Thoughts on summer

    Sunday, July 19, 2009, 9:41 AM [General]

    When I was a child, we never went to church during the summer months. My dad worked strange nighttime hours and every summer our church changed their meeting time to one hour earlier. As a result, my dad just couldn't get up. I understood that much better when I became an adult and started working nights. Most weekends I just stayed up all night. It was, for me, much easier than trying to change my schedule every weekend then change back on Monday.

    Instead of going to church, we spent every weekend up at our property. My parents and my sister and her husband co-owned a small (1/2 acre) piece of property outside Ann Arbor, MI and we spent all the time we could up there. We camped along with everyone else. There were only a few cabins and cottages at that time. Everybody else camped in trailers or tents.

    We spent all day and evening outside, swimming, riding our bikes, playing, and just snoozing in the sun. It made a big impact on my life. I became closer to nature and more comfortable outside than in. It the autumn, going back to church was, for me, a bummer. I hated being inside this dark building when the sun was shining outside.

    For me, God has always been easier to find outside in the natural world rather than inside a dark church building. And it's still that way today. I spend most of my summer time outside in my yard and garden or at the park walking in the woods. For me, God is in the singing of the birds, the buzzing of the bees, even in the excitement of my dogs when they are tearing around the park exploring.

    I tried to write about it when I was in high school, but my teacher considered it "trite." And others think I'm crazy or a "pagan" because I love nature and see God more in nature than in the grandest church. But think about it for a moment. Most of Jesus' sermons (as recorded in the gospels) were given outside on a mountain, on a plain, at the shores of Lake Galilee.

    Jesus even slept outside at times. He had no home of his own. Since he walked everywhere, he was even closer to nature that we are. And many of his parables concerned nature, farming, etc. Imagine walking through the hills and valleys of the Holy Land in the footsteps of Jesus. For me, that would be a perfect way to experience what Jesus experienced. Not in the churches built after his death, but on the paths and roads he walked.

    Walking in Jesus' footsteps is one pilgramage I'd love to take. Maybe someday... In the meantime, I will continue to find God in my garden, in the woods, on the shores of a lake, or just walking in the park. Get closer to God; stick your head out the door and listen to the birds sing.

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

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    Another beautiful day on earth

    Monday, July 13, 2009, 10:36 AM [General]

    I received my latest e-mail from my son in law and I'm writing my response. It has been an interesting discussion and has certainly made me think more clearly about what I believe and why. I have also been reading more books by Bishop John Spong, Martin Forward, and Huston Smith (now that'll stretch your mind). Each is challenging me in a different way. I firmly believe that it's important for us to challenge ourselves and our beliefs. If our faith and beliefs don't hold up to scrutiny and questioning, they're probably not worth keeping.

    A while ago, I read a blog by Daniel Florien, an evangelical Christian who has since become an athiest. He writes: "I was a passionate evangelical Christian for over a decade. Now I'm figuring out what it means to be an unbeliever and skeptic."

    I understand. I too have studied and read all the literature that this young man has read. I too had come to the conclusion that there must not be a God. I too struggled with all the violence and hatred found in the Bible—if that's really God, then I don't want to believe in Him/Her/It either.

    But try as I might to become an athiest, something keeps drawing me back. I can't say what it is or why I feel the way I do. I believe in science, evolution, and all that other stuff, yet I still believe in God. And each time I pull away, something draws me back. Is it fear? I don't know but it doesn't feel like fear. Self-doubt? Could be. Low self-esteem? Maybe, but I don't think so. Am I just a wuss or an idiot? Probably, but that doesn't explain it either. I just believe there's something more to life and, for lack of another word, I call it God—you can insert whatever word or name you choose.

    I have definitely struggled with my knowledge of the vastness of the universe and the ideas in the bible that indicate that God lives somewhere up in the sky looking down on us. And I definitely struggle with some of the bible stories that suggest that God ordered the deaths of men, women, and children of different faiths and races and seemed to delight in it.

    But Bishop Spong and others continue to encourage my investigations and questions and continue to stretch my mind toward God. My SiL claims that "God has never said in His word that ... Christianity has to change in fact it says in Hebrews 13:8 that God is the same yesterday and today and forever, therefore His word doesn't have to change." But that is in contradiction to Colossians 1:6. This says that "... All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth."

