Book Review: A Bigger Table, by John Pavlovitz

 

What is it like to live and speak out courageously in a pastor’s world that has shifted under his feet by his own realization Christianity has missed it’s mark, indeed, to some extent has gone over to the dark side. Perhaps to the strange experience we’re loosing it, we aren’t going to make it.
“Being an optimist is hazardous duty these days.” John Pavlovitz says in “A bigger Table. Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Communities.”
Pavlovitz is a courageous Christian, holding on to what Crhitanity was meant to be: a life in Christ as demonstrated by Jesus. One does wonder where all that good intention went. It is hard to believe what we have seen in the past 2000 years where exactly Jesus’ teachings come into the picture. What does he think of America the conquerers of a native land, pushing the rightful dwellers of a whole hemisphere out of the picture. Off the face of the earth. What does he think seeing slaves tortured, their families broken apart, hanged and harassed to this day. What does he think seeing Christians killing Jews by the millions in the name of the Nazism? Yes Christians. While our author focuses mostly on Christian Church in America, we must see the backdrop and stage for all that the underlying foundation of the anti-Christ. And ask our own question, why is a surprise that Christianity now supports racism and exclusion from a country that has seen a sprinkling of democracy in its experiment to treat all equally and has beaten down the forces of hypocrisy affecting Christianity in the 20th century? How could this happen here?
We have enough of our own mistakes to amend, without looking on the world around us with the beady eyes of transferring our guilt on others. I was in school yard of my grammar school in Brooklyn, NY and having fun, laughing and I guess “raising hell” as young boys might do when Sister Mary DeSales came running in and screamed: “What is this, a Jewish picnic.” Us Christian boys were not supposed, I guess. to have fun at recess. That was said while Christians were killing Jews by the millions on the other side of the world we have made. Why is surprising that the table to which he ministers is so small that we can’t stand the other person different than we are? We reap what we sow. Our current government in the United States is an example of hateful discourse, the wicked tongue of racism in the cause of greed. Christians by the millions participated in its rise to power. And now continue to foster its longevity.
Where I grew up, Brooklyn, NY, our table was so small, Irish and Italian and German white Catholics, never having the experience of leaning what it was like to be one of God’s children who were black, Jewish, Protestant, let alone gay or lesbian. Our parents most feared event was the black folks, (called a word I, as a white person, can’t utter to this day, even though I lived in a black family,

married to a black women for fifteen years, never thinking I had to right to say that word as my in-laws did at times in the spirit they used it it was OK fro me to do so) were moving up from downtown to take our homes from us. They never did actually, but Haitian people, darker than they, accomplished that, sending Irish, German and Italians fleeing to Long Island. While, we did the work for God at St. Jerome Church and School, keeping I guess, the sinners who were about to be upon us, at bay. In carefully engineered Ignorance of Jesus’ teaching, that went along with the admonishment: don’t read the Bible. We’ll tell you what it says.
Catholicity under Pope Pius we as far as I know, gone. We kept “them”, the inevitable “other” born of guilt, in their place. Hatred always needs a specific.
I would like to think that Pavlovitz’s larger table from which we can learn Jesus’ way, is hopeful. I don’t think so, because God’s table is set differently. God does not recognize the insanity of a table that excludes anyone. Even Donald Trump. Or, Hitler. The worst of the worst is always welcome.
Paul, who is responsible for what Christianity thinks today perhaps more than anyone else, including Jesus himself, witnessed the stoning of Stephen for saying he saw God and Jesus, God’s son together, and Jesus being the Messiah. He was killed for that one thing.
There is hope however. Paul was present at that affair, after which to his great surprise, had a visit form Christ, which transformed him. He stopped killing the dangerous “other”, Christians.
There’s hope for everyone. Everyone is already at the table. Pavlovitz is surely is surely right. But I think we have to believe Jesus’ message; believe that Jesus message for us was just one: forgiveness of ourselves. We can only forgive ourselves. Although we get to know that once we forgive each other. And we have to do this with the recognition that that is our problem and no other. Jesus demonstrated with his participation in an extreme example, one that he would never ask us to repeat. We don’t have to change anything in this world, because we can’t. If we believe fully that we all must practice forgiveness of ourselves and others in turn, the table will be grown by God. That’s what he did in his three years with us. I don’t think he was interested in anything else, just forgiveness. He was interested in seeing that this message became the core teaching as a Jew.
While I applaud John Pavlovitz for his heart being in a very beautiful place, our job is forgiveness, here for that is the only way to building a larger table. it is in fact our only purpose for being in this world. And each of us has to accept it.

