Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I am the Daria of Christians.

After posting this last week, I felt conflicted. Well, maybe more than just conflicted. I think it's safe to say I felt scared.

My number of hits for the piece were actually better than most of my stuff lately, so people were checking it out. But... aside from April and Don, no one made any comments. On the FAR Facebook page, it didn't get a single "Like". Sure, a number of my posts don't get feedback. That's why in that little "About Me" bar to the right, I "HINT, HINT, HINT" that comments are welcome. I felt this was different, though. It wasn't so much disinterest (especially with the higher amount of views) as sheer dislike.

Had I offended my fellow Christians? Had I inadvertently stepped on some highly polished Sunday shoes?

Don wrote, "One thing I can say about your blog and apparently you as a person - if whatever topic clearly goes against your Christian core, you don't bite your tongue for nothing and no one. Lol." The emphasis is all mine. And yes, he's right. Very much so. I am opinionated. Sarcastic. Talk a lot (poor, poor K).

The only time I'm biting my tongue is when I'm flapping my mouth so much I accidentally do so.

I sat mulling over me. Why can't I be like other Christians? I just don't fit in. Yeah, sure, I might not be fluent in Christianese, but I can totally hold my own in conversation. I have listened to my fair share of Casting Crowns and Third Day, have watched more than a couple of Nooma videos, and read my fair share of Francis Chan and Don Miller. Yet, I still don't fit in.

I try, yes, but wind up seeming like Andrea in the first couple seasons of "Beverly Hills, 90210" classic. Poor nerdy tag-along, hopping buses from my grandma's teeny out of district apartment to shadow behind Branden and Brenda at West Beverly.

So while the rest of the girls showed off in bikinis, Andrea wore shorts and a off the shoulder ruffle top. And glasses. Yeah, she "belonged". (Source)

So I asked a couple of people for feed back? Am I a bad Christian? 

I know I'm a fail at the neo-Reformed, Mark Driscoll-type Christian. The main reason being that I'm not Reformed, "neo" or old school.

My appreciation for a few Nooma videos aside, I don't fit the Rob Bell-esque Christian, either. I wholly accept the mystery of God, life and eternity. However, when I ask questions, I am at least trying to get answers.

I tried on the Prophetic Christian, but it wasn't a good look for me. It was just so voluminous, so free-form. I realized, like my post breast-feeding boobs, I need solid support and structure.

I never worked as a Pentecostal Christian. I can't shout, wail, get slain or even twirl a hanky with pizzazz. 

I glanced at the Prosperity Christian, saw that it required more sowing than all the farmers in the heartland, along with the overuse of words such as "favor", "birthright", and "claim" that I didn't even bother.

The Fundamentalist Christian, ever literal, was so ever wrong for me. 

Oh how I wanted to be a Hipster Christian! I have a pair of appropriately thick framed glasses. A nose ring and tattoos! I love cafes! Studied postmodern critique! I even read Scripture almost exclusively off my iPad. But I quickly remembered why I'd never belong. I'm not hip.

 She rocked doc martins and thick frame glasses. But nope, she wasn't hip, either. (Source)

After much self-absorption, uh er, reflection, I called K and explained my predicament. He agreed that I'm sarcastic (sometimes to a fault) and talk a lot. He added, "So you're not any of those 'types'. So you don't 'fit in' with a lot of Christians. The important thing is for you to fit with CHRIST. You follow Him."

My K, just as quiet as I am blabby, so full of wisdom.

I'll keep striving to be like Christ, and always be thankful the Body has enough space for the neo-Reformed, Rob Bell-esque, prophetic, Pentecostal, prosperous, Fundies and the Hipsters.

And me.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On Plato's Cave & the Ultimate Light

A long, long time ago, back when Clinton was still president, Diddy was still Puff Daddy, and Victoria Beckham was most famous for being oh so posh, I studied Machiavelli, St. Augustine and Plato in my senior year of high school.