    I believe that the gospel must continue to grow (and change) as we move forward. It needs to change and grow to reflect our modern world and its unique social and moral challenges. It needs to continue to change and grow to include those who, in times past, were excluded from the gospels. It needs to change and grow to help us change and grow in God and in spirit. If we stagnate, we will surely die. Bishop Spong and others continuously challenge us to follow Colossians and grow and bear fruit that reflects our increased knowledge of God and our world. I, for one, accept the challenge and continue to explore God, spirit, and my own beliefs and prejudices. I am suggesting my SiL does so too.

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

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    Who do you love?

    Saturday, July 11, 2009, 2:10 PM [General]

    "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV)

    "He also told them this parable: 'Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.'" Luke 6:39-42 (NIV)

    "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him." 1 John 2:9-11 (NIV)

    Loving your brother (or sister) is the toughest thing on earth to do. I'm not talking about your family, I'm talking about all the other brothers and sisters out there. ALL of them, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, black, white, Asian, Arab, Jewish—all of them are, in reality, your brothers and sisters. ALL OF THEM!

    Most people don't think about this when they talk hate-talk or bash others (like the commercials about those who say "that's so gay" about people and things). But you'll notice in the Bible passages, it doesn't say Christians or Catholics or Protesants; it says brothers.

    Jesus, when asked about this (brothers, or neighbors), told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Samaritans (people from Samaria) were one group the Jewish people of that time hated (kind of like people today who hate the followers of Islam or gays). As a matter of fact, you can just insert the name of whatever group you hate into the parable to make it real for your age. Jesus' parable about the Good Samaritan pretty much tells us who our brother (or sister) is.

    I admit, it's not easy to "love your neighbor" (I'm still struggling with my own prejudices and anger issues), but as long as we don't love our neighbor or brother or sister, we are, according to John, walking in darkness which has made us blind.

    So maybe the next time you find yourself talking trash about someone or bashing a particular group of people, you might want to think about the lessons of Jesus and John. We have to make ourselves right before we can change the world. It's not easy, but it is worth the effort.

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

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    Thoughts on God

    Thursday, July 9, 2009, 8:26 AM [General]

    I have been having an ongoing discussion with my son in law about God and Jesus. He is a Southern Baptist and believes that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God. In spite of my pointing out many instances where the Bible contradicts itself and stories that simply aren't acceptable in our modern society, he keeps telling me the Bible can be "reconciled." Needless to say, our discussion is mostly him telling me what he believes (and encouraging me to believe likewise) and my telling him what I believe.

    He quotes me a myriad of Bible passages to support his claims, but he really has no background on how and when the Bible passages he quotes were written. He tells me "you can't pick and choose what you want to believe in the Bible" but he often picks and chooses to suit his own arguments. And so it goes.

    Actually, I have been enjoying this discussion. It, like some of the books I have been reading, has made me much more conscious of what I believe and why. And it has helped me rediscover many passages and stories I had forgotten and discover new passages that help me grow as a Christian.

    I believe that, as Christians, it is important for us to think. I don't believe in checking my brain at the door of the church. And I have told many others that if my faith can't hold up to intelligent scrutiny, then it's a useless and dead faith. If I can't question the Bible and what religious leaders say and decide for myself in my life and situation whether it helps me become a better person, it's useless for me.

    I have said before that I believe each living being has a small spark of God within them. And it is this small spark of God that helps us live our lives, if we let it. It also helps us discern what is right and necessary for our own personal growth, whether that information comes from the Bible, other literary sources, nature, animals...whatever helps us to grow as people of God is good for us.

    In some cases, people need to stumble and fall in order to get up stronger and more determined. The hardest thing of all is to love those people even as we watch and let them stumble. We need to be there to help them get back up, but the falling is something they may need. Just like a child needs to fall many times when learning to walk.

    The most important thing, I believe, that we can do is just be there to support and love them through all the learning processes of their lives. It takes courage to let people learn in their own way; to love and support them without interfering with their process. To offer help when you are asked for it and to keep your opinions to yourself when you need to.

    We all need to grow up and grow into God. Let's make whatever effort we can to help ourselves and others in that path of growth. Each time we help another grow closer to God, we also help ourselves. Keep learning, questioning, and growing. It's your God-given purpose in this life.

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

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    Touching lives in large and small ways

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009, 8:38 AM [General]

    My sweet brother's memorial service was yesterday and it was beautiful. As I sat listening to his sons and friends reminiscing about his life, I was struck by the love he created in his family and friends.

