Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The God Delusion Debate - Richard Dawkins vs John Lennox

I love seeing rational, smart Christians. This is a nice preview of a debate between two big names in the world of atheism and religion. I love hearing Lennox speak. He's a professor of mathematics at Oxford. It strikes me how he's simultaneously smart and able to be light in his communication.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How old was Elizabeth when she was pregnant?

I don't run across many topics that I can't dig up an answer for, but this one has me lost. I've dug around, and can't find how old Elizabeth was when she was pregnant with John. I ran across 88, but in a source other than the Bible.

Luke 1:36
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.

How old IS "old" anyway? It must have been pretty up there for it to be used as an example to Mary of God's power to transcend natural law. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You can't share what you don't know you have...

Man...the message at church this morning was one of those that had my mind and heart whirling. A LOT jumped out at me, but there was one that stood out and got me thinking down a lot of conduits in my life.
The message was about love, and my pastor mentioned that he'd been assuming, until recently, that the bulk of the all the gifting and effort around Christmas was motivated by love, as opposed to other things. 

I've made some serious assumptions about the people around me myself. I've been profoundly blessed with healthy, positive, supportive and long-lasting relationships. Not saying I don't have some rotten ones hanging on and popping up every now and again, but the good ones create the foundation of my life...and when you have something that's too constant, it's WAY easier to forget it's even there. Kind of like oxygen or a heartbeat. Doesn't sound like too big a deal, but forgetting blessings doesn't just mean I'm shorting God some thanks. When I forget the beauty of what I have, I forget what I have to share with others. 

...and I tend to assume they have the same things I do. Every week I realize a bit more how much this world of business can deprive its members of healthy, relationship based lives. How much "time off with friends and family" is just something to be scheduled, checked off, and recounted for a few minutes the morning back after a vacation. It's not just an expectation, it's a part of the culture. Rejecting that culture will cause loss. It will. The system just isn't set up to let people have it both ways. It benefits from people who are willing to sacrifice relationships and personal health. 

It's nice though, to see more options in telecommuting and job design so that people can satisfy their roles as workers but not lose touch with the communities that they're a part of.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Does God care about my black socks?

A few years back I was in a discussion with a friend of mine that was new to the faith about what in life God really cares about. She asked my opinion and I said I didn't believe that God gave us specific guidance on what color socks to wear. She said she needed to believe that he cared about even the minutia.

This question's been bopping around my head ever since and I just received some clarity on it...or at least some clarity on my misdirection on the answer.

The sock example...I was rating things big to if God cared about huge things, but not little...kind of like what we human-folk do. But sometimes...I've gotten guidance on little things that seemed little to me, but made all the difference in the purpose he has for me, and put way too much effort (physical, mental, spiritual) into big things (that would be home ownership recently...I don't know how many times he told me not to worry about it and that I can make a decision on my took me forever to really accept that.)

This walk is nothing like I thought it would be. It's much more amazing.

An atheist gave me something to think about...

This is a video of Penn Jillette (of the comedic duo Penn and Teller) discussing a man that gave him a Bible. What he says at 3:00 really got me HAVE to love people to genuinely witness to them. There simply are no other options. No other paths. No other reasons. Not guilt. Not fear. Not peer pressure. Not habit. Not ego. I Corinthians 13 really does lay it all out.

I also found it compelling that he noticed that the man genuinely cared (people can tell whether you're talking to them, or at them), that the man was sane (they know that too) and that the man was paying attention to who he was (, not at). I don't believe that you have to know someone to witness to them, but it seems to be a frequent component. This man didn't know Penn Jillette personally, but he knew his work and enjoyed it. in the lives of the people I am for a reason.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Make that Change

This blog has been quite a bit harder to maintain than my others. I can just put what I want over there, but this one...different ballgame. I feel like there's more to take into consideration.

I was sitting at my desk yesterday at work, thinking back on who I was when I started working. There's no way I would have thought I'd still be with the same company 7 years later, and yet, I am. Same job, same living situation, same church...and yet things seem so different. I've changed a lot as a person, as a friend, in my walk with God, financially, as an employee, physically...just all around. Looking back on the process of change that God's been working me through, I'm coming to have better perspective on the need for patience in the Christian life. 

