How I Became a Christian Universalist

I’ve come to a point in my life where I have realized a very deep truth about my own life.

The cynicism, apathy, and lethargy that I picked up and thought was so cool in high school never was, never has been, and never will be.

I’m not sure where it started.  Sometime around the age of fourteen, following me on through the rest of high school, on through the the first not one, but not two, but three failed attempts at college before I finally got my damn act together and decided to go back at the age of twenty-three (four years later, baby, and I’m graduating with B.S. in business administration in three weeks!). I suppose that the twenty-third year was when my cynicism and apathy begin to break.  There was beginning to form in my mind the spark of an idea, that life was actually, really, very important.  This was punctuated by the loss of my younger cousin in a car crash.  She was just sixteen.

I realized that life was short.  That death wasn’t just something that happened to the old.  And as much as I loved this young woman who I considered my spiritual sister (oh, the conversations the two of us had!  She was so wise for her age!), I also realized that this truly meant that none of us are ever, EVER, EVER guaranteed a tomorrow.

I dove into philosophy, finding that I especially loved the work of Plato.  I read books about Buddhism.  I studied world religions.  I stopped moping around over that ex-girlfriend that dumped me and dared to love again.  And I met an old friend again for the first time:  Jesus Christ.  Having been raised southern Baptist in a pretty fundamentalist church, I had gotten pretty sick of the hell-and-brimstone brand of “only us Christians are getting into heaven” brand of Christianity I had grown up with.  It had little appeal for me, as I had obviously realized that there were so many good, beautiful, kindhearted people in the world who simply weren’t Christians, whether they were Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, Muslims.  Whatever the case, how could an ever-loving god send all of these people who he created to hell?  Something just didn’t add up.

My disgust with Christianity grew even more when a certain preacher preached at my great-grandmother’s funeral and made the entire thing an attempt to guilt-trip the unsaved who might be at the funeral home that night.  “Now, not all of you will get into heaven to see Granny again.”  His exact words, when some of us, myself included, were at our most vulnerable.  I also couldn’t shake the image of a kind hearted but undoubtedly hellhound Hindu grandmother, doing exactly the same sorts of things for her grandchildren that my great-grandmother had done for me and my cousins:  watching over us while our parents worked; cooking us meals; hosting all those holiday dinners and serving as the matriarch of a clan of adoring family.

As the stars aligned in my twenty-third year, I stumbled into the work of liberal Christian theologians such as Matthew Fox, Michael Dowd, John Shelby Spong, Paul Tillich, Karen Armstrong, and others.  At the urging of an older cousin, I began to attend a small Episcopal Church where I met a cool middle aged priest who reminded me of George Harrison and who, unlike the preachers I had known growing up, seemed to be more interested in listening to what I had to say, no matter how unorthodox, than in telling me why I was wrong and why I needed to change my opinions or suffer a terrible eternal fate.

My eyes were opened to a version of Christianity I had never known.  Here was a form of worship whose ancient liturgy was older than even the oldest “Old Time Religion” we had sung about in the Baptist church I grew up and which seemed shrouded in a sacred darkness.  The first time I partook of the Eucharist, I had the epiphany that at this table, all people were equal, regardless of their socio-economic status, an increasingly radical notion.

And here was a God whose very being was, first and foremost, love.  Whose joy over his creation and whose love for ALL of his creation knew no bounds.  Whose grace could heal any spiritual wound even there were no easy answers and whose capacity for aiding the growth of human potential was unperturbed by even the hardest of questions.  This was a God that I could believe in, that I could get excited about, that I could serve by serving my fellow man.  This was a God who I felt represented the best of who we are as human beings while giving us an exalted idea toward which to chart our evolutionary progress as a species.

This was a God who would let both my Granny and that dear little Hindu grandmother of my mind’s eye join in his kingdom, and who would go out of his way to make sure that they were both equally happy there, whose infinite creativity could work through the souls of both women to make sure that they were both at home in his heaven.

