Sunday, December 9, 2012

Anti-institutionalism and the Church

I was talking to my father the other day, who mentioned that one of the main reasons young people leave the church is because of evolution being taught in schools. This idea--the thought that the great forces of the American educational system are pulling people in droves from the pews--is one that's come to ring a bit misguided on my ears. I honestly don't believe most people think that deeply about their existence for evolution vs. creation to be the make or break decision that keeps people in bed on Sunday mornings.

I was talking to a friend at the gym yesterday--one who used to attend church but no longer does--about the concept. He said he didn't go because he never left with anything useful. I really had to think about that, since so many people I know who no longer attend church...well...they're not doing a lot of deep thinking about the origins of life. Most people are working their way through every day life the best they can and a result of that in the US has left a large number of people turned against institutions, all institutions. 

It started back in the 60s and 70s. People stopped trusting business, government, the police, the church, marriage...the list goes on. I've been reading Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites, and well, I think he's hit on something. The the moral leaders, the sports heroes, politicians, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers,  priests, police officers, ambassadors...they've all let us down. The bond has been broken and I doubt will be easily rebuilt, if it can be at all.

That lack of trust in the institution and the very concept of hierarchy is what I believe the church is seeing manifested in its dropping attendance numbers. These days I don't believe most people will even get close enough to the church to reject its teachings. They mistrust the structure itself--a structure I don't believe is even necessary to the faith (especially considering the structure of the early church). 

The big problem there though, is what the alternative is. I've had this discussion with my best friend before--both of us being single, childless and unmarried. Society, religious or secular, has no connection points for us. No home base. We are not married, we are not mothers and therefore we are not. The church also reflects that. I don't know if any society has been able to promote connection based on anything deeper than demographic check boxes. I believe most societies actually discourage it for the sake of their own preservation.

So one knows how to answer our question and our question is spreading into the world of the non-singles. How do people bond if marriage, procreation, family, home and career are no longer a trustworthy? Until that question is answered and the answer applied within church walls, those outside the church, those coming up as children in the church and those considering leaving will find little reason for connection beyond commandment. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"How Christians Should Vote"

So the article from my previous post was the impetus I needed to finally download Tony Evans' How Christians Should Vote. I'm really torn as to whether the book is great, or more political propaganda in palatable packaging.

This book highlights a recent revelation I've been having around the importance of subtext. In this case, I really can't say there's anything I disagree with in his advice on how Christians should approach the voting process. He considers voting and civil involvement a Biblically mandated social responsibility (I've had a couple of friends insist that Christians should remove themselves from the process altogether to remain uncorrupted in God's sight). He insists that character matters and that conduct outside of the political office cannot be 100% separated from conduct within. He advocates allegiance to God over party (my non-party affiliated self swelled with pride at that point) and many times explains that we are to carefully and prayerfully weigh issues and candidates individually. So yeah...all stuff I agree with.

...still...there were two points that stuck in my craw. First, he makes a point...points rather, of clearly laying out the demons of socialism...the sloth and reliance it can create...the worship of government over God that it may grow to foster. Yet, there is no mention of the potential dangers of capitalism (the word "capitalism" appears 0 times and when something isn't named, it's much less likely to be critiqued in the reader's mind) in potential for self-worship and its fertilization of greed. This leaves the faint and lasting impression that systems of socialism, fascism and communism are "not of God" and the alternative is. Considering that all man-made systems of government and economics are subject to the same failings we posses, I found this a bit (or possibly highly) telling. I was glad though, to not see him fall back on the cop-out of touting theocracy as the preferred system of government. We know that would be preferable, but God has left us to rule ourselves and we must make decisions, difficult though they may be.

The second...I got the feeling that Dr. Evans is reaching when he claims that "A constitutional republic is the biblical form of government God gave to Moses." He goes on to explain that the founding fathers emulated this system when setting up the American government because they wanted a government founded on the will of the people, but subject to a constitution which in turn was interpreted by leaders guided by God. He then explains that in Exodus 18:17-27, Moses set up a "bottom-up system" of rule where the people had representatives who were lead by God. This all follows his stating that "democracy" isn't mentioned in our founding documents (neither are "Jesus" or "capitalism" by the way) and how democracy can easily result in 51% "mobocracy" in a section labeled "The Tyranny of the 51%".

The concept had me curious though, so I had to check out Exodus. It's quite apparent that Moses selected the representatives, leaving this system, from what I can tell, anything but bottom-up. It was inherently top-down...from God, to Moses, to the representatives, to the people. Which left me wondering how this system could be described by anyone as a government "of the people". This is where I think, Dr. Evans ran into the conundrum that faces so many American Christian conservatives. Much of the Bible points to top-down systems of governing...from the spheres of the personal, to the home to the church to society as a whole. The logical progression here, is to monarchs and popes--people supposedly appointed and lead by God...the very things America's founders fled. But, no one west of the Atlantic wants to say that the Catholics and the English got it right, or worse, that American and Protestant ideals of government are no more effective or Godly in the long run.

I am no huge fan of democracy...I see too much stupidity in individual decision making, too much prejudice, too little thought and too much laziness of character to be one...BUT, I do still believe that, if we are to govern ourselves, that all of us should have a say. I believe democracy should play a part in our governmental processes. What put me off most in his critique of democracy though, is that it implies that God's power is somehow limited if we choose if a choice in government is our way of giving God permission to influence our political lives.

As I was writing this, I ran across a statement that I missed. Dr. Evans says, "...the church could influence through uniting and offering up its own party candidate". I find the idea of the church uniting almost humorous in a country that houses more that 40,000 Christian denominations. I also find it a bit puzzling as to how a candidate would be selected considering that relatively few issues of government are actually moral ones--but that's a topic for another day.

My stuck craw boils down to this--while Evans outright says that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, his writing is bent quite squarely against the central tenants of the Democratic party--and so I have a hard time calling this an even-handed book on anything but a superficial level (perhaps that wasn't his goal). It's definitely a good read though, especially for Christians that tend to be 1-issue voters or plagued by conscience when they don't give in to moral bullying around one or two fad-issues. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Why God Isn't Blessing the American Church"

That's the title of this interview with Tony Evans that I just finished reading. It addresses his book, Oneness Embraced and his take on the issue of racial segregation and confirms something that's been eating at me for a while now...that racial and cultural division within the church is nothing to be taken lightly. This answer jumped out at me the most...

CL: Do you really believe that God’s going to postpone His blessing and work in the church because of our lack of unity?

TE: Absolutely.  That’s a fundamental principle.  He does this in a number of places in Scripture:  Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3:10.  So the oneness issue is not a sideline issue.  It’s not even a sideline issue in the family.  God says that when the husband and wife are divided, tell the husband, “Don’t bother to pray.”  God’s not listening (1 Peter 3:7).

So the issue of unity has everything to do with God’s absence or presence.  God first checks with the church house before He does anything with the White House.  We want things to be better in the country, and God can’t even get them better on Sunday morning.  And one of the major divisions is racial, so in light of all this, I think that this was the time to make a big call for unity.

This is why I believe God has ingrained the church so deeply in American history. Not because we are any more holy than any other nation, but because we are natural reformers...because we tackle the big, ugly questions of human existence head on. Because we do not settle for the oft-misguided comfort of tradition and custom. I believe the political and racial division in this country is an opportunity for the church to show the world what a real miracle is.

What I like most about the interview, and what I hope the book expounds on (just downloaded...woo!), is actual action steps. I've heard people lament the segregation of the church, but the discussion usually stops there--and that's because most of us are happy with it. Not just ok. Happy.