Patience isn't just waiting on God to bring you something or do something. Sure, sometimes it is, but, at least in my life, it's most frequently been following patiently as God walks me through a process of personal change and improvement. I've underestimated how long it takes to make real, lasting change in a human life, and especially in mine.

II Corinthians 3
    1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like
some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You
yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by
everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of
our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living
God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

I've also underestimated how personal change and growth...even salvation are. The letter that has been written to us...the letter that we are is custom made for our lives and for the part God has designed us to play in this world. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Zombies and Christianity

I saw this on the High Calling and HAD to read it...yes...because of the title. No, I'm not a zombie-enthusiast.  It's a stretch, but it makes some good points and asks these questions that I wanted to try to answer...

1.    What do you think zombies represent?
2.    When do you most feel like you're turning into a zombie?
3.    Where do the zombies congregate in your life?
4.    How can God and your community protect you?

1. Zombies represent any area of my life where I'm moving without purpose and true motivation. Any area where I'm following my base nature and nothing more.
2. Normally I'd say work, but I've been doing really well eating purposefully for the past...3 years or so. My job's been kind of stressful lately though, and while it's only one meal a day, lunch has just been out the window lately...all kinds of bready, saucy, fatty, sugary treats that serves as mid-day entertainment and distraction from stress. 
3. Career (it's easy to fall prey to what I "should" be doing at...whatever age) habits (generally within my budget, but do I really need another pair of shoes? Even REALLY cute ones?)
4. Fighting off "zombies" is all about staying conscious of what you're doing with your time and resources. I know it's pretty heavily debated, but tithing...especially when it's extended to areas beyond money (like time and relationships), is...I've the very least...a good reminder of how to proportion your life, and how much of a difference a small "investment" can make. It's also a good way to establish "inconveniencing" yourself...which is BIG for me in the area of time. If I'm selfish with anything, it's my time. I have a really twisted relationship with the clock (hate being late, love watches, hate being on a schedule, love making them) and it can be crazy difficult for me to make time for anything that's not part of my zombie habit....even rest. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jerk Love

"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2: 1-4

We've been doing James in Bible study (I'm liking it!!). It's my favorite book...a heavy, sometimes painful book, but what can I say...I like straightforward:) There's a constant ebb and flow between the concrete and the abstract, which I believe is one of the core points of the book...and possibly even why James' statements seem to come out of nowhere in certain points. Well, tonight was chapter 2 and we were covering the concept of discrimination and prejudice. The book addresses it from a point of income, but as my pastor pointed out, it can be extrapolated into other areas...for me that was personality. He joked (I...think...) that I was given the gift of dealing with jerks. I really think they get discriminated against. I know I've always gravitated toward...edgier personalities...friends, relatives, hobbies, TV characters (which is why I think there was something deeper than humor behind what he said). It's something I understand. I have a personality that's quite a few degrees less than "warm and snuggly" and I know what it's like to be misunderstood on that level, so it's generally easy for me to look past some of the thorns and pricklies that people carry around with them.

I really have to say though...there are a LOT of "impoverished" personalities in my life right now. Maybe more than ever before and recently there's been even more of an up-tick. I also have to say that my reactions have not be the best. Jerks come in a pretty wide range of intensities. Some just have, let's say, "misguided" senses of humor. Other's are generally predatory on weaker personalities, and those are the ones that get to me. (Especially since in studying martial arts, I've put/found myself in a position of weakness.) But, as my aunt says "Hurt-people hurt people." I have to keep reminding myself of this. It is not my right to pass judgement on people's actions...even if they hurt me or others. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fear is a funny thing...

Well...kinda. Just got back from a great Bible study that hit home in one of those positive, painful-growth educing ways.

It made me realize a lot about my attitudes toward my work life. For the longest time, I've admired figures like Joseph and Moses who were brought through long periods of difficulty to excel in areas in which they weren't necessarily gifted. Well, it hit me that as much as I KNEW they went through difficulty to grow, and as much as I KNEW God brought them success without natural gifts, I had distanced that part from my life and focused only on the happy/successful ending. 

