by Bob Buckner
I am a person in change...a person in transition. It's a good thing! Do you know that you too are a person in change? How did the wise old saying go? "This too will change." Mine came with more than the average amount of drama.
For forty-two years I served as an associate pastor on the staff of large, successful Baptist churches in Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. It was a great career. I did a fair amount of good in the lives of people. My work provided a lot of benefit of those churches. I was paid a good salary for my work, and raised two sons who took their places in society with responsibility.
You could say mine was almost a "charmed" life. Yes, we lost my wife's dad when our second son was just a baby. But in my own family there was no early death or loss.
Christianity is a beautiful religion. Even the Hebrew names of God are beautiful: Jehovah, Elohim, Yahweh, among others. But deep inside there were things that I couldn't totally accept. I called these my "doubts". I felt guilty about even having these concerns. Now I realize the doubts were the best part of my faith.
My early doubts: I kept them "pushed down" in order to continue in the Christian ministry:
1. The virgin birth. It may be true, but the historic evidence points against it.
2. The resurrection story. Is it true, or was it actually a conspiracy among Christians?
3. The flood account. Let's face it: nearly every ancient civilization has its version of the flood account.
4. The Christian creation account. Then there is the Babylonian creation account, and many others.
Some early factors in my transitions:
1. I retired early to take care of my wife. Having extra time allowed me a chance to think more deeply about the truths I live by.
2. A writing friend named Brenda, who lives in Maine, suggested a book called, "Journey of Souls", by Dr. Michael Newton. This book has influenced my thinking profoundly.
3. My first cousin Kathy lives in North Carolina. The last time we visited her, Kathy applied a healing technique called "Reiki" to my knee...it had been injured. The results were immediate and dramatic. Reiki is a discipline that originated in Japan, or at least it took roots there. The client receives comfort and encouragement and sometimes healing through the laying on of hands and through other occasional techniques. That experience launched me on an intense study of Reiki.
4. My younger brother, Clyde, also a "Tar-Heeler" introduced me to a dramatic set of audiotapes: six hours of content. The name of the event was "An Experience to Remember", taped live by a speaker named George Zalucki. For me it was much more than an experience to remember. It was an experienced that changed my life radically and for the better!
5. About this same time my niece, Marianna influenced me. She is a relief worker in Niger, Africa. Marianna was telling me about an ancient diagram called "The Enneagram". It probably originated in the areas that now comprise Iraq and Iran. In recent years the Enneagram has become an instrument of incredible public acclaim. I listened to a six hour tape series on the subject. Again this has been a life changing experience for me.
6. In June, 2005, we moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Hattiesburg is just an hour and a half inland from the Mississippi Gulf coast...directly in the path of Hurricane Katrina. Our loses were minimal, compared to some of our neighbors. Still I did lose a lot of books and pictures, tools and various other things. Every person who survived Katrina learned some valuable life lessons. My biggest lesson was simply that we "carry too much stuff" through life with us.
7. For most of my life I have heard it said that human beings operate on only 8 percent of our brainpower and personal potential. (Albert Einstein said this). I don't know if that percentage is scientifically correct or not. But the point is well taken. I recall stories of a woman who lifted a car off her husband to save his life. In my transition I am learning to use a lot more of my potential...a LOT more!
8. In my fresh spiritual inquiries someone suggested that I take a look at Buddhism. My first opportunity to do so was a book called "Being Peace" by Thich Nhat Hanh. I believe he is a priest with origins in Vietnam. The greatest truth I am learning from Buddhism is to cherish the moment and live fully in the present.
9. Finally I have a friend named Chris, here in Hattiesburg. He and I have talked for hours and have encouraged each other along our individual paths. One time he asked me, "Bob, how could you move so quickly from being a Baptist pastor of 42 years, to thinking so differently now?" I pondered that question for many days before I realized the answer: I was never fully convinced of the truths I defended so fiercely all those years. Thank you, Chris, for asking the right questions. Then Chris invited me to a little Unitarian-Universal congregation here. He thought I would like the way they think. He was so right!