Last week, I started thinking about Plato's Allegory of the Cave which is from "The Republic". If you're unfamiliar with the story, here's an excerpt from SparksNotes (you should the full thing out check it out, though... if 16 year old me could get it, so can you!):

Socrates describes a dark scene. A group of people have lived in a deep cave since birth, never seeing the light of day. These people are bound so that they cannot look to either side or behind them, but only straight ahead. Behind them is a fire, and behind the fire is a partial wall. On top of the wall are various statues, which are manipulated by another group of people, lying out of sight behind the partial wall. Because of the fire, the statues cast shadows across the wall that the prisoners are facing. The prisoners watch the stories that these shadows play out, and because these shadows are all they ever get to see, they believe them to be the most real things in the world. When they talk to one another about “men,” “women,” “trees,” or “horses,” they are referring to these shadows. These prisoners represent the lowest stage on the line—imagination.

A prisoner is freed from his bonds, and is forced to look at the fire and at the statues themselves. After an initial period of pain and confusion because of direct exposure of his eyes to the light of the fire, the prisoner realizes that what he sees now are things more real than the shadows he has always taken to be reality. He grasps how the fire and the statues together cause the shadows, which are copies of these more real things. He accepts the statues and fire as the most real things in the world. This stage in the cave represents belief. He has made contact with real things—the statues—but he is not aware that there are things of greater reality—a world beyond his cave.

Next, this prisoner is dragged out of the cave into the world above. At first, he is so dazzled by the light up there that he can only look at shadows, then at reflections, then finally at the real objects—real trees, flowers, houses and so on. He sees that these are even more real than the statues were, and that those were only copies of these. He has now reached the cognitive stage of thought. He has caught his first glimpse of the most real things, the Forms.

When the prisoner’s eyes have fully adjusted to the brightness, he lifts his sight toward the heavens and looks at the sun. He understands that the sun is the cause of everything he sees around him—the light, his capacity for sight, the existence of flowers, trees, and other objects. The sun represents the Form of the Good, and the former prisoner has reached the stage of understanding.

The allegory is about learning, how knowledge pulls us from chains, darkness and shadows and higher into the light. This lesson was very poignant to teen me, looking at a future of college, higher learning and new experiences to brighten the path before me.

Now at thirty (!), the allegory has taken on a more spiritual meaning.

My spiritual walk hasn't been so linear, with a constant ascent to the Light. Nope, I've moved forward, only slip back into the darkness, actually choosing to go back to the chains at times. Chains of fear, chains of mistrust and anger and hopelessness.

Yet, God in His mercy has continued to draw me to Him, to the Light who never dims. Upwards in the Truth, revealing the shadows for what they are, bringing me past the copies and to the ultimate Good, the Son, who gives peace that passes all understanding.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What, you mean I can't have it ALL?

For weeks, I've been hearing snippets about Yahoo's new CEO, supposedly the captain that will be able to right the sinking ship that is the Internet giant. Young, smart and attractive, too, which of course guarantees a decent amount of press from our looks-obsessed media.

But the Pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance? The newest power player is a she, and her name is Marisa Mayer.

And she's pregnant.

Cue the press-frenzy of stories of women power, balancing work and home, and even stories on current corporate fashion. Let me pause here to say, eww. Granted, the overwhelming majority of top CEOs are still dudes, but these "news" stories are more 1984 than anything Orwell conjured up. I couldn't help thinking one of those stories would have at least one participant in shoulder pads with teased hair propped in front of a Delorean.

What was most irritating for me was the "Can women finally have it all?" angle taken by a number of programs. This lined up nicely with an Atlantic piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter which answered the question with a resounding "no". She begins:

Eighteen months into my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.

You don't have to read much to get that if one is busy is sipping champagne and greeting foreign dignitaries, then no, you cannot be present to help one's son with his math homework.

A couple of weeks ago I read another Atlantic piece, this one from last November, called "All the Single Ladies," which looks realistically at a number of unattached women, from divorcees to single moms to somewhat naive co-eds. I laughed a few times, but came away with a feeling of sadness. I also thought the church is really, really, REALLY missing a huge opportunity to serve this ever-growing group, but that is another blog for another time.

What's painfully obvious to me concerning the theme of "having it all" that runs through both stories, is that we, in fact, cannot have it all.

Stop, and think on that. No, we- and this goes for the fellows, too- can't have everything. If we jump the broom, we leave one box and move to another. And if we leave that marriage, then we enter yet another box, completely different from the other two.

I'm not trying to be simplistic. There's just no reason to look at "1+1=2" and suggest algebra.

This is no reason to feel sad. Nope, on the contrary, it can be a relief to know and accept that, despite what the magazines, websites and TV shows push on you, you can't have it all.