I've wondered for a while now, why, after much prayer and study and skill development, God had led me into a field that's deep with requirement of those things that, well, I'm not so good at. There's just...attention to detail and repetitious work EVERYWHERE in my industry. I've gotten better at both, but still not good at either. And that's where the fear comes in. This is a fear that's likely a burden to anyone that's "used to" being good at things. I've recently been given a more challenging assignment that requires more attention to detail and repetition...and as much as I protest that I don't want to give up quality of life or work-life balance or my sanity, my concern over taking the position is really based in fear that I won't be able to do it. It's a fear that despite all I CAN do, that this job is just too full of what I CAN'T for me to make it through. 

To steal a quote from Bible study via Billy Graham:
"Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys."

So yeah...I know this is where the growth happens. While I've learned to trust that God is growing me, and not punishing me or leaving me to crash and burn, it's another feat altogether to find peace in difficulty. BUT...and this is a big one. I've been blessed with some wonderful mountaintops in other areas of my life, which, for the first time, I can see quite clearly despite being in a temporary valley.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'm not who I thought I was.

Great message at church this morning. It was one of those where a LOT of stuff jumped out at me and I had to frantically try to note it all down. What stood out to me most though, was the verse below.

John 1:42 (NIV)
And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter ).

Being a Christian that was raised in church is an interesting thing. You've heard the basics probably thousands of times, but as your life grows and changes, those basics take on new meanings and God reveals new insights. I heard this verse and immediately thought back to who I was 10 years ago. I was 20, in my junior year of college. I was in love with the image of the suit-wearing corporate life and had been for years. (I transitioned straight from lacy, pastel dresses covered in glitter and tulle to double breasted skirt suits. Power skirt suits.) I was dating a really sweet, artistic Christian guy and was looking forward to all the cute heels I was going to buy to match my suits.

Well, my first job in my field was with a very laid back company. Jeans every day. Suits only when going on site with clients. I thought that laid-back, jeans-and-tshirt corporate culture only applied to Silicon Valley companies like Apple and Google, but I was quite wrong. My first couple of business trips, it was fun to walk through the halls, towering in a dark suit, ankle length coat and leather gloves. My boss at the time told me repeatedly that I had the "look" and "walk" of a consultant. Well, it was fun...all of two times. The novelty wore off and suits just became uncomfortable. Business trips became burdensome (and I really haven't been on that many.) 

I prayed, for YEARS to be removed from this job. I didn't explicitly ask for a more corporate assignment, but deep down, that's what I wanted. I sit now, 10 years later, thankful that I never got sucked into the whirlpool of traditional corporate culture. I call it a whirlpool because it's not something you just step out of. It really is an uncompromising, all-consuming, distinct lifestyle. Your values change. Habits form. Which, incidentally, is what I think your 20s are about...establishing habits and standards of living. I'm thankful God has taught me to live a relatively minimalistic life. I never developed a taste for fancy cars (though I do have a natural taste for fancy food:), high end electronics or name brands. My life now is happily composed of weekend cooking projects, training Brazilian jiu jitsu, building an organization to connect China and the US my quiet job and the occasional international trip.

I don't want as much as I thought. Well...that's not true. My wants haven't changed much. It's more that they're quieter and I now know that the things I want don't make me feel half as good as I'd expected. At best, they give temporary comfort. At worst, they make me feel I've eaten too much. But I know...that even years ago, God knew where my true happiness was. He knows my real name. He knows what suits me as an individual, and I know that the last few years have been about "purging" so many outside standards that I'd managed to absorb over the years. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More politics...

I'm a pretty apolitical person. I'm not registered with any political party partly because I take issue with the concept of bi-partisan government. I believe too deep a focus on politics removes us from real change we can make in our real, every day lives. And especially the way things are going these days, I believe it's just another way for people to categorize and dismiss the nuances of the individual human beings around us. 

And that's why an email I received the other day really bothered me. It was a forward (gotta love 'em) supposedly listing changes to the 2011 tax codes that would plunge us into socialism. I gotta admit I was offended on multiple levels. Forwards are impersonal. Unless it's an invitation or notice of a birth or other event, I don't see the point of emails sent out with no real regard for who the readers are. It offended me professionally too. Tax information is readily available online. The email cited no information from the IRS links, no citations, nothing. Misinformation is a scary thing and I know close to no one is going to go and verify what was stated. In the past, I've received similar emails from fellow Christians that have been proven to be outright lies told to prove a point. (I'm still not sure of the best way to handle those situations) What gets to me most though, is I know...I genuinely know why I receive these emails.