Otherwise the table may become larger for a while, but it will shrink again under the weight of un-forgivness. Jesus’ entire message was forgiveness and that every form of human suffering will continue to stem from every unforgiving thought we have and have not recognized and given up to God, Who will do the rest. And that is what we miss in our best of intentions. Forgiving ourselves as we forgive others. This is how Jesus taught us how to return to our Father, within us. When we are intact with the kingdom within, no harm will ever prevail. That intactness, however, always involves seeing this in everyone, as Jesus did. Jesus does not ask that we be credulous of another’s actions. Only that we see truth, one truth. Brother/sister, because I will to know myself, I see you as God’s child and my brother/sister. If this is true, and it always is, what we bring to the table is this truth, which sets us all free.
Not very much is made of the story about Jesus approaching the insane man at the cave entrance. His followers tell himont to go near him. He does of course and the man is cured. Just by Jesus telling him that he knows who he is. The table for this interaction can be very small, a table for two. And once we do this, see in the other person the glory God puts there, we hare home free. We don’t need to change the world for this to happen, it will change because we will have triggered a readiness for change God can work with.

Reviewed by Bob Pajer

“The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel. Book Review by Bob Pajer

Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, authors of “The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb,” pose one question only to recognize there are many more questions in any discussion of Christianity and Christian Churches and what Christianity means in our modern day world. Goggin and Strobel show a great love for Jesus in their writing set on the back drop of a world ethos quite different than what the world is today: a massive ego trip we all share by breathing together in this world. An ego that teaches us how to survive in a blood bath, which is the world we live in.

The one question Goggin and Strobel want to ask their pilgrimage, their initial question, “What does Christian power look like,?” (p. XIX) begs for them a whole set of other questions they state as: “What happens if the church reflects the power of Christ? What happens when Christians embody a worldly approach to power and try to use that to advance Christ’s kingdom? What happens when believers live their lives according to a power that is antagonistic to Christ?”

They seek discussion and answers to these questions from Christian theologians, philosophers and teachers: Mara Dawn, J. I. Packer, James Houston, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, Eugine Peterson and Dallas Willard.

The journey is informative, interesting and poignant. The common thread in the array of interviews of these people is that there is a problem in Christianity: it has been hijacked by the voices from under.

 

From my point of view this adds up to the fact that Jesus’ way and his stories are always with us, made known to us even with the distortion. But we miss the message, and of course we killed the messenger. Listening to Jesus, we will find ourselves in an entirely different world. While we don’t does not affect my faith.

I believe, as the authors do, Jesus’ message is very clear and simple. Our problem is that the message is unequivocal. The ego world that lives in our heads is set up to hear something like his message and then change it to what our message is and we can’t let go of it without Jesus’ help.

But we will let go. And for the very reason we can’t stand his message, there is no other message. Only our dreams that their could be some other power besides God’s.

Each of the theologians our authors speak with, and their own conclusions, seem to leave out what I believe is the heart of Jesus’ message, forgiveness. But forgiveness of a kind we are yet to get in a world we make up to bury all of his ideas. He told us everything, much got lost because of the building of the Roman empire’s church. Yet, Truth as he knew it, still stares right at us — the way that he lived his life short life here. Our authors are concerned with the growing impotence of the Christian Church.

