mindGrazing

chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Lent is Almost Upon Us

Posted by Jason on February 23, 2009

Ash Wednesday is coming up in a couple of days, so I thought I’d share this little blurb I was asked to write for our church’s Lenten devotional that they put out every year. I was assigned a little reflection on Psalm 135. Wifey says I should be a pastor. I say sure, another few years of school to move to a different career where wages are low and workload is high… sounds awesome! Anywho, maybe this will help someone get in the mood for Lent. Enjoy…
“Psalm 135 calls us to praise the Lord for all He has done. The Psalmist recounts a series of acts through which the Almighty has shown favor and faithfulness to the people of Israel. Lent is a time of anticipation and of praise. Even in difficult times, we know God will be faithful just as He has been time and time again. Lent provides for this because of the palpable anticipation of Easter, God’s most perfect act of love and faithfulness toward all humankind.
In our lives, Lent is an excellent time of year to evaluate ourselves and our walk with Christ. It is a time for thankfulness and reflection. Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going? Perhaps through this reflection we will find that the culling of unfruitful things is not necessarily what will get us to the place with Christ where we want to be. Perhaps we need to add things to our lives that are righteous and that further our growth in the Spirit.
This year during Lent, let us heed the message we find in Psalm 135. Let us praise the Lord and give thanks for all He has done in our lives and the life of our church. Let us also not forget that our faithfulness in trying times is as important as the Lord’s.”

Peace.

Posted in Musings, religion, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I have faith, now what?

Posted by Jason on February 4, 2009

Wifey and I have been taking a Methodism 101 class at church, and I must confess that I really didn’t know how Methodist I truly was at my core until Wifey came along and started going to church with me. We had a good conversation on the way to the farmer’s market after our class this Sunday, and I started reading Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” this week. Throughout our conversations and my reading, I finally have something to write about on this blog. It’s been a while.

One of the things we always hear Christians say is that so-and-so is having a crisis of faith, or that somebody has a faith that can move mountains, etc. For me, my faith in the grace of God is a non-question. I know in my heart of hearts, without any doubt whatsoever, that His grace is given freely to me and ALL humans without any precondition, without any worthiness on our part, without any action on our part. Our confession of faith is our personal belief, acceptance, and realization of this grace, and that’s what makes us Christian instead of Buddhist or Muslim or whatever. Knowing that grace is given freely, not because of anything we do, really liberates us as Christians to stop worrying about whether or not we will be saved or if we’ll end up in heaven or hell. It also frees us from worrying whether other people are going to heaven or hell. We don’t have to hound people to get their acts together in order that we may end up in heaven together.

Now, having received that grace and having accepted this wonderful gift into our lives, our response should be to live out our lives in gratitude for that which has been given to us. Most of all, we must be instruments of that freely given love and grace in the world. We do good things not to get ourselves into heaven or to gain the Lord’s favor, but rather BECAUSE these things are already ours.

That being said, I came to the realization last night that my daily life has not included as much thankful living (meaning being a living example of God’s grace) as it could. I think the major reason is that I have not internalized the practice of living thankfully as an adult. I’ve internalized the faith, and it’s a part of me forever. It is welded to my being. However, I need to consciously practice the “living it out” part. Now, I think the feeling will always be that I’m not doing as much as I could. The tendency is to reciprocate the gift that has been given to us. How many people have thought around the holidays, “Shoot, this person’s gift to me was super expensive: I better get them something about as good as what they gave to me?” The problem is that it is impossible to give God or humankind a gift as amazing as that which was given to us. 

As with anything that we want to learn or incorporate into our box of skills or behaviors, we have to practice a lot. this practice must be focused and it must be repeated over and over. Eventually it will become a habit and then it will be internalized as something that we just do. Now, some people will make excuses for me, saying, “Oh, well your act of kindness, Jason, is that you teach music to poor, underprivileged waifs every day,” or “You’ve done such a nice thing by giving  two shelter dogs a good home and a happy life.” Those are great, but they’re not really daily, radical, and intentional manifestations of God’s grace within me. There needs to be more. I need to find some way to consciously and systematically do good in this world each day, perhaps multiple times per day, so that it will eventually become a basic internal function of my existence.