The senders were Christian, I'm Christian, and for whatever reasons, that means I must be a Republican and worship at the almighty shrine of capitalism (despite my chosen field of study, I'm not 100% sold). I get these emails pretty often from Christian...acquaintances. I can't say "friends". Anyone who's a close friend knows that not only am I not into politics, but also that I delete just about any email whose title starts with "FWD:" site unread. (Yes, that includes ones that declare that I don't love Jesus if I don't open them and immediately forward to my entire mailing list.) It's not just the emails to be honest. I've been invited to rallies, been shown Tea Party signs, all with the assumption of my agreement with the principles in question. And I know it's not just me. I've been seeing more and more blog posts and message boards posts from Christians dealing with the same issue. 

It kinda frustrates me. Not because people might disagree with me. That's part of life. Not even necessarily because of the assumptions made (though I do have to admit that does irk my nerves a bit). It gets to me most because I know this isn't what we as believers should be focusing on. I know that if it makes me angry, I'm distracted spiritually. I know it's wasting time and opportunities we should be using studying, helping and praying. I know it drives wedges between believers. Wedges that can be hard to remove.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"A goal inspired by God is a blessing, by man, a burden."

OK, so that's not an official quote (if there is such a thing). I just made it up. I'm not even sure if ALL goals inspired by men are full on burdens, but I'm definitely starting to see a trend.

I couldn't sleep last night (allergies have been insane lately), and figured it would be a good chance to catch up on my reading from A Slice of Infinity. The essays come in nice little emails to your inbox, but they're far from light reading even in the day time, let alone at 3am. Today's writing was based on Jesus and the paralytic in Luke:

"Which of the two is harder," asked Jesus, "to bring physical healing or to forgive a person's sins?"  The irresistible answer was self-evident, was it not? To bring physical healing because that would be such a miraculous thing, visible to the naked eye.  The invisible act of forgiveness had far less evidentiary value.  Yet, as they pondered and as we ponder, we discover repeatedly in life that the logic of God is so different to the logic of humanity.  We move from the material to the spiritual in terms of the spectacular, but God moves from the spiritual to the material in terms of the essential.  The physical is the concrete external—a shadow.  The spiritual is the intangible internal—the objective actuality.Yet we all chase shadows.  We chase them because they are a haunting enticement of the substance without being the substance themselves.  It takes a jolt, sometimes even a painful jolt, to remind us where reality lies and where shadows seduce.  Our Savior was so aware of this weakness within us that he often walked the second mile to meet us in order that something more dramatic might be used to put into perspective for us.

Now, I don't consider myself to be particularly ambitious, but I am very goal oriented. I wouldn't say I have any huge desires for success or achievement, but I do have focus and determination, both of which I believe are God-given. 

That said, some of the most stressful periods of my life have come from pursuing goals that I've "absorbed" from the world around me. Not just the obvious ones of things like education and home buying, but whole value systems that were programmed into me, and most other people, from a very young age by the world around us.  Lately, I've come to see (yet again) that all my planning and fighting, scheming and clawing, is pretty much in vain. God can do in a few simple steps (though they may take longer or be different from my plans) what would take me all the strategizing in the world. I found out over the weekend that I'm being considered for a leadership position that I would have never been able to negotiate on my own. Where did it come from? From keeping up something apparently small, something that annoyed me, something that was really starting to tire me out, but that God told me repeatedly and clearly not to let go of. I came very close would have been the smart thing to do financially and emotionally and was the advice of a lot of people whose opinions I respect.

I have to remind myself regularly to just let go of my tangible little life, and focus on the intangible things that God's leading me toward. I've gotten much better at it, but still find myself clinging on occasion. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Balancing blessings and ambition...

My life's gone through some interesting and subtle changes over the last year. I finished grad school, turned 30 and started a martial art (which I've always wanted to do). When I take a step back and look at my life, it makes me smile. I know I'm blessed...I have family that loves me and that I'm growing closer to in a time where families are drifting apart. I have a steady job with growing potential in an environment where people are struggling to survive. My life is financially sound at an age where most people are saddled with loads of educational and consumer debt. I have overall peace in a time when life is becoming more stressful.

