Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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WHAT SECRET?

March 17, 2011

In a recent entry that my son Adam posted, he mentioned religion, “The Secret” and the phrase “…cult-like following of obsessive, overly-positive thinking…” To say all of this irritates him is putting it mildly.

I absolutely respect (as does he) an individual’s right to believe as they choose. But like Adam, I too have big issues with organized religion in much the same way Jesus did. Oddly, this is not a subject Adam and I ever discussed at length.

While a much broader discussion is certainly warranted on the subject and the consternation it can create, my focus is on the two words Adam mentioned that got my writing juices flowing: The Secret. 

The premise of the film is that we attract our good/bad based on our thoughts and behavior. It’s called “The Law of Attraction.”

Many people have misconstrued this as a “cure-all” for their lives. Their (false) perception is you can attract wealth by simply believing you will be wealthy. The same goes for good health, love, happiness, relationships and so on.  Those taking this over-simplified path are ignoring the most important element: the Law of Attraction is much more about changing behavior than learning a thought process, which obviously makes it far more complex.

When I was the administrator of our church, we showed “The Secret” in our Fellowship Hall one Sunday after services. We really promoted the event. Combined with the hype it received nationally, we packed the hall. Afterward, there was a Q & A held by our minister, who had a very good understanding of the concept. She answered many questions in much the same way as she taught from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. The underlying theme throughout the afternoon was, “It won’t work unless you work it.”  Unfortunately, many walked away with the perception that “working it” meant if you pray for it everyday, believing that you will receive it, it will arrive.

Not so.

The truth is the Law of Attraction is no secret. It has been a mainstay in spiritual and religious teachings since long before Jesus walked the earth. Then after He arrived, was chastised and ultimately crucified for His teachings of spiritual principals, some in civilized society decided maybe He was on to something, They tried to capture these teachings with 66 books in a collection we’ve come to know as the Bible.

Sadly, most of us have yet to grasp the concept which is – Biblically speaking –  “You reap what you sow.” We go to church, read from one of the 50+ versions of the Good Book, celebrate Christmas and Easter and then give someone the finger when they cut in front of us on the freeway. We buy self-help books by the millions and still have no peace in our lives. We try everything to get to a better place in life, but nothing works, and yet we never ask “Why?” Instead, we move on to the next set of books, CDs and DVDs hoping the “guru” who developed them has our path to wealth and happiness – two elements of life that should never be conflated.

Occasionally, one of us breaks through the madness. We receive the proverbial a-ha moment (usually a critical, possibly life-threatening event, followed by thoughtful, quiet retrospection) that sinks in. We re-assess our life, make the necessary adjustments and then give ourselves the “What-was-I-thinking?” smack on the head for not realizing it years sooner.

Very slowly, our life begins to change. We don’t focus on problems, we focus on solutions. We quit worrying. We become attracted to the good in a situation, regardless of the challenge it may present. We are thankful for who we are, for the good that is in our life and for those around us who truly care about us. We distance ourselves from people or situations that negatively affect us. We see life, not through rose-colored glasses, but through the realistic lens of what is and isn’t important realizing that much of what goes on around us does not have to adversely affect us.

As Adam said in that same entry, you can’t control the pitch. Similarly, my grandmother used to say “Everything is already written.” (The pitch will be thrown). We have no control over it. (When, where or how it will be thrown). We can only live in the moment, enjoying life each day, no matter what is thrown at us, and know that there is far more good in the world than many would have us believe.

If you want peace in your life, you must first learn to be peaceful. The same is true for happiness, kindness, love, appreciation, forgiveness, understanding and discernment. As these attributes begin to permeate your being, you will attract the same from the world around you. 

No secret there.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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JESUS IS ALREADY HERE

October 29, 2009

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The end of conflict.

I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox church (at the age of one), but I have not been a part of the church since my late teens. This is not because I think there’s anything wrong with the Greek Orthodox faith, I do not. The Sunday Service is a moving experience that captures the imagination and is rich with tradition and symbolism. But when I looked around the cathedral with its gold trim on… everything: icons, platters, robes, crosses, walls, ceilings, arches, and stained glass visages everywhere, a discomfort came over me.

I couldn’t imagine Jesus speaking in a room like this.