    Some people are "destined for greatness" in a large way. They rock our world, work for peace, care for those no one else cares about—they touch the world in a big way. Then there are those like my brother. He didn't do anything earth shattering. He never sought fame, fortune, awards, or notoriety. Except for a relatively small group, most people never heard of him.

    Yet he touched the lives of many in his own little world. He brought peace, understanding, encouragement, and love to these people. He made this a better world by simply living his life, raising his kids, helping others when he could, and leaving his own little world a better place. And even though he was never comfortable saying the words "I love you," he loved greatly.

    Most of us will never be famous or rich. We will never be known worldwide for the things we did. But each of us has a chance to change the world by changing our own little part of the world. By giving love, offering such help as we can, encouraging others, and giving love and peace to those we meet. In this way, we can bring about peace in this world, one little step at a time.

    God bless everyone.

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

    Dale R. Barber — 1931-2009

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    Thoughts on Paul

    Monday, July 6, 2009, 8:54 AM [General]

    I never really liked Paul. He has always irritated me. Some of the things he says in his letters go against my modern, feminist sensibilities. Was Paul "right" in everything he said? Why is he so contrary about things like the role of women in the church? In one letter, he introduces a woman as a minister of the church and in the next he says women cannot preach or be the head of a church. How irritating! A former minister of mine used to say that Paul had "flashes of brilliance." I have to agree.

    What was Paul thinking? What was he trying to do? I think that if Paul were alive today, he would be horrified that his simple letters were being touted as the literal, inerrant "word of God." He may be rolling over in his grave even now. Paul's letters were written to specific churchs he had founded for specific reasons at a specific time. They were not written to be laws, nor were they the "literal word of God." I don't believe Paul ever intended them to be and I don't think he wants us to.

    Yes, there are words of wisdom we can use in Paul's letters and the other letters used in the new testament, but I don't believe any of them is the "literal word of God." If Paul had known that his letters were going to be revered as such, I think he would have been much more careful what he wrote. Much of the stuff in the letters just wouldn't be there.

    So we need to read the letters of Paul and the other disciples with a "grain of salt." We need to be careful what we assume to be a law or rule for us. And Jesus told us how to read the letters and anything else we read or see. "You shall know them by their fruits." And how, exactly, do we "know them by their fruits"? Simple. How do you feel and what do you do when you read the passage? What does your heart say? The bible says that God is love, does this passage reflect that love? Does it make you more loving, patient, peaceful? If not, it may not be the "literal word of God."

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

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    Who (or what) is God?

    Friday, July 3, 2009, 9:53 AM [General]

    "Despite the enormous revolution in our understanding of the immensity of space, God is still defined by some people as a supernatural being, external to the life of the world, who lives somewhere above in the sky and who continues to intervene periodically in human history. Whatever it was that people experienced in Jesus has today come to be idenitified with medieval doctrines based on pre-modern assumptions that are no longer believable." ~Bishop John Shelby Spong, "Jesus for the Non-Religious"

    I love Bishop Spong's books. Although I don't agree with everything he says, he definitely expands my mind and forces me to clarify what I really believe about God, Jesus, and life.

    I believe in God, but I don't believe that God is "out there" somewhere or that "he" lives up in the sky. I have seen the vastness of the universe. I believe that God is not "out there" somewhere looking down on us and passing judgment or hurling thunderbolts at our percieved enemies. Rather, I believe that God is down here with us. Not some supernatural being, separate and apart from us, but our very being, our very breath of life.

    God is part and parcel of every part of this world and this earth. In the bible, God is described as Spirit, breath, wind, and rock. All of these things are around us, within us. Even Jesus in his great wisdom said, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." [Luke 17:20-21]

    The kingdom of God is within us. So why do we continue to look outside ourselves to find God? Why do we continue to pray to some outside force to save us or help us? Why do we assume that God is in certain places (usually those defined by man) and not in others or in certain persons and not in others? I believe that God is the very breath we breathe, the life we live, and at the very center of our being. Not out there somewhere, but within. Within all of us, no matter who or what we are.

    Jesus often spoke about taking the narrow road to find the kingdom, but what did he mean? Was he talking about an actual road we have to travel? I don't think so. Was he talking about a tight squeeze on a mountain path? Nope. Was he talking about an external list of rules and regulations we have to follow in order to get to God — do this and this and this and you'll be okay? No, I don't believe he was. Jesus was, if anything, against most of the external rules put forth by the Pharisees and leaders of the Jewish religion. He constantly spoke against the rules and regulations religious leaders put on man. He said they were to keep man away from God not to bring him closer.