Some of these same changes though, have wrinkles of discontent popping up in my head. I finished grad school...I don't know if we're programmed through education to expect grand-change every four or so years, but I feel like something big should be happening now. I feel like I should move. Also, my friends are moving away. My best friend moved away late last year. We didn't hang out a lot (we're both big inside people and talked a lot online), but it made me sad. It was definitely the best choice for her, and she's happier, but I miss her and it still makes me feel a little lonely...which is WAY rare for me. On top of that, another friend is thinking of moving. That just ads fuel to the "I really need to do something!" fire. On top of that, I'm at a point in my Chinese studies where, to become fluent (a big goal of mine), I need to spend some time immersed. I'm at a point in life where I have almost no commitments (aside from a job) and though I'm quite single, I still worry that if I don't go plop myself down in Taiwan right now, I'm going to end up married with children in the blink of an eye, tied down for twenty or so years and unable to explore that option for a very long time. 

On the other side of that coin, I have even more changes that have me wanting to settle down here, where I was raised. I have my "new" church...a great place where I feel I can grow a lot spiritually. This has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. There's also my Brazilian jiu jitsu school. I really love it there and genuinely want to stay with my instructors while I pursue a black belt (we're looking at 10+ years...easily). I'm making new friends, improving myself and for the first time in...maybe my life, I'm excited to see people that I'm not already long time friends with. And then, I have my roots. My family...immediate and extended are here and I'm at the point in life where I'd like to buy a house. Couple that with low mortgage rates and home prices and I feel pressure to move in that area.

Choices are a crazy thing. Mine are great ones to have...freedom and options...but being torn between personal ambitions and God's guidance has left me terrified of making a mistake in either direction. That concern though, I think is a reflection of how I view God. I think it signals that I see him, at least in part, as some great puzzle-master, throwing challenges at me with one choice leading to ultimate disaster and ruin. I know that's not true, but I don't think I believe it yet. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Difficult People

Until recently, I had a very narrow view of who difficult people were in my life. Having worked in traditional office environments and traditional church settings, they were basically the people that did things that got on my nerves. Lately though, I've been broadening that definition, because honestly, a difficult person can have a negative impact on your life even if they aren't "out to get you."

What I've found most dangerous about all of these, is that their behavior and decisions can and have clouded my judgment in properly hearing and responding to God's guidance in my life. For me, they have all caused stress, frustration and sadness…emotions that have "clogged my spiritual ears" so to speak. Sometimes God wants you in a certain situation and it's entirely too easily fall back on the "bail" reflex because someone is making that situation uncomfortable. I've also had the opposite problem though. I don't like being forced to do things. So, for instance, when someone has tried to force me out of a situation, or said they didn't think I could accomplish something, I've dug my heels in deeper for the sake of my ego and drive, not God's plan.
 The Arch Enemy: We've probably all seen this person. They may be an outright bully. They may go behind your back. They may be a sociopath. In any case, they have a personal issue with you and make direct and specific efforts to get in your way or tear you down.
War Makers: This one took me most by surprise…or at least the impact it's had on my life has. I've always known that there were people who lived their lives differently than me. That's what makes the world interesting. I started to notice problems in two different situations though. First, when a person feels they need you to conform to their world in order for them to be comfortable or second, when you're forced into someone else's world because of association (work, church, community efforts, etc.) and the world you want doesn't jive with the world they're building. In this case, there isn't necessarily any hostility and neither party is necessarily wrong, but the scenario easily leads to either or both of you being a thorn in the other's side.
Trickle Downs: Very similar to War Makers, and for me, particularly frustrating. These are the people who make decisions in their lives, and those decisions then affect you. For me, this has most frequently shown up from people in power. Though I understand that life is often unfair, I'm a believer in the concept of servant leadership. I believe that leaders exist in part to help minimize inequity in the lives of their followers…so I find it offensive, even to the point of anger, when that responsibility is blatantly ignored solely to support the assumptions/needs that an individual might have.

I've found it useful to ask myself a few questions when my "hearing" starts to go...