If you ask most people, their peer group is full of people like them on some level. People like being around other people like them. It makes them feel normal, accepted and safe. That's important, but at some point, both in and out of the church, a maturing person and Christian has to walk past satisfaction with comfort and aim for something higher.

I personally have an abnormally diverse peer group. Race, age, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, income, intelligence level, belief in God, physical ability...but I have one big bias...introverts. I LOVE people like me on that spectrum. Extroverts ..I can say all I want about understanding their usefulness, but that comes from little more than half-hearted rationalization and knee-jerk efforts to be inclusive so that I feel even-handed and...nice. I don't enjoy being around extreme extroverts. Not even smart ones, or Black ones, or single ones get it. I have a few friends that are extrovert-lite, but no one I know is extreme. That is a failing on my part. I'm not saying I should be able to totally revamp the contacts list in my phone, but Jesus should be enough and I should, as a mature Christian, be able to get past my own biases against the personality type and form genuine bonds. I've just met a new VERY extroverted Christian friend and, well, we'll see. That though, ties into the comment Dr. Evans made that integrating the church isn't about congregations holding events together, but instead about people extending themselves into new types of relationships in their individual lives.

I'll admit one of the saddest things in my life. I find more connection, more acceptance, more comfort in the world of Brazilian jiu jitsu than I do and ever have in the church--any church, Black or White. I believe quite firmly that that is because the primary focus of those that train is training. It is dedication to the art. The church, with its deeply entrenched history of absorbing the faults of the world (it didn't start with attitudes toward sex) does not have the luxury of a brutally honest or physically and emotionally painful acceptance process. There is no filter for the church I believe it should be. The issue there though is, that people stay for reasons that have nothing to do with the faith.

I know that I am able to tolerate being an outlier because I've been conditioned to make my peace with discomfort. I have no expectations of feelings of belonging in any sphere accept personal relationships. I have always, and likely will always, feel like an alien observer. I don't expect this to come easily to others though, because my life has been a rare one, possibly even moreso because of my personality type than my racial and cultural experiences.

So yes, I do, very much agree with the words Tony Evans has written and I'm hoping reading his book will help me find some peace in this area, because right now, I have little.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Believers shouldn't be too quick to claim America as a Christian nation...

I believe this applies to both Left and Right...the Right seems to have romanticized a period in time when America committed some of its greatest shames and the Left seems oblivious to the diluted form of Christianity they welcome in under the guise of Love.

I've reached a point in my life where I'm probably more exposed to White American culture, at least proportionately, than ever before. While I may have been more intimately entwined as a child, I do not have the large amounts of time spent in Black American church and community organizations that I did through high school and even in my predominately White college. If there is one thing I know, Blacks and Whites have a profoundly different relationship with America. As a Black Christian, I feel hesitation in claiming America as  a Christian nation--keep in mind that is entirely different than having a desire that it reflect Christian values or be blessed by God. I have no illusions that saying something is "Christian" changes anything in God's eyes. The phrase itself honestly never crosses my mind. I have no pains when someone claims that "America is no longer a Christian nation", and that's likely because I would have had to believe the phrase wholeheartedly to begin with. I know that the majority of the founders were, yes, Christian, but you have the secular humanist and deists of Jefferson and Franklin. Our founding documents refer to God, and, as far as I know, make no mention of Jesus. We can hardly claim 100% Christian lineage.

I sometimes think of how we look in the eyes of others--how could I proudly say to someone from a foreign nation...or from this one for that matter, that America has always been "a Christian nation" in the face of the atrocities of Slavery or the brutality of the American Civil War? The mistreatment of workers, children included, for the sake of business during our Industrial Revolution? Yes, every country has its failings and even the redeemed aren't perfect, but some churches' participation in, and silence during these events, is a different, deeper issue.  Plus, many a nation has seen prosperity with much less affiliation with Christ--I am no follower of the prosperity gospel and won't apply it any more to history than I will my personal life.

I really wonder if either camp, Left or Right understands what it really means to lazily utter blanket statements like "America is a Christian Nation" or "America is becoming more Christ-like", while all those who are not believers plainly see the atrocities of war, slavery, abuse and dissension that were going on internally during a time they revere so greatly--and also see how miserable and joyless we are growing in our prosperity and "freedom". I will not deny that America's best and most positively transformative leaders have been born out of the country's strong Christian roots--I find the story of Abraham Lincoln's parents' meeting awe-inspiring...I will not deny that the church has been instrumental, if not catalytic in combating some of the country's greatest sins--but it is careless and damaging to the faith to claim the ubiquitous presence and favor of God in relation to other nations. I do think though, that for me, it all comes down to the fact that I draw a harsh line between the concepts of "church-going" and "Christian", and that I believe that individuals only can be Christian.

I sometimes wonder if the evidence we see of decrease in humane behavior and our falling victim to our basest animal instincts is proof we are slipping away from our Christian roots, or just the manifestation that we were holding on to them tenuously in the first place, and that is all now being brought to light.

A passage we covered in Romans 2 tonight covered what I'm feeling suscinctly. 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Black Christians Don't Care About Abortion

OK...we do, but based on the way we tend to vote, many might think we don't. Most Black Christians are honestly pro-life (in the extended definition of the term that includes being anti-death penalty)...not surprising since we attend church at rates pushing almost 3x those of Whites. We are not liberal Christians. African Americans were heavily a Republican race until the party started courting those who were commiting acts of terrorism against us, our friends and our relatives in the name of the Christian church. While our party allegiance has changed, our religious and moral convictions have not.

This, for me, is why I find the concept of Christian=Republican so offensive. The party has allowed its extreme wing to limit the discussion of morality to one based on only two concepts...abortion as murder and Gay-rights as sexual immorality (I won't even limit that to Gay marriage). To hear that these are the issues that define the political hits my ears as being told, "Black Christian simply aren't as Christian as we are over here on the Right." I would bet Latinos hear the same. If one limits the spectrum of Christian values to two, loud, oversimplified issues, then yes, liberal church-going minorities are mostly affront to the body of Christ--however, if you consider the entire Bible, minorities simply prioritize mandates from God differently.

I'm willing to throw out a guess here...minorities classify abortion like they do unfortunate solution to a social problem that can have consequences that no-one desires. I personally see Black churches prioritizing other social issues over abortion no differently than I see the White church doing the same with the death penalty, military occupation of and conflict in so many other nations. All result in death...more clearly in the case of war and execution because the point of origin of life is among dispute even within the church (apparently the idea that life begins at conception only became a rallying cry of the church in the late 70s...1970s). I'll be honest...I used to have pangs and questions over supporting candidates/parties that were more liberal in their social stances. I still ask the questions...I still sometimes wonder if I am wrong--but I will suffer no more lost sleep over the prospect of babies dying than I will the promise of adults.

It really hit me this morning that Blacks and Latinos simply prioritize Biblical mandates to care for the poor and socially oppressed very highly...and being the collectivist and community based cultures we are, Luke 6:29 (And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.) resonates very loudly for that even if we did believe the political straw man of lower-class social leeches, we understand that, as a responsibility to help others, it is a risk that we as Christians are instructed to endure.

While I find the racial segregation of the American church profoundly disheartening and telling, I believe it also offers unique insight to all Christians in the US--an opportunity to more clearly see where earthly cultural norms have polluted our vision of God's word--that, however, is only if we are willing to let go of the sin of pride manifested as prejudice and inclinations toward cultural oneupsmanship and accept that Jesus is the only hard-line requirement in getting to heaven. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

More sad, more disappointed

Ravi Zacharias is just amazing. I will never forget the time I heard him say that the church had abandoned the thinking believer. It almost put me to tears. I felt so relieved that someone actually...knew how I felt. I went on through the process of understanding the mental gifts of curiosity and skepticism that God gave me and how to use them productively for him. Understanding my own mental orientation surprisingly gave me insight into the emotional orientation of others. I began to see the beauty in the diversity of the church.

