Next Steps…

I have a feeling this will be a long post…

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working to rebuild my faith, rather than reclaim it. I think some progress was made today. I’ve spent the last two hours talking with Donny, and I just have to share some (okay, most) of that conversation here. He’s one of the few people who actually totally understand where I am right now.

Go ahead and head beneath the fold to read what we talked about.


Donny: That movie, Zeitgeist: I showed it to some of the people in my seminary class.
Donny: Because it annoys the crap out of me that we don’t talk about things like that.
Donny: Because we should.
Me: i agree
Me: sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist does way more harm than good
Donny: There are answers. Not a single one of them knew the answers, though. not one. Just me, because I wanted to know because that film bugged me so I started researching it.
Me: I still don’t know the answers.
Donny: It’s a long discussion but the basics are this… I’ll give you the example of Mithra:
Donny: Mithra, in the film, is said to have been born of a virgin, died, resurrected, etc.
Donny: it’s true they said those things about him. but only after christianity became popular. before jesus they said he was born fully formed from a rock.
Donny: they changed their legend when paul built a church just down the road from a mithric temple and they started losing people to christianity.
Donny: most of the other “gods” mentioned in that film… the same is true for them.
Donny: finally… there is one woman’s work upon which that entire film is based, and i’ve spoken with her in person.
Donny: i tracked her down and nicely asked questions just because i wanted to know.
Donny: the way she answers tells me she made up most of it. but that’s another story.
Me: that’s good to know
Donny: Another thing that bugs me about churches:
Donny: they don’t bother to go deep.
Donny: by that, i mean:
Donny: most of them ignore context. they don’t tell you about the way life was during the times the books of the bible were written. they take scripture literally, yet when context is considered the meaning totally changes.
Donny: i hated the bible even after i became a christian, but i study so much now that it has come alive for me and i see things so much different. all of a sudden i have no problem with it, because when you see what it’s really saying the difference in perspective is amazing.
Me: that’s still my problem – all of my teaching comes from that literalist perspective and it drives me mad. it’s why i ended up where i am.
Donny: Rob Bell’s book “velvet elvis” does a good job in several areas with perspective and context.

Donny: Tell me what you think of this:
Donny: The overwhelming message I get when I read Rob Bell or Donald Miller is that the foundational beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus Christ died to save us and everything else is commentary. All the other belief difference amongst various denominations are just “yokes”. Do you remember the “yoke” part of Velvet Elvis? Each denomination has their own “yoke”. As long as the yokes agree on Jesus, the rest doesn’t really matter that much.
Donny: We get so caught up in translations of the Bible and on what to take literally and what to take non-literally that we’re doing nobody any good at all. That’s how I feel about it.
Me: Every fiber in my being wants to disagree with you – but I now understand that’s the product of my “indoctrination” (how I hate that word) of the fundamentalist teachings.
Donny: I was raised the same way.
Donny: Very legalistic.
Me: My instincts are still to give that literalist meaning.
Me: I’ve found myself in trouble on my blog a few times because I”ll say something and then have to go back and say, “What was I thinking? That was stupid.”
Donny: I think of it that way: when a person really falls in love with Jesus their life changes and they WANT to be better people. The desire to sin lessens.
Donny: Who wants to marry a person they have to scare into loving them? Same with God… he doesn’t want to Donny: Sin is simply the opposite of God’s perfect plan for our life. What I mean by that is this:
Donny: Example – Caden, my son, loves to eat Candy. I can’t feed him all he wants because it would rot out his teeth and cause health problems. He may not understand that from his limited 7 year old perspective but someday he’ll “get it”. Likewise, God does the same thing for us. He asks us to honor certain things