I might try to incorporate one of Wesley’s Means of Grace (Works of Piety; Works of Mercy) each day and see if I can do that. Or I’ll just try to do at least one nice thing each day that I normally wouldn’t do. I’m still formulating a plan of action but the goal is to take action in the world to bring God’s kingdom here, rather than merely look forward to the next life.

Onward, Christian soldier…

Posted in Musings, religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Poll: What Kind of Christian Are You?

Posted by Jason on January 8, 2009

I know there’s a million types of quizzes that can show you your spiritual leanings or what religion/denomination you should be. I’d like to offer a chance for self-reflection here. John Wesley talks about our relationships with God being a balance of four areas of our life. It’s been dubbed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral by many a theologian. The four things, according to Wesley, that make up a spiritual relationship are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

Now, I tend to have a pretty cerebral view of religious things, and I’m real big on grazing on ideas, no matter if they oppose my own beliefs, in my head or with friends. I don’t really care for the Christianity that is all about feelings of blessedness,etc. (experience), or all about infallible scripture. Obviously, my strongest side in the quadrilateral would be the Reason side. 

If you had to pick the most important thing to you and your faith, would it be 

Scripture, Tradition, Reason, or Experience?

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Silly Stuff People Say in Prayers…

Posted by Jason on January 7, 2009

Do you ever notice people’s linguistic idiosyncrasies when they offer an extemporaneous prayer for a group? I love to listen to what people say when they pray. Maybe since I’m not big on prayer myself, listening to silly ways people talk to God helps to keep me focused during someone else’s prayer. Here are some of my favorites, with commentary:

  • “Dear God…” What, are you writing a letter out loud or something? Is Jesus your diary? Do you have to let God and others know that He is dear to you?
  • “We just…” I like to think of this as “Jesus Wejus” because that’s what it comes out sounding like a lot of times. In addition to the funny sound of this, people use the word “just” for way too many things. “We just want your peace to come over us…” or whatever. As if the only thing that we wanted was that. “We just love you so much…” It sounds silly, especially when you start out every sentence with “We just…” for an entire prayer.
  • “Lord, we know you love us Lord and Lord, we thank you so much Lord for…” It’s not like anyone has forgotten that we are talking to God, right? Did God forget His name? Is He some sort of inattentive child that needs you to constantly say His name over and over to get Him to pay attention? It doesn’t have to be Lord; it could be God or Jesus or Lord Jesus or Lord God or whatever. 
  • “You are holy.” NO $%IT!!! Of course He knows that!
  • “Dearest, most precious, loving, holy, awesome, wonderful Lord…” Really? Ease up on the adjectives, people.
  • “Be with us, today.” In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says “…because where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them.” Cross that off the list of supplications then, I guess…

So these are just a few things people say in prayers that seem silly to me. Don’t worry if you do this when you pray: I’m not calling you an idiot or anything. I rather enjoy it, to tell you the truth. I know that a lot of these little things are verbal placeholders, kind of like “Um” or “Like” or “Uh”, but it really does help me stay focused when someone offers up a prayer. For me, the best way to get rolling with a prayer is, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Jesus says keep it simple 😉

Leave comments if you think I’m a jerk and a horrible Christian, or if you have any more to add to my list.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young

Posted by Jason on January 5, 2009

 

by William P. Young

by William P. Young

 

So I finally read it. It came highly recommended by several people, mostly wifey’s family. This book has certainly made waves, from what I hear. Several people I’ve talked to said it was one of the best books they’ve ever read. I’ve read that several churches have forbid their parishioners to read it, calling this book heresy and the devils work. Other churches have lifted it up as a must-read for any Christian who wants some answers the  difficult questions of our faith.