I believe there is more to the world’s problems than that. There is one problem in our world: perceived separation from God and the ensuring guilt that stems from that one perception. Jesus knew this of course. It is how Jesus was able to go through what he did without sacrifice. Jesus did not die. He came to teach us there is no such thing as death and he came to tell us what life really is. Nothing has happened to oppose God’s will, for it cannot be opposed. We must stop thinking there is some kind of power from “down under.” That false power is in us. And nothing ever will happen that is opposite of God, because there is no opposite to God. His children have not left him. He certainly has not left us. Jesus knew full well crucifixion could not do anything to him that would oppose the will of God, Our Father, who only knows truth and wills His holy son, life. God’s Son is still exactly as He created His Son. He does not create anew what He has already created.

However, genuine love comes out of the pages of this book and it does identify the problem, not just for the churches the authors lead but the problem of power is the authority problem everyone has, we try to oppose our Father and are blind to it. Do we really think God is concerned about lack of power among his children who have all the power He has given them, everything? There is but one power we do not have: we cannot be God. If Christian churches would start delivering this message the world would begin to change.

 

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are
my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

Book Review: Out of the Depths — Sermons and Essays, by Kenneth E. Kovacs. Review by Bob PajerOur

This is an excellent book. Kenneth E. Kovacs writes beautifully, telling his story of Jesus and Jesus’ way of inviting us to probe the depths of our own consciousness to join him as disciples of his way. Luke 5:4 is about this: Fishermen of men and women. The metaphor of fishing tells us Jesus invites us to salvation within first of all. We may share our salvation to be sure, but it is at first a foundation we share, built on our own probing and spiritual work.

The sermons and essays are full of wonderful Bible interpretations making practical what Jesus tells us about living in this world. P. 112, for example deals with worry. “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” “Therefore, I tell you not to worry…” As usual Jesus is not only practical but knows our personality and what it does to us: “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). We are worried that we will not get what we want; we are worried that what we have we will lose.

Worry stems from lack. We live in a world of abundance. We are children of God who has all Who gives all to his sons and daughters. He holds nothing back for Himself. His desire and will is to give all to all. We are the recipients. We inherit what God gives, yet worry its not enough. Such is the illusion of separation from our Father, Who separates from non one. There is no scarcity but what we make up. Yet we can make up what appears real. I cannot have reality because it isn’t true.

Kovacs writes: “According to Jesus, the antidote to worry is the kingdom. The kingdom is the core message of Jesus’ preaching. Now, its natural to be anxious and to worry. But Jesus wants us to direct our attention away from what we think we don’t have (scarcity) to what we already do have, which is God’s kingdom that is and is still coming … we are the apple of God’s eye.”

I think this is certainly excellent advice, that doesn’t go far enough. I would say that God’s kingdom is His children. We are His kingdom. Our primary function here is completion of just that. Not that it is not already complete, but that our awakening to what already is is Jesus’ message. God does not make up as He goes along. It is done. We awaken to what already is, which is everything. Everything we think we have left looking for something better. Mistakenly of course, yet we persevere. That is the cause of worry. Worrying that what we thought we did in separation we actually did. Our humans is no excuse for maintaining what inn’t true.

 

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

Empire Baptized – How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected by Wes Howard-Brook, Review by Bob Pajer

Here is a quote from Wes Howard-Brook’s book that partially summarizes his important message: 

“The final establishment of a single polity was something to which Origen looked forward as a possibility for the divine saving work which heals all fragmentation.  It was only a short step for his disciple Eusebius of Caesarea, to see the Constantinian monarch as a part of God’s plan for consummating the unification.” 

Our author draws from a work by Robert Markus in this quote to provide a foundation for his story about how the Roman Catholic Church moved away from Jesus’ way, to become the largest religion in the world.  Constantine had the experience and the empire to make the Catholic church into what it is to this day.  The price of course was Jesus’ actually teaching, according to Brook, a point of view this reviewer regards has perfectly true.  First Jesus is rejected by his own religion and then rejected by the very people who call themselves Christians.  This a broad statement of course and there are many exceptions to it, today and in the time it was put forth. 