1) Have you been falling off on your devotional time? Have you allowed your focus to shift?
2) Are your emotions reflections of tangible threats, or simply feelings unto themselves?
3) Are you ignoring the impact that people are having on you in an effort to make the problem more comfortable to solve? (This seems to happen most often with family for me)
4) Why are you feeling what you're feeling? 
5) When are you feeling what you're feeling? Is it at work? After church? Only when talking to certain people? Only when hearing about certain people?

Interestingly, even when the motivations weren't personal, my life was still changed. That's really gotten me over the idea that personal attacks are different, or worse, than impersonal ones…all have an impact on your life and a person's motivation really doesn't make much difference in the long run. Sure, most of us prefer to be liked, but if someone is causing confusion in my life because of mental illness, the effect is seldom much different than if they do it because someone hurt them in their past or if they just don't like my hair cut (though in each case, the response might be very different.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mate Hunting

Does God really need a church to get Christians together?

I've never been a big church dater, meaning I don't look to my church home as a dating pool...not for any reason of principle or high moral calling. I'm just highly anti-drama. Same thing applies to work and other activities. In-group dating just seems to go bad more often than not (kind of poses the question though...where DO I expect to meet men?) Even with the most mature people involved, there's a high chance that things can get awkward in the case of a breakup, or even a disagreement. That said, I've had a lot of friends who were regular church daters, many of whose relationships turned into marriages, so I know it can work for some people, it's just not a place I consider part of my standard dating pool.

I think part of the underlying reason though, is that I learned early on, that guys in church weren't much different than guys out in the world. I don't think this is true of all guys, or all churches, but it established a pattern for my dating life, which I believe built up to my first serious boyfriend. He was a Christian with many of the same core beliefs that I had, with whom I attended church regularly for the majority of our relationship. I met him through a Jehovah's Witness friend of mine who knew an agnostic friend of his. So yes, I wholeheartedly believe that God can bring his children together without the aid of a building. 

What I struggle with, is ignoring church as a venue for meeting a potential mate. Wherever I am, I tend to focus heavily on what I'm doing, which has left me prone to not recognizing the advances of a couple of men for what they were. I once was asked out for pizza after a Spanish group meeting and couldn't figure out why the guy was so nervous at the end...fidgeting his feet, playing with his hands and yet staring deeply in my eyes. I told some of my friends later and got a unanimous "you were on a date!" Oops. Didn't notice. I'm really...really bad at stuff like that. Unless a guy specifically uses the word "date" or offers to pay for a meal at a restaurant with a wait staff, I'm probably going to assume we're just two friends hanging out. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Routine and Good Habits

As much as I love my various pursuits (languages, Brazilian jiu jitsu, cooking), I sometimes hit periods where my inspiration isn't as strong as others. I think these periods are important for allowing concepts to cement themselves, application and for reflection. At the same time though, these periods can not only be discouraging, but can also be gateways into inactivity and missed periods for growth.

I don't think our spiritual lives are at all immune from this issue. 

A few years ago, I was visiting my cousin in South Carolina. She took me to visit her Bible study group, and while I can't tell you what we talked about, one bit of advice stuck with me. The man who was leading it says that he read a chapter of Psalms and a Proverbs every night. It seems mundane on the surface, but each time I read through the book, I know God has revealed something new, or taken me deeper on an old concept.

My sleep schedule's been off lately (for various reasons) and I've been sleeping in until the last second before work. Result? Not doing my morning devotional. I've lapsed in the past, but having this small "habit" makes a huge difference in keeping me connected. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Noticing Nietzche

Nietzsche is one of those names I've always heard thrown around school and discussions, always told myself I should be familiar with and yet never gotten around to getting to know. I've been reading Ravi Zacharias' The End of Reason and he makes some very interesting points about his philosophy that has me even more curious. They're summed up pretty well in the quote below.

". . . [Nietzsche] had the good manners to despise Christianity, in large part, for what it actually was--above all, for its devotion to an ethics of compassion--rather than allow himself the soothing, self-righteous fantasy that Christianity’s history had been nothing but an interminable pageant of violence, tyranny, and sexual neurosis. He may have hated many Christians for their hypocrisy, but he hated Christianity itself principally on account of its enfeebling solicitude for the weak, the outcast, the infirm, and the diseased; and, because he was conscious of the historical contingency of all cultural values, he never deluded himself that humanity could do away with Christian faith while simply retaining Christian morality in some diluted form, such as liberal social conscience or innate human sympathy." 
 David Bentley Hart (Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies)

Bible Study...why?

