By Bill Malcomson
I want to draw on insights from three wisdom traditions. The first is the Christian.
I am making an assumption: That Jesus of Nazareth was a religious and a political subversive. I am making another assumption: That Jesus' central message was the Kingdom of God. His central message was not about himself.
The second tradition is the Buddhist.
The assumption here is that enlightenment, as understood and experienced by Buddhists, can be a vital part of our lives here and now. This is the meaning of Buddha Nature.
The third tradition is the Hindu.
The assumption here is that our major deterrent to experiencing real living is IGNORANCE. We need to remove the veil of ignorance (MAYA) in order to see life as it really is.
To proceed: The term Kingdom of God is unfortunate for our time. We are not interested in kingdoms and we do not need a sovereign. But what Jesus was pointing to in the use of the image in his time was and is very real. He used the term Kingdom because he wanted his fellow Jews to know that the Roman Empire had no power over them. That Caesar was not "King." There is only one sovereign, and that sovereign is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He also wanted his fellow Jews to know that the Judaism that had evolved in Israel in his time, the Judaism as determined by the priestly class under the protection of the Roman government, was not of God, but a human construct, based on maintaining power over the masses of people. Jesus was crucified because he was seen as seditious by the Romans and the priests. And they were correct. But it really was not Jesus the man who was dangerous as much as it was his message: that real life is life in the Kingdom of God. Following the death of Jesus, his followers began to experience real life as they sensed his presence with them, enabling them to break free from Empire and priestly dominance, and to live life "in the Spirit."
The Buddha was subversive in that he challenged the religious system of that time which said that only certain persons could experience enlightenment, that you had to renounce everything and follow a self-abasing path. He also challenged the assumption in his culture that people were meant to live within "castes" in which they knew their place and they could not deviate from or break out from their social position. For the Buddha, all people are basically one, and, as his later followers spoke of it, all could experience the "Buddha nature" within and among themselves.
What are the characteristics of real life, life in the Kingdom of God, enlightened life, life in which the veil of ignorance has been lifted?
What follows is my language, not that of the wisdom traditions. However, I believe that the language I will use is consistent with those traditions. It is a matter of updating for our time.
Real life is life lived interdependently. Life lived in the recognition that we need each other in order to be who we are meant to be. We are not alone. We are one with all beings, human and otherwise. We are one with all of life. In Hebrew terminology, RUACH or animating Spirit, gives and maintains life for all that lives. In Hindu terms, that which is at the basis of all that is, the ONE without a second, the unity within that which appears to be disunited, is who we all are. We are one, we are within the ONE. In Christian terms, what John Shelby Spong has called CHRISTSPIRIT animates all of us.
I think of real life as life permeated by Spirit, opening us up to each other. Life is to be lived inclusively. There are no castes, no class distinctions, no good people and bad people, no sinners and saved. Furthermore, no power has dominance over us. We are by nature liberated. As the apostle Paul saw, nothing, no earthly power, nothing in life, nothing in death, can separate us from Spirit, from the liberating experience of oneness.
(more on this in the next blog)
By Aaron Burkhalter
Recently, Pastor Ned shared that Seattle First Baptist Church was a model example for other churches trying to create a “home.”
It’s built into the infrastructure of this building, in a spiritual sense. It’s a place we all come together and feel at home.
It’s appropriate for me to feel home at a church on the hill in Seattle. Interestingly enough, Seattle First Baptist is the second building on this hill where I felt so at home. The other place was just a dozen blocks away.
For years, my grandfather, Rev. Allan Curtis Parker Jr., was the rector at Trinity Parish. He was the last priest to live in the rectory next door, a four-story house (including the basement and attic) in the heart of the city.
When I was a kid, my family lived in Oklahoma. But we’d come up to Seattle just about every other year and spend nearly a month at that rectory. My brothers and cousins ran up and down the curving stairwells, weaved scary tales of the ghosts that surely lived in the attic and had childhood warfare across the postage-stamp of a front yard and the courtyard in the church next door.
Oklahoma was rough for my family. Every Christmas, we had a toast: “Next year in Seattle.” While we maintained a lot of dear friends who we’re still in contact with today, it was clearly not where we were meant to be.
At that old rectory, we breathed deeper than anywhere else. That’s what home is to me: the place where you’re lungs can actually fill to capacity.
After my grandpa died, I thought a lot about what it was that made that home such a special place, why I still walk by it just to stand and remember the time I spent there.
I remembered a conversation we had when I was younger, maybe 8 or 10 years old at the time. I was racing down the staircase and my grandpa asked me how I was doing. Just this once, he was standing in the entryway of the home with a cane in his hand (not sitting in his armchair swearing like a sailor at whatever he was reading in The New York Times) and he asked how I was doing.
I said “I’m good.”
He said, “Of course! You’re very good. It says so in the Bible.”
Now… I had three brothers and all kinds of peers at churches who liked to tease me about my story in the Bible. See… Aaron was the older brother of Moses. You know… the one who built the golden calf. I knew that wasn’t the person you wanted to be.
“It doesn’t say that I’M good in the Bible,” I replied, not only because of Aaron’s story, but because I knew that there was nothing so specifically about me in that ancient text.
Grandpa He banged his can against the ground as he countered (not unkindly):
“IT DOES say you’re good in the Bible. In Genesis 1:31!”