This book is a scholarly study of how the Catholic church became what it is today and how it suppressed the ideas and practices of the early church in order to do so.  Instead of unorganized groups of believers of Jesus, congregating to express Jesus message, the message became an imperial church.  Constantine was just the one to make that happen.  A converted Christian himself, he filled the vacuum of leadership at a central level for the church.  He took with it the common practices that perhaps would have open doors to what Jesus thought and still does I’m sure. 

This is a well written book.  While a carefully researched text book, it affords the reader a chance to see what happened to the Catholic/Christian church in all this, what it became and what it is today.  Sadly the direction it took after Jesus left, has filled many of us with hell fire and brimstone teaching, and that has spread into Protestantism, which tried to escape from it but still retains much of what Constantine brought to religion.  I wish as a devout Catholic growing up in the ‘40s I knew source of the teaching at St. Jerome School in Brooklyn NY.  I was a willing learner, who became in later life a Unitarian just to get away from the brutal education that came from the early changes in Jesus’ teaching.  I know now why they told us not to read the Bible as it would those who taught us who would read it for us and tell us what it is about.  Much of Jesus’ teachings are preserved int he Bible fortunately and are being brought to us in beautiful ways by such teachers as Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr and Pope Francis.  And, 0f course Jesus has not given up on us, as he is always here with us with his miracles and his second coming, A Course in Miracles, his book channeled to two college professors at Columbia University in the 1970s.  Jesus is now telling us what his real message is and clarifying what we were taught in error. 

Empire Baptized is a wonderful read.  I recommend it to every Christian interested in another look at the literal approaches we have developed to reading the Bible, an approach that surely was a product of the empire which hijacked Christianity.   

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part255.

The “magic” of adjustment enables us to look at the world we project into a state of mind that does not create. We make what we think we see. If it’s not quite right, we adjust, thinking, with enough intellect, it will be real one day. We can spend thousands of years working on this. The ego does allow us to say, “You can’t take it with you.” However we’re rarely convinced of that. The ego cannot see the world without the errors it has imposed on it, believing one more change will get it for once just right. It cannot know how to get anything right. It seeks only an adjustment to guilt, which is far out of its realm, in the absence of any realm built upon separation from God, yet where it pretends to live. in which it pretends to live. It’s only success is to rob us of 1000s of chances to accept God’s will for us. It’s only success is our death at its hand, convincing us of its just moment in payment for our sins. The ego is a habitual trap, keeping us in bondage to its false self. There is nothing to expect from it but it’s relentless seeking of rule over us. Letting it go is not easy, but just accepting the plan for salvation given to us is simple. This path it is unequivocal. We are are not. Opposing the ego makes it real to us. Accepting God’s love in its place makes it simply unnecessary. Those who seek the truth won’t fail. That is our happy road of destiny.

The more I contemplate Step 6, the more I come to believe I need do nothing. The battle is over and I just need to surrender to win. Life in this world, which I am coming to forgive, is a made up deal at my hand, purposely without God. “Sit down over there, God. I’ll let you know when I need you. Don’t go too far, though. That moment may be at hand.” And I forgot to laugh! My complete function here is forgiveness of myself. That is what allows Spirit to shine through me to where that frozen block of ice sits melting to flow in oneness with all my brothers and sisters here. We have a river to move in a torrent of loveliness! RGP

Based on:
“God makes ready for the removal of all my faults, that I may receive light on all my problems and there true causes.”
One Day At A Time in Al-Anon.

Rain Drops of Love, by Life, as shared with Eileen Workman. Review by Bob Pajer

“Beloved,

know that whenever Spirit, your mind, and your heart are out of attunement, your body will send you signals of pain because it does not know which of those voices it ought to obey. Should it only heed Spirit’s inspired call? Or should it respond to the heart’s plaintive cries to bring an end to your gut-wrenching fear and intensive self-loathing? Or should it listen to the mind’s dire stories and obey its logical reasons and justifications for inflicting self-abuse?” P. 139, Raindrops of Love for a Thirsty World.

