The only way to find yourself

(This is a continuation of The Bible vs. God?)

Here’s the great thing: no matter where any of us comes down on the question of hell, we all find ourselves—today, right now—in the exact same place.

Whether you believe that hell is real and literal, a metaphor, an absurd notion, or even if you believe that Christianity and every other faith-based belief system in the world is an unfunny joke, you still presently find yourself in the exact same position as everyone else.

And that is being in the position of wanting to feel good about yourself. Every person in the world wants to know that they are honorable, decent, truly respectable. We all want the peace and equanimity that comes from knowing that, at any given moment, we are the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

And how do any of us achieve a lasting version of that highest kind of contentment?

By loving each and every one of our neighbors with all of our mind, body, and soul.

We may differ in our beliefs about how we came to be here; we may differ in our beliefs about where we’re going. But during the time that we are here each and every one of us lives under the rule of one universal and irreducible truth: the only way to find ourselves is to lose ourselves in love for others.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

    Orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      hippie.

      • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

        Hippies have long hair.

  • Martha Jean-Prunier via Facebook

    Oh, John. another gem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson via Facebook

    Awesome.

  • Nathan

    Amen.

    I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I sometimes think that I spend way too much time thinking about my beliefs and not nearly enough time living them out….

  • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

    “Prayer invites God to let God’s presence suffuse our spirits, to let God’s will prevail in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will.” – Gates of Prayer (CCAR Press)

  • charles m

    lovely…..

  • Lymis

    Brilliant! Thanks!

  • SquirrelyGirl

    I read a link on one of the post from your first articles on “Hell” about Carlton Pearson being a heretic because he didn’t believe in hell and it led me to blog page that was pretty interesting. The only thing that would have made it more interesting would have been to have you responding to a person named CARMEN..and btw..the gospel according to Carmen says…John Shore and the rest of those who do not take the bible literally will find out about hell first hand. :) Here is just a little sampling of her Defense of a REAL HELL…

    “And they sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up,whom your fathers feared not,… The only importance in knowing these gods, is to know that they are masquerading demon powers pretending to be dieties that lead to salvation. These gods are the offscouring of the Lord thrown out of Heaven. Read the rest of the chapter, if you do believe the Bible. And Carlton Pearson says all these people that believe in these demons are going to make it in to God? Demon spirits don’t lead you to God. They abort your efforts and intercept your path. Do you, like Carlton Pearson, believe that satan and his demon spirits, don’t exists? Then you don’t believe the Bible. All the passages about demons (devils) are literal. I have more scriptures for you. If you do believe the Bible.”

    For those who would like to hear Every. Single. Verse. Ever. Ever. written about hell, the devil and demons…you can go here and behold the GREAT AND POWERFUL WIZARD of Carmen.. http://www.gospelmusicbites.com/2008/01/08/bishop-carlton-pearson-scandal/comment-page-2/#comments

    But FYI…she says she can literally smell demons and the devil, (aka.. all those who disagree with the teachings of Carmen). Enjoy…

    • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

      Hey, that’s nothing – this guy thinks that gay demons can infect animals:

      http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/05/18/former-navy-chaplain-insists-gay-demons-can-infect-animals/

      Scarier still, is that he’s a CHAPLAIN. In the N A V Y.

      Just shoot me.

      • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

        Ok – he *was* a Chaplain. In the Navy. Queue the Village People…

        • SquirrelyGirl

          LOL Mike H…

          • SquirrelyGirl

            It is a little scary and I understand completely where they are coming from…a place of “fear”. They read the bible and see only all the punishment and judgement and all the things we must do right and not do wrong…and then build a wall of scripture around themselves to protect them from all the evil. I am not saying there is not “evil”…I have seen evil, we all have. But if I am afraid that the very God I love and worship with all my heart and soul cannot protect me from evil…what am I doing???

          • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

            SGirl,

            That was a “fun” site. I couldn’t take any of it seriously and where I thought, “oh great – here’s something else that will probably cause great sorrow and gnashing of teeth” – I giggled through most of it – it was just too unreal, almost parody-like. Thanks for the link!

      • Drew

        I feel your pain. I read this too and it was all I could do to stop from throwing myself on a pointy stick.

        • SquirrelyGirl

          Unfortunately…that is the thinking of 90% of the people I am around all day…~sigh~ Just one of the reasons I love this site and the people who come together to discuss and just not tell me how wrong I am every single day. Thank you Drew and Mike H.

  • Mindy

    Wishing for a LOVE button . . . :)

  • http://anglopole.wordpress.com/ Anglopole

    John, thanks again for pointing to the beauty of Truth, without complicating anything, over-intellectualizing, etc. :)

    Christianity has often very little in common with following Jesus, because it is more convenient to focus on rules and regulations, which instead of giving glory to God, exalt human egos… and the truth is so simple, isn’t it? :-)

    Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” (Mark 12:28-31 MSG) If we all lived these two commandments, Christianity would truly be the light in this world…

  • Don Rappe

    I like the idea of this article and its general thrust.

    However: “And how do any of us achieve a lasting version of that highest kind of contentment? By loving each and every one of our neighbors with all of our mind, body, and soul.”

    I think I can attain pretty good contentment with a slightly lower level of affection. This level, or even less , tends to catch my wife’s attention. And when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. I try to reserve this level for God. I can have a real problem just trying to love my neighbor as myself. Still, I admire your enthusiasm.