Some Religions Comparisons:
Let's take a look at four spiritual disciplines. Reiki is not a religion per se, but it could be. Below I have outlined some of the basic precepts of each discipline. For this article I am providing more details of Reiki and of Christianity.
The Five Reiki Admonitions:
Just for Today,
1. Don't get angry
2. Don't be grievous...worried
3. Be diligent
4. Express your thanks
5. Be kind to others
"Just for today" is the big point. Live in the moment. Be present in this very moment of your life. Remember, it is all you have for sure.
How do you explain Reiki to your friends who inquire? William Rand suggests that you formulate a simple statement. It might be something like this: "Reiki is an oriental technique for relaxation that also promotes healing. It is done through touch. A warm and soothing energy flows from the hands into the client. This promotes relaxation and releases tension."
Meanwhile you will always want to recall a basic precept of Reiki. "What is meant to be will be." (Christianity has a similar belief, but many Christians fail to grasp it.) Some people won't be interested in Reiki at all. For them Reiki would likely have little or no effect. Others will be amazed at the actual healing they experience.
Always with Reiki, YOU are not the one making it happen. Healing comes from God. You are just a vessel...an instrument of Reiki, and the spirit guides who effect healing.
Reiki is one of the rare disciplines that does not deplete your energy. The more Reiki you give, the more you receive...in fact whenever you are giving Reiki you are receiving it. Isn't that wonderful! Here's a good story. Last night I was beaming Reiki to my local Reiki Master. She had minor surgery yesterday. I have not yet been attuned to Reiki level two. So I don't have access to the distance symbol yet. Still I wanted to care for her by beaming her Reiki. I have practiced some beaming before. After I had beamed Reiki to her for maybe fifteen minutes, I placed my palms together to strengthen my vibrations before applying Reiki to myself. I did not feel the typical pulsation and heat.
My conclusion? I believe that trying (enthusiastically) to beam Reiki to my friend without the distance symbol did in fact deplete my Reiki energy. Within about thirty minutes the normal Reiki response returned to my palms. I look forward to the level two attunement, next week.
Four of the basic precepts of Buddhism:
1. Loving kindness...to bring happiness to all beings
2. Compassion...to defend others from suffering
3. Appreciative joy...clear minded gratitude for the good things
4. Equanimity...to bring an even-minded sacred attitude towards all others
Seven principles of Unitarian-Universalism:
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person
2. Justice, equality, and compassion in human relations
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all
7. Respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part
Some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:
The first four commandments establish one basic idea: We should worship only one God: Jehovah
That leaves six commandments to address the relationships of people to people:
5. Honor your parents
6. Do not kill
7. Do not commit adultery
8. Do not steal
9. Do not lie
10. Do not covet
The most basic precept of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is the only way into eternal life, and that all who fail to trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will be eternally separated from God. Jesus died to atone for the sins of humanity. He arose from the dead to join his father, God in Heaven. The Bible alone is the unique and exclusive truth. It is without error. Every other religious writing on earth is therefore wrong.
Christians believe that God knows everything in advance (Psalm 139: 16). I believe this too. Here's my question: Why would God knowingly allow two thirds of his human creation to burn in hell? Christianity comprises only one third of humanity. That leaves 4 billion people alive today doomed to hell!
It is not my intention to offend the staunch faith of my Christian friends. If Christianity in its purest form is working for you I am happy for you. Christianity may be 100 percent true. But for me I have some questions.
Of the four disciplines we mentioned, only Christianity requires people to submit to their God. The other religions allow and encourage the individual to find his or her own way.
Consider the possibility that Jehovah God is not the only God...that he is not even the top God. In the vastness of the universe there may be other Gods...maybe millions of them! Perhaps Jehovah is only the God appointed over Christianity. If so, the Bible is the unique and exclusive truth for Christians. But maybe "God" has other plans for the other 4 billion souls who inhabit our planet today. If the Bible is totally true these 4 billion are doomed to an eternal hell, separated from God
It is very difficult for me to believe that Jehovah would allow two-thirds of his human creation to be born, knowing in advance they would burn in hell. If in fact he does this, then it is very difficult for me to believe he is a God of love. I'm just asking some obvious questions here.