That, dear friends, is what this book is about. It is one of the most beautifully written pieces of truth, perhaps all the truth there is, this reviewer has seen.   Eileen Workman describes the Voice that gave her such passages as one she would yield to, knowing as we all can know that somewhere deep down in us is a Voice that does not hide from us. It will speak when we ask. It will tell us the truth about ourselves beyond anything we can know here in our made up world. God leaves His children with His Word, never to be erased. It is our journey here in this world, of mistakes, correction and finally His Love that speaks and will speak to anyone who decides to follow, as we join with others and melt into it. It will one day take all of us on a ride in a torrent of compassion and understanding for all, as we see it working in others. When Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves all of us, there are volumes of words now in this world that will direct us in the process. As I see you, I will see myself.  We are never left without this decision.

Everyone in the world needs to read Workman’s book. It comes from somewhere not here and it will take you there becoming entirely ready to have the power of love infused in your life here. The book is about forgiveness, the only way to God here in this world. As you read this book set aside everything you think you know about your own well being and the well being of others. For you will learn the battle is over. The ego carried on a mighty battle but was found wanting in the face of a Loving Father who wants his children in the only place they can be: home in the arms of their Creator and accepting a Power within us that is so far beyond the one we have tried to make up, don’t even try to imagine it. Because we cannot. All are called to this as God has His/Her arm around all. In the meanwhile, all disturbance we see in this world is simply, pitifully, painfully, sadly a call for just this. It will be answered because it cannot not be. Such is an inkling of His Love. Just an inkling.  More will be revealed.

Thank you Eileen Workman for giving us this beautiful message.

 

Blue Ocean Faith, by Dave Schmelzer Book Review by Bob Pajer

 
“The vibrant connection to Jesus that opens up insanely great possibilities in a secularizing world — and might kick off a new Jesus movement.”

Dave Schmelzer writes in his book Blue Ocean Faith.  He along with many other Christians these days, are reaching out to the world in what appears to be a strong  new look at Jesus and how Christian churches preach his message.  What has happened to many such thinkers in our time is a recognition that secularization has kidnapped Christianity itself and in the process driven people away from traditional churches.  I believe this partners with a politicizing of Christianity itself, lured by political aims as it must have been in Constantine’s time when the Roman Empire under Constantine, first turned toward Christianity, perhaps to further its own aims in gaining more power in the world. While the church might have thought that they could ride this power and secure Christianity in the history of the world, there has always been a price. Namely, that price would be to completely delete Jesus’ teachings in the process. The core of his teaching is forgiveness and that is not the core teaching of any political system that is bent on growing power in the world, nor the churches that follow in this direction. It is in fact the opposite. That Jesus delivers his message of love and we build cathedrals has always been since he seemed to leave us here, as kings build great palaces to impress their fellow power grabbers in the world.  Economic systems are grounded in taking. Jesus message is grounded in giving, all to all. There’s no match here that can be reconciled.  Who in power gives all to all as a part of a polity that does the same?

The better approach is hinted at, never really attained,  in American government, founded on the principle of separation of church and State. Although not all of our founders believed that to be the way to go, many were able to have it included as a consideration in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. We still argue over it today and we have at times come close to achieving some first steps in that direction.  But in todays world the Christian religion has been hi-jacked once again and politicians, while perhaps having no intention of using Jesus’ message as it was meant to be, complete and total, unequivocal, they have pressed peoples fears, the threat of the dark side to get votes, promising what we will now be saved by, not by Jesus but by bombs, exclusion and hatred. Its a mixed message that conservative and fundamentalist thinkers fall for, while hoping they will finally get Jesus’ message to be heard.  That’s not so difficult to do in America at this moment of its short life as the longest living democracy, leaving itself open to autocratic demonizing, pressing on the fears Christianity itself can’t seem to put its arms around and tell us what Jesus really had to say. America has survived much, however. Perhaps it will this onslaught on its values as well. I find hope in Schmelzer’s book, and the writings of other Christians who see the danger of letting greed mix with Jesus message, as though there could be any  mix of anything with what he had to say, and said it so clear