Surprisingly, I began to focus less on my mind, while acknowledging it more, and somehow, along the way, I started paying much more attention to and thinking about love and its application as part of the walk of Christ.

And then I started listening to people in the church again...and I started having issues. I'm in no way deluded into thinking that people in the church are supposed to be perfect. I understand all too well that not only are Christians sick people working their way to health with the guidance of Jesus, but I know quite certainly that churches are full of people who show up for reasons that have nothing to do with God. Something has changed recently though...and I don't think it's just that I've become more sensitive. As the country is changing and becoming more hostile and intolerant of differing opinions, people are panicking more and excluding more. It would seem, that not even the love of God is enough to unite.

Well, I just got one of Ravi's newsletters that, while it confirmed what I'm seeing, reminded me of what has been commanded us, and somehow, I'm finding it calming.

He starts off quoting 1 Peter 3:15 -- “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The fact that we see so little gentleness and respect makes me sad. Being reminded that it's a teaching of the faith is encouraging.

He goes on to tell a story--"I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a Hindu. He was questioning the strident claims of the followers of Christ as being something supernatural. He absolutely insisted “conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that in most cases it was not any different to those claims of other ‘ethical’ religions.” So far, his argument was not anything new. But then he said something that I have never forgotten, and often reflect upon: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” His question is a troublesome one. After all, no Buddhist claims a supernatural life but frequently lives a more consistent one. The same pertains to many of other faiths. Yet, how often the so-called Christian, even while proclaiming some of the loftiest truths one could ever express, lives a life bereft of that beauty and character."

Since I spend so much time around both the Christian Left and the Christian Right, I've come to realize something...the Right seems obsessed with the "Thou shalt nots" and the Left focused squarely on the "Thou shalts" they got split, I don't know. I imagine it comes from too much absorbing of secular culture--which, but the way, isn't just music and attitudes toward sex. Secular attitudes also include ignorance, small-mindedness, ignoring the humanity of others and a general lack of respect for the struggles those around us are facing.

I don't know what all that means, but I feel like I need some space from the "loud" Christians these days and more time with the quieter, busy, effective ones.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I don't belong to a political party...

I think these last few election cycles have done irreparable damage to the brand of Christianity in the US. Some might see that as something we shouldn't be concerned about, but when people dislike us for doing things that weren't commanded by Christ, there's a problem.

I've unsubscribed from many friends' Facebook feeds. Are they getting their scripture right? Yes. Are their posts floating on rivers of racial and nationalistic superiority? Yep. Seeing Christians behave the way they have has shaken the point where I have some very deep, foundational questions I have to ask myself about how I conduct my life and relationships with those around me.

Sad though it makes me, I'm not surprised. I grew up in an environment where the same Bible, the same scriptures and the same Holy Spirit somehow came to different conclusions about issues quite regularly...that's what doing a split shift between a predominately White Christian school and a Black Church gives you.

I do not believe that a God who inspired the entire Bible somehow only cares about abortion and Gay marriage. I believe that both major US parties neglect Biblical mandates in the social application of their faith. I feel just as, if not more so obligated to protect the poor and disadvantaged, minimize war and protect the sanctity of adult life as I do anything else.

So, end of the day, to me, the question of asking which movement, conservative or liberal is more Christian is like asking which cures cancer, Pepsi or Coke. If you're thinking like that, you're not even asking the right questions. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A night of the Grateful Dead and the Ten Commandments

Tonight...tonight was good.

I'm not gonna lie. Losing two pastors who were instrumental in changing my view on my relationship with the church has been rough. I'm scared. I fear change like this not for the change itself, but because I fear the organization could once again become something from my past that I actively distance myself from. Black, White, whatever, traditional churches are places where I have a difficult time growing--a hard time staying out of holes of resentment and frustration and doubt..and that's mostly because I end up spending the bulk of my time dealing with the emotional weight of lack of acceptance or flat out rejection, be it because of my color, my culture or my personality.

But yes...tonight. Tonight our new small group went on a field trip (all the way to the main sanctuary) to hear the church counselor speak on the Ten Commandments in relationship to the family...not the most obvious connection. There were four of couple and two single. I was happy to walk into the room and see a mixture of singles and marrieds (mostly couples and parents, but that makes sense). I really think we need to learn together, if only to maintain understanding of what the other group is going through. Beyond that though, any of us could end up on the other side of the relationship coin at any point in life, so it's a good idea to keep an ear out regardless of what team you're on.

I love the way this guy teaches. I adore quirky people to the point that I have to contain my elation at finding another outlier in the world. Humans that, for whatever reason, are aliens among their own pique my curiosity like nothing else. This guy...he is one of us Nots--going off on Faulknerian tangents mid-sentence, considerately wavering in and out of awareness of his audience with quick apologies and an occasional qualifier (that's where the Grateful Dead and the Monkey and the Engineer come in). He's aware, I'm sure because of his background and because he's a professor, of cultural impact. I was giddy when he spoke on individualism vs. collectivism in the Western World and how it's almost impossible to not be affected by an entire country with an individualistic bent...seriously giddy. For a split second I was digging frantically for reasons that I might need to make an appointment for counseling--though I'm sure he wouldn't appreciate my guise of personal turmoil and efforts to pick his brain.

Any Christian who can use the gifts God gave them, take their field of study seriously and live their lives flying in the face of anti-intellectualism gets a +10 from me.

He paralleled Ephesians and the Ten Commandments and spoke on why they are basically only two (Love God, Love others) split into more detail for our little brains...but if I remember nothing else, it will be these two concepts that he spoke on in relation to the family...

  • The honor of a child is not the right of the parent, it is a command to the child.
  • Men are the spiritual head of household 
That first one was blatantly ground-breaking for me. He spoke on how often he has clients come in, complaining of not being honored by their children, and how he then has to gently remind them that they are not entitled to honor...that their job, simply, is not to frustrate their children and to train them up to follow God's word.

The second though, much more subtly, but more profoundly sounds like a repeat of what I've heard before, but he said it in a way that changed the way I'll view it forever. Tonight was the first time I heard anyone explain it in a way that clearly articulated the importance of the use of "spiritual" as a limitation on the word "head". As he stated..."that does not mean that he is the head of where the cups go in the cabinet, that he has the final say in disciplining children or in money. Go read Proverbs 31." He also went on to say that boyfriends are not the head of girlfriends in any way, and that headly status is not conferred until marriage has occurred. 

I think I'm still internalizing all that. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rethinking Science vs. Religion

I adored The Dark Knight Rises. It's seriously going in my top 10 movies. The purposeful action, the elegant melancholy, the cool accents...and that plane scene (my jaw was literally open both times I saw it). One thing spoke to me more than anything else though. The movie struck me as one long effort to highlight the futility of the false dichotomies we create in life and relish on a daily basis in efforts to keep an otherwise messy existence clean and simple. We do it all day, every day, Bulls or Heat, Democrat or Republican, us or them, Creation or Evolution. While the core of Christian status is quite black or white (did you go through Jesus or not), the clarity after that point, I believe, is only to be fully grasped by God.

The Pharisees were NOTORIOUS for trying to trap Jesus with false dichotomies...Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife or not? Is it right for a man to pay taxes or not? Should this adulterous woman be punished or not? Each time, Jesus responded with an answer that rejected the yes/no dynamic inherent in the Pharisees' efforts to confine him to two choices.