Donny: Example – premarital sex: he doesn’t tell us to wait until marriage because he needs another excuse to send us to hell or take away our fun. He just wants to spare us the grief of baggage in our relationships. Our marriage would be better without others on our mind.
Donny: That is an example of part of God’s “plan” for our life.
Donny: we can do whatever we want, but his plan is what makes our life the best.
Donny: Anything opposite that plan is called “sin”.
Donny: It’s not something scary. It’s just the opposite of God’s perfect plan.
Me: Here’s where I am – and I discovered this while reading in Letters from a Skeptic. I have to rebuild my faith. I can’t reclaim it. If I reclaim what I had and have now lost, I would be wrong.
Me: I have to get rid of everything and start from the bottom.
Me: So right now, my belief in God is there.
Me: It’s intact.
Me: Jesus? I don’t know.
Me: It almost physically hurts me to say that.
Me: And it seems like to me, that I have to have that divine belief in Jesus to experience God in the way that you’re talking about.
Donny: Here’s a hypothetical question I don’t ask many people.
Donny: First of all:
Donny: In many places Jesus says he’s come to fulfill the law. Looked at deeper, he was saying he came to show us how to live out God’s plan perfectly.
Donny: That being the case, what if “no man comes to the father but by me” actually meant something like this:
Donny: “I’m showing you how to have a relationship with God. Nobody can have a relationship with God in any other way”
Donny: What if he wasn’t telling us that we had to accept him, but to live the way he lived.
Donny: if we want to have a deep relationship with God.
Donny: The reason I say that:
Donny: I’m sure you’ve read my blog entry about Allah vs God and my thoughts on Muslims.
Me: Yes.
Donny: They’ll never ever accept Jesus as their savior, even though they have great respect for him.
Donny: And to me, it makes no sense that they’d be forever separated from God (hell) for not believing a Jew is the only hope of salvation.
Me: where does the cross fit into this hypothesis?
Donny: To me, I accept the cross. I accept Jesus. I am amazed at what he did.
Donny: But what if it doesn’t matter whether or not a person accepts it?
Donny: Oxygen exists regardless of whether I not I “believe” in it.
Donny: What if the ultimate sacrifice on the cross is good for you and me and muslims and hindus regardless of their belief system.
Donny: These are just thoughts.
Donny: I choose to accept the cross. Why?
Donny: Because it’s so easy. And I’m lazy.
Donny: If I was a muslim I’d have to do a lot of good deeds to get to heaven.
Donny: But as a Christian I just have to acknowledge that my “price” has been paid for me.
Donny: As a muslim, a personal relationship with my creator isn’t possible. As a Christian I get to converse with God.
Donny: I enjoy those times. And I choose not to make decisions on the salvation of others, because my opinion on their salvation doesn’t matter anyway.
Me: My brain is shaking it’s head “NO NO NO” at this conversation. Just so you know.
Donny: I’m not surprised. :)
Me: Well, it all sounds good.
Donny: But really… this part is so true: “my opinion on their salvation doesn’t matter anyway.”
Me: But those old pretexts are all still there for me. The faith created by them is lost, but the ideas are still there.
Me: And that’s a stumbling block for my new faith.
Me: You’re right – my opinion or yours doesn’t matter. God is God and that’s just the way it is.
Donny: I choose to pursue MY salvation, tell others why I chose the path I’ve chosen, and then realize “I have no dog in that fight” when it comes to how THEY believe. Jesus didn’t tell us to go into all the world and force the gospel down the throats of every people. He just wants us to tell people what we have experienced. He didn’t force himself on anyone, and neither should we.
Donny: The rich young ruler for example: Jesus tells him what to do and he doesn’t do it. Jesus doesn’t pursue him from there.
Donny: When someone asks what I believe I tell them. If they ask about Muslims and Hindus I tell them I don’t know and that I’m glad I don’t have to decide on their destiny. I’m glad that is in God’s hands. But I choose Jesus.
Me: It just seems to me that while I can live a good moral life the way Jesus taught – I’m still screwed because I’m not embracing the whole package.
Donny: John 3:16 says “whosoever believes in me will not perish”. He never says “whosoever believes in my and the dogma spewed from your denomination of choice will not perish”.
