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Just Don't Call Me a Sinner

Posted September 28, 2013

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Today I'd like to introduce you to a Lutheran minister I think you might enjoy. What? The word Lutheran turns you off?

What if I said this minister is a 6-foot-1, heavily tattooed woman with a drug history? A former stand-up comic? Whose congregation celebrates Easter with traditional liturgy followed by a dance party?

“We feel like nothing says ‘He is risen' like a chocolate fountain in the baptismal font,” she said.

Ah, that's better!

Her name is Nadia Bolz-Weber. You can see an extensive video interview with her at the On Being website with Krista Tippett (another woman you might enjoy following if you don't already). That's where I recently discovered Nadia. She is a writer and speaker, but her main job is reinventing church at a place called House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.

Now mind you, she wears a collar and cross and preaches from the Lutheran lectionary. Her church emphasizes communion and baptism.

At the same time, they describe themselves as “a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice-oriented, queer-inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient/future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination.”

I'm eager to read her life story in a new book titled Pastrix, but I started with her earlier book, Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television. It is exactly that. She sat at home and watched 24 straight hours of TBN with a parade of colleagues, friends and relatives, including her Church of Christ fundamentalist parents, joining her in shifts to add their insights. Then she wrote about it.

And that's where I started to squirm

The book is funny, as you'd expect. Nadia blogs as The Sarcastic Lutheran.

Which made me even more surprised to hear her primary complaint about the televangelists — besides their constant appeals for money — was that they didn't remind viewers often enough we are all SINNERS. The TV preachers were way too positive for Nadia, with all that claptrap about God's wanting us to be happy and rich.

“The really liberating thing about this,” she wrote, “is when we all come to the table fully aware that we are sinners, that we are broken on some level and never perfect, then the temptation to pretend otherwise is greatly diminished.”

I hope I'm not pretending to be perfect when I say the word sin offends me. Maybe it's just semantics. Maybe it's my religious baggage. Yeah, yeah, I know sin originally meant “missing the mark,” but that's not what most people mean by it. When I'm told I'm a sinner, I hear bad and unworthy.

I think most people already feel bad enough about themselves without the demoralizing label of sinner.

We all have challenges, sure, and we've all been imperfect in ways we'd love to retract. But if anything, we need to be reminded of our divine potential, not our screw-ups; of the magnificence of our inner light, not our darkness. We need permission and encouragement to be our best selves.

Nadia describes a God of love and forgiveness, and she warmly reassures us no act is too awful to be turned to good by a divine hand. But there's always the drumbeat of past failures and regrets.

I'm not trying to pick a fight with her — I wish I could be as edgy and smart simultaneously as she is — but I wonder how this one point strikes you. Is the word sinner offensive? Is it important to remember you might have made whopping mistakes in your past? Is thinking of yourself as flawed a necessary starting point for redemption or what I would call moving into higher consciousness?

My 12-Step friends say they must never forget where they came from. But I wonder if we're just reinforcing unworthiness, which I'm beginning to think causes most of the problems in the world.

I believe Nadia and I both are trying to convey a message that you are worthy and living in an ocean of divine love. For me, it just doesn't start with word sinner.


God, That's Great!

Posted September 21, 2013
Getting ready to teach a 10-week prosperity class that started last week, I ran across a video I think you'll enjoy.

This is Edwene Gaines, a Unity minister who has been a premier prosperity teacher for decades. She is direct and funny, a steel magnolia from Alabama who teaches the spiritual truth about money. Even if you've seen her before, she's a hoot.

In this 20-minute video, she talks about:
  • The difference in tithing, charity and gifts
  • The definition of spiritual food ("That which causes us to remember who we are.")
  • Forgiveness, including her own control issues and her several ex-husbands, and how financial debt is a sure sign of failure to forgive
  • Being specific about what you want. Desire for anything "is a coming attraction in your life."
  • Plus a quote from "one of my favorite mystics, Mario Andretti"
She mentions in this Sunday morning talk some of the ideas she will be including in her afternoon workshop. You can see the whole workshop here when she was at the Agape International Spiritual Center in California.

