Reflections of a poet, preacher, and contemplative activist

Different Roads

63880_456334967737818_2081127342_nOn Facebook recently I posted this quote from the Dalai Lama and commented that I wish more Christians believed this about people of other faith traditions. I agree with something Bishop John Shelby Spong said: “God is not a Christian. God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist. I honor my tradition. I walk through my tradition. But I don’t believe my tradition defines God. It only points me to God.”

After posting the above photo a friend commented, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). This friend considers this a definitive statement with no ambiguity. Another Facebook friend, my niece Kaitlynn, agreed that “God speaks very clearly through scripture and specifically in John 14:6 about how to be reconciled and receive salvation.” She didn’t see any other way to interpret that verse.

Facebook is many things, but perhaps it is not the best place to carry on a theological dialogue! However, because I want my Facebook friends (and relatives) to know that I respect and care about them, I offered the following response:

For me following Jesus is about trying to see the world through his eyes of mercy and relating to others with compassion more than it is about adhering to a particular set of beliefs. I believe in Jesus – it’s just that I don’t think my belief saves me. Christians often confuse faith and a faithful life with belief. I think of faith as trust in God. To confess “Jesus saves” is to acknowledge that we are not saved by a creed, a set of spiritual laws, or a particular view of scripture. We enter salvation by placing our ultimate trust in the Source of our life and Ground of our being. Nor are we saved so that we can personally enjoy a happy eternal future. Our lives are saved from meaninglessness and self-centeredness and saved for the purpose of living for God and loving the world that God loves.

The early Christian movement of the first few centuries was all about taking care of one another, showing radical hospitality to strangers, and being a countercultural witness of the power of God. God is much bigger than the Bible, and Jesus’ message of salvation goes way beyond individual concerns to address the whole of God’s creation and all the systems that we take for granted that have nothing whatsoever in common with God’s kingdom or Jesus’ way.

The gospels are human documents written decades after Jesus’ death expressing how particular evangelists understood Jesus. The gospels are not verbatim transcripts of historical events so much as they are stories of how the pre-Easter Jesus changed peoples’ lives and how the post-Easter Jesus continued to reveal the nature of God’s power in the world – the power of self-giving love and unconditional acceptance. They are meant to point us to the God of Jesus, the God in Jesus. The goal of the evangelists was to have their hearers receive the good news and permit God’s grace and power to transform their lives, and through them to transform their world.

The gospel of John includes many “I am” statements on the lips of Jesus. Jesus claims to be true bread, a gate, a good shepherd, the vine, and the light of the world, and I affirm by faith the truth in these claims. But they are metaphors, not statements of literal fact. In many ways they speak of a mystical relationship that exists through faith, which itself is a gift from God, lest anyone should boast.

So … I choose to see the Christ of the gospels as someone whose love embraces the whole of humanity and all of creation, and that choice moves me beyond self-interest in my own personal future to seek to embrace the whole world that is loved by God.

In this religiously pluralistic world, where people of many traditions seek the sacred and long to know God, I am helped by something New Testament scholar Marcus Borg wrote in his book The Heart of Christianity: “To say ‘Jesus is the only way’ is also the language of devotion. It is the language of gratitude and love. It is like language used by lovers, as when we say to our beloved, ‘You’re the most beautiful person in the world.’ Literally? Most beautiful? Really? Such language is the poetry of devotion and the hyperbole of the heart, but it is not doctrine. . . . [He concludes,] We can sing our love songs to Jesus with wild abandon without needing to demean other religions.”

Again, I respect those who don’t share my views, and I in no way question your faith or devotion to Jesus. I too seek to follow Jesus in my life, and my spiritual path has led me to see the meaning of faith in a different light. I trust we can still be friends.

Words (c) 2012 Mark Lloyd Richardson


  1. Donna Ross

    Mark, very well said! Donna

  2. Pastor Mark, here is yet another of your writings that brings bright tears to my eyes. Your viewpoint helps me feel understood, that while I identify as a Christian, I accept and celebrate all paths to God. I celebrate the concept of One Family, and I thank you for this eloquent writing.
    With deep gratitude for you and the lovely work that you do,

    • Gina, God bless you. You are a voice for tolerance and peace in this world that knows far too much hatred, misunderstanding, and fear. Thanks for valuing our spiritual friendship and sharing my blog with others. Peace, Mark

