The Name Game
Ever have that morning revelation in the bathroom? You know where all these little pieces of thoughts you had throughout the week suddenly come together into a startling revelation while you were toweling your naked body off or brushing your hair? To back track just a little bit, I had some negative thoughts and feelings hanging over me before I hit the shower. The God in my mind stemming from my past beliefs was surely fed up with me. I must admit that the God I thought I knew and just so happens to be toxic is probably more real at times then the God I’m trying to get know. I felt I was running in this hamster wheel trying my darnedest to get somewhere but the sense was now, I was a failure. This wasn't even to mention I was gay—something I had believed for 30 some odd years was not only something society hated but that God hated too. After all, there was no way to be gay and Christian was there…for real-for real? A way to be gay and living a good, healthy moral life? Surely, you needed to be out boozing it up, sleazing it up and diving head first into a overly sexualized LGBT culture, right? And this wasn’t what I had learned people who were “God-lovers” should be doing, so certainly being gay was a sin. Yes, I have a book coming out explaining that you can live the gay life as a person of faith. Still, I have my moments.
There is a lot done “in the name of…” God by human beings. Many play this name game in their own ignorance of the intention behind the divine. Homosexuals are hated “In the name of Jesus” in this game, compelled to change and repent from giving into this “sinful nature” all in the name of God. Look at ISIS. Coming from a Christian fundamentalist background myself, I have no doubt that they truly believe they are beheading people and tearing down priceless relics “in the name of God”. They don’t see the horror they are committing because all they see is the kind of God that has been created in the forefront of their mind, blinding them from the reality that isn’t really God at all. They are caught up in this name game too. All of us are of course aghast and yet, there is a lot that is done “In Jesus Name” as well that clearly isn’t Jesus at all. I’m not going through Christian Church history—the Crusades, Salem Witch Trials, slavery etc.—but rather talk about today.
One of my biggest eye-openers in traveling through many churches and denominations looking for a spiritual home (I am a very spiritual person by nature) is that I can count the number of churches on one hand that do not see themselves and their denominations as the “one” place that is “really” doing God’s work above any other out there. The one closest to God out of all others who might be Christian but just a bit more wayward and even “false”. Today, turn on any television evangelist, get involved in your local church, and watch while a minister comes up with an idea and it is declared as “God” biggest and next best move. Hear the prayers of the hearts and minds of patrons followed by “In Jesus Name” as if Jesus were a Genie in the bottle. The vibe? Get to know us and our church and we’ll teach you how to rub the Genie in the bottle the right way. One of those ways is just conclude everything you have to pray or say with “in Jesus’ Name” and you have just won God on your side.
What God showed me in that morning where I was hating myself “in Jesus Name”--that maybe I had been screwing my whole life up (despite the fact that I’m the healthiest and happiest I have ever been lol)—was something profound. We use God’s name like “open sesame” or “look at me, God and I are BFF’s”. Just because a local church would condemn me as going to hell for my gay identity “in Jesus name” doesn’t make them right and definitely doesn’t make them holy. To say “in God’s name” is about the character of God, not a sanction or stamp of approval that means, “I’m right!”. This is why the ancient religious, secular governments and Christian denominations today have such a problem with Jesus. You heard me…Christians really don’t know what to do with Jesus. Jesus never really provided any straightforward steps, no formulated path, no magic words, or phrases to spiritual birth or enlightenment. Yet, this is what is done across the globe to create isolation, division, and hate. Blame others; condemn others for not following the right formula or saying the right words. But, how do you say Jesus loves everybody and condemn him or her hell in the same breath? The accepted way so far is suggesting people just don’t have the secret formula down and its up to us, “believers”, to shove it down their throats, or “educate”, evangelize, or cleverly trick them into “getting it” right and be “saved”.
Yet, it is very clear: Jesus provided a life, not a formula. Jesus told and lived his story, not a book of secret passwords passed down from heaven. He showed us what the character of God was despite our own self hate, hate of others and hate of God. Yes, he called us to change but change in character and heart. If you look at the Ten Commandments and what are called “The Beatitudes” in the New Testament book of Matthew and the Fruits of the Spirit” listed in the book of Galatians, you have some common themes: nonviolence, spiritual practice, kindness, goodness, self-control, loving, encouraging, and the list go on. All of us have known people who practice a different faith or no faith that exhibit these qualities. Personally, I have experienced far more religious people whom have none of these qualities. These “fruits” are said to be “of the spirit”. So what do you do with these people who are acting “in Jesus name” but didn’t follow and don’t subscribe to your belief or formula? Just like our ancestors we often mock, we have boxed God into steps and formulas.
However, let's take a pause and a breath. Repeatedly, there are Biblical stories where the closest to following God (or so they thought) were made to accept those they had cast aside as “unclean” or not of God including Paul and Peter. With the example of Jesus, he was constantly proclaiming the faith of those who are deemed “not of the faith”. This should tell us something. Many claim God to be on their side and their side alone. Even in the self help market, many claim to know the secret to happiness, success, wealth and the like, as if the universe held a secret formula only the fortunate get to understand (and that you can buy for the low-low price of $9.99) and if you become their partners in ministry or buy this book or take this workshop then you too will be in on this secret formula that will wrap your life in a nice, little…box. Let me tell you, whether you believe in God or just the power of the universe divine, one thing I know is those powers will not stay in that box or within your formula! I’m not saying there isn't anything to learn in order to improve our lives or bring us closer to God or the divine. What I’m saying is that God and even the divine bliss we all want in our life isn’t held hostage by “the steps to salvation”, a secret formula, in a book, or by a certain sect of people. Not even by “Christians” of which I count myself one. I cannot tell you how many times I went through the steps to salvation just to keep making sure I got it right and not end up a false Christian or end up in hell despite my heart exploding at the awareness of God. The formula was stressed as more important than the heart in my faith. Yet, it’s about a relationship with something bigger than yourself. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It only matters that you live a life of good character because when you do, you find bliss money can’t buy. You find a relationship with God that isn’t in your control but is such a fantastic ride that you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And you will see, what makes others bitter in this life will make you better, will produce fruits you never imagined possible. This is what’s in the name of the Divine.