    So what is the narrow road Jesus spoke of as one we must follow? It's not an outside road, but rather an inside one. You can't get closer to God by following the outside rules and directions of others. That is, as Jesus said, the blind leading the blind. Nope, the narrow road is the road inside yourself to where God dwells. God is part of the entire world and within all of us. That's what Jesus said. So to find the "kingdom of God," we must go inside. Follow the narrow path to the very depth of our being and there, come before the throne of God.

    It is a difficult road to follow and one that most people don't want to be bothered with. It's much easier to follow the external rules and be done with it. The narrow road requires a great deal of reflection, looking at ourselves with an open mind and a clear eye. The willingness to accept and learn about both the good and bad within ourselves. Our love, but also our greed; our acceptance, but also our prejudice. It requires us to strip down our inner being to its essence and look with open honesty at what we really think and believe. Jesus did this — the bible says he often went away to a lonely place to "pray." When he came back, he was refreshed and stronger than before. More able to do the things he needed to do to help the people.

    And so I believe that, in order to get closer to the kingdom of God, we must also "go away to a lonely place to pray." But contrary to some people, that "lonely place" isn't a place outside ourselves. That "lonely place" is deep within us. Down to our very heart and soul, down to the kingdom of God. And that journey can happen any time and anywhere, even during rush hour traffic or while doing the dishes.

    So let's all take the journey inside to the kingdom of God. And then, lets reflect that kingdom of God to everyone we meet. It might just change the world.

    Reverend Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

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    Who is Jesus?

    Thursday, July 2, 2009, 8:40 AM [General]

    “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

    On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
    Others said, “He is the Christ.”

    Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”

    Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” [John 7:37-43 NIV]

    People have always struggled with who Jesus is. Even in Jesus’ own time, people debated about who he really was and what he meant. Not just among the Jewish leaders; among all the people who were touched by Jesus as the reading from John 7 shows.

    And the debate continues in some circles even today. In the Christian tradition, some say Jesus is God. Other Christians believe Jesus is the way-shower, someone to show us the way to get to God. In Islam, Jesus is considered a prophet of God—but God is God.

    But Jesus was Jewish and reflected their particular faith ideas. The Jews believed that the word of God had been spoken and the will of God had been lived by humans in particular times and places within history. Throughout Jewish sacred sources, there appeared the concept of the “messiah.”

    The Hebrew word for messiah is “mashiach” which is translated in Greek as “christos” and in English as “christ.” In its original Jewish, the meaning of messiah or christ is “one [a human] who is anointed” or appointed by God with a unique and special mission on Earth.

    In Mark 8:29, Peter said, “You are the Christ.” But the description of someone as a christ does not mean they are not human, nor does it mean they are God. God is God. So “messiah” or “mashiach” is not some abstract belief about Jesus, or anyone else, being the deity. Rather, it means that Jesus was the life through whom the word of God was spoken and the will of God was lived out—a life in which the reality of God was experienced as present in history in a human being. In other words, God is met in Jesus, a human, and to see Jesus is in some sense to see God.

    There have been others who, by this Jewish word and meaning, have also been mashiach because they are people who exemplified the word and will of God in their time and place in history. One example is Cyrus of the Persians [Isaiah 45:1 NIV]. In Cyrus, the Jewish people saw the will of God being accomplished through the life of this man; a man who wasn't even Jewish. Another “mashiach” or annointed one that comes to my mind is Mother Teresa.

    Does thist mean that Jesus wasn’t special or important? Not at all. He was obviously both special and important. Look how much has been done in his name. Jesus was and always will be our much wiser older brother. But even Jesus said, “the works that I do [you] will do also; and greater works than these [you] will do …” [John 14:12 NKJV]

    In Romans 8:17, Paul said, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ …” [NIV]

    Do you suppose that Paul meant that we are all GOD? I don’t think so. What Paul did mean is simply that we all have the same essence, the same ability as Jesus to demonstrate God in our world. In our own way, we are all able to reflect the word and will of God to all we meet.

    So then, if we are, as Paul says, co-heirs with Christ,” we need to change our mind about who we are and who Jesus was. And then we need to ask ourselves the big question, “Am I living and acting as a co-heir with Christ?” Think about it.