  3. Reblogged this on Professions for PEACE and commented:
    This is yet another example of the wonderful spirit of inclusiveness to be found at DreamPrayAct. This wise author, Mark, has put into words so eloquently the feelings I experience in my heart. I am sure you will enjoy his post as we contemplate this special season, and always remember the REASON for the season. Let us remember how Jesus lived and breathed inclusivity. With gratitude to Mark. Blessings, Gina

  4. I find it interesting that you express authority in your opinion regarding the miracle of the assembled scripture as if to dismiss the very obvious recorded professions of Christ to be the fulfillment of all Old Testament scripture. To be God with us. Not a god, or a man with a god that is equal in all, but the fulfillment of Gods an to redeem us from the state of sin which is more than a state of self centeredness but rather a state of desperation from God, the giver and preserver of life and eternity. Jesus said, before Abraham was, I Am which John clearly recorded for all to understand. He claimed to be God. He claimed to be The way, the Truth, the life. Who other in any other profound organized recording of religious literature has ever made such a statement and was slain for it? You take Christ off the cross and dismiss the power of such a gift of grace by compromising Him with the rest of the world. I understand you wanting to bridge a gap and abolish Issues of religions and their man made disparities, yet clear logic and good rational cannot make Truth everything, nor can it be relative. God is truth and Christ claimed to be God. Believe it or dismiss it, but it is wrong to rationalize it. Just my opinion. Thanks for letting me share.

    • Mark, I wish I would have allowed my emotions to settle and address this blog post intelligently and rationally.

      I strongly understand the arguments to the authenticity of scripture. I myself have un answered questions regarding the Bible as it is traditionally taught and may be taken at face value. The issues that it can literally create regarding truth and all it’s perception. Coming from a Jewish background, the one thing I have never questioned is the very implicit authoritative message it contains regarding mankind’s need for a savior and the message of that fulfillment. No one man could have metaphorically coordinated the oldest collection of historic litarature to carry such an objective message, even if the literal text was written by the hands of man. – The Bible records that it was inspired (breathed if you will) by the spirit of God Almighty.

      Our enemy is the sin that abides in our flesh and our will to attach to it and identify ourselves to it rather than allow God to save us from this condition. The Bible clearly and authoritatively states that only God is able to save us from this state of being. From sin and the ultimate final spiritual death – Separation from the eternal Almighty. There is no other clearly stated message that is reinforced by the complete text other than this message. You may take wisdom to enhance your life here on earth, but the Bible clearly warns of another destiny that we are all threatened by without accepting Gods gift of grace through Christ who clearly claimed to be the God of the old testament.

      Even Buddhism provides a description of mans misery and provides a path of discipline so one can rid themselves of the cause. — Sankharas – the 6 classes of volition. Yet this path is based on what one can do for themselves, a path of self denial and humility so that one may rid self of the final sankhara and become enlightened even as Buddha literature claims he achieved. All religions leave the task of man achieving peace and bliss in the life after this life up to man.

      The Bible says God favored Abraham and chose him to reveal this plan and promise of God to us because of Abraham’s Faith. What was different about Abraham’s faith then the faith of any other man or nation. Abraham understood the hopeless condition he was in. Abraham through God was able to see the disparity in his sinful condition and the ideal pureness of God. Abraham trusted God that he would provide the ultimate sacrafice, not of a sheep on the alter, but of Himself on a cross.

      Watering down the Truth of Christ does not allow others to access the Truth of God so they also will be able to receive this wonderful Gift of grace.

      I wish I was able to break down all the walls of religion so that God and the Truth of Christ could clearly be seen and received by all. Yet, God is just and is no respecter of persons. His ways are not my ways, His thoughts are higher than mine.

      Your post creates separation from those who believe as I do – intellectually, informatively, and with much thought and research into the matter as it pertains to my eternity. It discriminates against those who are convinced Christ is God, Who literally believe that the Bible, although not written by the hand of God was breathed by the spirit of God, coordinated by the authority of the Almighty despite the shortcomings of men, and is more than metaphorical and historical text — The spirit of God lives throughout it’s pages.

      There is a proverb that reads. It is the Glory of God to conceal a matter and the Glory of Kings to seek it out. Perhaps God confounds us lest we pervert His truth, and he reveals Himself to us, in the humility of a truly repentant heart. Jesus did say, blessed are those who thirst for Truth, for they shall be filled.

      I wonder Mark, how you will ever rationalize a dogmatic soul like myself into the compromised blend of your religious tolerances and still see me as an equal without judgement. Another words, we both can’t be fundamentally right. Yes, we are both human and share in that, but the fundamental understanding of who Christ was is very different indeed. Was Christ the Almighty God, or man with the universal god in his possession as modern Unitarianism teaches. If your answer is the second option, you are left alone to save yourself and are without the gift of a savior.