I use to watch the "Today" show daily. Well, snippets of it since I was always rushing to school or work. But I brokw up with Matt and co. since becoming a SAHM. I grew tired of the quiet pitches to buy the latest makeup, purchase the must have sandals or incorporate the newest workout craze into my routine (especially since I don't have a routine to begin with). The message was being sent: life is incomplete unless I have [fill in the blank]. And the blank is constantly changing. More, more, more.

Get it all.

Oh, these problems we have, these first world problems.

The best example I know of for the 21st century wife and mom comes from many thousands of years ago. It's where I got the title of this blog, "far above rubies". Yes, the Proverbs 31 woman:

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

There is a huge difference between having it all, and having what truly matters.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Satan's Spiritual Structure

Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my. I saw this list and was equal parts confused and amused. I posted it on Facebook, and pretty much no one understood how or why "Vegetarianism" made it on there.

Noticing that handy little asterisk, lets check out the Scripture passages given, shall we?

Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

Reading these passages, I can totally see where things like membership in the Church of Satan, using Ouija boards to contact the dead or Wicca would be no-goes.

Some of these things, I'll admit, I have no idea of what they actually are (Rosicrucianism?).

 This, I suppose, is all kinds of wrong. (Source)

But others leave me with the feeling that many of my Brothers and Sisters in Christ live very frightened lives.

"Dungeons & Dragons"?  I'm guessing this one has been on such lists for several decades, and they should really  pull it off there. Rock music... is this ALL rock music, or just the heavy metal type (again, they might want to move into this century and pull this one off, too)? What about Christian Rock?

Why are "Twilight" FILMS listed, but not the books? Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings? That's interesting as Tolkien was devoted to Christ. Also, I read "The Hobbit" in my junior year English class. At Victory CHRISTIAN Academy. Ha.

I know Christians are steeply divided on things like yoga or studying Eastern Religions. Some stringently say, "no," while others have found much knowledge and inspiration.

My take?

 I John 1:5:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

2 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I'm covered by the blood of the Lamb. There is far greater things to be concerned about than AC/DC or Metallica. ;-)

How to Suck at Mocking Others' Religion

Have you seen The Oatmeal cartoon that's been going around the interwebs called "How to Suck at Your Religion"? I saw it on Tuesday, and being the open minded chick I am, I started reading it... and then lost interest, and stopped. See, I don't mind poking fun at religion, Christianese, and most definitely not myself.

I mean, I just did a post on just how corny we Christians can be when we try to grasp at pop cultural relevance. For more on that, try watching this "rap" inviting folks back to church. Sigh. Moving on...

Back to that Oatmeal cartoon. Marc Barnes  of "Bad Catholic" does an excellent job of deconstruction. An excerpt:

Okay, pushing past the I-don’t-want-to-address-the-question-of-whether-an-embryo-is-a-human-life-I’ll-just-make-the-bishop-character-blame-devils-lol-isn’t-religion-stupid-and-evasive and moving towards the actual issue: Embryonic stem cell research, from a purely scientific perspective, sucks. In the past thirty years of research, there hasn’t been one single human disease cured. Not one. No success. Can’t stress this enough. Have thus resorted to sentence fragments.

Adult stem cell research on the other hand, fully supported by the Catholic Church, is awesome. It has been used — sucessfully — to cure lupus, to treat blindness and vision loss, to put severe Crohn disease in remission, to cure rheumatoid arthritis, to heal diseased hearts, to put freaking brain tumors in remission, to cure certain types of ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia (Yes Mr. Inman, leukemia (the disease mentioned in your comic –leukemia, (pronounced leukemia, a disease which an overwhelming ass-ton of studies prove that adult stem cells can treat (sorry, had to fit all the studies in somehow)))).

Now let’s do some incredibly complex thinking here: We have on the one hand a potentially unethical treatment that’s never been shown to work. On the other — an undoubtedly ethical treatment that has produced splendid results, results who are walking around whole and healthy and can testify to the fact. The question is this: Is the fact that the Catholic Church supports the successful treatment while opposing the unsuccessful one hindering the advancement of medicine? Don’t think so. Neither does the State of California, which has ended funding of embryonic stem cell research. If this is the oppressive, close-minded attitude of the Catholic Church towards science, I’d say we could use a lot more of it.