Also be sure your spiritual library includes her little book, The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity.

When Our Stories Overpower Spirit

Posted September 14, 2013

storytelling around campfire

Remember in the movie When Harry Met Sally – these longtime good friends became romantic one night, and afterwards they didn't have anything to talk about?

“We already know each other's stories,” Harry complained.

We've all got our stories – some funny, some sad, some sagas – and we tell them to connect with each other. Human beings have been telling stories since we discovered speech – personal stories, childhood stories, mythological, allegorical, parables, fables and real-life stories, everything from breaking news to how-was-your-day.

I hear a lot of stories about people's lives. Especially when I talk about how to move through loss and change, I am inundated with more stories of loss and change. I'm honored by the trust, and I continue to be astonished at the pain people can endure while still functioning.

But I've begun to worry we could drown in our stories.

It happened again the other day. I talked about Hell in the Hallway as a guest speaker (you may listen here, if you're interested), and people I'd never met before came up afterwards to tell me their stories of being in the hallway, waiting for the next door to open.

I had given a dozen or more examples of transition in health, jobs, relationships or other problem areas of life, but a few people complained, “You didn't talk about MY situation.” And then they explained their situation. In specific detail.

Again, I'm truly interested in the stories.

But sometimes I want to take these people by the shoulders and say, “Let's go over this again. It's really not about the specific situation. It's about the spiritual principles to get you through this situation.”

We call them universal spiritual laws because they are universal. “Including or covering all; present or occurring everywhere,” the Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines universal. “Comprehensively broad; denoting every member of a class.”

Spiritual principles apply to all of us, the same way, everywhere, all the time, in every circumstance.

  • No matter the situation, God (or call it spirit, universe, the divine, a higher power) is in the midst of it.
  • No matter the situation, every person involved is an expression of God, divine in essence. No matter how they are behaving right now!
  • No matter the situation, we had a hand in creating it with the power of our thoughts.
  • No matter the situation, prayer helps.
  • No matter the situation, we probably will have to take some action, but only after a shift in consciousness or spiritual awakening.

I don't mind when people ask how to apply spiritual principle to their specific situations. In fact, that's the only useful question. It's not about what happened. It's about what now?

Our mistake is in thinking the details of our particular, personal story are so overwhelming and unique that even God can't help. “Principles might work for other people but not for me.” Believe me, I know the feeling! But I also know it's untrue. They are universal laws.

We might never understand why bad things happen, but our pain is in resisting them. Repeating the story over and over, becoming identified with it – I'm a widow. Or I'm a cancer patient. – shrinks our lives and keeps us stuck in the hallway, unable to open a door.

Fortunately, we don't have to remember hundreds of rules for living, just a handful of spiritual principles that cover every possible human experience.

I think people misunderstand this divine economy. The principles seem too simple. Too familiar.

Even I get tired of being reminded to pray or to see the divine in someone I dislike. I know that! Tell me something new!

But there's really just one answer to every problem or circumstance. God is in the midst of it. No matter the story, your life is playing out in an ocean of love, abundance, wisdom and intelligence that you can draw upon. And you have creative power you never imagined.


Your Body Hears Every Word You Say

Posted September 10, 2013

jumping for joy

No matter how prayed-up we feel, no matter how long we have studied spiritual principles, almost nothing can ignite fear as quickly as a medical problem.

Being told your body has gone haywire or you need surgery can evoke dread and powerlessness unlike anything else. At least that's true for me. Maybe I'm just chicken, but when I have a physical problem, I feel so … trapped. Trapped in a faulty body.

You know the usual admonitions: pray, ask for support and know that all is well. But I also want to share with you a healing practice that I love and have used.

I heard this from Rev. Cherie Larkin at Unity of Nashville, who underwent open-heart surgery some years ago, and I've never forgotten it.

Before the surgery, Cherie's doctor gave her a video showing exactly what would happen during the procedure. Cherie watched it, then she watched it again with her body. She talked to her body as if it were a child. “Look at this -- this is what is going to happen. See how careful the doctor is? See how the problem is being fixed?”