      • Reno, you have expressed yourself passionately and thoughtfully. Thank you.

        It really isn’t possible for me to address all that you’ve said here. I am a simple pastor in love with the God who first loved me. I am humbled every day by grace, and I know it’s not a matter of my deserving it.

        For me the underlying message of Christian scripture is that God’s grace and blessing reach the uttermost corners of the world and the innermost parts of the human heart to bring the peace and wholeness of salvation. It’s God’s initiative and action that accomplishes it all, and there is nothing we can do to stop it or change its course. God will do what God will do.

        You have a very high view of scripture and a high Christology, and I commend you. For my part, I believe that the Bible “contains” the Word of God, meaning that the truth and life and beauty of God’s Word emerges haltingly from humanly constructed pages. I don’t believe that all parts of scripture are of equal value to the life of a postmodern Christian. The authors were inspired by God, but they weren’t taking dictation or simply parroting what God told them to say. They were listening to God. They were relating to God. They were arguing and pleading with God. They were doing their best to love and serve God. They were telling the stories of how God had inspired trust and hope in them and altered their lives from the inside out and caused them to see the world from a perspective more in line with the grace they had received. Based on the nature of scripture it seems that God cares most about relationship with those created in God’s image. In other words, it’s not about doctrinal or theological purity, it’s about trusting in the goodness of God and living in the Spirit of Christ.

        You mention that my post “creates separation” from those who believe as you do. You even say I am discriminating against you and others like you. This makes me sad, but I am not sure what I can do about it. I didn’t set out to draw lines of separation. That’s not what I’m about. However, it seems to me that any time any person states an opinion we are defining ourselves over against other opinions and there is no way to avoid becoming aware of how different we are. We are shaped by different needs and life experiences. In the end, I don’t think it’s necessary for all Christians to think alike on all matters of faith.

        I guess I need to leave it there for now. God bless you and keep you. Peace, Mark

      • Mark, I agree on 99% of what you wrote in this response. I am having a hard time reconciling the vague reference that Christ was one whom had found God as we all are able to do, yet it seemed to me there was a watering down of the fact that Christ claimed to be God. Even if this was manipulated by a organized will of the disciples and the church that followed, it could not have been manipulated by the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, even Moses. Jesus was not able to manipulate his place of birth, his genealogical history, and multiple other fulfilled prophesies. No other man in the history of religion has so many credible recordings validating other texts written by authors from different geological locations and at different times. There is little to doubt that the Bible refers to Christ as God, not a god, but Almighty God manifest in the flesh come to die in our place that we may be justified. I agree that there isn’t anything we can do to earn salvation, to deserve the grace by which God loves us, as you wrote “It’s God’s initiative and action that accomplishes it all” But we are commissioned as recipients of that Grace to represent God, and Christ even as He has commanded us to do. This thing you call the spirit of Christ is not a metaphor to guide us, it is alive and breathed in us through Christ who is in all. The message is that nothing can live apart from Christ. Our commission is to speak the Truth in Love and trust God to do the rest. We are not to mediate a watered down or compromised version of the truth. Oh that I wish it were so, that all religions lead to salvation, that even the most sincere intent and volition of humankind would lead to eternal life. Christ was very thorough in His teachings. For this very reason many died brutal deaths. Fed to lions, burned in the bellies of giant brass idols, crucified upside down. Even Christ stated that He did not come to make peace on earth but to bring division. This division he spoke of is the disparity between God’s Truth and Man’s will which Christ warned leads to death. Holy means to be separated – God is Holy yet He came to live among sinners so that we could be redeemed into that Holiness from which he came, but for now, we are ambassadors of His Truth, come what may, we are not to speak with a goal to make friends. We are to speak with the goal that the Truth of God, His gift of grace, the fellowship of Christ in all His holiness would come and abide in us. That fellowship with the Almighty could and would be restored through Christ and Christ alone. I love that, though I may be hated, spit upon, or labeled as a closed minded primitive man, I know, this message is the message of Truth. It is the double edged sword that divides the flesh from the spirit. In eternal hindsight, it is all there is worth talking about. There is only one God, He is not relative to our perception, He is absolute, our sins seperate us from Him and the bliss of His fellowship and Love, and Christ is the bridge back, Christ was God incarnate in flesh come to accomplish a job He promised He would because only He was able and worthy to accomplish such a task. And the logic of this Truth renders us justified with all intellect to infer that only faith in Christ can save a man from his sins and return him into holy fellowship with God. For those who do not yet know, I trust in the loving justice of God to judge all hearts according to his divine justice. But for you and I Mark, we are called to boldly speak of this wonderful gift of grace without compromise, without watering down it’s message. It and it alone has the power of salvation to everyone whom believes it’s message. I trust the duty of judging a mans heart to God, yet, I am called to represent this Truth as clearly as I possibly can, the rest is up to God.

