Category Archives: Spirituality Posts

If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person

here I am lord

If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I first encountered the writing of Philip Gulley and James Mulholland when writing an article on universalism in an earlier blog post. The other day I re-read that post, and decided to go looking for the book. I’m tremendously grateful that I did.

In a way, this book picks up where Rob Bell’s Love Wins leaves off. Where Bell asks probing questions about the idea that God will eternally punish people in hell, Gulley and Mulholland passionately chronicle their journey to the conclusion that He will not.

ifgraceistrue

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The book is written in an unusual dual first-person. The two Quaker pastors combine their experiences into one whole, while continuing to use “I” to communicate the experiences, leaving the reader to guess to which of the authors any particular experience may belong. The book begins with a faith-changing experience one of the pastors had in preparing the funeral sermon of a troubled woman who died while on the very threshold of returning to her faith. In a flash of insight derived from the parable of the prodigal son, the pastor realized that God wasn’t waiting for her to cross that threshold, but had run out to meet her.

Along the way, Gulley and Mulholland come to trust their own experience of God as a supremely loving being and subordinate their understanding of scripture to that experience. This leads them inevitably to the conclusion that not all of scripture portrays God properly. A view of scripture where all scripture is equally perfect and inerrant is discarded.

Other universalist authors (such as Rob Bell to a degree) believe they can stay within the boundaries of an inerrant view of scripture and still hold to universalism. It’s an intriguing project – and If Grace Is True has a nice appendix presenting the universalist view from scripture and church history.  But ultimately I think these two pastors take the more honest approach. The love of God and the love of our neighbor are the two principles by which any other principle is to be judged, and even scripture must bow to the principle of love.

I’ve quoted this before, but let me present a brief exert of this book to give you an idea of it’s heart:

I had rejected the image of a wrathful, powerful God anxious to punish the wicked in the fires of hell, but I was left with a benevolent but feeble God who had no choice but to destroy the ones he loved. Hell was another Holocaust, where once again millions would be thrown into the furnaces while God stood by powerless and defeated. When confronted with the inconsistency of an all-powerful God incapable of accomplishing his desire, I drew a careful distinction between what God wanted to do and what God was able to do. God was not free.

I defended our freedom to reject God–but denied God’s freedom to reject our rejection. Acknowledged that God can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion, but I quickly defined the persons and situations in which God could be merciful and compassionate. My God was shackled, powerless to act.

This shackled God was not the God of Jesus.

Simply put, this is a wonderful book, for anyone who is ready for it. Universalism makes the gospel into the really good news, and alters our view of everything around us – for the better.

More on the Blessing Way

Ran across an excellent quote on the blessing way from a wonderful book by Omraam Mikhael Aivanov.

Aivanhov

Wherever you go and whatever you do, take care to leave only luminous imprints behind you. You are walking or driving down a road: bless that road and ask that all those who pass that way may receive peace and light and be led onto the right path. Why be content to live unconsciously and record nothing but dirt and disorder? Why not try to work like the sun which ceaselessly impregnates the universe with its light and warmth, its life and generosity? Try not to let yourselves be led into chaotic, destructive, negative activities ever again; try to learn how to behave towards creation and all creatures. And everywhere and always, whatever you touch and wherever you go, remember to leave imprints of light and love so that, more and more, all human beings may vibrate in unison with the divine world.

Aïvanhov, Omraam Mikhaël (2011-04-08). The Book of Divine Magic

Love Wins – by Rob Bell

Robert_Indiana_love Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. I bought this book on Audible (Amazon’s audio book company) for several reasons. First of all, it was very high on the best-seller list in spirituality and secondly because the subject has always appealed to me. In fact I was in the middle of writing a piece on much the same subjects. I’m extremely glad I picked it up.

While I would approach the subject slightly differently than pastor Bell, this book will be appreciated by someone who wants to take a fairly conservative and orthodox view of the Bible and yet is troubled by the exclusivist teaching of some fundamentalist and evangelical branches of Christianity.

Using a good assortment of scriptures, historical notes, stories and excellent prose, Bell makes a Christian case for being at least OPEN to the ideas of a limited hell from which people can be redeemed, for eventual universal salvation, and the real presence of the kingdom of God in the here-and-now.