Read the whole thing here. Also, you check out more at Shameless Popery, The Messianic Drew, and The Spirited Nerd.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ramadan Isn't Lent, and More


Over a billion Muslims worldwide are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. I read this fascinating and informative article that focuses on the similarities and differences between Ramadan and Lent.

During the 28 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fast begins at dawn when one can distinguish a white thread from a black one (Quran 2:188) and ends when the sun has set below the horizon. The fast is absolute n that nothing enters the body. Thus, fasting excludes not only eating food but also drinking fluids, smoking and sexual activity.

Since the month of Ramadan moves “backward” through the solar year, it occurs at some point in every season of the year in any given location. In the summer in both northern and southern latitudes, days can be quite long and the fast can go on for more than 15 hours. If 15 hours without food is difficult, 15 hours in the summer without water is even more so.


In many places in the Muslim world, the end of the day’s fast is announced by a cannon shot or some other major public announcement after the sun sets, informing people they may now engage in iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Muslims often first eat a date to break the fast, as did Muhammad. The nightly meals during Ramadan are often quite festive and families gather and enjoy specially prepared dishes.
The Quran excuses several groups of people from fasting: the ill, those on a journey and those for whom the fast would be a grave burden. Later schools of Islamic law expanded the group to include pregnant and nursing women, small children and the elderly. Those who break the fast for whatever reason are required to feed a needy person for each day of fast they miss and to make up the days of fast when they are again able.
On the surface, Ramadan resembles Christian Lent. It differs, however, in several fundamental ways.
Perhaps the most apparent difference is that after breaking the fast at nightfall, Muslims celebrate and often feast. During the first weeks of the month, there are especially festive dinners with the last dinner of the night being the suhur, which is to be eaten as close to dawn as possible. Losing weight is not generally connected with Ramadan in the Muslim mind.
More important, unlike Lent, Ramadan is not generally understood as an act of penance. Muslims rather consider Ramadan as an exercise in self–discipline, as purification and as a reminder of the believer’s dependence on the bounty of God.
As does fasting in Christianity, Judaism and Indic religions, the fast in Islam helps the believer focus on what is important. Fasting is closely connected to prayer and contemplation. It is the setting aside of the ordinary that allows the believer to focus on the transcendent.
One of the more striking aspects of Ramadan, particularly to Christians and Jews, is the joy with which Muslims anticipate and observe the month. Whereas Lent is a time of quiet, penitential reflection for Christians and Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) is a solemn day for Jews, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical refreshment for Muslims. It is a time to put aside the burdens and cares of everyday life and to focus on what really matters. Whereas Christians created Fat Tuesday as the last celebration before Lent, Muslims see no need to “get it all in” before Ramadan. Ramadan is a celebration.
 Read the whole thing here. H/T: The Deacon's Bench

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shades of Corniness

Yesterday, I posted the above picture on my Facebook page (yeah, I know, I totally need to get off that thing, it's more addictive than caffeine with me). It was a joke. At our (Christians in general) expense. I saw at Christian Nightmares, and my first thought was, "So now the Catholics are getting in on the bad church signs?" And then, "Wow, that is whack."

So I posted it and to my surprise, it actually got some "Likes". Not in a "ha ha" way, but genuine "Likes". It was even shared.

Now, of course, there is an actual point to it. Several I can think of. Like, "mommy porn" is still porn and isn't good, no matter how many weeks it stays atop the New York Times Bestseller List. Also, evil flourishes when we don't take a stand. Some things are black and white, and staying in the "grey" can lead to major sinning, and separation from God.

This is all true. But the thing is, I didn't think of those noble truths when I saw it, or almost all corny church signs that try so hard to be "hip". Also, when actually was saying "hip" ever cool? I honestly want to know. I think about my father, church elder, pastor, the reverend, circa 1998, saying "That was da bomb!"


See, that image is all kinds of wrong. Because one, no one was saying "da bomb" at that point in the decade. It was over. And two, because even if they were, my dad was trying, and failing to be pop culturally relevant. And well, he wasn't. The last time he was, Michael Jackson was still "Bad" and "Miami Vice" was a Nielsen's Ratings hit (remember the Nielsen's? No? Well, I'm 30 now, and I'm old, so forgive me).