Cherie, who has told this story in workshops on healing, says the body doesn't know the difference between a surgeon's scalpel or being knifed in a dark alley. It reacts as if attacked.

So she spoke to her body over and over, explaining that the doctors were going to help, that this was a friendly procedure. She even told her body there was no need for bruising and urged it to heal quickly. She healed in record time and amazed the doctors.

Our bodies hear every word we say, and they are eager to cooperate. That's why it is so important to keep our words and thoughts positive and to enlist our bodies in the quest for health.

Remember Myrtle Fillmore, Unity's co-founder, cured herself of tuberculosis by affirming radiant health. She also asked her body's forgiveness because she had bombarded it with unkind, resentful thoughts for so many years.

Healing is a miracle of divine energy that we only dimly understand. I firmly believe that someday we will use nothing but thought to heal our bodies.

We have volunteered to live in these physical vehicles designed for the human experience. We need only remember they are exquisitely responsive to the healing power of God and their natural state is wholeness. As we set aside fearful thoughts, we allow healing to take place.


Why Pray for Others?

Posted September 10, 2013

Orion Nebula

One of the toughest stump-the-minister questions I ever heard was this: If we are the creators of our own experience, why pray for other people?

This was posed by a friend who really wasn't trying to stump me; she just wanted to know. I've been working for years to come up with a good answer.

Because it's a good question. Here's how I break it down:

  • God is not an old man in the sky who grants favors to those who beg really hard. God is an energy of love and creative intelligence available to us all in equal measure.
  • In this ocean of divine substance, we create our own experiences through the power of our thoughts and feelings.
  • We cannot create experiences for other people. They are their own creators in the same ocean of abundance. (This is why we might as well mind our own business.)
  • Each person is experiencing the consequences of his or her creations, like it or not.

So then, isn't each of us on our own? How can praying for others help them?

I don't know! After all these years of wrestling with the question, I have no wise and profound answer to why prayer works. I just know that it does! It helps others and helps us, too, the pray-er and the pray-ee.

This has been on my mind again because I'm wrapping up a Sunday series about healing and the power of mind over body. I would bet the majority of prayers pinging around the planet have something to do with healing.

We have learned to pray by affirming health and well-being for those who are sick or hurting, instead of fretting and begging God for help. (Although begging may be instinctive in emergencies!)

We have learned not to imagine the worst outcome. Health is our natural state of being. The spirit within can never be sick or hurt.

But that's hard to remember in a hospital room where someone you love is lying unconscious and laced with plastic tubing. That's why the prayers of friends and even strangers might be more powerful, because they're not bogged down in drama and fear.

My personal belief is that prayer, like any thought, moves energy. When it is focused on a person or situation, prayer moves energy in that direction. It bolsters the intentions of those involved.

Sort of like wearing a life jacket in the pool. Your body would float without it, but it's so much easier with additional buoyance. Prayers buoy others in their efforts to stay afloat.

If health is a matter of mind over body, then pray especially for others' minds. Affirm their peace, strength, clarity and guidance in seeking treatment. Affirm your own peace and strength as well, so you can be a non-anxious presence for them. Prayer lifts your consciousness even as it buoys theirs.

Then trust that whatever happens is, in fact, the highest and best outcome for their soul. It might not be not what you would have preferred, but we cannot see from our limited human vantage point the real work in progress.

Prayer for others need be nothing more than this: I hold all possibilities.

Or you may borrow what my friend Janet Conner calls the Perfect Prayer, which she uses for her son morning and night:

The divine in me, through me, and as me

blesses _________,

honors his soul's divinely appointed mission

and showers him with grace.

What more could be said on behalf of someone else? It covers his soul's work and his human condition while invoking the divine presence within the pray-er and pray-ee.

Even though I rant about minding your own business, I highly recommend praying for other people.

Not to work magic in their lives.

Not to override their problems with the force of your will.

Not to change them.

But to support the work they are doing on this earth, consciously or not, and to see their good unfolding no matter what the circumstances.

Worry is not love, remember. Honoring the all-knowing presence of the divine in every person is.


©2013 Ellen Debenport
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