So what do I believe? Let me repeat my earlier statement. I am in the middle of breathtaking transitions! I wouldn't trade places with a king or an emperor! Tomorrow I will not be where I am today. I celebrate this fact! Remember? All we have is now. If we are fortunate enough to wake up tomorrow, all we will have is another now.
Here is what I believe now. The human spirit is immortal. It lives forever. When it leaves planet earth it goes to god's spirit world. It will not be punished there. If the soul needs "rehab" that's what it will get. Then in time the spirit will have an opportunity to return to earth for another life, and with it another opportunity to serve and to learn. (I believe the biblical teaching about hell is symbolic...if we fail in our lives we make this "hell" or "lake of fire" for ourselves. I do not believe there is a literal hell.)
I believe that my thirst for knowledge is one of the most joyful parts of my life. In a mere 64 years I have learned that I don't know a FRACTION of what I thought I did. May it be written on my tombstone, like they said of the wise one of old, "Gladly would he learn and gladly teach."
I do not believe the Bible is without error. I do not believe it is the unique and only source of finding God. Let's face it. There are two kinds of ignorance. The first one is simply not knowing. You can correct this one if you desire to. Just look it up. The second type of ignorance is not knowing, and not knowing that you don't know. Many Christians are guilty of this second type of ignorance.
If you still believe the Bible is without error, consider this:
1. The Bible tells masters to treat their slaves with kindness. Is that the eternal truth we want to believe? I don't think so. The Bible was wrong on the subject of slavery.
2. The Bible tells a woman that she must submit to her husband and that she should not assume leadership over men. Pardon me. Let's ask Condoleezza Rice, Ophra Winfrey or the Queen of England. The Bible was wrong on the subject of women's rights.
3. The Bible tells us that homosexuality is a personal choice and a sinful life style. Look it up. Homosexuality is genetic. The percentage of gay people has been consistent in every civilization since the dawn of time. Even a percentage of higher animals are gay. Tell me those animals chose their sexuality. We do not CHOOSE our sexuality. We awaken to it. The only people who get to choose their sexuality are bisexual people. The Bible was wrong on the subject of homosexuality. I think conservative Christians are the only group on the planet who still believe homosexuality is a choice.
Blatant ignorance is one of the few luxuries still affordable to the common man. If you insist that the Bible is without error, you choose to stick your head in the sand. That is your right, unless you hold an office of leadership. Pastors, presidents, and leaders who influence the lives of others can NOT afford the luxury of blatant ignorance! It is a dire offense. It can cause untold harm. It should result in removal from leadership.
Conclusion: All of us who teach about religion or write about religion are seeking to know the truths of God. (This includes the writers of the Bible.) Christianity is one of those rare minority groups who believe they have found the ultimate truths, exclusive of every other religion on the planet. How arrogant! Where is the evidence that the Bible is the only way? I'm sorry. The ONLY such evidence is within the Bible itself. This is a very weak position for argument.
To make matters worse Christianity is hell bent on "saving" everybody from hell. Pun intended. Not only is this arrogant, it is aggressive. A Christian can feel quite guilty if he is NOT attempting to "witness to" his friends. In fact a Christian can feel quite guilty about doing ANYTHING he feels does not please his God. Here is a mystery. If we "write" our own religions and "create" our own images of God, why did the writers of Christianity make it so hard for us?
The Bible is a marvelous book to live by. It is not the ONLY book to live by, but it is certainly one of the better ones. If we do our part, the Bible will serve us well. What is our part? We must pick and choose the precepts from the Bible that help us and make our lives better. We must reject other portions that would lead us away from being our best. And we must (above all) realize that we do NOT have the monopoly on truth.
Truth is very deep. It is often evasive. We should keep our minds open. Our entire lives should be a quest for truth. The day we say, "Here I stand...I have found the truth, the only truth, the exclusive truth...everybody else's truth is a lie." That is the day we stick our heads in the sand. From that day forward we will no longer search for truth. If truth comes knocking at our door we won't answer, because we think we already know it.
I repeat. The common man can afford that kind of blatant ignorance. Leaders cannot.