Cathedral

Entering adulthood, I occasionally experienced other churches’ Sunday Services and discovered a seemingly endless variety, each with their own unique way of offering the “…word of God.” The stoicism of my childhood religious experiences seemed rigid and out of touch, by comparison.

SingersLightsSoundI found myself enjoying the “celebration” of many contemporary services: rooms mildly decorated, some with non-descript stained glass windows and often without the traditional large cross; gospel choirs and small vocal groups with drums, bass, guitars and keyboards; people standing up, clapping in time to the music – on 2 and 4 for a change – filling the room with joyous sounds and once the songs ended, offering thunderous applause; messages that lifted people up, instead of asking them to get on their knees; ministers, dressed in business casual or even casual attire, asking questions and challenging the congregation to respond, engaging them to think not only with their minds, but with their hearts.

I could imagine Jesus speaking in a room like this.

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There are, of course, the mixed messages within organized religion: Jesus was not the son of God, therefore (the son of God) has not arrived on earth verses He is the son of God, and is coming back; the Old Testament’s “an eye for an eye” verses Jesus’ “love your enemy”; back in the previous century, the world – which was only 6000 years old according to some – was in its sixth day of creation, Armageddon was near, and by the year 2000, only 144,000 would survive as God’s chosen people, yet here we are nine years after the “seventh day” has begun; a newborn baby, pure of thought and deed, is somehow born a sinner;

It appeared Jesus’ teachings differed greatly with some of what was said in traditional Services. I had many questions and no reasonable answers. I understood faith is “…the evidence of things not seen.” What I didn’t understand was how do we as people of faith, live our lives according to scripture, when scripture is conflicted?

bandstandDuring this time I realized I had to make a decision on what (not who) “God” is (for me) and why the man from Nazareth came to be the most quoted yet misunderstood (my opinion) person in Christianity. For three decades, being a member of a church was not a top priority. From time to time, I read about the teachings of different denominations, realizing that none have a lock on Christianity, although many would have us believe they do.

When I finally learned how to walk this gauntlet of contradiction, the answers came. I discovered a peace that will sustain me for the rest of my life. Whether my conclusions are in agreement with any denomination is not the point. Each denomination of the Christian faith represents nothing more than the conclusions of a few people who think their way is better.

Who can say they’re right and I’m wrong? No one. So, here’s what works for me:

1.)   The man, Jesus of Nazareth, showed us through words and deeds, we have all we need to live peaceful, loving lives. It’s our choice.

2.)   My mother did not give birth to a sinner.

3.)   Armageddon is a man-made concept, created to control people through fear.

4.)   An “eye for an eye” results in blindness, to paraphrase Gandhi.

5.)   You attract that which you are.

6.)   The “…second coming of Christ…” is already in progress, in each and every one of us, every day. Jesus, the “the Son of God,” is not coming back – there’s no need. His work on earth was done years ago. He showed us we have the power to become whatever we choose. The future is our responsibility, not His. Our choices and their consequences were made crystal clear.

In other words…

Jesus is already here.

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As for those who absorb these contradictions, week after week, year after year, without ever asking questions? How does this affect their beliefs?

Soon after the 9-11 attacks, I had many conversations about traditional Christianity. In one discussion, I was told the invasion of Iraq was necessary. When I disagreed, it was then brought to my attention that, “…there were wars in the Bible that were justified, as is this one.”

“I’m pretty sure Jesus would not go to war,” I said.

“Jesus wasn’t around during those wars.”

“So which is right?”

No answer.

Jesus is already here.

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I once presented a hypothetical to one of my Greek Orthodox relatives:

A man, or woman, lives in such a remote part of the world that he or she has never heard of Christianity, the Bible, God or Jesus. They’ve unknowingly lived their life, according to Jesus’ teachings, to the letter: never wronging anyone, having forgiven anyone who may have wronged them; helping to care for the sick and the elderly in their village; giving of themselves selflessly day in and day out. They’ve led an exemplary life.

“Would they be accepted into the ‘Kingdom of God’?” I asked.

 “No, no! Unless they ‘give themselves to Jesus Christ,’ they would not be accepted into God’s Kingdom.”

A stunning answer and one I couldn’t disagree with more. It’s obvious to me Jesus’ teachings are already in that person’s life, whether he or she knows it or not.

Jesus is already here.

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I was once asked if I believe in God. Before I answered, I took a moment to collect my thoughts, because I did not want to give the impression that I was either Atheist or Agnostic.