I read this hilarious piece this morning called "7 Hilariously Pathetic Attempts at Relevance". If you get a chance, check it out. There's a video of a badly coordinated flash mob by North Point Community Church and the 80's nearly ruining the classic cool of Snoopy. I want to focus in on part of what Matthew Archbold writes:

... In this world, you can don leg warmers, repeat catchphrases, and wrap love beads around your neck. But here's the thing - any act of attempted relevance will one day become irrelevant and probably seem silly to everyone. So it's best not to worry about relevance and just seek out timeless truths. And when you find them, tell everyone you know about them....
Relevance is only a goal if you've given up on truth. And truth doesn't have an expiration date. Embrace truth, forget relevance...
Which brings me back to that church sign up there. Yes, it got "Likes" and was shared. By Christians. A friend of mine who is agnostic, wrote the first comment: "LMFAO. I can't even." See, when many non-Christians see our weak attempts at grasping on pop culture, they just can't. They don't want to enter in to dialogue or go into our places of worship. While we're congratulating ourselves on being "da bomb" five years late, they're running fast from the Christian nightmares. 

And there's no "grey" in that.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Politics & Aurora, Colorado

It didn't take very long after Friday's chilling shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater for politics to take center stage. Yes, while both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney both suspended their campaigns, TV news analyst, bloggers, writers and an assortment of others didn't miss a beat to pin the blame on their opponents.

Gun control activists declared the tragedy would never have occurred if suspect James E. Holmes had faced tougher laws to restrict gun ownership. Gun rights activists argued that if laws were different, perhaps others would have been strapped and could have taken him down.

Others lambasted The Occupy Movement since it was reported that Holmes had ties to the group. Others slammed some of the media for possibly linking him to the Tea Party. Still others injected race into the issue, claiming he was getting preferential treatment because he is white.

On Facebook, my news feed become cluttered with Reddit-like, Photoshop jobs like these:

Although I purposely avoided almost all TV and web stories on the story, choosing to just get the facts and skip the "analysis", by Saturday evening, there was no avoiding the political flash fire this story had become. I posted this as my status update:

Feeling disappointment that so many on the left and right are using the tragedy in Colorado to score cheap, shameful points in support of their personal politics.

Stop it. Please.

For me, as someone who falls nearly completely in the political center, neither side's arguments are compelling because it's wrapped in death, pain, tears and loss. It's vulgar, actually.

Instead of preaching to your respective choirs, follow the example of Jesus by praying for your enemies. And while you're at it, take a minute and pray for the actual victims and their families.

Within 45 minutes, the plea for prayer turned into a near-debate between two of my FB friends who are complete strangers to each other.


Why is it that so many are far more comfortable screaming at each other than taking a moment out to reflect on this tragedy, and more importantly, pray?

May those who lost their lives rest in peace, healing come completely and speedily to those wounded, and comfort and support the many grieving from the shooting.

Friday, July 20, 2012

56 Things One Man Learned at the Biggest Christian Music Festival in the World

Although I was totally expecting to read very negative captions about the cheesiness of Christians (cause, well, sometimes, we are EXTREMELY cheesy), I laughed and found myself thinking- about how we present ourselves to each other, to nonbelievers, to the world. And that's pretty freaking cool. Here are some of my favorite pictures:

1. National Pro-Life Cupcake Day is on October 9.

On National Pro-Life Cupcake day you're supposed to make as many cupcakes as possible and hand them out at church/school/everywhere in remembrance of all the kids who could never have a birthday because of abortion.

2. Every single secular product has a God product rip-off.

My personal favorite was "God Armor", a rip off of Under Armor.

24. (Some) Christians don't like Mr. Rogers.

I had no idea!

33. "Poop On Satan" is the best Christian bumper sticker ever.

53. Mosh pits at Creation are called "peace pits".


Christian teens are really into mosh pits. They get really rough.

FYI, I heart Mr. Rogers. To read them all, go here. H/T: Jesus Needs New PR

Monday, July 16, 2012

Church Fliers- do they get an "Amen"?

So have you seen these faux photoshopped pics of Jay Z, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West that are all over Facebook and Twitter?

After snickering a bit, I realized I don't like the actual fliers and pics on which they are based. You know, there is a very staged and awkwardly-posed picture of the pastor/elder/bishop and the first lady, the two dressed in complementary suits and plastered smiles.

The language is part boisterous invitation and part overly formal silliness (like in the picture above, using "ante meridiem" as opposed to "A.M.").