I know that there is doubt as to whether or not this is a true story or not. Sure, the author says all this really happened to his friend and tells the story his friend tells, but who knows? My feeling is that it’s somewhere between fiction and truth, as much literature is. If this story is in fact a completely invented work of fiction, then Young did an incredible job making quite a few people believe in its veracity. I suppose many would say the same about the Bible or the Torah or the Qur’an. 

True or not, this book did provoke quite a bit of thought within me, unlike other “Christian” books such as Jabez or Purpose Driven Life, etc., which just made me sick. I like Young’s interpretation of punishment being sin itself. Sin is not an act, but rather a separation from God. This separation and all the awful things it entails is a punishment that we inflict upon ourselves. Because we are forgiven through Christ, there is no need for God to wield great thunderbolts of divine justice and smite us when we screw up. 

I’m also in agreement when God tells Mack that He (God) is not religion and does not care for religion in the least. According to Young, institutions are means for power structures and subjugation, and the God of love and community is not about that.

Young provides quite a smattering of ideas about the nature of God and the relationships we have with that God. Most of these views, while not directly antagonistic to those of conservative American Christianity, fit into a fairly liberal schematic of the Christian faith. I can definitely see why many Christians around the country and even around the world would find this book revolutionary or perhaps heretical. To me, it was neither, and this is not because I’m some theological genius or anything. Most of what I read worked just fine with my Methodist/Weslyan world view.

I wasn’t really shocked or appalled at any of Young’s ideas, but he did open up quite a bit of thought in me. I thought a lot about relationships in reading this book, and it has been a great avenue for self-examination of my not so many years living on this wonderful Earth. The presentation of the Trinity was a little gimmicky for me, but the ideas behind that presentation were fine. 

Overall I thought this was an interesting book. Not life-changing, but a great way to get some think-juices flowing in my whacky head. I think it’s one of those books that, read at several different points in a person’s life, will provide many different perspectives and little gems throughout the years.

Posted in books, Literature, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Any former Catholics NOT bitter???

Posted by Jason on December 5, 2008

I read this post this morning and I realized how incredibly bitter this person was about Catholicism. I grew up Catholic and chose a different denomination. However, I don’t feel wronged or lied-to about my spiritual upbringing. I’ve met so many people who are totally pissed at the Catholic church because they decided it was a bunch of crap when they grew up and started thinking on their own.

I believe all denominations that profess that Jesus Christ is Lord and preach faith in that Christ should be called Christian. Each Christian church has some specific way of reaching its parishioners that encourages them to come. The Catholics use a lot of ritual and tradition, which works for a ton of people to have a relationship with Christ. Evangelicals use a lot of excitement and biblical authority, which attracts a different set of worshipers. Some denominations seek a mix of tradition and emotion, and yet others do different things.

Why is everyone so angry at the Catholic church once they leave it? Now I’m not looking for the answers from non-Catholics such as, “Look at all the horrible things they’ve done: the Crusades, killing/converting natives, the Inquisition…” I’m also not interested at hearing about the child abuse unless you were abused by a priest and that’s why you hate the church. I’m really interested in the feelings people have that are so strong that they can’t let go of this acid animosity for Catholicism.

There are people that were raised in the Evangelical tradition that feel like they were too sheltered and such, but many of those people get over it and they move on. For so many people, though, the Catholic church is something that just can’t be gotten over. Why? I’m horribly curious as to what keeps people hating Catholics once they leave the club… Any thoughts, experiences, stories? Comments are welcome.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

My brother’s keeper?

Posted by Jason on December 4, 2008

Ichabod posted this wonderful challenge for us, and I just fell in love with both the message and the way in which is was presented. I love the ideal that we should all care for one another. We do it far too little, especially in the Christian world. And often when some act of charity or compassion occurs, it’s merely to make the charitable person feel better about themselves and his/her life as a Christian. Be that as it may, does a needy man care one bit about the motives of his benefactor?

Whatever the case may be, it’s pretty evident that people don’t help out one another nearly enough. The problem is not that there is a lack of sufficient resources for all; it’s that those with the resources think they are helping out someone in need more by not giving. Why don’t we give money to beggars that ask for it? Our parents told us they only buy drugs and booze because they clearly must be addicts if they’re on the streets. You wouldn’t want to contribute to a person’s downfall by enabling their habits, would you?