Love Wins

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I’ll give a brief example of his prose. After quoting a ream of scriptures to the effect that God desires the salvation of everyone, and that God’s purpose cannot be ultimately resisted, Bell summarizes like this:

Once again, God has a purpose. A desire. A goal. And God never stops pursuing it. Jesus tells a series of parables in Luke 15 about a woman who loses a coin, a shepherd who loses a sheep, and a father who loses a son. The stories aren’t ultimately about things and people being lost; the stories are about things and people being found. The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever.

It’s true that Bell qualifies his points quite a bit, needing to walk a bit of a fine line to stay within the conservative biblical view. Still, his questions alone have been enough to make his book extremely popular, and extremely controversial. People who find exclusivist Christianity limiting but who still love Christianity feel quite liberated that someone has finally spoken to them. And plenty of people in the exclusivist branches of Christianity seem very threatened. And that’s probably a very good sign.

I’d highly recommend the book to Christians who’d like support for a more enlightened version of the Christian tradition, and for non-believers who could use an example of Christianity that isn’t all about sending other people to hell.

 

The picture below links to a short video intro on the book

38 Life Lessons from Leo Babauta

Usually when I post articles, I like it to be something original, but today I just want  to send you to Leo Babauta’s website, Zen Habits. I’ve been a fan of Leo’s for quite cartoonsome time. Leo is an extreme minimalist (as you can easily tell from the design of his site). Most of his posts involve simplifying your life. Today’s post contains his 30 life lessons – to celebrate his 38th birthday. One of the best lists I’ve seen. Here are a few favorites:

2. Possessions are worse than worthless — they’re harmful. They add no value to your life, and cost you everything. Not just the money required to buy them, but the time and money spent shopping for them, maintaining them, worrying about them, insuring them, fixing them, etc.

20. A good walk cures most problems. Want to lose weight and get fit? Walk. Want to enjoy life but spend less? Walk. Want to cure stress and clear your head? Walk. Want to meditate and live in the moment? Walk. Having trouble with a life or work problem? Walk, and your head gets clear.

27. Create. The world is full of distractions, but very few are as important as creating. In my job as a writer, there is nothing that comes close to being as crucial as creating. In my life, creating is one of the few things that has given me meaning. When it’s time to work, clear away all else and create.

34. No one knows what they’re doing as parents. We’re all faking it, and hoping we’re getting it right. Some people obsess about the details, and miss out on the fun. I just try not to mess them up too much, to show them they’re loved, to enjoy the moments I can with them, to show them life is fun, and stay out of the way of them becoming the amazing people they’re going to become. That they already are.

Go to Leo’s site for the full list.

Have a Little Faith: A True Story – by Mitch Albom

religions Have a Little Faith: A True Story by Mitch Albom. I had seen this book by Mitch Albom on various best seller lists, as I had his previous book Tuesdays with Morrie, but I’d never gotten around to reading them. When the audiobook showed up in my library I figured it was time.

For some reason, I had the impression that Mitch was some sort of evangelical feel-goodauthor, possibly because I vaguely realized that he wrote The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which I enjoyed. As it happens, Mitch is Jewish and got his start as a sports writer.

Have a Little Faith

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This book started when he was asked by his childhood rabbi to give the rabbi’s eulogy (an event that didn’t end up happening for another eight years.) In the course of getting to know the rabbi better, Mitch found his own previously casual faith reawakened. He also became involved, during the course of these years, with an ex-drug addict Christian pastor ministering to the homeless in his native Detroit.

Over the course of getting to know both of these men better, Mitch becomes more cognizant of the role of faith and it’s ability to make the world a better place.

The book if full of witty stories (most of them courtesy of the rabbi) and compassionate moments. It frankly admits (as does the rabbi) that we simply don’t have answers to all life’s questions. The rabbi gives the best answer I’ve ever heard to the question of “why do bad things happen to good people.” To quote the rabbi, “No one knows”.

While gaining a new appreciation for his Jewish faith and the value of tradition, Mitch is also given an appreciation for the value of ALL religions and traditions. Embarrassingly, the local Catholic priest, during Mitch’s childhood, once accosted members of the synagogue for taking up too many parking spaces in front of his church with “They didn’t exterminate enough of you!” As his penance, his archbishop assigned him to walk around the church school grounds during recess arm in arm with the rabbi. They later became fast friends.

Then there was the Episcopal priest who was invited by the rabbi to speak to his synagogue to foster mutual respect and ended up trying to publicly bring the rabbi to Jesus. But in spite of such rough spots, the book in infused with a warm and tolerant respect for Christianity and other religions – particularly as it explores the life and ministry of pastor Henry in Detroit and becomes involved in helping his ministry.