“Yes. But not in the traditional sense of God in a place called ‘Heaven’ and the devil in a place called ‘Hell.’”

“I don’t understand.”

“For me, God is not some being – in the sky somewhere – that we pray to. Instead, God is inside each of us. It’s the moral compass – the power to reason and choose – the power of free will. That’s God, to me.”

“So why don’t you go to church?”

“I can’t find one that has what I’m looking for.”

“Do you know what you’re looking for?”

“No. But I’ll know when I see it.”

“Would you go to church if you found the ‘right’ one?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll start looking.”

This paraphrased conversation took place between my wife and I very early in our relationship. I’ll never forget it. It was the only time I have ever been asked the question and finding the right words was not easy. Not long after that, she found a church home that’s part of the rapidly growing movement known as “New Thought” or “Practical” Christianity. Most of these churches are non-denominational and welcome people of all faiths, races and sexual orientation.

Jesus is already here.

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Many traditionalists have voiced their discontent with these new, more progressive approaches to Christianity. Could it be their discontent stems from the diminishing attendance at their own Sunday Services? Is it possible the more progressive approach to Christianity is the future? Are people growing weary of the conflicting messages? Are they concluding, as have I, the answers to their questions are actually inside of them?

The incredible growth of progressive, forward-thinking ministries seems to answer these questions. Case in point: the highest attendance of any church in this country belongs to the very progressive Lakewood Church in Texas, which draws well over 40,000 people, in three separate Services, each weekend.

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Borrowing again from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe we have all we need – here and now – to be that change.

Jesus is already here.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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JESUS WAS TOO LIBERAL?

October 7, 2009

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King James is surely spinning somewhere.

Just when I thought Christian Fundamentalists couldn’t further propagate their extremist agendas, I learn there is a project underway to re-write the Bible in an attempt to eliminate its “liberal bias.” I never knew the Bible was conservative or liberal. How is it that after nearly four hundred years, the King James Version of the Bible is suddenly not written properly?

I first came across this information at HuffingtonPost.com. I thought, “Surely, this is just one of those articles whose headline is more interesting than the actual story.”

Not so.

Here’s some of what you’ll find on the home page of Conservapedia.com.

“Conservapedia is a clean and concise resource for those seeking the truth. We do not allow liberal bias to deceive and distort here.”

“No other encyclopedic resource on the internet is free of corruption by liberal untruths.”

Directly from the project’s webpage, The Conservative Bible Project, you see these lines:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one

Here’s are samples of what this project wants to re-write.

Liberal Falsehood:

The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.

Socialism:

Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the “social justice” movement among Christians. For example, the conservative word “volunteer” is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word “comrade” is used three times, “laborer(s)” is used 13 times, “labored” 15 times, and “fellow” (as in “fellow worker”) is used 55 times.

Thank God there are level-headed religious conservatives.

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Rod Dreher, of BeliefNet.org, certainly a conservative on both politics and religion says,”…the insane hubris of this really staggers the mind. These right-wing ideologues know better than the early church councils that canonized Scripture? They really think it’s wise to force the word of God to conform to a 21st-century American idea of what constitutes conservatism? These jokers don’t worship God. They worship ideology.” Here’s the rest of his post.

 

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Mark Shea, a writer and devout Catholic, writes, “Right wing dementia marches on apace. Some of this has a grain of sense to it, as ideological madness always does. For instance, the dumb attempts to feminize Scripture are pernicious and need to stop. But seriously: the story of the woman taken in adultery is “liberal”? Free market as Sacred tradition? Liberal wordiness?” More from Mark here.

Assimilating scripture to fit an agenda will not feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and otherwise help the least among us, as Jesus taught us to do.

We would do well to adhere to His teachings, rather than re-write them.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO

September 12, 2009

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The depth and breadth of my Christian understanding exceeds that of most church goers. I was a volunteer, a team leader, a musician, and ultimately the administrator for my church. It was a rewarding, albeit, exhausting time in my life. Being “on the inside” of church operations allowed me access to information and knowledge few will ever have. I will never forget the experiences.

Our minister did far more than give messages on Sunday morning. She was as much a teacher as she was a pastor, always lifting people up, never judging anyone, and often putting her own well-being on the back burner to be there for others. Growing up, I assumed all ministers behaved this way.