There is one sentence in Blue Ocean Faith that in a real sense tells all we must know about Jesus and his coming here: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is talking from His to be his resurrected Christ Self here, and if we could in this world hear this message from Him we would indeed be where Jesus wrote in His prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, They will be done in earth as it is in heave.” One of America’s greatest spiritual messages comes from the program for recovering alcoholics In Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition Two of the Twelve Traditions states: “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” How different the world would be if we lived by this tradition. Perhaps Jesus had a hand in helping suffering alcoholics maintain a society that has kept them sober, as a model for keeping us all sober. (One meaning of the word sober is prudent.) There has never a been such a powerful spiritual program as far as we know in the history of this world. And it works without getting involved in politics and government. Christian churches are more and more taking note of this approach to finding our way home to Spirit in a world that certainly does not listen to Jesus.

My reading of this book reminds me it is the Christ in him that Jesus refers us to in the above passage quoted above.  And I believe the same Christ that abides in all of us here. So when he says we’re not going anywhere except through Him, he means through Him, in us. That is clearly inclusive. Our author speaks of this in his description of “Bonded Set” and “Centered Set” Christianity. Centering on Jesus rather than rules and the just right criteria for becoming a part of a corporation is his preference. Instead of rules, there is one who came to join us in our human-ness to take us out of it. We need but look within, where the Kingdom is.  I think Schmelzer may imply this in his book.

Yes, I say to that!  To go into the desert to come out of it. To be in relationship. As Jesus always is. He is alive and very ready to speak to us along these lines. “A Course in Miracles” is Jesus telling us all he has to say in his second coming. All are called, few choose to listen. Fortunately, Jesus in his wisdom coming from his own experience here and his own transformation invites us “tear down this wall” as one of our conservative brothers said, perhaps thinking differently as to why he said it. I believe Schmelzer’s writing invites us to consider the unequivocal Jesus, our older brother who has gone before us to bring the light we need to proceed. Simple, we change what he means by our own peril in doing so. We are here to forgive, I’m reminded. And forgive we can in churches or groups that meet to recognize all our brothers and sisters are one in unity with God. He is, as Jesus says, Our Father. This requires acceptance simply, that best takes place in the kind of church our author speaks of, like the early Christians who decided against the Roman approach to their church, a simple meeting place with the only authority being a loving God for all, those who might have said, “Who is leading the meeting today in memory of Jesus? And a woman raises her hand as cheerfully accepted to celebrate Jesus Resurrection, as an example for all of us.

However,  the separation from God state of mind we think we are in, and feel profoundly guilty because we think we really are separated, is a condition none of us can really sustain forever.  Although not necessary, pain will bring us to truth in the return to our true place as the Son of God.  Our way in the world we made  just cost too much and we will return to Truth because  of that.   Jesus, I believe, is always helping us remove ourselves from that conditions required of a thought system that is not of God, but one we make up to protect us from God’s Kingdom, strange as that sounds.   These are my thoughts as I read through this very insightful book.

Bob Pajer

 

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

“I still have a tendency to think too well of myself and to pretend to be more than I really am. Am I always in danger of becoming conceited just because I’m sober?” Hazelden, Thought For the Day.

The real problem is I think to little of myself. Am I a child of God? Of course! Has God given me all because God loves me and everyone else as well? Yes, no matter what I think or do! If it were anything less, would that not mean God is indivisible or has favorites? Or, that He needs to hold on to parts of His love to maintain His power as One who has all power? Or, to reward some, and punish justice. When I think I must prove my false self, am I not diminishing God’s power in me? My ego always speaks on behalf of my littleness or grandiosity. And it always speaks first, in my mind at least. Seeing my self as less than, seeing myself inferior to anyone is a separation thought, which leads me to think I am less than, lacking in something. Although I frequently don’t know what that is. Searching for whatever it is is a part of the human condition, “search and do not find,” which has nothing to do with God. He knows where all His children are. He also knows His abundance fully shines on everyone. It is up to each and every one of us to accept it and let it shine through us.

“I am as God created me. I’m not a body, I am free.” A Course in Miracles.”