Saturday, January 6, 2007


When people discover that I teach classes on religion and spirituality, they often ask, "So, what are you?" Or sometimes they'll ask, "Are you a Christian?" Over the years I have been asked:

1. "Are you a Baptist?"
2. "Are you a Catholic?"
3. "Are you filled with the Spirit?"
4. "Are you a priest?"
5. "Are you a Lutheran?"

The other night at the supermarket, a fellow walked up to me with a big smile and in a very foreign accent asked, "Do you love Allah and his prophet Mohammed, are you a Muslim?"

These moments of identity interrogation are always a bit awkward. I feel like the fellow who was asked, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Either answer, yes or no, is not accurate if you have never beat your wife.

All 'yes' or 'no' questions leave you trapped in the dark alley of the inquirer's narrow view of the world. People want to label us in order to discover whether or not they can trust us, or how they should interact with us. The title we take is the spiritual litmus test for many human beings. The 'right answer' either includes you or excludes you.

I have wondered what Jesus would have said to the above questions. Or if you follow the teachings of the Buddha, how he might have answered the question, "Are you a Buddhist?" I think both men would have looked puzzled and answered, 'huh?'

As I look at the life of Jesus, I see two consistent qualities that gave him his identity:

1. He loved all human beings - Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, sinners, soldiers, whores, swindlers, revolutionaries, Pharisees, women, children and men.

2. He worshiped God in Spirit. He would not be drawn into the Jewish or Samaritan or Roman version of religion. He saw God as universally present, like the wind, blowing everywhere, unpredictable.

Jesus was a Jew, but it was not his badge of exclusionary identity. He never excluded anyone, nor did he require anyone to become a Jew.

He never called himself a Christian. Jesus was spiritual and he loved all human beings. You will never read of Jesus giving people tests before he accepted them as God's beloved. He never asks, "Have you accepted me as your Savior?" He never gives them a doctrinal grilling about the inerrancy of Scripture or Trinity.

That is one reason I call myself, if pressed to wear a name badge, a Spiritual Humanist. I follow and seek the same Infinite Spirit that Jesus spoke of. If this free and mysterious Spirit was not limited to Samaria or Jerusalem, then It is not limited to any religion. It is working in and on every human being on the face of the planet.

In Mark 4, Jesus told a parable that few even know about. He said that the Kingdom of God is like a farmer that planted a seed. After the seed was planted, the farmer went into his house and the seed grew "all by itself".

In this story, Jesus is letting the religious crowd know that they didn't have as much to do with the Kingdom of God spreading and growing as they thought they did. The seed grew "all by itself". In the Greek New Testament, the phrase "all by itself' is a single word, "automate", which of course is our word automatic.

As a Spiritual Humanist, I believe that God's Kingdom or the garden of Spirit is a work that goes on day and night with or without my religious farm tools. Most religious groups and individuals think themselves far too important. They would have you believe that without their crusades, organizations, large churches, mosques, publishing companies, missionaries, Scripture translation societies, rambling doctrinal statements and evangelism programs, poor God wouldn't be able to work in the hearts of human beings. That is just plain arrogance, not to mention abysmal ignorance.

Spirit works 24 hours a day in every human heart; whether serial killers or Baptist pew sitters. Jesus recognized that every heart was soil for spiritual development.

Each of us knows our own unique stories of spiritual awakening. It took what it took to move us to spiritual awareness, and it is still going on.

No human is excluded. Every man, woman and child - every religious tradition - every level of saint or sinner, swims in the Universal Ocean of God's active agency. There is no place in the Universe where Spirit is not doing It's work. The heroin addict in a cheap motel and the polished TV evangelist in his beach front home are right in the middle of God's soil of spiritual growth.

The recent incident with Pastor Ted Haggart reveals that no human heart is completed. Many religionists would have you believe that they are special and a little more 'completed' because they have the right title. I know from experience that such an attitude is setting you up for a mighty fall into the human pool of humility. Spiritual growth is taking place in everyone, and often the first shall be last while the last shall be first.

You couldn't escape the spiritual process if you tried. Psalm 139 states this fact poetically when it says, "Even if I make my bed in Sheol (Hell), You (God) are there." Many of us have made our beds in Sheol, and that is exactly where we found God, or God found us. Some of us found Spirit staring back at us from the bottom of a Tequila shot glass, or in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. Some of us found Spirit helping us put down roots in the midst of a sordid sexual affair or financial disaster.

The soil of human experience is the garden of Spirit. The Universe is the field of Spirit.

That is why I refuse to limit God to a title or label. I cannot with a clear conscience presume that God favors Trinitarian Christians over Unitarian Christians, or Abrahamic Jews over Tibetan Buddhists, or New Age Peaceniks over Fundamentalist Republicans. God works with humans, all humans.

I am one that sees the Presence of Spirit in every human life. I will not set myself up as judge by grilling people about their intellectual belief systems or Orthodox practices. I know from experience that when I am in my least 'religious' and most unguarded human moments, I am ready for the most phenomenal next stage of spiritual growth.

Copyright Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM

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