Donny: When there is something I don’t understand I just look deeper for the meaning, and after awhile if it still frustrates me I just leave it alone. Because the foundation of my belief is in Jesus being God incarnate and letting people beat the crap out of him just so that it is easier for me to have a relationship with him.
Donny: Beyond that, it’s commentary. :)
Me: I wish my brain would let it be that easy for me
Donny: I had the same journey a long time ago, and because nobody could answer my questions (because they are like baby birds with their mouths opening waiting for someone to feed them what they believe) I became a christian hater (and porn producer).
Me: So here’s another question for you.
Me: Obviously you don’t look at the Bible in a literal way.
Me: How do you do that?
Me: My actual question is more involved than that, but I don’t know how to word it.
Donny: Here is how:
Donny: Who decides what is a parable and what is literal? All our lives it has been pastors or priests. We’re not allowed to “question the Bible”. But that type of things originated when people were mostly illiterate and their priests wanted them to just accept what they were being taught without asking tough questions. That was never Biblical. The Bible was always meant to be wrestled with. Always. I get a lot of that from things Rob Bell has written. He puts it in a much better way. But the point is that science and the Bible will never contradict each other because science IS God. So if the way someone is teaching the Bible to you contradicts science, it is not from God. There are a LOT of non-literal Bible teachings that have been taken literally for WAY too long. Context and digging deeper uncovers a lot of that. Like a literal 6 day creation, for example. That’s totally not true.Donny: I like to do word searches. I am constantly bugging Bill for sources where I can dig deeper into what was said in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Donny: I like to read commentaries on the Old Testament written by Jewish rabbis, too.
Donny: And, furthermore, I like to use common sense.
Donny: For example:
Donny: When we read that the Bible is God’s word, in the Bible, I think like this:
Donny: What was the author talking about? I don’t think he was including his own writings in that. That would be like me writing a book right now about the Bible and my opinions on it.
Donny: Hmmm…. let me see if I can word that better….
Donny: The Bible, as we know it, wasn’t put together until the third century.
Donny: There was a vote on what to let in and what not to include.
Donny: I don’t think Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, or any of the other writers of the new testament had any idea that their letters were going to be considered part of “God’s Word”.
Donny: Now let me find a way to make my point…
Donny: What those men wrote, I believe to be true. There is a lot of non-Biblical evidence to back up what they say. But I don’t think they ever meant their ideas to be unchallengable or infallible. They related their experiences with God. God speaks to us through what they write, just as he speaks to us through our Pastor or our wise grandmother. But ultimately our relationship with God hinges on a personal experience with Him, which is wants each of us to have.
Donny: Many people make the Bible an idol, and that is wrong in my opinion.
Donny: It’s a guide. But it’s not God.
Me: Any ideas how to go from the idol to the guide?
Donny: Choose to do so.
Donny: That’s really all it boils down to. Respect the Bible. Study it. Eat and breathe it if you must. But the most important thing you can do is just talk to God.
Donny: And forget all the stiff approaches to prayer.
Donny: I talk to God like he’s my best friend.
Donny: I don’t come in and act like he’s royalty. He’s my dad. I don’t need to be afraid to be me.
Me: why eat and breathe the Bible if it’s only a guide?
Donny: why I do that is this:
Donny: It’s a record of the encounters other people have had with God. Men and women who’s experiences have stood the test of time. I really believe that saying “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it”. I like reading the history of God’s people. The Bible is the most violent sex filled book I’ve ever read, and for that it is “real” to me. I learn more every time I read it. But I also read what modern day writers have to say as well.
Donny: The Bible is not God.
Donny: God is God. So I read the Bible and learn about the nature of God from it, but I also learn about the nature of God through drives in the mountains and conversations on the toilet. LOL