    Reverend Claudia “Red Feather” Barber

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    Dale Barber — 1932-2009

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009, 8:37 PM [General]

    My beloved brother Dale died this morning. I'll miss him terribly. I was a menopause baby and my brother was married with two kids and one on the way when I was born. As a child, I was closer to his kids than to him. He was busy building a business and raising a family. But later, when I was grown, we got closer. It's going to be hard, especially during the holidays. After talking to my family, I was reminded of my favorite story (see below). I find I'm sad for me and the family, but not sad for my brother. He's in a much better place where he is not in pain anymore. And he's with my mom, dad, sister and his son. I know he's happy; it's us still here on earth who have to struggle.

    My sister requested this story at her funeral. She had cancer and was able before she died to tell us what she wanted. My brother was lucky. He died very quickly of a massive heart attack. Easy on him—no pain. But really tough on those of us who have to stay here.

    "In the bottom of an old pond lived some grubs who could not understand why none of their group ever came back after crawling up the lily stems to the top of the water. They promised each other that the next one who was called to make the upward climb would return and tell what had happened to him.

    "Soon one of them felt an urgent impulse to seek the surface; he rested himself on the top of a lily pad and went through a glorious transformation which made him a dragonfly with beautiful wings.

    "In vain he tried to keep his promise. Flying back and forth over the pond, he peered down at his friends below. Then he realized that even if they could see him they would not recognize such a radiant creature as one of their number.

    "The fact that we cannot see our friends or communicate with them after the transformation which we call death is no proof that they cease to exist."

    by Walter Dudley Cavert
    Remember Now
    © 1944, 1971

    Have a safe, blessed day.

    Rev. Claudia "Red Feather" Barber

    Dale at Christmas 2008.

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    A rainy day

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009, 7:32 AM [General]

    It's raining today so no gardening. Actually, it's supposed to rain for the next three days. Not so good for gardening but it gives me time to catch up on my blogging. I have been reading a great book by Bishop John Spong called "Why Christianity Must Change or Die." It has certainly stretched my mind. And it has helped me clarify some of my own beliefs.

    I have struggled with God and Christianity for quite a while. I find I no longer believe many of the Bible stories as literal history. Well, I have never taken the Bible literally. I know how and when it was written and enough of the background of the writers to know that it's purpose is not as a literal history of man and God. And I fully and freely admit that I don't believe Jesus is God as most people do.

    I don't believe that Jesus is God as something separate and different from us. I don't believe Jesus is God as a higher authority, father figure, helper or some distinct individual. I do believe Jesus is God as an expression of God, a reflection of God whom I can emulate and who shows me the way to God. I don't believe that Jesus, or God, is something separate from us. God is not "out there" with Jesus/God watching everything we do and planning our demise.

    I believe each person, good or bad, black or white, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, contains a seed of God, which was planted by God. Our job, which Jesus showed us in many ways, is to reconnect with the seed of God within us and reflect that God outward to others. We are all interdependent on one another for our very lives and unless we realize that we are and that we are all a part of God, there will never be peace on earth.

    I believe that we desperately need to move Christianity from the mythology of antiquity to the new millenium where science and the sacred can exist in harmony and peace.

    Traditional churches are losing members at a great rate because they refuse to acknowledge that mankind has moved beyond the beliefs held in the past and, unless religion and specifically Christianity move on, it will eventually die. It's time for people of Spirit to take the Bible not literally, but in the spirit in which it was written. And to use it's lessons to move us forward into a new relationship with God.

    I believe that the narrow road Jesus spoke of is not an outward road of rules to follow and then your saved. I believe the narrow road is an inward road, the most difficult of all. Looking within, we have to accept what we find and learn to deal with it. Our search is not outside ourselves but inside. But it's not an easy path. It's much easier to get a list of rules, follow it, and get on with our lives. That's the wide road Jesus spoke of and most people follow.

    Jesus said the kingdom of God is within us, not out there somewhere. Looking for it through outside rules and regulations is not going to get us there. It is only when we look within, truly search our heart and soul, that we'll come closer to a true relationship with God. It's time to move on. And I, for one, am working, searching, and moving on to a new relationship with God.

    I know some people don't agree, but that's okay. I accept that their beliefs are what they need right now. Please accept that mine are what I need. I read the bible and other sacred literature with an open mind and take what I learn to further my personal relationship with God. I suggest you do the same.

    Reverend Claudia

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