And most of all, this was a God who could kill my cynicism dead in its tracks and replace it with a  joy that was only a brief prayer and a moment of meditation away.  A God who could help me through even the toughest of life’s storms by giving me a point upon which to focus, and more importantly, a spiritual awakening that has led me to believe that no matter what happened, has happened or will happen:  I am loved.

We are loved.  Everyone.  And everything.  And when you really stop and stop thinking, and just feel the experience of being truly and completely alive:  you’ll know.  There is nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing to fear.  Ever.  Except for fear, and the cynicism within ourselves and others that drives us to fear and to doubt the existence of the divinity that each of us hold within us and that was especially present in a poor carpenter from Nazareth two thousand years ago.

I know that in writing this pure testimony of my personal faith, the first time I’ve ever completely told the story of how I became a self-described Christian universalist, there will be non-believers who will call my journey illogical, unreasonable, or irrational.  That is fine.  I am also aware that there may be those Christians who will say that my universalist beliefs are heretical to Christian tradition or the Bible or what-have-you.  But I am not claiming to be right.  How arrogant that would be.  I am merely telling my story.  This is where I am.  And this is how I got here.

Whatever your path, may we all meet up a little further on down the road.

Having Things or Doing Things?

Today makes a month since my last blog post.  Truthfully, I’ve been incredibly busy between preparing to end the semester, helping my fiancee plan our wedding, and working on my new album which I hope to complete over the summer. 

For right now, I want to ask a simple question.  

Which is a better philosophy concerning material wealth?  Is it more important to have things, to own a large number of goods or to have a large sum of money; or is it more important to do things, to engage in a number of memorable experiences and activities that bring you happiness?  Or do these two things go hand in hand?  

Having things, doing things, or both?  

 

Die Laughing by Rance Garrison (or, I made a short film/music video and I’m sharing it with you.)

I have been recording and writing music since I was nine years old. I started out on a tape recorder that my mom bought me from the Dollar General and a Yamaha keyboard my Granny got me for Christmas.

After eighteen years of writing and recording songs, this is the closest I’ve ever come to the sound that I hear in my brain, and I hope that this trend will continue. I’ve poured every bit of creative energy into this one song and the short film that accompanies it. This is also my first attempt at film-making, and considering that plus the fact that I was using the super-glitchy current version of iMovie for editing, I’m incredibly pleased with the results.

If you could take the time to watch, like, comment, and share this, I would be incredibly grateful and humbled. I hope that you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed making it.

This was taken from a Facebook status update by former Star Trek actor George Takei.  I love it and wanted to share it with my followers here.  

“A 14-year old allegedly wrote this poem, apparently in the spirit of Jonathan Reed’s “Lost Generation.” As with all things on the Internet, its authenticity is in doubt, but its message is powerful.

Our generation will be known for nothing.
Never will anybody say,
We were the peak of mankind.
That is wrong, the truth is
Our generation was a failure.
Thinking that
We actually succeeded
Is a waste. And we know
Living only for money and power
Is the way to go.
Being loving, respectful, and kind
Is a dumb thing to do.
Forgetting about that time,
Will not be easy, but we will try.
Changing our world for the better
Is something we never did.
Giving up
Was how we handled our problems.
Working hard
Was a joke.
We knew that
People thought we couldn’t come back
That might be true,
Unless we turn things around

(Read from bottom to top now)”

I hear people criticize the millennial generation, my generation, quite often, especially those of us who lean more progressive in our thought.  Let’s prove ‘em wrong.  

Making Time to Be Creative

Those who have known me for sometime know that I’m a musician with a home studio set up.  The process of writing and recording music has served as one of my favorite pastimes all the way back to my childhood, when I started with a cheap battery operated tape recorder, a Yamaha keyboard from JC Penney’s that my great-grandmother bought me for Christmas, a child’s drum set from Sears that my grandmother bought me for another Christmas, and wonderful device called a Jaminator which looked sort of like a guitar and had all these pre programmed guitar samples that you could access with the push of a button.  Licks from famous guitarists like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin could be accessed by buying these little cartridges that were inserted into the side of the Jaminator.