Very enjoyable book and I highly recommend it.

The Secret: The Power by Rhonda Byrnes

FuturePower

The Secret: The Power by Rhonda Byrne. I had previously reviewed wildly popular book “The Secret” by this author. I gave a mixed review of that book, in which I noted that a book on how to get anything you want can send an entirely wrong message to someone in the grip of powerful ego drives.

The newer book hit me wrong right out of the gate. It was only as I continued to read (in this case, listen) that I started to appreciate what the author was actually saying.

I’ll give away the “secret” of the book by saying that the “power” mentioned is Love. A wonderful message. However, in proving that everything in the world is created and obtained through love, Rhonda equates a fervent desire for a pair of designer shoes with “love” for those shoes. Unfortunately, spiritual teachers such as the Buddha identify desire as the root of all suffering.

The Power

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As the book went along, however, I realized that Rhonda means something different by “desire” than the Buddha means. What she’s actually suggesting is not a desperate longing for material things, but an awe, appreciation and gratitude for material things. This puts her program on an entirely different (and spiritually helpful) footing. For example, she shares a remarkable point of view for dealing with envy. Rather than having negative feelings about good things coming to other people, we are to consider this as a sign that we are on the same “frequency” as these good things, and that the universe is presenting them to us to enjoy, love, and HAVE if we wish. By this rationale, we should be as happy and grateful for someone else having good things as we would if he had them ourselves.

I found this a unique approach. While perhaps not as pure as being grateful for other’s good fortune because we are spiritually one with them, it’s a good start. And there is much to praise in the book. It’s well written, easy to follow, full of helpful quotations and excellent summaries. It encourages us to practice love, gratitude and positivity in every situation – and that can’t be bad. I found that simply listening to the book on audio while commuting improved my entire day.

The audio version, by the way, has lots of interesting music, sound effects, and Rhonda’s own unique voice. I found these helpful and engaging, but it’s easy to see how some people might find them distracting. Such people might prefer the book instead of the audio.

The original point I made in my review of The Secret still applies here I think. You have to begin with a good perspective on who you are and what your purpose is to avoid being sucked into an ego trap. As Jesus put it:

So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matt 6:31-33, NET)

In a sense, however, the Power is much better on this point. An approach of cultivating love and gratitude is already a long way along the road of seeking the Kingdom than simply trying to practice the “law of attraction”. I think this book rounds out and corrects some of the potential problems with the first, and I’d recommend it over the Secret.

Invitation to an Integral Spirituality Event

Terry Patten As some of you know, I’m a big fan of Ken Wilber. His “Integral” approach to spirituality, philosophy, and life in general is cutting edge, and incorporates more truth than any other system I’m aware of. I’m currently reading a book which I hope to review here soon – Integral Life Practice, which was co-written by Wilber and Terry Patten. The purpose of Integral Life Practice is to expand yourself in all aspects of human development. It’s Wilber’s contention, for example, that meditators, for example, who also do strength training are both better meditators and better athletes than those who do only one or the other. Integral Life Practice involves selecting development practices from a wide spectrum of developmental areas to balance your development and make greater progress.

I just received an invitation for a free webinar by Terry Patten on The Three Essential Practices of an Integral Spiritual LIfe. Certianly one motive for the free webinar is to drum up readers for his newsletter, I also expect the webinar to be quite informative, and I wanted to pass along the invitation to the readers here. You can sign up for the webinar (which will be on Thursday, Feb 23rd, at 5:30 PST) via this link: Webinar Registration.

If you get this message too late, take a look at Terry’s sight regardless. I believe the webinar will be offered as a download after the event.

See you there.

Thomas Merton on Our Inner Nature

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.
Again, that expression, le point vierge, (I cannot translate it) comes in here. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written is us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely….I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere
(Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p158)

Get Rid of Goals

happy I’ve noticed a synchronicity lately with regard to the idea of “goals”. At the very time when I’m feeling some personal frustration at not meeting some of my important goals – two of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina and Leo Babauta, are posting about the idea of reducing the importance of goals in our life.

Leo, in his Zen Habits blog, writes that the problem with goals is that they may force us to work on things we aren’t really passionate about.