Reading The Guide for the Perplexed, I'm seeing the false dichotomy has almost a tradition in Jewish culture of being used to deceive...which would make perfect sense as to why the Pharisees ran straight to it so often.  This time, it's Natural and Divine sciences. The section I'm on now addresses the placement of creation in the Bible, how it should be taught and what importance in plays. Maimonides asserts that Divine sciences  cannot be understood until the Natural sciences are grasped and quotes Jewish sages as saying:

 "It is impossible to tell mortals of the power of the Account of the Beginning. For this reason Scripture tells you obscurely: In the Beginning God created, and so on."

That flies in the face of the stance main-stream modern American Christianity has taken against the sciences and it continues to make me did we get here? Why was it, that so many years ago, American colleges, universities and scientists believed in and worshiped God, following the paths of Jewish teachings like that listed above, but now, some Christians reject science altogether. Maybe it really is as simple as the backlash of the emotional Second Great Awakening against the cerebral bent of its predecessor...that though, I am beginning to think, is a mere case of the Church again absorbing secular culture instead of blazing its own paths to God.  As Mark 12:24 says, I think we are in error very much because we simultaneously do not know the scriptures, and want to limit the power of God to fit human understanding. 

This book turns my head upside down and my soul inside out. I'm only a few pages in (it's a VERY rough read) but I am very much beginning to believe that creation...something we regard as simple enough to be grasped by 5 year olds (I spent a lot of time in Christian school, and we spent a lot of time on creation) much more advanced a concept than we realize and that we ask people to do the impossible when we tell them to simply accept the teachings of Genesis at face value. I am beginning to believe the reason Jesus did not speak much on creation was not because it was not important, but that it was simply too advanced a concept for his following, then and now, to begin to contemplate or understand. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why I Fear for the American Church

I was ready to move on from this. Politics in the US has been digging up a lot of unresolved feelings for me and I thought I'd blogged my way through...and I have quite a bit...but today I was listening to the talk below by Ravi Zacharias. It's called "Why I'm not an Atheist" and in the talk the former Hindu turned anti-theist and current Christian apologetic talks on some of the issues he has with hard-line atheism (not to be confused with agnosticism).

He comes at it from multiple angles, but most prominent, at least to me, was his assertion that atheism is frequently the moral safe-haven for people who simply want to live purely for themselves...something that most religions will not let followers do without some level of internal discord. He spoke of a desire to acquire wealth, staunch individualism and  lack of responsibility for those around you...the core of the direction the Republican Right...the former "Moral Majority" moving. And this just isn't in words...I don't believe that Paul Ryan is necessarily following Ayn Rand's philosophies point for point (though it's been a while since I read the Fountainhead), but the way the woman thought is almost wholly incompatible with Christian teachings.  The kicker is watching those same Christians support a man who follows a faith that teaches so much that directly contradicts the Bible over a sitting president who is a Christian (I believe the rumors that the President is a "secret Muslim" are efforts to quiet some of this cognitive dissonance). I'm not just watching this on TV. I see this in new Christian friends and those I've known for years and I am at a loss.

I don't take issue with people voting Republican...I've done it myself and will likely do it again. What concerns me is seeing large segments of the Church tiptoeing into waters this strange for the sake of preservation of tradition.

Zacharias, as usual, boils it down beautifully. The argument isn't theist vs. atheist, it's all about world views (I thank G.K. Chesterton for shifting my line of thought on this). We're embroiled in a battle between those who focus their fight for the self, the here, the physical and the now, and those who fight for others, and what may exist on the other side.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Is Creation too Complex for most Christians?

Great message this morning on continuous learning through life. It was timely for me because I decided earlier this week to pick up my copy of The Guide for the Perplexed and give it a go. It's a 12th century Jewish text written by Maimonides as a letter to one of his students. I initially bought it because I wanted a better understanding of the Old Testament.

*a thanks to Family Guy for the reminder a few hours before reading this, that Jesus was a practicing Jew. 

Click the link for more detail on what the work actually is, but let me just's one of those books that made me feel like an idiot. took me 2 minutes just to find the first section I wanted to explore. I read 3 pages of the introduction and was ready to accept defeat...but the book put forth a concept that drew me in. Maimonides asserts that certain concepts of faith were simply not fit for the masses and that even to those who were able to handle them, they should only be taught late in the Jewish tradition. That thought landed oddly on my equality-drenched American psyche. My gut reaction was that the concept was simply wrong and archaic, and I with my open, modern mind would continue reading despite the ancient ignorance...but then I thought of my study of jiu jitsu. There was a moment last year where another student and I were working a technique for his belt exam. I played the part of throwing dummy. He'd been studying 4 years, I, 2. Our instructor saw us from across the gym, walked up and said to him "Stop. You don't have enough control to keep from hurting her and she doesn't have enough understanding to protect herself."

This work is definitely one of those situations. It is specifically geared toward deciphering the mysteries of God and it tackles them the "hand of God" an actual hand? Was the universe actually created out of nothing? Can God actually be described and if so, how should it be done? These are questions that have split churches and synagogues and, on the surface, seem to be elementary to divine belief...yet this books takes them on as advanced topics.

I couldn't help but marvel at the disagreement over creation out of nothing and how neatly a discussion within a faith community mirrored the one had today so publicly between Christian and Atheist/Agonistic groups today.  

I sometimes wonder if we're not laying the foundation of our faith on the spiritual equivalent of differential equations, encouraging people to feign certainty about things they simply cannot genuinely understand and waiting to teach basic addition (personal, internal things like love and self-sacrifice that Jesus plainly laid out as the core true religion in his teachings) until believers have been practicing for years. Creation comes on the first page of the Bible but seeing as the Bible isn't based on progressing difficulty, I wonder if beginning at the beginning isn't a bit confusing.

The pastor this morning brought up a profound point about Jesus that I think Christians miss while people who don't believe in the divinity of Jesus understand perfectly. The man made ground-breaking social strides. As I was reminded this morning, he was revolutionary in that he treated women and children as humans, wholly worthy of his love and attention as any adult male in a society where they were simply background players. We miss these simple, amazing, transformative and obvious things about Jesus' walk while getting caught up in mysteries few of us are likely to ever understand...and I think this is an active choice.

I have a DVD set dedicated to one submission in jiu jitsu...just one. The triangle. That's 3 DVDs on one technique. I could come home tomorrow and spend 4 hours watching them. I could then sign on to a couple of forums and debate the effectiveness of the techniques. After that, I could start blogging about my experiences learning a submission that I'm physically well suited for. I would leave the experience with no sore muscles, no burned and bleeding shins, no torn ligaments, not one drop of sweat spent...and I would feel accomplished for having accomplished nothing.

Or...I could go and suffer the pain and frustration of cleaning up my sloppy, ineffective, easily defended triangle. Application, even of simple things, is usually painful.

I'm going to keep reading...slowly. Many of the mysteries of God that the book addresses really are light years beyond my understanding. I felt my chest burn as I was reading and knew that I was taking a look at God that I had never even considered before. It scares me a little...and not in the ways that intellectual pursuits of Christianity have before. I don't worry that I will begin to replace an understanding of God with a knowledge of scares me in a way that is exciting and intimidating and possibly the closest to true Fear of the Lord that I have ever gotten.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Today was my pastor's last day.

I cried.

As he read what's possibly the last message I'll ever hear him give, I realized I was sitting in a new emotional experience. I've sat under six pastors in my life and never have I had one leave on good terms. I've never been sad to see one go. I also don't think I'll ever get used to looking into a man's eyes when he's about to cry.