  • Drew

    Bang on, John. Absolutely, bang on.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    This may be off-topic, but I got called an interesting name this weekend (for those of you who believe in certain things but want to shed the “Christianity” label for its political assocations…)

    I was on a road trip this weekend that I am now back from. We drove up to my guy’s sister’s place a few states away (east coast, small states) to celebrate the college graduation of his nephew. While staying with the family and winding down for bed after we got there, I was camped out on a futon and listening to the conversation turn political… My guy spoke of the “Screw Them All!” party he and I want to create (as a joke, of course… but it will still be the best party ever). Someone said something about how the politicans these days are a bunch of theocrats who probably don’t actually believe anything they preach. I rose up and said something about how I “consider myself a Christian, but… I actually do believe (in what Jesus said) and am totally against all the stupid going on…” (Kind of brave and awkward in a house full of… um, I know my guy’s sister is Wiccan/Buddhist, I think everyone else is agnostic, not sure)…

    My guy’s neice (adult, also in college), said “Well, you’re a Jesus-ist.” (As a compliment).

    I liked that – “Jesus-ist”.

    • Lymis

      Want to really confuse people? Call yourself a Yeshuan, after a Hebrew version of his name, Yeshua

      • Diana A.

        I like that. Is that pronounced Yeh-shoo-an?

  • otter

    I wholeheartedly agree with the message here and I ask, respectfully, what mental training does Christianity offer to the faithful so that they may grow in love and compassion? How does practicing your faith help you to tame your mental habits which prompt you to anger, injustice, greed or hostility??

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Hey, Otto. Well, just real quick, awhile back I wrote this, which speaks quite a bit to your question. (Though it’s a great question, and I’d like to soon answer it in a whole post.) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/03/25/4-e-z-ways-to-deepen-your-relationship-with-godthe-big-spirit/

    • Lymis

      Otter, I think you have to separate out the two questions inherent in that, because the answers are very different.

      One is what mental training, practices, and tools are available, or even inherent, within the Christian tradition for people who seek them out and use them.

      The second is what training, motivation, and inspiration do Christians provide to each other to find them and use them, and how does participation in regular church community point people to them.

      Two thousand years of Christianity has generated a huge, rich, varied, deep, and wonderful set of tools and traditions for doing everything you ask. Many if not most Christians have no awareness that they exist, and no particular interest in them, and often see no need for them at all.

      • otter

        Lymis,

        Your answer is wonderfully precise and agrees with how I have experienced Christianity. I would love to hear more about these tools and traditions, as well as reflections on why so many people are unaware of them and motivated to use them. How can this be optional for people to aspire to follow Jesus?

        The development of Bodhisattva consciousness, which is loving-kindness, is central to one’s growth in the practice of the Dharma, and the very essence of the teachings of Jesus. So why does is seem disturbingly peripheral to the “mainstream church”. This bothers me, as we live in a Christocentric culture, one where people are so focused on the rules, guilt and judgement that they are missing the point, which is to ” love thy neighbor”. And we all suffer as a result. Oppression of gays is just one small example…..tho deeply personal to me. History is FULL of others.

        Carolyn Myss (a gifted medical intuitive) says that the people who are farthest ahead of the tribal norms are the ones who shift a culture in the direction of progress. Lots of work needed to shift this paradigm!

        • Jill

          I love otter’s comments like these. This makes me smile. :)

          It was quite the epiphany to hear the phrase loving-kindness in church so many years but not seeing its fruits, that is until I studied Pema Chodron and Tibetan Buddhism, found out what maitri is all about. Found out it lives and breathes inside me always, I only have to make space for it.

          Made me laugh when I found out what maitri translates to in English.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      I think it’s different for different people. Early on in my “jounery,” I attended a Baptist church where I was taught “once saved, always saved” in regards to my conversion, I.E. if I was sincere about my conversion-prayer, I could technically become an axe-murderer and God would still forgive me and let me into Heaven: Only, if I did become an axe-murderer, it was probably proof that I hadn’t a saving faith because the Holy Spirit changes hearts and nags you out of doing stuff like that.

      *Shakes head* Brrr! Anyway, what I’ve found even as I’ve gone away from the church a sort of deeply internalized morality. I figure that if you claim to follow someone, you should listen to his words and feel a pang of guilt in whatever area you’re not measuring up. Even the thought of “someone died a horrible bloody death for me” is enough for that, and no, it doesn’t matter that they “got better” from that.

      I figure, some people really just don’t care. “I’m praying for you,” or “I go to church” or “I believe in God” becomes an excuse to do whatever they want. For me? WWJD and “to do the right thing” isn’t a call to nag or wag my finger at people, it becomes a spur to… go out of my way to save a stupid barn swallow which got stuck in a flytrap or to throw myself between a panicked horse and traffic, or to hold a door to a store open for a stranger. It also becomes that pang of guilt over not insisting that we roll down a window and pass a few bucks or a bag of snacks to a guy with a “homeless and hungry” sign on a New York freeway onramp while on the road yesterday… I obeyed my very human “we are strangers in a strange land and this guy might carjack us” instinct, but I still feel a twinge of guilt over staying silent.

      And that’s the way it is with my life. Jesus calls me higher. He’ s also a pest sometimes.


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