I started seeing these fliers at the turn of the millennium. Maybe the saints started buying color printers and Windows Paint or something, I don't know.

What do you think? 

Deacon & Deaconess West

Friday, July 13, 2012

Um, but it kind of IS a religion, too...

I'm nearing the end of Ross Douthat's excellent book, "Bad Religion", and it got me thinking about that oft-quoted saying that has emblazoned many a youth group attendee t-shirt, wristband and bumper sticker. You know: "It's a relationship, not a religion"!

If we back track about five years ago, I use to proudly say it. And with relief, too. I grew up part of the strain of Pentecostalism that frowned on makeup, ear-piercing, tank tops and women wearing pants. We couldn't go to the movies (I still don't get that one), and some of the more strict, I mean, holy of the denomination didn't even have TVs in their homes.

Needless to say, when I left that level of Christian confinement, with all it's "legalism" and rules of the truly Saved and Sanctified, I was quite happy to brag how un-religious I had become. I would talk to my co-workers, some nominal Catholics, some agnostic, others Jewish or Buddhist, how I was free of the chains of religiousity. A typical convo would go like this:

Co-worker: So you're Christian, right?

Me: Yup!

C: I use to go to church, but I couldn't deal with all those 'Thou shall not's" and the hypocrisy.

Me: Yeah, I know what you mean. There really are a lot of hypocrites in churches. Pastors who steal money from their flock, musicians who cheat on  their spouses, I've just about heard it all.

C: So you don't go to church, either, huh?

Me: Oh no, I do! I go several times a week and to a small group at another member's house. But my church is different. It's nondenominational...

C: Non... nondenom... what?

Me: Ha, it's nondenominational.  We're not Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian. We're simply Christ-followers, not confined to any one, man-made organization!

C: (Looking somewhat confused) Oh, that's cool, I guess. But you are Christians, right?

Me: Yes.

C: And you follow the Bible?

Me: Yup.

C: And you have a pastor?

Me: Of course! Actually more than one. There's a youth pastor, a music pastor...

C: Uh huh. And you baptize people?

Me: Yes...

C: Take communion?

Me: Yeah, I mean not often, maybe like four times a year, but...

C: Uh huh. Yeah...

Me: But we are different! We aren't religious! It's about the relationship we have with Jesus! It's personal!

C: Yeah, well, perhaps. But it still sounds like a church, run by people, doing some of the same stuff as other churches, just with different labels. And well, I don't care if it's Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts or Seatle's Best, coffee is coffee. And church is church. And religion is religion. Nothing against you or your group. I'm just saying...

 C.S. Lewis

I would usually end up confused. Why couldn't my co-worker *see* how different we were? We weren't religious! We didn't have a bunch of rituals and rules!

Except, well, we did. As pointed out, we used Scriptures as the basis of our teachings (doctrine, or what some would say "rules" from a "rulebook"), had pastors (teachers who disseminated the "rules"), had baptisms and communion ("rituals").

Yes, I was not only raised in religion, but I was, and am, religious.

Now, I'm sure some of my Evangelical readers are thinking, "Uh, maybe YOU are, but not me!" Okay, but to the rest of the world, you are, too. And you kind of seem like you're in denial. Now, for the record, we don't see Jesus or the Apostles coming down on religion or rituals. No, they dismissed or warned against empty rituals and vain repetitions. The emphasis is on the "empty" and "vain". I mean come on folks, Jesus established the Church, instituted a ritual in communion during the Last Supper and laid down rules with that whole speech on telling the world of the Good News and such. As much as you might want to blast the message of Jefferson Bethke,in truth, he, as a member of Mars Hill Church, is religious, too.

So it's not really an either/ or proposition. Yes, I'm religious. But it's my relationship with Christ that prevents it from being empty or vain. The relationship I have with my Savior breathes love and life into my routines of Bible reading and church attendance.

So, in closing, religion is not necessarily bad. Just be like those ridiculously overpriced and still somewhat trendy jeans. Have true religion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rest In Peace, Amber

Last last night, a few blocks from the house I lived in for 25 years, an 18 year old recent high school graduate was murdered.

She was walking with a friend, was stopped, robbed and fatally shot.

Her name was Amber Wilson.

It seems the whole city of Linden, New Jersey is shocked.

This isn't the first time a teen was killed, sadly. In the past couple of years, there have been quite a few stories of violence. Muggings, home invasions, fights.