2012 very much feels like a year of loss for me. My grandmother, who I consider one of the few mentors in my life, passed in late 2011, but I'm just now coming to terms with it. I also lost two cousins, one to a sudden, violent death. I feel like there's something else there too, but I can't pinpoint what yet.

I was talking with my cousin today about internet dating experiences. As a Christian single, it's important to have someone as a sounding board for things like this. Navigating life as a single requires that one be able to improvise and be very clear on what you're trying to accomplish or avoid. You many options when it comes to housing, use of time, use of finances, etc. But yeah. I told her about a message I got from a man.

"You say you don't consider homosexuality a sin. Are you actually a Christian? What do you to say about Sodom"

I have on my profile that I am Christian and that it is extremely important in my life. He was foreign, so I don't think there was as much accusation in his message as might be perceived. I explained that I do not consider the state of simply being gay a sin any more than I consider finding a married person of the opposite sex attractive to be a sin and directed him to Ezekiel 16: 49. He replied that he misjudged me and we continued on with the conversation.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

When Janet Reno came to church.

The idea of American Exceptionalism scares me on many levels, one of them definitely as a Christian.

I love the Olympics. It's easy for me to. I have a natural bent toward international environments. I get excited at seeing a new country's take on the games. I love seeing the names I can't pronounce (Eastern European names make seeing Chinese ones a, so many consonants), the native costumes, the bloodless competition. It's also easy for me because I'm American. I wonder how excited I'd be for the games as a whole if I were from, say, a country like Grenada who just won their first medal ever (a gold to boot...huge congratulations to them!).

So yes...due to our recent political climate already having things riled up, the Olympics, from what I can tell, has only caused a slight uptick in the frequency of the "America is the best/greatest/most powerful/most awesome country in the world" meme. During the Games it makes perfect sense. The Games themselves are essentially one huge, two week festival of comparison and oneupsmanship. That's what competition is. I'll take this any day over war. Imagine...if instead of Japan attacking Pearl harbor and America responding with two atomic bombs, Russians began using professional basketball players against our college Olympians and we responded with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson...oh wait. 

But comparison outside of clearly designated boundaries? I have to ask why. When a comparison is being made, there's a reason...usually to assert the superiority of one, to emphasize the inferiority of others or to retaliate against an attack. It's not always bad, but there is, always, a reason.

When I left the church I was raised in, it was bigger than just walking away from a building, my family, a routine or a peer group. I was walking away from a social institution. I walked away from the Black Church. I did it to preserve my faith. I haven't said it in a while, but I got to a point where Sundays in church were when I felt the farthest from God. (I say that not to assert that one can't be Christian and attend a Black Church. I'm saying simply that I found a conflict between the culture and the working out of my personal journey of faith as a Christian.) Yes, my individual home church had some issues, but I believe...I know that they were symptoms of cultural retaliation.

Displaced cultures are peculiar creatures. It happens afresh in today's world, but here in the US, we watch, every day, the effects of a country trying to regroup and redefine itself after engaging in the mass displacement of Africans...a practice that flew in the face of the very values a young country was trying to implement, all for the sake of economic prosperity. National cognitive dissonance of that level does not go away without the growing pains of racial relations we live today. (This is one of those points that I believe the US actually is breaking ground on, but yet another point of exceptionalism we choose to ignore in favor of clinging to successes of the past).

The solidarity and uniformity of the Black church is a reaction to that displacement. It's not just a religious institution. It's a place where culture is affirmed and reaffirmed and recycled and replayed. It was and is a core of education, family and community during the Civil Rights era and continues to be one of the primary funnels and filters of power in the Black American community. Pastors know this. Politicians know this. I realized this one Sunday when, as an usher at 16, I stood face to face with the formidable presence Janet Reno.

...and this is where things get fuzzy. You have an institution that has a dual of faith and one of culture. The words in Matthew 6 apply here. An organization cannot serve two masters. It will eventually, if not every day, have to choose. My old church made its choice and I vowed not to return until a specific leader left. Well...a few years ago he did leave. He did not though, take the influence of Prosperity Gospel with him. I heard reports of a new song titled "Speak it to the Universe" that had made its way into the rotation at the church. I knew then, that this was deeper than one building or one branch.

I see something similar going on in the White Church. The culture is threatened and trying to regroup and redefine. Christianity is still, by far, the dominant religion in the US, with almost 80% of people identifying as Christian. What has changed though, is that it is no longer the default setting. People of other faiths, or no faith, now, thanks to social media and...well...more media in general have more of a voice to express their disinterest, disagreement or animosity. More platforms to highlight their displeasure and faults of the past...and this disruption in the status quo...this redefinition of the profile of America...I think is the birthplace of this reactionary new use of the concept of American Exceptionalism.

The loss of the perception of security is shocking (see Sept 11th). No one needs to assert their superiority when they feel secure. Part of the reason you hear overweight women assert their beauty, attractiveness and sexiness is self-acceptance. Part of it is them trying to convince themselves.

But a few personal words of affirmation aren't too much to be concerned about on a global scale. My concern is what happens when any group of people go from saying they are inherently exceptional to believing it...when they feel they and all their actions have been ordained by God. It hits my ears as the beginning of the latest reincarnation of what was once referred to as Manifest Destiny, British Imperialism, the territorial expansion of the Holy Roman Empire...etc.

God is not a fan of pride. Never has been. Check out Obadiah 1. Yes, it's addressed to a specific nation, but it tells us a lot about the character of God. The tone behind the term of American Excpetionalism is completely devoid of the submission and subjugation of Amazing Grace that is, at least in word, so respected by those that sing it. There is no scent of wretchedness, no acknowledgement of a state of loss. There is no hope in God's word. There is no need of Grace.

My father told me today that he heard a speaker on Moody Radio say that politics was the new religion of the American Right. I fear he may be correct.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Life is not a football game.

So I've been doing a lot of musing over the Republican Wall in the American church. Not just because it hits some personal nerves, but because it's real. It's something that I and any liberal/minority friends run into while trying not to forsake connecting with Christian groups. It makes it easy for people like me who are either naturally introverted or have past church scars to just...walk away and try to do it on our own.

I can normally find some relief by spending some time checking out The Christian Left, but lately, even they have begun to counter the stereotyping, closed-mindedness and self-righteousness of the Right in kind...justifying it by pointing out the faults of their "enemies"...and there's the problem.

Life is not a football game. I'm not going to stop buying chicken or eat mor chikin just because someone says two things I happen to agree/disagree with.  We don't have teams. Seriously we don't. Having "teams" is the modern day example of struggling against flesh and blood...and this is definitely not limited to the church. I think it reflects a larger change affecting society as a whole that has, like so many other things, just waltzed its way ever so quietly into the midst of the Christian community. That whole Team Edward/Team Jacob deal? What happened to people just favoring one character over another? There wasn't a team Luke or team Team Gatsby/Team Nick...(I have to add that I watch Lucas, read Fitzgerald and do neither with Meyers...had to put that out there).

At what point did we lose such ownership of our own identities that we began to need an adversary to define who we were? That's the point of teams. Without the rest of the NFL, the Bears are just a bunch of guys wearing way too much clothing. Have we become so dull to the concept of shading that all encounters in life must be black or white? Based on what I see from the Christian Left and the religious right and every...person...out there measuring the state of their morality on their relationship with a chicken sandwich, I'm going to say yes.

...and I think I know why.

My management studies in biz school were pretty weak. Not surprising since my school specialized in finance and accounting, but it bes that way sometimes. There was one concept that grabbed me above the drone of my oversimplified organizational management class. Group Think. It's been blamed for everything from bad fashion choices to US forces ignoring warnings about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I want to get the effects of that out there so no one takes it lightly. This is more than just a difference of opinion or people being stubborn or sticking to their guns. There are real and serious side effects if behavior of group think is left unchecked and unchallenged.