 

Image

 

Today, I’ve upscaled my home studio recording a bit.  No, no, that’s not my home studio setup pictured, though I wish it was.  It’s certainly my dream to have a set up like that one day, but for now, I use a Tascam 2488 Neo, a Macbook Pro, Garageband, and a fairly good assortment of digital effects and instruments from Native Instruments.  Nothing too fancy, as I just simply don’t have the budget to be too fancy with anything in my life.

To date, I’ve released one “official” album, “Black Crow,” which I released via CD Baby’s digital distribution in 2012.  Sales were dismal.  Like, maybe twenty copies sold so far dismal.  But I’m still proud of the work I did.  I built something that no one else could have built, completely from scratch.  The songwriting.  The performance.  The production.  All of it was mine.  And I am proud of that.  I’ve also released several other “albums” via my bandcamp page (rancegarrison.bandcamp.com) that are collections of various material that I’ve recorded since high school, of varying degrees of quality, but I remain proud of that material for the same reasons:  when you engage in something that is a completely creative act, the world cannot take that away from you.  Sure, people can belittle it.  People can criticize it.  People can make you think that you had better just give up on it.  And you can convince yourself to do the same if you aren’t very careful.  Because when you engage in the arts, whether it’s music, or painting, or digital design, or a sculpture, or hell, even a blog, you are baring your soul for the world to see.  And sometimes, the world doesn’t want to see it, and sometimes, you might not want to see it, either.

Lately, I’ve been in the midst of both a creative high and a creative rut.  I’ve been on a creative high because my mind is constantly full of creative ideas that I want to pursue, ideas for songs, for writings, even ideas for how to go about producing other people’s work.  But I’m also a senior in college and I’m getting married this summer, so no sooner have I retreated to my home studio to begin hashing these ideas out than another responsibility has to be tackled and the creative process has to be pushed to the side for the moment.

I’m working on new material which I believe will be the best music I’ve made so far.  I have three songs for a new album completed.  They’re done, aside from mastering.  I have a dozen more written, just waiting to be recorded.

I have started a project in which I try to allow myself at least an hour a day for creative pursuits, and as life throws more and more responsibility on me, this will likely be the way I will have to create from now on as I don’t see the opportunity to quit working and become a full time musician opening up anytime soon.

Although, I am firm believer that one ought never to say never.

For now, though, you’d be surprised how much art a person can turn out just by working at it for an hour a day.

How about you other creative types who are also full time workers and/or students?  How do you still manage to keep your creativity alive while also keeping track of your other responsibilities?

On That Whole Refusing Service To Gay People Thing. . . . .

In the aftermath of this whole Arizona bill that would allow refusal of service to homosexuals based on religious grounds, I’m saddened to have seen several people cast this as an issue of “business owner” rights over the course of the past few days.  Carrying this logic to its conclusion is very dangerous.  Hospitals are private businesses.  Should a doctor be allowed to deny life saving care to a gay patient on the basis of “freedom of religion” or “business owner’s rights?”

Truthfully, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation in 2014.  Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination and all of it is wrong.  Period.  And unless you own a business and are also planning to discriminate against anyone who has ever engaged in premarital sex, had an affair, told a lie, stolen something that didn’t belong to them, or hell, done as little as envy another human being or coveted something that didn’t belong to them, then you are just discriminating against people who engage in one particular “sin.”  And according to quite a bit of Christian theology, all human beings have sinned, and therefore all are equal with no right to judge one another.

So rather than laying this at God’s feet, let’s just drop the bullshit and call it what it is:  bigotry.  And no amount of waxing patriotic about the rights of business owners or going on about how you simply cannot condone the lifestyle of someone who is “living in sin” will change that.

Love Will Always Bring You Down, and That’s All Right

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
–Matthew 7:13

 

“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
–John 18:36

 

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
–2 Corinthians 4:4

 

“Love is all you need.”
–John Lennon

 

I took the day off today.  Completely.  