Since I was in high school, I've had a difficult time plugging into small groups in know...the teen groups that meet on Saturday afternoons at book stores...the singles group that meets on Tuesday nights at the local coffee shop...the young adults group that meets twice a month at the house of one of its members.

In 15 years of looking, I've never found a group where I felt I fit in. Black church or White. Weekly or monthly. Long term or short. I've always left these groups at best feeling like I could make better use of my time at home studying on my own or talking with a friend about my latest spiritual issues, and at worst, feeling like I'd just barely survived group therapy. I was always left with flashbacks of middle school, feeling out of place and out of touch, thankful the family dog had taken a liking to me, because it gave me something to bond with.

I made sure to give the groups a chance... after all, maybe I wasn't there just for myself. Maybe God had a bigger plan for my being where I was. Maybe I couldn't see the benefit that I was receiving. Still though, even after much prayer and effort, I was thrilled when meetings were cancelled. Relieved when vacation or work plans made attendance impossible. Bored while sitting and discussing. I began to wonder if it was just me. If my introversion had become more than just a personality trait and had become a liability. I'd never fit into groups...secular, spiritual or otherwise, so it was very possible that I was the issue.

Enter Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Though not a spiritual pursuit, the basic premise was the same. People, strangers getting together in pursuit of a common goal. All at different levels, all developing themselves in their own way...establishing their own relationship with the art. I genuinely believe God led me to it, after much prayer to find a martial art that wasn't spiritually based. I was uncomfortable at first, but always wanted to go back...always felt that I was growing and bonding with the people around me. Always felt like my ultimate goal, though different than those around me, was the same as everyone else's.

It's not something I'm proud of, but even though I'm glad to get up and head out to church every week, and every week, am glad I went, I still haven't a group in which to connect with individuals that gives me the same, or even comparable benefits.

This has me wondering...what is the point of small groups? Is it to connect? Is it to grow and learn? Is it to socialize?

If it's to connect, having groups centered around life stages makes sense on a large scale. For people like me who don't connect based on age, race, gender or marital status, it leaves us a little lost.

If it's to grow and learn, should they be grouped by goal? I think this is what the short term, topic focused study groups are based around...I honestly prefer these.

I believe it's a combination and I believe that's what they should be. I do think though, there is potential for some differentiation from the small-group/once-a-week approach in format. I think there's a lot of potential in online interaction, maybe with monthly/bi-monthly in-person meetings.

I'm not sure what the resolution to my problem is, or if I even have one, but it's still one of the things I pray about most.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And off I go!

I woke up late for church this morning and it upset me. My trusty iPhone alarm failed me ( of them did. I have four clock apps. I have a really twisted relationship with time.) I wasn't upset out of worry over fielding questions next week of "Where've you been?!" or concern that people whose opinions I respect would think I'd fallen off the wagon. Not even because I missed a message. (My church, thanks to some great leadership, is progressive in some very good ways and has messages available online, so in a couple of days, I could have caught up on any information I missed.) No. It bothered me because I'd missed an experience that I enjoy and that I feel improves my life and walk with God.

I've had this happen before and I do believe each instance has been a God-engineered absence. Not to be confused with absences caused by laziness, exhaustion, poor planning or failure to prioritize my church attendance. Today's type happens much less frequently...I have to say only three or four times over the last six years. But when they have happened, there's been a reason for it for me growth wise. Today, I had a question answered. It was time to start my spiritual blog.

This will be the fourth blog that I actively maintain. I believe it will be my last, as I don't have any other areas of my life that I believe could benefit in this form of documentation. I used to snub the idea of blogging...funny because I love ideas, discussion and writing. However, I also dislike excess noise in the world, so at first, I saw the concept as a source of annoyance as opposed to a tool that could be useful to myself and others. I also envisioned them as nothing more than online diaries, with people spilling their private lives into perhaps the most public forum that's ever existed in history. For those two reasons, there are two boundaries I'd like to place on this blog. Focus and privacy.