It basically happens when people want cohesion and harmony SO badly within a group that they toss out personal desires, group well being, organizational mission statement and all forms of rational thought--all just to keep things happy.

This is why I think conservatives are more prone to group think...and I don't just mean Republicans. Some people are natural born conservatives...they might even vote Democrat, but at the end of the day, they just don't want things to change because change is the worst thing that can happen they're willing to risk the well being of themselves, their group, their country and their world, just for the sake of things not changing.  (On the other side of that spectrum are people who think change is inherently good...Chaos-mongers if you will, but that's a post for another day.)

So I did some fresh reading on group think to check out some of the situations that might lead to this rearing its ugly head.

  • Very stressful external threats
  • Recent failures
  • Difficulties in decision making
  • Moral dilemas
Between September 11th, the browning of America, global economic failures, convoluted electoral systems and questions over gun ownership, abortion and gay rights, the US is a hotbed for group think. I'd be shocked if it WEREN'T going on. The church in the US, with its regional focus, racial segregation, bias toward the married with children model and unified purpose is especially susceptible...homogeniety of social background and ideaology is one of the best fertilizers for it (moral of the story? Be selective, but shake up your peer group a little from time to time.) Still don't believe it's going on? Check out some symptoms:
  • Illusions of invulnerability: Belief that the US will stay the best country in the world regardless of slipping test scores, economic status, social mobility and everything else that laid the foundation for our country's greatness is pretty common
  • Unquestioned belief that outsiders are immoral/wrong: I'm personally picking up on a bit of the Chrstian Left's brand of group think. I hear "Right" and assume certain moral failings. 
  • Stereotyping outsiders: This is one of my main reasons for disliking terms like "Libs" "Repugnicans" "Obamabots" or the says more about the degradation of the user's critical thinking than it does about those being labeled.
  • Pressure to conform: all this drama over flag pins and Gabby Douglas' uniform not being patriotic enough (guess everybody forgot about Nastia in pink). 
  • Truthiness
So's going on left and right, contributes to the lack of effectiveness of the church and could lead to the end of the world. Is it preventable though? Are there remedies?

Of course, but the tricky thing about group think is that lazy leaders LOVE it (some even enough to actively feed it. I question any leader feeding an emotion like fear that grows just fine on its own). It makes their job so much easier. And guess do lazy followers. If rules and thoughts are clear and individuals have little responsibility, people who like to play it safe feel EXTRA safe. It turns organizations from slow, messy, beautiful masses of human diversity into huge, unthinking, easily controlled beasts. I left my last church because of group think that had gotten to the point where not even Biblical scripture could be used as a valid counter to the opinions and behaviors of the group. 

I consider myself pretty well insulated from group because I'm an introvert, but two because I like variety in people and keep myself surrounded by a decently broad spectrum of humanity. There is something that can drive me to it emotions. And mine are burning lately from years of previous and piles of current hurt I perceive as coming from the Christian Right. It is so, so easy to slip into the group think of the other side...they affirm what I believe! They accept me for who I am! They don't challenge my comfy little world! And ya know what...that's not their job. While I do think The Christian Left has a responsibility to not feed the group think beast, I also believe it's my job as an individual to prevent my being sucked in by not forgetting that even those on the right, are God's children, even if off base about many things. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

I'm embarrassed to go to Chic-Fil-A.

*warning...long, convoluted post sorting out old, convoluted emotions.*

Not as a Black person eating fried chicken...not as a follower of the paleo diet sneaking cookies (they're totally worth the $1+ for 1 cookie). No. I'm embarrassed that someone, somewhere, might think I'm one of "THOSE" Christians. You know...the ones where love takes a back seat to anger...the ones that only care about God's proclamations around marriage when it involves excluding gays (still not hearing anyone talking about that whole divorce-remarriage deal that straight people do all the time)...or only seem concerned about God's proclamations around anything when it comes to gaining back some sort of cultural ground they've lost. The ones who likely wouldn't welcome too many of my color in their services. On that same note though, I wouldn't boycott the restaurant because one, I (for the most part) judge establishments by treatment of patrons, employees and community and two, money from the gas I buy goes to support people who murder homosexuals, so forgoing a chicken sandwich seems insultingly self-righteous.

Because of all the drama round the chain though, I think I've figured out my beef with the culture that calls itself the Religious Right.

If you don't feel like watching the whole TEDx talk, the point that jumped out at me was the fact that Michael Dowd (Author of Thank God for Evolution) subtly centers the talk around getting to know each other as humans. Connecting with your fellow human being. He ends it with a quote from Carl Sagan

"Science is, at least in part, informed worship." Here it is in context:

If a Creator God exists, would He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is, prefer a kind of sodden blockhead who worships while understanding nothing? Or would He prefer His votaries to admire the real universe in all its intricacy? I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship. My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, then our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, then our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival in an extremely dangerous time. In either case the enterprise of knowledge is consistent surely with science; it should be with religion, and it is essential for the welfare of the human species.

I know that Sagan was an atheist, so I in no way take that statement as some sort of bottom of the 9th conversion or credit Sagan as a great thinker of faith. What do I think he was saying? I think his point was "Church goin' folk. You have no excuse for being stupid."  

He missed something though. I don't think science is rejected by Christians sheerly for the love of ignorance. I think it's rejected because, as the video says, the more you learn, the more you realize you have in common with people from everywhere, from every walk of life. If you don't want to have things in common, learning and experiencing become something to be avoided. Seclude and exclude as much as possible and it's easy to create your own reality every single day. 

I've been mulling over a LOT of very personal and very mixed feelings that were dug up after vising a Christian relationship site where they take a similar stance to that of Mark Gungor...basically it's your job to get married...just do it and stop worrying over love and God leading you to the right person. God just wants you to get hitched and start popping out babies. I'm going to dedicate a post to them, so I won't go into too much detail, but one thing really struck me about the site. I read the posts written for both men and women, for both singles and marrieds, finding the usual subtle messages discouraging women from being educated beyond HS and holding men, those people who are supposed to be head of household, to the lowest behavioral standards possible. Nothing surprising there. What WAS new was the credentials of the people writing the articles and giving advice. Those writing for married people? Licensed therapists, PhDs, veritable alphabet soups after author names. Those writing for singles? They went to church...a WHOLE lot. Thanks for letting me know that my well being  as a single isn't worth the consultation of professionals. I wrote them a very carefully worded, non-accusatory letter two weeks ago to find out what's up with that. I have yet to hear back. 

I felt excluded and uncared for as a single Christian. I felt that maybe one day they would consider me worth the attention of someone who'd invested time and study into their profession, but not until I got a ring on my finger. I was on my own until then. 

All the tea-party talk I hear from Christian Republican friends? I feel excluded. 

Those same people and their anti Chinese bent? Exclusion. 

When I know I'd be more welcome walking into a random jiu jitsu gym than a random church? Excluded and sad.

When I hear Christians beefing about immigration? More exclusion.

I felt the same thing when I saw a friend post this very poignant photo on Facebook. 

The firing of Brenda Honeycutt actually gets to me more than a CEOs views on marriage. 

She'd called out one of the biggest, loudest and most public exercises of Christian exclusion this country has seen in a while. As a Christian, I do not look on this gesture with pride. I've worked for men who prayed before meetings and spoke loudly of family values while beating their wives and openly cheating and lying to customers. Eating fried food does not make a statement. And as much as I do give the chain credit for continuing to close on Sundays in the face of a culture that holds less and less to be sacred, I maintain that people give entirely too much credit for generically standing up for one's beliefs...2 year olds do that all day long and get no props do terrorists and that guy who flipped you off in traffic. 