In spite of the fact that I was supposed to be in class.  In spite of the fact that the mountain of work that my final semester in college has put on my shoulders.  In spite of the fact that I should have been staying busy, busy, busy all day today just to maintain some semblance of staying on top of things.  

Instead, I put it all to the side.  I spent last night hanging out with my fiancé and some of the closest friends I’ve ever had.  I spent today hanging out with them as well, and this afternoon, I accompanied my fiancé to a local tattoo shop where she got a new tattoo and I redid a piercing in one of my ears.  I consider this a good day, and I consider the occasional shirking of responsibilities a noble act, in the right circumstances.  

And in what circumstance would that be?  When we have the opportunity, in whatever small way, to strengthen the relationships that we have with those we love.  Now, obviously, we can’t do this everyday.  We can’t even do this as much as we would like.  

But I do often notice that we live in a world where people to seem to be increasingly busy, increasingly hurried, and increasingly anxious about their situation in life.  I suppose this may be nothing new, but it does seem that for some people the priority list in life seems to be career and ambitions first, then personal health including physical, spiritual, and psychological, then relationships with friends and family.

You see, the people you love will always bring you down.  They will.  They will always take your precious time, time that could be spent being productive and reaching goals and force you to give that time to them.  And you will.  Because that is what love is.  Love is the giving of the most valuable asset that any of us possess to another:  time.  And of course, we see this time as finite, because from our perspective, it is.  

As a child in Sunday school, I never understood what was meant when we were told that “The Devil is the god of this world.”  When we were told that “God’s Kingdom is not in this world.”  When we were told that “narrow is the way to salvation.”  And while many a Christian has brought themselves to believe that all this is referring to some otherworldly fate awaiting people after death, we must live that eternity is now if it is anytime, and that when we ignore those whom we love (and if we call ourselves Christians, as I do, then our mission is to love the whole world while not being a part of it, more on that in a minute) then we are denying an essential part of what it means to grasp at the divinity of Christ.  We can only serve God by serving those we love, and we are to love and forgive all.  This is stark contrast to the self-help, get-her-done culture that the Western world has developed in which the rugged individual and his or her (usually his) success is praised and worshipped above all else; where we idolize the constantly busy and successful CEO or movie star; where we are told if you dare to be poor and happy, you are a failure or worse, a leech on the rest of society that is bringing everyone around you down.  

And while career ambition is a good and lofty thing to have, it isn’t the be all end all of what our brief lives in this world are to be about.  And while I believe it is perfectly fine to own things, we must never allow ourselves to be in the frame of mind that allows our things, our wealth, our material goods or even our physical bodies, to own us, to own our will, or to own our souls.  And I write this knowing that as the Apostle Paul wrote, I am certainly chief among sinners, for I have allowed all of these things, at one time or another, to own me.  

Planning on having a kid?  Kiss that perfect body and those nights out goodbye.
Planning on getting married?  You’re going to be sharing nearly every spare minute of your life with another person, forget about all those hours you’ve spending binge watching “House of Cards.”  Unless you’re marrying a fellow “House of Cards” fan, in which case, carry on.
Friends coming over for dinner and drinks tonight?  Forget about working on that novel, pal.  There goes a life of fortune and fame.  

Yes, all that important work we should be doing to further ourselves, or hell, even those quite plans for relaxation we had planned, particularly important for a natural introvert like me (I’m very extroverted in my daily life, but it’s come with great practice over many years) go right out the window when the ones we love desire our time.  But last night, while I was sitting in my living room, accompanied by my several of my closest friends, it hit me.  I need not worry.  As long as I have these people, I’m already wealthy beyond measure.  Are they taking away from my productivity?  Yup.  Are they keeping me from my studies?  Yup.  Are they draggin’ me down?  Absolutely.  

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Let us always be mindful of what is truly important and realize that if we aren’t living for love, then what’s the point, anyway?