For my own sake, and for that of those reading, I believe its important to have some sort of continuity in writing. I'm not yet ready to put myself on a schedule (I like organic blogging), but I would like to focus on four things that I think are unique to me as a Christian, (that link is to my pastor's blog btw) but also the discussion of which will hopefully be beneficial to anyone who happens to read this. I also will not be sharing every intimate detail of my life or thoughts. While this blog does cover a topic that is inherently close to me, I believe there is value in privacy and that it is neither beneficial to the reader nor the writer to ignore that fact. Not everything going on in my head or heart or life will be a benefit to those around me and I believe some of it should be dealt with it privately, or with a select few people only. But back to those four things...

  • I am an introvert. Over the last decade, I've become an increasingly deep believer in accuracy of the MBTI system of personality typing. For those interested, I'm an INTJ. That first letter I is what I'm talking about. As an introvert, I draw my energies from being alone and find interraction with people draining. I'm not shy, nor am I a lone wolf. My pack has simply been built slowly and carefully and new members are added very infrequently. This trait isn't particularly highly prized in our culture (church or secular) and is frequently characterized as a sickness or a sin. The process of learning how to use the traits that God has given me as they have been intended, and not letting them become a stumbling block in my life, my spiritual growth or to others has not been, and is not an easy one to sort out.
  • I'm a card-carrying member of the business world. MBA and all. It's a difficult world to live in, as a human being, a female, a Black person and a Christian. I used to fight tooth and nail to find my way out of it, but at a Bible study a few years back, a regional manager for Staples said something that got me thinking that maybe, while I'm not skipping to work every day (far from it on many days), this is where God wants me and this is where I can do the most good. I'm still not comfortable in corporate, or even not-so-corporate America, but there aren't many Christians out there (let alone female) in this world, and maybe I can do some good.
  • I have a high IQ. I'm not breaking any records by any means, but I make Mensa's cutoff easily. (no longer a member by the way) Having a high IQ is a tricky thing. You acknowledge it, and people think you're conceited or are judging them. Ignore it, and you're ignoring a foundational part of who you are and your life will become burdened with efforts to "hide". I honestly see it as no different than being tall (which I also am). It's a combination of nature and nurture. As a Christian though, it's doubly difficult. After the second Great Awakening in the US, the church took a turn against intellectualism in almost any form. Sad considering some of the greatest institutions of learning this country and the world have known were founded by the church. This has led a general loss of respect for followers of Christ who are driven by and prefer the world of the mind, leaving the intellectual Christian ridiculed in their secular pursuits for their beliefs and abandoned by practitioners of the faith they follow. I've found a lot of healing and growth by tuning into the works of some Christian apologists. The first new Bible I've bought since...high school (2 months ago) was The Apologetics Study Bible and I'm loving it. We also face our own issues regarding faith, doubt (I was a church-going agnostic at 8 years old) and treatment of other believers (whose worth it can be easy for us to discount), all of which need specific attention. 
  • I'm single, female and past "marrying age". I've been reading Christian literature on relationships and dating since I was in high school and I can say from experience that women have it rough. Everywhere you turn, there are messages linking the worth of a woman in Christianity to her marital status. I've seen women marrying the wrong man, the right man at the wrong time, women who are single made to feel inferior and left out for not marrying and everything in between. I've been spared from a lot of the difficulties because, well, I'm just really not dead set on the idea of being a wife (a huge thanks to the Christian women in my life for not pressuring me in that area). Not that I'm opposed to it or that it's not in God's plan for my life, but the idea of never wearing that hat doesn't put me off. One message I don't hear enough, is that maybe, just maybe, God didn't mean for everyone to be married. Funny, because the Bible is full of single people (even single women) that were very productive and influential workers for God. 
  • And to round out 2011, I've added a fifth category that I originally didn't intend to touch on--race. I spent my youth attending a Black church while enrolled in a White, Southern Baptist school. I never felt like I fit in either place, sometimes playing the privileged "elite" and the lower-income minority in the same day. I believe it conditioned me to feel comfortable with social discomfort and has given me insight into the role that culture, class and race play in the church. 
So yeah...that's where I am and where I hope to go. Feel free to contact me, pray for me, ask me to pray for you and comment as you like...and thanks for reading.