Yet, with Amber, residents are confounded. She was a popular cheerleader who received her diploma just last month.

According to ABC7: "Amber had a smile that could light up a room," friend Winston Wright said. "Amber was really enthusiastic. She was a fun person to be around. She always had a lot of energy, always a good spirit. So that's why it's kind of baffling to think anyone would do anything like that to a person like that."

Baffling, yes.

Heartbreaking, definitely.

Tonight, they'll be a candle light vigil on Hussa Street where Amber lost her life.

Please keep her family, friends and our community in prayer.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Quitting church sucks. But what happens when the Church quits you?


A few months ago, I read Rachel Held Evans' super popular post, "15 Reasons I Left Church". I could relate. And so could many, many others. What struck me, even more than the actual piece, were the countless comments full of hurt, sadness and sometimes even hostility and disdain towards the Church. They had been marginalized or manipulated, swindled and were scarred. As I read comment after comment, I went from feeling a sense of solidarity to downright shame. Yes, I had been hurt by other Christians, too.

But... I'm also a believer.

I am a follower of Christ.

I am part of the Body.

I sat feeling hurt because those commenters are my Brothers and Sisters. They're in pain. If the Church is guilty, I am, too. Yes, I've been wronged. But I'm also guilty of wronging others.

A couple of days ago, a sweet lady named Sonia I know from my former church updated her status on Facebook. She wrote:

"I have a question: If a person leaves a Church, does that mean all the beautiful friendships made,all the memories made as servants of Christ also have to end? Is that love, Gods love is eternal. We are His Light. I have not left my church, I have not been in awhile due to my disabling health condition, Father God knows my heart, no man can judge it. I will always love and pray for my Church. Has anyone been unfortunate enough to go through this?..."

So far, she has received over thirty comments, and yup, most everyone had. Most everyone had wound up going to a new church after their hurtful incident(s). I know I did. But what happens when they don't?

After service one Sunday this past Spring, I stopped by Starbucks (as usual) for a skim White Chocolate Mocha (my tried and true). I wound up standing in a slow-moving line behind Yolanda, who I also met at my former church. After getting my drink, I stopped her as she headed out and asked her how she was doing. After the pleasantries, she shared how she too had left the large nondenominational church to which we both belonged for years. I was shocked. She had been quite active in a few ministries, including onstage as part of the Praise & Worship team. She told me with a resigned sadness how she wound up leaving. I asked her which church she was attending now.

"Now? Ha, I don't go anywhere. And I don't want to. I read my Bible and pray, and God knows...". Her voice cracked. There were tears in her eyes. She seemed taken aback by her own visible display of emotion, and quickly turned and left, half-muttering goodbye to me.

Another lone ranger Christian.

After Rachel shared her story, a number of bloggers (and folks in her very own combox) took offense at her post. They wrote, if she left, or quit or whatever, the problem is HER:

"Rachel typifies a generational character flaw that is a regrettable trait of our adolescent/young adult culture here in America...  these narcissistic, preening, self-adulating princesses are constantly looking for someone to fluff their pillow and cater to their every whim.  I dunno, Rachel, if we were to brew just the right Starbucks blend for you with the right blend of caffeine, soy milk and raw sugar and served it to you in the PEW(!!!!!), maybe, just maybe, would you even begin to think about approaching contentment? ..."
That piece of ugliness was one of the first I read in the comments section. I just can't help but disagree. And feel like this person is missing the point. You know what, yes, Rachel is the problem. She even wrote that part of what drove her out was her own "selfishness and pride". But it's also all of our fault.

That writer, Rachel, Yolanda, Sonia and me.

Because we are all connected.

Giant nondenominational churches and lone rangers.

We are the Body. Disjointed and discombobulated and with frayed nerves, yes.

Connected, nevertheless.

So, here's my challenge. I wrote it on Facebook last night and got a few likes, so here it is for those of you in the blogosphere:

Here's a challenge to my Brothers & Sisters in Christ: sometime this week, pick up the phone and call someone you use to fellowship with. You know, that nice lady who belonged to your small group, but moved away, or the guy who stopped attending morning services a few months ago.

Go ahead, do it. Don't cheat by sending a text, a DM or a poke. Nope, actually call. Do it.

I don't believe God likes such estrangements in His family...

Let me know if you do it. :-)

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