other requirements for life apply to any other life forms on earth.  Why would human beings be the exception?  The simple reality is that we are like all other life forms.  Humans are only different by design, i.e., the results of our lives – the fruits – will be different.  We are one and the same as all creatures when it comes to having everything we need inside our seed since birth.

     However, we have additional gifts that other life forms do not possess.  We have imagination.  We have the ability to create what has never existed.  We have the ability to conceive and perceive countless alternate realities.   We are restless and yearn for other worlds to explore.  This reality is part of the reason why no religion could possibly hold our attention for very long unless it encouraged and supported us to “sail on, sail on!”

     The ancient mythologies of our religious heritage do not address how to handle renegade societies that are willing to destroy others in the name of their belief system.  They do not address the why of leaving our planet to explore other worlds.  They do not address the issues surrounding various studies into our human nature that deal with issues like stem-cell research and the human genome, the use of artificial body parts, or engaging in solving the problems of aging, disease or unlocking the secrets of fusion as a technology for an inexpensive source of energy.

     No religion invites us to dream, to understand risk-taking as part of the price of knowing or to paint outside the lines and to ignore historic boundaries.  No religion invites us to partake of the fruit from the second tree in the Garden of Eden – the tree of life, lest we become like the gods and live forever. Such a prospect evoked even God’s fear and was the reason why Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden. (Genesis 3:22f)

     Religion should liberate, not repress and control.  Religion should be our cheerleader instead of announcing that if God intended us to fly, we would have wings.  Indeed, God encourages experimentation until we find what works instead of operating from a system of pass or fail, i.e. salvation or damnation.  The only role that fear should play in our destiny is to approach very cautiously all that we can create.  The consequences of our thought and emotional patterns are sufficient for guidance.

     Meiji Stewart once wrote words that were so universal, so filled with common sense that Christianity in its current state pales by comparison.  She wrote,

Ask for what you want.  Believe in yourself.  Change your mind.  Follow your heart’s desire.  Give more than you receive.  Have a sense of humor. Insist on being yourself.  Join in more.  Kiss and make up.  Love and be loved. Make new friends.  Nurture your spirit.  Overcome adversity.  Play more.  Question conformity.  Reach for the stars.  Speak your truth.  Take personal responsibility.  Understand more and judge less.  Volunteer your time.  Walk through fear.  Experience the moment.  Learn from grace. Be zany.

     All of these qualities come from the choices we make.  They have nothing to do with conforming to some external law code or to the lessons found in a sermon given on a mountain-top.  In the latter, Jesus was only bearing witness to the potential we all have.  What Hell could or would hold such a personality that had learned to make such loving energy patterns of spirit visible?  Let us now consider nine lessons.