        Merry Christmas my friend.

      • We may affirm that God is Truth, yet we cannot define precisely what that truth entails. The witness of scripture is that God is also Spirit, Love, Beauty, Breath of life, and Source of newness. God is Ultimate Mystery, beyond our understanding. If we believe otherwise, there is a good chance we are creating God in our own image.
        In the gospels, Christ is never coercive. Christ is always invitational. We are invited on a journey toward fuller communion with God, and while Christ is companion and teacher on that journey for me, I believe that people on other spiritual paths are also able to come into the presence of the Divine. The winds of the Spirit blow where they will.
        Wishing you a blessed Christmas, Mark

  5. Very, very well said. Thanks for posting this. Passing it on.

    • Thank you for visiting my blog. I appreciate your comment and that you are passing this post on to others. Peace, Mark

      • My pleasure. It’s worth sharing.

  6. sounds reasonable :). This is just lovely: “Such language is the poetry of devotion and the hyperbole of the heart, but it is not doctrine. . . .”. In my opinion, the moment belief becomes doctrine, all joy and truth is sucked out of it.

    • Thanks for your comment and for visiting my blog. There is a place for doctrine in the life of the church and in the experience of believers. For example, for me a doctrine about the nature of God reveals that God is love. I accept this as a matter of faith, some might say a doctrine of faith, and it infiltrates the way I see everything. But I agree with you that doctrine for the sake of keeping everyone in line is not a source of joy or truth. So I see it from both sides I suppose. Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog and commenting. Peace, Mark

      • Perhaps ‘dogma’ was the better word :)

      • That sounds about right to me.

  7. Beautifully expressed, thoughtfully presented; a truly wonderful post. Thankyou. Am reblogging.

    • Thanks for following my blog, Stephanie, and for sharing it with your readers. I appreciate your encouragement. Blessings, Mark

  8. Reblogged this on livinginthemonasterywithoutwallsdotcom and commented:
    This is a beautifully expressed and thoughtfully presented post; and I hope it resonates with many of you too. Dreamprayact is a blog I follow and encourage you to take a look too…Stephanie

  9. Reblogged this on Bertha's Blog.

  10. saymber

    “So … I choose to see the Christ of the gospels as someone whose love embraces the whole of humanity and all of creation, and that choice moves me beyond self-interest in my own personal future to seek to embrace the whole world that is loved by God.” This is the Jesus of my understanding too and I think how often he would facepalm himself seeing all that has been done and said in his name through the centuries. As a pagan (raised Roman Catholic), a person no longer flying under any banner, it is this Jesus who I respect. For me Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion.

    • Thanks for reading my post and sharing your thoughts. Jesus’ message goes way beyond the walls of the church and continues to inspire many. It sounds as though his inclusive message still resonates for you. Peace, Mark

      • saymber

        :-) indeed it does.

  11. Beautifully expressed. Your message is wise and wonderful. Thank you.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Linda. I appreciate your kind words. Blessings, Mark

  12. A wonderful explanation and one that echoes my own thoughts and beliefs. Your love and humility resound through your words – a living example of Jesus himself. Jesus said we should love God with all our hearts and love our neighbour as ourselves. There are many people living these words in their lives, many of whom would not call themselves Christians. And there are many so-called Christians whose hearts are far removed from Love. Surely God looks on the heart – I cannot see that He would ever judge His beloved children. I suppose it all depends on your view of who God is. My God is a God of unconditional love, my beloved Father, who adores us, His very sacred children. My own personal tenet is: “Let Love be your path. Let Love be your Guide.”

    • First John says: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Since it’s clear that people experience God or understand God in different ways, there needs to be a humility to our love that says it’s okay to walk on different paths. In fact, it may even be helpful to walk a mile or two in the other’s shoes. I like your personal tenet. It resonates with one of the most effective sermons I have ever preached (based on listeners’ responses) titled “Love Took My Hand,” in which I replaced the word God with the word Love and spoke of my personal experience, in good times and bad, sometimes after the fact, of knowing that Love was walking with me. Blessings on you, Lizzie, and thanks for your thoughtful comment. Mark

  13. WilliamB

    The sincere and devoted Christian realizes an aspect of God. The sincere and devoted Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist each realize an aspect of God. The pursuit of God is very much possible in any of these spiritual paths. The pursuit of God is beyond all of these spiritual paths. Over many lifetimes, one can walk through all these paths refining a different aspect of self, a different facet of wholeness of the soul.