Goals as a system are set up for failure. Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

The ideal life, according to Leo, is one in which we follow our inspiration and passion at each moment. This is the kind of life that produces truly great results. Coincidentally (or not), Steve Pavlina has been trying an experiment in which he tries to follow his inspiration and passion in each moment. In the past, if a flash of inspiration came to him, he would write it down for later planning and scheduling. Now (or at least for the next few weeks of the experiment) he just DOES it.

When an inspired idea comes to me, I act on it almost immediately. I know that I have about a 48-hour window — maximum — to write and publish that idea. Otherwise the energy is gone. Trying to create that same content later is possible, but it’s much more difficult and takes a lot longer.

The experience is like catching a wave. I might wake up one morning and get an idea for a new article, and I know I need to grab my laptop immediately and let it flow through me. In those situations I can write nearly as fast as I can type, without having to pause to think.

This is an interesting tie-in to something Eckhart Tolle said in A New Earth. If you do something – even the simplest thing – in complete harmony with your higher self (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) then what you do will improve the entire spirit of the planet – even if what you’re doing is sitting on a mat watching the birds fly by. On the other hand, if you try to do something wonderful, and it is NOT in complete harmony with your higher self, then – no matter how externally wonderful it may seem – you are harming yourself and everyone on the planet. You are bringing an energy of disharmony into the world, and ultimately, that energy is negative and will have negative effects. When we work from the higher self, we are a conduit for the Spirit into the world:

For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13 WEB)

Some degree of planning or scheduling is probably useful in a world where everything runs by the clock and people are expected to produce on schedule. But perhaps we overdo it. I’m going to reconsider the importance of goals in the larger scheme of things.

Of course, this can be risky. As Steve Pavlina puts it:

Dealing with the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next is extremely unsettling. In order to make it through this, I have to let go of trying to control anything. I have to let go and trust

Which is what faith is all about. It’s not about clinging tenaciously to a dogma. It’s about trusting that Spirit will see you through.

Meditating While Driving

driving Like many people, I never seem to have the time I’d like for meditating and spiritual development. I’d like to begin each day with spiritual practice, but sometimes I’m running late and don’t get to it. Since I have a long commute, I’ve sometimes tried to listen to meditation tapes while driving, but this can be dangerous. Wayne Dyer’s Japa meditation CD, for example, had me in such an altered state that the physical world I was driving through lost importance – which is not a good state for driving.

This morning I tried something different – adapting mindfulness or walking meditation to driving. This seemed like a good match, since it actually makes you MORE aware of your surroundings. Rather than going within, your focus is on being fully present in the situation.

The technique is very simple. Start driving. Turn off your radio or music. Focus entirely on the sense impressions of driving. Be fully present in the experience of driving your car, and don’t focus on any inner dialog or thoughts. If you become aware that you are thinking about something other than the experience of driving, gently return your focus to the road in front of you. Don’t judge yourself for your thoughts, but keep returning your focus to the road, the car and your driving.

Naturally, you should continue to check your mirrors, watch your blind spots and follow good driving practice. In fact you should be more intently aware of your surroundings than usual. Be aware of the road and your surroundings with the same calm intensity of a cat watching a mouse hole. This is probably a better technique to practice on a routine drive, like a commute, than when you are trying to find a new location, although it would probably work with any kind of driving.

No two meditations are alike, and no two meditators are alike – so don’t judge your own experiences. What you experience is what you experience, and it’s fine. But here are a few observations on my own meditation this morning. First of all, it was a bit tiring. Being mindful in a complex situation like driving can be slightly overwhelming. The trick was to relax and be aware of all the experiences in general, rather than trying to shift a laser focus of awareness between all the various things going on.

I also discovered that I have a habit of giving myself verbal mental directions while I’m driving, telling myself where to turn and when to shift. That was a bit odd. But at times during the meditation I felt a wonderful sense of joy. Life seemed so good. Happiness was staring me in the face, waiting for me to shut up long enough to notice it. During these times, I had the odd sensation that I was driving on a route I had never seen before. I actually wondered for a moment if I was lost. The truth is, I suppose, that I had NOT seen it before – not really SEEN it. In fact, the day before this experiment, I had one of those frequent experiences of arriving at a particular turn on my route and being unable to remember how I had arrived, because my driving was on autopilot while I was lost in thought.

The experiment seemed like a success to me. At the very least, I think it won’t hurt my driving at all. It may improve it. Give driving meditation a try and let me know how it works for you.

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