This is the face of the church I see in this country most frequently...I know...I have my bias because of past and present experiences and I know many people who identify as Republican/Conservative/Right and Christian who are doing the work of God in genuine, Biblical ways...but be it out of personal choice or actual association, I never consider those people to be part of the "Religious Right" or a "red-blooded American Christian". 

I consider them just "Christian" just "part of the Church"...which is how I think it should be...there's a reason there's neither Jew nor Greek. And while I do understand that the identity of the WASP-American is threatened right now, it is hard...very hard for me to be compassionate to the point of ignoring so many slights...slights against themselves even, because every step of exclusion and separation is a blow to the body of Christ. 

It is frustratingly difficult for me to hear phrases like "family values" and "traditional marriage" and "Christian upbringing"...phrases on that surface I agree with, was raised with and work to exemplify in my life, but that have been twisted in an affront to everything I, the people I care about and the people I've been charged to help as a Christian, are. What do you do when people wrap bigotry, callousness, hard-hardheartedness, ignorance and oppression in packages of piety and start selling them on street corners? How do you sort those with good intentions from modern day Pharisees?  How do I sort my own offense, anger and frustration from areas to practice forgiveness and places where such behavior should not be tolerated?

I do not know what to do with that. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Blessing of my Job

I live in a continuous cycle of viewing my employment alternatively as an edifying blessing and a soul-crushing curse.

I'm in the middle of training a coworker. We somehow ended up in a tearful conversation about what it means to love people as Christians, Catholocism and its perceptions, trying to save someone who you know is close to death, witnessing to people who've had more difficult lives than you and the obsession of people in corporate jobs over money.

Halfway through the conversation I thought back to the night before at small group, where one of my first employers came up. Our group leader asked about it and with knee-jerk speed, I replied "it was a horrid, horrid place." I then thought "Gosh woman, have you ever had a job you actually enjoyed?"


I looked at myself with pity. After 10 years I have lost the expectation of job enjoyment. (I say that with no sadness and very matter-of-factly.) Then I stepped back and realized that in my 10 years the post-baccalaureate work world, I have always had a Christian element in my work and my job has always presented one of my greatest areas for spiritual growth. God has taught me peace and appreciation through a rainbow of frustration and disillusionment. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Unholy iPhone

I was discussing phone Bibles with my cousin a while back and she said something that got me thinking...

"There's something not right about being able to get porn on the same thing you read your Bible on."

I guess you COULD say the same thing about paper, but there is something distinct about all our little multifunctional life-mates. Yes, even in a basic browser window, I could have open Bible studies and the most irreverent websites known to man in adjacent tabs--the problem isn't the sole venue of smartphones. There is a twist though. If I wish to use my internet uninterrupted and undisturbed, it's a bit easier, because  the core purpose of a computer isn't communication. I can sign off Facebook, close out chat programs close out email and get off message boards. However, no matter how selective I am about the apps and setup of my phone, texts come in, calls pop up. It is, after-all, a machine built to bring information into my life...immediately.

I never used my computer as my primary, I have two apps (Mantis and YouVersion), that serve as my base of operations for Bible study, with my Apologetics Study Bible getting pulled out only when something really gets my mind in knots.

Not gonna lie...I still struggle every morning not to start my day with a Facebook/Twitter review and instead do my morning devotional. Not that that's a new struggle, but the phone just opens up new frontiers of conflict.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

MMA in the Christian Media

Just saw this announced in Vitor Belfort's Twitter stream. Belfort recently had a highly anticipated bout with Wanderlei Silva cancelled because of an injured hands. Really curious to see how he addresses his faith.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Traumatic Work History

My first job out of college was horrible.

After getting out (2 years later) and healing after entering a job God had lead me to, I remember talking with my best friend about how our mutual bad work experiences felt like getting out of abusive relationships. Neither of us had experienced that in the relationship world, but the scars and trauma seemed to match what physically battered and emotionally abused women talk about.

And then there were the physical symptoms. I have a thyroid condition that first manifested itself at that first horrible job. Now, anytime I'm stressed (kinda like now...chaos abounds), I can tell almost immediately by the behavior of that tricky little gland. I know first hand that job stress manifests itself in the breakdown of physical health.

I was sitting with a coworker talking about the job and a couple of people came to mind. Winnie and Charlie. Both former coworkers. Both had dropped dead before the age of 50 because of job stress. I sometimes wonder why God put me in positions to see these things. It's left me jaded about the part a job plays in a person's life and wholly reluctant to emotionally commit to career again. I really do wonder. Sometimes I think I've found a healthy balance, avoiding that Northern hemisphere soul-sacrificing orientation toward work but maintaining a solid work ethic. Still...I do wonder. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

God of the Ordinary

A lot of the blogs I've been reading lately have been pointing back to the same theme...understanding...really understanding the character of God. Be it because of the challenge to pray from Carlos Whittaker to study the Bible less and pray more, or the revelations about the everydayness of God's work had over at Shrinking the Camel--lately I've been reflecting about God's imprint on my life.

I think it can be kind of difficult to see that print too early in're just too close to the trees. Seeing that picture takes time and a step back that only age can provide. While I did get to talk to my grandmother about a look back on her life before she passed, I would have loved to have had the conversation again at the very end...when she REALLY knew it was over. When that peace and satisfaction hit her. I saw it on her face, but I didn't get to hear the words. No complaints though. It would have been hard to ask for a better end of life.

I read a post a month or so back at RZIM that kicked it all off and tackled the concept of "unanswered" prayers head on. Sure...I know my prayer time is probably not best spent praying for a trip to Samoa or that my cat will get better (Bamboo-Dog's fine btw) or for the health and well being of my family and friends...I know it's supposed to go beyond world peace and praying for people I don't know like Christians in foreign countries or the leaders of our world...I even know I should pray for my enemies. Beyond that though, I thought I was doing good by focusing my prayers around thanksgiving and praise and by focusing mostly on the well being of others. I thought I was doing so well with my list of needs of people in my life and beyond...and then Mr. Zacharias challenged all that. He asserted that the purpose of prayer first and foremost was to get to know God.

Now...I do take regular time to listen...TV off, mine clear of thoughts of cooking, Chinese or jiu jitsu, but until now, I'd never thought of prayer as primarily being about getting to know God. I'd always thought of it as kind of a really cool byproduct of the process or something that comes from a conversation or spending time with him.Will that slight, but important change in perspective change the format with which I pray? Probably not much. But I do think it will change the way in which I live.

I really think my life has been a lot like the Shrinking the Camel piece's description of the stock market, with the big stuff...the majority of the changes only coming from .03% of the time it's been in existence. This is the quote that really got me...

People like to think God is working through them . . . and they usually, mistakenly, mean it happens through fireworks and avalanches. But God is much more subtle than that, tending towards everyday-ness, and in leaving a long trail of kindness, character and consistency that actually adds up to something substantial over time. 

This is easy for even me to forget...I'm a person that doesn't like surprises. My best friend and travel companion likes to tease me about how I like to plan out activities in the day, and I respond that I don't like "a heart attack around every corner." I would think that God's everyday-ness would be welcome to me...and to a degree it is. I read the concept of a subtle God and my introverted little heart warmed.