And, of course, he recited it from memory (using the RSV version here, as my Grandpa would have at this time, it being the standard version in the Episcopal Church): “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
I’ve got two definitions of home. One, as I mentioned, is the place where your lungs can fill to capacity. The other is this: The place where you are recognized just as you were created, as a being who is “very good.”
It’s appropriate that I would land yet again at a church home on this hill. I travel here every Sunday to a place that feels at home. I’ve traveled to this hill many times to feel at home, from as far as Oklahoma.
By Darren Hochstedler
One of the oddest questions I ever answered during a stewardship meeting was this – “Why are we so worried about how much people give when we are really supported by the denomination?” Now this was a Lutheran church but let me assure you, with the exception of some small mission congregations, the Lutheran denomination does not send money to the local church.
At SFBC we GIVE over $100,000 every year in benevolence to support the work of American Baptist churches around the world and in our own community. We support the denomination directly, Companis, many outreach initiatives to our local communities and four special offerings including the American Baptist Home Mission Society which supports local and national efforts in education, justice and peace-making, refugee resettlement, and work toward the eradication of poverty. In June we take the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, collected with nine other denominations to provide disaster relief in the U.S. and around the world. Next month we take the World Mission Offering that supports our international medical, educational, and justice work – including a focus on help for those caught up in the sex trafficking. In January we offer our gratitude for the women and men who have served us and the world as ministers and missionaries with the Retired Ministers and Missionaries Offering. All of this great work is made possible because local congregations care enough to send money to take care of those who they may never meet. It is probably no coincidence that this is roughly 10% of ALL income that is received by SFBC.
It is said that you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at their checkbook. I would say the same thing holds true for our church. By looking through the checkbook this morning, the church clearly has these priorities:
It might be an interesting exercise for each of us to look through our own checkbooks, credit card statements and charitable giving to see what OUR priorities are when it comes to finances.
The amount of ministry that we can do within and beyond our church walls is fully dependent on the support of each and every one of you, the members and friends of SFBC. Everything we do happens…”Because of you!”
by Angie Buysse
I took Uber to the airport this morning and marveled at the technology that enabled me to summon a car at 7:06 am, jump into a complete stranger’s car at 7:13 am and then watch my Uber driver navigate through rush hour traffic on a rainy Monday morning using the iPhone application Waze. All of this happened before arriving at the airport at 7:41 am! What did we do before all of this technology? Why am I so excited about automating an activity that I am perfectly capable of doing on my own?
I have always been a gadget girl and fascinated with how technology can automate and simplify the mundane tasks in my life in such a logical, reliable and predictable way. I confess I still get giddy when I scan and deposit a check with my iPhone. It is amazing that the deposit is made in just a few short hours. Automation makes such sense to my engineering self, although, my spouse often reminds me that life is not always logical.
I was fortunate to have an Uber driver who is a retired space scientist! We chatted about the advancements in GPS – global positioning systems – and how it has enabled companies like Uber to communicate, pick up passengers and find the best way to deliver them to their destination. We laughed about the possibility of someday having an Uber car that is self-driven. Looking in the rear view mirror at my driver, I realized that despite the laughter, we both had nervous looks on our faces as we agreed that the technology was almost ready. I also thought about how it would feel to be in a self-driven car. Would I feel more productive and independent? Would I feel more safe or out of control? I have mixed feelings. It will definitely require a lot of faith or at least a lot of nerve! That train of thought caused me to smile as I visualized a popular bumper sticker that will surely come with this technology: “GOD IS MY CO-PILOT.”
With the millions of lives lost worldwide in motor vehicle accidents, all the major automobile manufacturers and even Google and Apple are developing auto-pilot cars. Today they have the technology to add sensors and artificial intelligence that will transform the automobile into a fully autonomous ground vehicle. Sounds like science fiction? The truth is, we have been moving towards this day for decades. We have been relying on low level autonomous safety features like anti-lock breaks since the early 1970’s and very recently, the Active Park Assist feature error proofs difficult conditions related to parking a car.
Uber is in fact testing the self-driven car. By the time I landed in Atlanta, my Uber driver had emailed me an article from USA Today announcing that Uber’s partially self-driven car will start driving passengers this week in a test in Philadelphia. No need to worry, for now, the cars still have Uber drivers behind the wheel to intercede should the car make a mistake.
I may not be ready for the self-driven car (yet), but I am comfortable and thankful for the technology that enables me to automate and error-proof other tasks in my life. Several years ago, I put our bills and savings transactions on auto-pilot. I no longer write checks, mail bills and most importantly, miss a due date. I haven’t been to a bank in years! Interestingly, I never considered setting up our pledge payments as “bills” and preferred to drop a check in the offering plate. Unfortunately, we miss quite a few Sunday services due to our frequent business and pleasure travels and typically make lump payments in December to pay our balance. Earlier this year, we thought about how we were valuing our church commitment. By not regarding it as a bill with a due date, we treated it too casually. We decided to enroll in the church’s electronic giving program. Electronic giving helps us fulfill our pledge on a timely basis and better care for our most important commitment.
I hope you smile when you think of the bumper sticker, “GOD IS MY CO-PILOT” on a self-driven car and during this season of Stewardship, consider enrolling in the electronic giving program. Unlike the self-driving car, this auto-pilot technology is safe, reliable, controllable and free.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist