I saw a news story today that bothered me a bit. Apparently, the United States Air Force is threatening to not let a soldier serve if he does not agree to violate his own beliefs. What are his beliefs? He’s an atheist.
A person who does not believe in God. That used to bother me and make me a little sad at one time in my life. “How can you look at all the majestic and wonder of the world and the Universe and not believe there is a God?” I thought. Then I would comfort myself in thinking that this person probably was still searching for his or her beliefs and they would eventually find God. This year I had a revelation that opened my eyes and heart to what it can mean to be an atheist. More on that later.
I was raised a Christian. I went to a variety of different churches growing up. When I was 20 years old I sat down and read the whole bible front to back. I discovered I needed more than just the Judeo-Christian bible to grow spiritually.
That is when I began exploring Buddhism. Through the years I have become a student of religions. I am always listening to and reading about what other people believe. Much of what I learn does not resonate with me, but other parts of what I hear become like missing puzzle pieces that connect with ideas that have resonated with me. You can say I am a spiritual explorer picking and choosing the pieces that fit me best.
And why not? Why does anyone have to align themselves with only one belief, one dogma? How can anyone say one religion is the only truth and all others are living a lie or a partial truth? I love the story about The blind men and the elephant. Each man can only feel part of the elephant and thinks they know the whole truth based on the little section they have access to. We only have access to parts of stories. The more we explore the more we can learn.
But the question I used to have in my mind was “where do atheist fit into the story?” If they do not believe in God what can I learn from them? For a long time, I assumed they were people who believed only in science and nothing else. I assumed that perhaps they had something happen in their life that made them close the doors to the idea that there was a God. It was sad.
Then, one evening after a huge rainstorm had passed by leaving a field in Atlanta wet and muddy, my 2 boys and I stood in the humid air with a crowd of others who were waiting for a music festival to resume. It was the Candler Park music festival and the next person on stage was going to be an English chap named Frank Turner. He began to play and we began to dance around – not really knowing his songs yet and therefore listening closely in order to learn more about this chap.
Then he began singing a song to the tune of a church hymn. But the catch phrase of this catchy song was “There is no God.”
Below are a few lyrics that stood out for me. :
But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t gonna see us through,
If we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time,
Then in the here and now then we can try and do things right.
We’d be our own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve
There is no God,
So clap your hands together,
There is no God,
No heaven and no hell.
But there is no God,
We’re all in this together,
There is no God,
So ring that victory bell.
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve”…then please let that man fly and stand up for what he believes.
4350 North Point Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30022
This Sunday I ventured to the mega-church that is near my home, North Point Community Church.
Getting into and out of the parking lots of this church is very similar to getting into and out of the parking lots at Disney. There are lots of people directing traffic, lots of signs of who should go where and cones to guide you along the way, and if you end up in a parking lot that is far from the entrance of the church they have shuttle buses that will pick you up. You might think this beginning experience is intimidating, but it runs so smoothly that it really sets a positive tone for what to expect next.
Since I made a point to get there early I was able to get into a closer parking lot. As I walked in wearing a dress and heels I was pleased to see the majority of the people walking in wearing casual clothing including jeans. As soon as I entered there was a man at a podium to welcome first-time visitors. I introduced myself and received some information about the church to take with me. He explained to me that the East Auditorium was where the live presentation took place and the West Auditorium is where you watched the service on the big screen. I was early enough to get into the East Auditorium, in fact, the nice man even offered to find me a seat up front. I declined because I want to wander around and find a comfortable spot for myself. By the time the service started, both auditoriums were full with standing room only.
I ended up sitting right behind the cameras and control board. I figured they HAD to have the best advantage so sitting behind them would give me a pretty good advantage.
Community Church is a great description of this church. If you want to feel connected and get to know your neighbors, there are an overwhelming number of ways to do that through this church. The opening speakers continuously welcomed new attendees, as well as encouraged people, get involved in the many circles (groups) that are available.
From today’s perspective, I do not see much diversity in the audience, it was overwhelmingly white, which was so painfully obvious when their amazing band rocked it out on stage and the congregation mostly stood there listening.
The entire service was a well-organized and though- out production. From the way they brought the two auditoriums “together” by having a jumbo Jinga competition between the two rooms, to the way they played a relevant, entertaining and distracting video for everyone to watch while the band’s equipment was moved off stage the pastor’s props, two large closets full of clothes and a screen, were moved onstage.
In the opening, it was made clear multiple times that the mission of the church is to lead you into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so I was prepared for an in your face Jesus message. I was pleasantly surprised by what was delivered.
This service was the 2nd in a series of talks titled “Breathing Room.” The focus of this talk was on how you are spending your time. Breathing Room was defined as the space between your current pace and your limits. One closet on stage was packed full of clothes that were disorganized, the other was neat with enough space to sort through what was in there. The talk was based on Psalm 90: 1-6 10-12. I did not have a bible with me, just my notebook, but as I looked around it seemed no one had their bible with them. The service was delivered by the Senior Pastor, Andy Stanley (I have to say, what a great name!)
Andy took the message as written in the Bible and interpreted it to awe God’s infiniteness compared to the blip of time we are here on earth with a warning to be careful with the time you have allotted.
Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom
was reinterpreted to teach us that our days are numbered.
He talked about Bronnie Ware’s article The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying focusing the top 2 regrets.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Andy then turned his presentation to what he knew our Monkey Minds were says (monkey mind is a term I acquired from my time with Unity Church, not Andy’s term).
Andy said I know what you are thinking. You are thing If I don’t do as much as I can I will
– not make it (what is it?)
– fall behind (behind who?)
– be poor (how do you define poor?)
– be accepted (by who?)
We tend to spend our life chasing something we never even defined.
Overall I found the church very welcoming, and even though they are upfront that their mission is to lead you to a relationship with Jesus Christ, I felt like they allowed people the “breathing room” to define for themselves what that relationship is and the path to get there.
4255 Sandy Plains Rd,
Marietta, GA 30066
It makes sense that I would start this journey at the church that I feel most comfortable.
Unity has a Christian foundation, but welcomes people “wherever you are on your spiritual path.”
There are no images of Christ on the walls, no cross at the alter. Instead, you will find banners with the words; Joy, Wisdom, Peace, Unity, Faith, Light.
I have come to many services here and have adopted their New Year’s Eve burning bowl tradition as a family tradition. On this particular day, Carole O’Connell the founding minister of this church is the guest speaker.
The guest singer on this day sings a song of one power with lyrics that express that although we may be different in many ways, we are the same in our heart.
In today’s sermon, Carole references the Mayan calendar and the idea that the energy is shifting, systems are breaking down and there is an opportunity to create new systems. She does not offer any specific examples.
She says that in the past the dominant feeling has been fear, but that we can change that to cooperation for the betterment of the whole. She points out that when people get sucked into the fear of things, such as the end of the world or the fiscal cliff, we become part of the problem.
Carole shares her personal path with the congregation and the 3 mantras that she lives by;
1. Life is consciousness – We live in a spiritual Universe, we are spiritual beings in a human body. We are the presence of a creative God. She talks about how we are all part of one, we are not separate from our enemy and therefore we must always have compassion for others because we are all one.
2. Gratitude is the most important prayer – The fastest way to get yourself out from “feeling down” is to count your blessings. But you don’t want to be thankful just when you need a lift. It needs to be a habit.
3. Trust the process of life – means no matter what is happening we are trusting that all things are working for the good in our lives. And when you say “I don’t know” you become receptive to solutions.
Carole suggests that we get our ego out of the way and allow spirit to move through you.
She closed the service with 3 questions for us to ponder as we approach the new year.
1. Who do you want to be in 2013?
2. How would you like your life to be different in 2013?
3. How can you love yourself more in 2013?