...but every now and then I find myself looking back asking why I don't have more big moments...why there isn't more progressive upheaval in my life. Part of that I know is because God knows me and knows I'd likely lose a good chunk of my sanity if my life involved too much jerking and lurching...but I think part of that is a reflection of his character too. You look at his most beautiful and amazing creations, and the "fast" ones like trees and plants take months and years to form while the truly breathtaking ones took thousands, to perhaps millions to reach their current state. That aspect of God's character honestly comes at no surprise.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gay Marriage and all the Bigger Issues around It

I am immensely thankful for my experiences in high school. I attended a little utopia of cultural integration, the likes of which exist few places, if anywhere, on earth. The greatest thing about it, is that while there, we, at the end of the day, all managed to work toward our individual goals and exist together. Through experience and instruction in that environment, I learned not to equate "normal" with "good" or "moral", and to regularly question  my assumptions, behaviors and comforts.

Another takeaway from that environment, was getting used to living in mixed environments with people who were different and whose lives were in direct contrast to my own. I live that way now (as is my preference) so when the discussion of Gay marriage came to a head again with our President sharing his view on the issue, I started seeing a firestorm of different opinions from people around me...even within groups. I have a lot of pastors in my life...some hardcore Right-wing, others staunch members of the Christian Left, all of various races. Even within the Black church, I'm seeing disagreement on the issue.

I think the first opportunity for Christians (or anyone for that matter) in situations like this is to examine ourselves, our behaviors and our practices. I've been disappointed and uplifted on many levels through all this...

  • Disappointed because, for many, there has yet to be any mention of the word "love" regarding addressing the struggles of our Gay/Lesbian brothers and sisters. These people are facing deprivation of the very basic necessities of life (not just marriage), and as Christians, we shouldn't sweep that issue under the rug because we disagree with their sexual practices. 
  • Disappointed in some Black people because, at the end of the day, we are talking about denying a group of people their rights, and we should be able to at least empathize.
  • Hopeful because the discussion is being had at all and I can see changes, small though they may be, in the treatment of GLBT people around me. 
  • Disappointed, because the Bible teaches against many things...especially remarriage after divorce equaling adultery, yet no one is talking about that at either a civil or a sacred level. I genuinely think that's because for 99.999% of Christians against Gay marriage, their motives are based not on wanting to apply scripture at a national level, but instead on sexual prejudices and wanting to continue to exclude and "one up" people who are different. 
  • Hopeful, because I see many Christians opening up to treating people of different sexual orientations as equals and welcoming them into the church. 
  • Hopeful because I feel that maybe, we can kick off a genuine discussion of the place the application of scripture plays in civil issues.
So yeah...this is going to be a hard one. Personally, I cannot in good conscience deny people rights that I freely grant to others who are also engaged in "sinful unions" based solely only their demographic, regardless of what I believe about their sexual practices. I'm still mulling over the concept of separation of church and state but honestly, I think we all need to go to civil unions (for both Gay and Straight) and make marriages like funerals with more religious meaning than legal.

I do, however, feel churches shouldn't have to perform ceremonies they feel support sinful behavior...yes, that might result in the loss of their tax exempt status but I'm pretty sure tax breaks are not a God-given right

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Politics is killing American Christianity.

I'm 99% sure of that.

My cousin texted me today, telling me that she's reluctant to get involved with her church because she knows she's going to run into that "Republican Wall" (my words)...any Christian who doesn't bleed GOP red has run into it. It's deeper than just a disagreement and it casts a shadow long before you run into it. It's the reason that, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I see people posting on the Facebook wall of the Christian Left, asking for ways to cope with their relatives' political assaults or prejudicial talk.

It's the speculation that comes when you hear someone say "I'm a Christian." It's the mistrust of the Ichthus fish on the back of a car. It's that feeling that eventually, if you continue to create deeper relationships without your church buddies, that you'll be faced with someone assuming you're a staunch Republican because you own a Bible. As my cousin said "It means I can never share my life with them." It's deeper than just political differences because, from what I've found, precious few on either side choose to draw distinction whatsoever between their political leanings and their faith. I'm not one to believe that one's faith is meant to be 100% separate from the way you vote, but I do believe that certainty about where God lies in the political system is arrogance in one of its ugliest forms and an affront to the body of Christ. Yes, both sides are guilty, but I have to say I see many more infractions from the Right. I dread any conversation turning political. Any mention of President Obama. Any talk of guns. Because then the relationship stops progressing down a path of revelation and turns to one of conflict and unlikely resolution.

Newest member of club Kindle.

I've had this beef for a probably struck me hardest though, not when a woman bounced jauntily into Bible study with a Tea Party sign after a rally in 2007, but instead when talking about the US population and imigrants, another lady remarked "They're starting to out number us. We have to do something about it." What struck me most about that, is that she thought to even make the comment to me in the first place. It was a conversation between the two of us, so it wasn't a case of "oops, didn't realize there was a minority present". The first thing I thought was "This woman has absolutely no concern for me as an individual, because if she had, she would hold her tongue at the possibility that I were an immigrant or even for the sake that I'm a minority period."

It disturbs me...the whole thing...and I didn't realize how deeply ingrained it was in me. A while back at the gym, I ran into a guy. He constantly berates homosexuals in whispered tones to guys he knows won't object. I've heard his son doing the same thing. I immediately assumed him to be Christian, because, well, hateful speech at that level seems to have become the norm for conservative members of the church.

Then I found out he was an athiest. I was confused. I stereotype atheists as being open-minded and at least, tolerant (something that is quite untrue). It hit me then, how deeply some experiences had shaped my opinion of the conservative Christian. Don't get me wrong, I have conservative Christian friends who are great people and don't need politics to define themselves. They are special people though, whose personal stumbling blocks don't seem to be bigotry and apathy toward other humans.

It all makes me wonder if we can get past this, both as a country, and more importantly, as a faith. I saw again last night how deeply it affects me when I prayed for these people and it was hard.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"This church sure is...quiet"

Apparently, that's what my newly married mother was told by a childhood friend after she came to visit my father's church years before I was born. My mother, she was raised Methodist...which is part of the reason we as children were allowed to use playing cards (my brother and I taught ourselves poker and blackjack...thank you World Book) and why she was the one who introduced me to alcohol and my brother to cigarettes when we first became curious as children--little bro chickened out on trying the borrowed, lit cigarette just as she put it to his mouth, and I writhed in 8 year old pain at the shot of vodka she'd poured when I asked what was in the bottle my father's job had given him for Christmas. (There may be no link, but to this day neither of us are big users of either alcohol or tobacco.) But yes...she was Methodist...African Methodist Episcopal to be exact--a denomination that is more permissive, and quieter in worship than your traditional Baptist church. Which must mean the Baptist church I came up in was pretty non-traditional when I was a child, because I remember relative calm and none of the fast-paced praise music and dance that most people think of when they think "Black Church". As Bart Simpson once said "Black God rules!"

So today I was leaving church and was walking out with one of the other Black people that shows up to church...the service I attend, and the church as a whole is predominately White with a few Blacks, Latinos and Asians floating around. One thing is particular to Black people though...while other races are likely foreign and new to Christianity, it's pretty safe to assume that if you run into a Black person in a White church, they're making a religious adjustment just as you are. So we talked and he explained why and how he started attending the church and how he wished his wife would come, but that she was apprehensive about the racial differences. I began talking about my own adjustment...from the music to the minority status, and he  continued on, letting me that while his wife was Baptist and used to a high energy service, he was Methodist and found more familiarity and comfort with a subdued worship experience. I immediately thought of the first time I attended church with my apostolic boyfriend's (at the time) family. I was completely overwhelmed. It was loud...louder than I'd ever experienced. People were running and screaming, drums was LONG. I've gotten used to hour long services...3 and 4 hour services feel like endurance races now.

But yes...while I do think there are lines easily drawn dividing Black and White Christian experiences in the US, today was a reminder that sometimes, race gets trumped by other things.