There’s a lot of good stuff in there. There’s a lot of challenging stuff in there that requires me to look past where I’ve been and see where I’m going.

I also read this today:

The reality we came to face was that we who had spent years in the ministry were completed isolated from normal people on the outside of the four walls of the church. You cannot reach people if you’re not with people. As we began to rethink our approach to reaching people, we became acutely aware of our own hidden agendas to “win friends and influence people.” There’s a powerful quote from the movie Big Kahuna with Kevin Spacey and Danny Devito that describes this well:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This realization has forever changed the way I interact with people and what I think of evangelism. I want to know people and value them for who they are and what they can teach me through their stories regardless of whether they agree with me or not.

Yes! I want to know people and value them for who they are and what they can teach me through their stories regardless of whether they agree with me or not.

10 thoughts on “Next Steps…

  1. techskeptic

    I wish I could tell you what it is like to read that conversation from my perspective. I really can’t. If I did, it wouldn’t come out right. I bet Lifewish is having the same feelings.

    [Reply]

  2. ontheedgeofmyseat

    Donny has a lot of really great points, but I want to challenge this one: His point about Jesus not being necesary. John 3:16 does say “whoever believes in me,” but Donny didn’t point out that Jesus was the one who said that. So whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life. I agree with him, though, that beyond accepting Jesus’ gift, the rest is just a yolk.

    [Reply]

  3. techskeptic

    Try?

    here goes..

    I truly don’t mean to be offensive. I am just having a hard time being eloquent..

    If you do a search and replace and change every “God” to “Dr. Suess”, and every “Jesus” to “Cat in the Hat” and then try to read it, seriously, I think you will get the idea.

    [Reply]

  4. Donny Pauling

    TechSkeptic,

    I can understand how you’d feel that way.

    I haven’t read your blog yet but could you summarize for me what your stance on the subject of God happens to be? And why you think you feel that way?

    Just curious.

    [Reply]

  5. techskeptic

    I think if you go over to the thread and discussion that Lifewish, Terri ad I are having on the letters from a skeptic post, or some of the atheist posts on my blog you will get a clear picture.

    There is also this back and forth.

    [Reply]

  6. techskeptic

    Sorry Donny, i could also give a brief synopsos.

    There are two things that drive my “stance”. First is the requirement that data or evidence exist before i beleive in it. So I’ll choose western medicine every single time over homeopathy and “ancient chinese secrets”. I wont even waste ym time with that other nonsense. If my kid had autism, i wouldnt waste my time with chelation or trying to convince poeple not to immunize their kids. When politicians try to justify their actions, I want concrete evidence of say… for example…WMD, before we go in there shooting peoples heads off.

    So with respect to god, I would need God level evidence. stuff that can’t be otherwise explained. Healing in general is poor evidence because in that case miracles happen in hospitals all the time, they just arent given credit. God level evidence would be that someone regrows a limb, that a mountain is moved 1 foot in a day, the moon dissapears without any residue, or that someone teleports themselves from one place to another (although we have even done that at the sub-atomic scale). God level evidence is this type of thing becuase the hypothesis is that there is this magic being, that we can not measure in any way but who has complete control over every single electron in the entire universe.

    if God level evidence would be made available I would believe in god (the evidence should make clear which god Im supposed to believe in, for all i know the Zoroastrians are the ones who are right).

    The second aspect of my beliefs comes to bear when considering where we get our morals from. If care, I’ll expand further.

    [Reply]

  7. Lifewish

    I bet Lifewish is having the same feelings.

    Actually, I was thinking “meh, if Amanda is really that keen on believing in God, this seems to be a relatively harmless form of God to believe in”.

    The only bit that got any negative reaction off me was:

    “I choose to pursue MY salvation, tell others why I chose the path I’ve chosen, and then realize “I have no dog in that fight” when it comes to how THEY believe.”

    and that’s only because I’ve had people abuse this same logic as an excuse to drop a religious debate with me. So that’s just oversensitivity on my part.

    As per Techskeptic, I think a lot of it is kinda nonsensical. For example:

    “When there is something I don’t understand I just look deeper for the meaning, and after awhile if it still frustrates me I just leave it alone.”

    would indeed work just as well for your average Dr Seuss book. What Donny really seems to be advocating is less a prescriptive religion and more a sort of mental graphite that you can sprinkle over the notepad of your mind to see what hidden messages you might have left for yourself. Religion as brainstorming tool.

    This is IMO a fair reason for belief – the only concern I’d have is that it could result in too much confidence in the results of said brainstorming. It’s harder to discard a dodgy conclusion if you were under the impression that God had sent it your way.

    [Reply]

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