    I AM is a name of God: I AM THAT I AM.
    I AM — the way (God is the way).
    I AM — the truth (God is the truth).
    I AM — the life (God is the life).
    In the Bible, Jesus doesn’t say that he is the Father, the I AM.
    In the Essene writings, Jesus doesn’t say that he is the Mother, the I AM.
    I AM THAT I AM — Father- Mother God.
    Jesus is always pursuing oneness with Father – Mother, I AM.

    Jesus is the Christ. To be the Christ is to be beyond being a son or daughter of God. To be a son or daughter of God is to be beyond being a child of God. In their pursuit of the Father – Mother, the Child of God, the Son and Daughter of God must become the Christ. There is no other way.

    For the Sons and Daughters of God and the Children of God, their sense of connectedness to the Father – Mother can change from moment to moment. Sometimes they experience being in the heart of God’s light and love and other times experience abandonment and darkness. Much is determined by the degree of devotion a soul has to God and in times of distraction how quickly the soul focuses its loving attention back to God. To be Christ is to be one with the Father – Mother — always. This is not an intellectual or emotional state. There is a definite bonding of the soul to God. It is forged over lifetimes.

    To be the Christ is not the end of all growth of the soul. There are no endpoints on the spiritual path. The soul that has become Christ still pursues Father – Mother gaining greater and greater awareness of God.

    Buddha said I AM — awake.

    What is beyond being awake?

    • You have provided much to ponder. For me, the spiritual path is about seeking God amid the ordinary events of life. It is an experience of deeper communion with God through traditional means of grace like prayer, worship, the sacraments, and scripture, and also through the interruptions of the Spirit that come through the celebration of friendship, the blessing of community, the beauty of nature, and the soul of music. Being awake to the fullness of life that is placed before us is the first necessity.
      Thanks for your comment. Peace, Mark

  14. My what an inspiring post x I will have to spend time reading all the replies x but I found it wonderful to think that a blog can reach such heights of meaning that touch the very heart of what we believe.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. I’ve also spent some time on yours, and appreciate the spirit with which you write. Blessings, Mark

  15. MARK! This is soooooo well said! As a practicing Catholic AND Buddhist AND yogini with masters degrees in clinical social work AND theology from Boston College…your words so resonate with me! I want to print this out and share it with folks at Gtown U. where I work! In my own time of meditation and prayer, my yoga practice and devotional practice to the Great Mother, and my vipassana meditation practice have only DEEPENED my intimacy with how I image the Divine. My Buddhist meditation practice, my yoga asanas all “sing a love song” to Jesus. Yes, my beliefs or path only point me TO God. They do not define God. I leave that to God to do. Who am I to define God? NO ONE has the monopoly on God.

    I remember a Zen story…a student goes to the wise older Zen teacher and asks, “Master, what is it like after we die?” The master says, “I don’t know. The student says, “But I thought you were a master!” And the master says, “Yeah, but I’m not a dead one.”

    I realize that whenever I am holding on to anything too tightly that I react and hold on to it even tighter when it is challenged, even a deeeply held belief, I am in the snarls of attachment. And that is ego. That is not God.

    Mark, you have such a gentle way of writing. Such a gentle way of speaking the truth of your heart, with clarity and regard for others. Thank you for sharing this post. I would like to share it with some of my theologian friends.

    Many blessings to you,

    • Lisa,
      I love the Zen story! You are so kind and your words so heartfelt. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience of how your various spiritual practices all come together to nurture your mind, body, and soul.
      You are certainly welcome to share this post with friends as you wish.
      Grace and peace to you, Mark

      • Thank you, Mark. Many blessings to you. I look forward to reading more from you. Lisa

  16. “I choose to see the Christ of the gospels as someone whose love embraces the whole of humanity and all of creation, and that choice moves me beyond self-interest in my own personal future to seek to embrace the whole world that is loved by God.” Thanks for this post, Mark–just what I needed to read. I really appreciate your words.

  17. Really well written. Yes…who are we to judge? I know that I am in the palm of God’s hand and no one, no “thing” can snatch me out….but I can not judge someone else’s faith walk. It’s not my job to judge….I’ll leave that to the trinity. it is my job to shine. Thank you for encouraging others to shine!

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