Wow! Was I ever wrong.

Meet Rev. Wiley Drake and Pastor Steven Anderson.

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Watch and listen to what they have to say about the death of the President of the United States.

Then of course, there are those who would follow through with action.

Fueling these fires are many who hide behind fictitious names like “Sleek1978” spewing their hatred. Here’s what was posted after Pastor Anderson’s sermon:

“Well Mr Pastor ….the whole ARAB WORLD support you and Amen to your prayer…Americans: this presedent is hijacking your country and the world to bring about the demonic agenda of the NWO ..be prepared America the micro chip is coming to you soon as it has been implemented in 3rd world countries as a test on pets now in united arab emirates and the RFID will be inforced by 2010,The NWO will not spare your blacks nor whites,its all planed folks and their plan is in action..which side youre on?”

Isn’t it interesting how little this person knows about our country’s language and its grammar?

Our nation is changing – for the better. But change never comes without discomfort. What is being revealed, now that we have our first man of color as President of the United States, is the truth about where and with whom the hatred, anger and bigotry rests in our land. This too, shall pass. These elements of our society will fade away over time. Those of us of the Christian faith will denounce the teachings of “false prohets” and move on.

There was a time, a couple decades back, when I would have been angry and writing hateful words of my own in retaliation to what you’ve seen and heard here. Now, I do my best to adhere to the teachings of our Way-shower.

“…forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

These words have saved me from experiencing much anguish.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN

March 30, 2009

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These two churches sit across the street from each other in a small southern town. Enough said.

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You can’t make this stuff up.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

 

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CONTRARIAN

March 20, 2009

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My last name means “contrarian” in Greek. I’m about to live up to it – again.

Most of us grew up with the story of Adam and Eve and how Eve enticed Adam to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge – after she partook – against God’s orders. By doing so, they both committed the ultimate “sin” (disobeying God) thereby committing all of us to pain, suffering and mortality through the curse that God placed upon them which will not be lifted until the second coming of Jesus Christ. (I know there’s a serpent in the story, but I find it more than challenging to wrap my head around the concept of a talking serpent.)

adameve2A couple points need to be made before I go on. First, I realize that although it is absolutely not my intent, I may upset some of my Greek Orthodox, Methodist and Evangelical family members and friends. And second, I want to make it clear that these are my personal thoughts, and not those of my church or our minister.

That said…

The story is an allegory. If you believe the story actually happened, then all human beings on this planet are blood relatives and we’re all born from incest. So let’s stay with allegory, shall we? In addition, I believe we humans are – and always have been – created with free will and the power to reason.

With this in mind, I have some questions. (You’re shocked, I’m sure.)

According to this allegory, Adam and Eve became aware of many things that they did not know or care about prior to eating the fruit. Was their new-found knowledge about good and evil, a bad thing? Did this knowledge really make them less “perfect?” Would God really create beings only to “curse” them and force them from their surroundings?

adamevebanned6I think not.

The idea that God curses people was a man-made concept to control peoples’ religious thinking through fear of His supposed “wrath” and “condemnation.”

This allegory does not represent the God I know. I believe we are born with the ability to choose (again, through free will and the power to reason.) It is, among other things, what separates us from other mammals. Why couldn’t we believe that Adam and Eve’s actions resulted in knowledge that is helpful to mankind, not detrimental? If God did not want them to have the knowledge, why create the temptation?

The answer that is always given, of course, is, “…to test their obedience.” What if it was, instead, to test their free will?

Surely God already knew what the outcome would be, did He not?

He is, after all, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, is He not?

The God I know would not have been at all surprised or disturbed by Adam and Eve’s choice. The idea that all of us are cursed because they “disobeyed” doesn’t make sense if we are to believe that our God is a loving God, as Jesus taught us. Through Jesus, we learn that God is not judgmental, wrathful or condemning. He taught us that we have the ability to walk in God’s light, if we so choose. If we choose not to, so be it. How does choosing not to mean we are somehow cursed?

If I am born in His image and likeness, with free will and the power to reason, then I was born with the ability to challenge religious concepts, such as the one presented in this allegory.

Because of Jesus’ teachings, I live my life knowing I am free, without limits and unyielding to fear.

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How different this world would be had we focused on God’s love all these years instead of man-made concepts about His supposed “wrath” and “condemnation” in some allegory.

Still love me?

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com