Because we have money, we feel as though we have knowledge, impossible knowledge about what is best for someone by merely looking at him. When we have something that someone wants, it automatically becomes a business transaction in our capitalist-minded society. Here’s an example: I helped hand out turkeys and meals this Thanksgiving at a local church that partners with my own church. Usually for this food ministry, people line up, and we pass out the food as soon as we arrive and get things organized. For some reason, the pastors of the church made everyone wait through an impromptu church service before we started handing out the food. “We have food, but you have to sit and pretend to listen about Jesus so that we can feel good about fulfilling our Christian duty…” We seem to think that being our brother’s keeper means being our brother’s mother: after all, mother knows what’s best for baby, right?

Why not just give someone what they ask for? I’m guilty of this failure, but maybe I can change. What’s so hard about that?

Another problem that arises when people espouse this view is that many Christians feel they have the right to choose who will be their brother and who will not. Does Jesus not tell us that we must help the least, the lost, and the last? In the United States, so many of  the people that fit into these categories are those of different nationalities and skin colors than mine. Why should I not help a Mexican, African-American, or Asian in need? “All these people come to our country and they’re just looking for a handout…” If someone is on the street begging for money, isn’t that by definition what they’re doing? There are people that live off of the charity of others, and they have their reasons. I doubt it’s laziness for many of them. It could be addiction, accident, mental illness, anything. Why do people with money automatically assume that anyone who is begging or hustling has done something wrong?

You do not choose your brothers and sisters, but you are their keeper and they are yours. That’s what it would be in a world that lived a little more in accordance with most, if not all of the major religions…

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Ah, but what is Truth?

Posted by Jason on December 3, 2008

So I’ve been reading some of the myriad religious and anti-religious blogs in the wordpress universe. I’ve read a few that I like, and dozens that I don’t like. I’m still on the fence about Truelogic, but I’ve been engaging this blogger and his fans via comments and spirited intellectual e-conversation (notice how I assume this blogger is male, maybe it’s the intellectual confrontationalism. Truelogic could just as easily be female).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Truth in the intellectual arena quite a bit. Many Christians feel the Bible and God are Truth, capital T. Many people believe that the Truth is that the Bible and God are false, completely not True. And then we have people who say that, because each person is unique, there is no Truth: nothing can be known with zero degree of uncertainty. Finally, there are those who say that Truth exists, and each of us defines our own Truth. Therefore we have an infinite number of Truth’s -well, somewhere between 6 and 7 billion anyway. 

Now, I’m more inclined to believe in the last two scenarios: it depends on if I’m feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the universe on any given day. I actually really believe the last scenario most fervently, but I can accept the third as completely valid. 

Here is my question, especially to Truelogic. Are those who believe that the major tenets of Christianity are absolutely unTrue any less naive than the Christians they scoff at as ignorant and gullible fools? By drilling into children that Christianity is patently false, doesn’t one teach them to believe something based on incomplete evidence? Christians don’t teach their children to believe blindly: they often just don’t give complete evidence (that’s right, I don’t think the Bible can serve as complete and unquestionable proof of God). There isn’t unquestionable proof of any Truth, just as there isn’t unquestionable refutation of any Truth, either.

Sure there are things that are true, such as “My dog’s name is Scout.” or “I got married on March 31, 2007.” But when we start talking about things that are not tangible, and also things about which many people care passionately for or against, that all information becomes suspect. Does that mean we’ll ever have enough information to really know if God exists or not? It depends on each person’s individual threshold of believability. Some skeptics have a very high threshold over which nothing except for the most rock-solid arguments may pass for truth. Some religious people have a very low threshold that may be crossed into the realm of truth quite easily by anyone of supposed religious authority.

All of the sudden, Truth becomes quite a subjective business. I believe Truth exists, but Truth is made up of the sum or perhaps the average of all the little truths in each one of us. Viva postmodernism!

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »