Monthly Archives: February 2007

yes, more on the jesus tomb

I’m almost completely sick of this topic, but it’s impossible to pass up. I’ve been reading up on all the various discussions today and below are a few good synopsis’s. Most of what I’ve read is from people defending it from a Christian perspective. I’m more appalled at the lack of scientific approach behind these claims. It is however a great example of the joining of science and religion. Both are at least oppose money hungry filmmakers!

I have a problem with those who quote the Bible as a reason this story is false. It’s false (so far) because they’ve not proven anything. It’s poor science at this point. That does not by default make the alternative true.

While I don’t necessary agree with the inevitable truth of Jesus’ resurrection and return I do agree with most of the comments on the laughable nature of this new so-called documentary. Read it here.

You can also check out the videos of Bruce Feiler’s recent TV appearances on the subject here.

questions on the bible

I’ve been listening to a fascinating course on the early Christians. It has me thinking about the Bible. What seems to be taken as a given is that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are very different forces. Somewhat cruel and hands-on in the former vs. loving and distant in that later. From what I have gleaned so far, scholars know some of the authors of the New Testament and have educated guesses on those they don’t know for sure.

Who “wrote” the New Testament? My guess would be that these are stories passed down from generation to generation until they were written down in texts that were sacred to the Jews. Question for the Jews: in general are the stories of the old testament taken as fact written via the influence of God or for fable to learn by or both?

For Christianity I would say that there are those who believe that God caused the writing of the New Testament (for lack of a better description). My sister-in-law has a good term “God-breathed”. Then there are other Christians who see the Bible more as a set of stories. I’ve typically taken the later view. It’s an easy position, men wrote it down we know that. They are inherently imperfect (i.e. not God). Did they feel inspired by God when they wrote it? Undoubtedly. That doesn’t make everyone who feels “inspired” right.

When I started this blog I posed a question which was, can one consider oneself a Christian if one does not believe that Jesus was the son of God? What has become clear to me after studying these early Christian’s is that whether or not Jesus was the actual messiah, those who wrote the texts of the New Testament certainly believed he was. And it is that belief that shaped everything they wrote, did, said, you name it.

To follow my thoughts to a (hopefully) logical conclusion – if Christianity is the result of the writings and teachings of the early Christians interpretation of Jesus as the son of God whose death and resurrection fulfilled the contract with God and the Jews, then yes – one does have to agree with these ideas to be considered a Christian. As the closest group to Jesus, who himself left no writings, all we have are their interpretations. They define the religion.

The difficulty comes when one begins to understand all the other texts that have surfaced in the last 100 or so years that are also written by early Christians that present a very different view of what Jesus’ message was. Which do I believe? All, because they are all “God-breathed”? Just the traditional cannon, a survival of the fittest gospel concept? Or none, because how can one know. Do I just choose what I like? That’s what most early Christian sects did, they picked the writings that supported their view and discarded the rest. Its human nature I supposed.

My conundrum continues, what is a person who believes in God but does not necessarily believe in Jesus as the son of God? Maybe I am a Jew by definition – that is pending the answer to the question in paragraph 2. Also, how do we reconcile the extreme differences of God presented in the Old and New Testament? I can’t seem to just accept that the Bible is true. I don’t have a problem with accepting God even though he’s less provable than the Bible. I wonder why this is. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it!

joy on ash wednesday

Ok, I know it’s not Ash Wednesday anymore, but I felt had to digest my feelings from yesterday. It was a plethora of parental joy moments for me. Not something I get everyday.

I used to say that I didn’t feel like a “real” parent until my kids hit age 4 or 5. This is when parenting moved beyond the care & feeding stage (feed them, make sure they walk, talk, sleep, etc.) to the real emotional work. Helping them learn to care for others, share; understand why someone was mean to them and the like. It is much more exhausting than midnight feedings!

Yesterday, we were discussing Lent. My son said that instead of giving something up he was going to give back. He had decided to read a bedtime book to his sister every night. My heart swelled, how wonderful! How thoughtful! (Plus, it meant I would get a break from reading – horrible I know.) Now you never know how my daughter will react to things, but considering the spirit of Lent she too was thrilled and sang her brother’s praises in the car ride home.

I was so pleased with what was obviously superior parenting skills (!) that I decided to take them out for dinner. It was here that my son confided in me that he was really having trouble at school and wasn’t sure how to handle the bullies in his class. Now the fear set in, that familiar – “oh dear, I’m supposed to be able to guide him through this and I have no idea how to do it” feeling.

No knowing what else to do I just asked questions about the who’s, the what’s, the how it makes him feel, etc. I gave him an analogy of being Luke Skywalker and bringing his friends over from the “dark side”. Well, this definitely struck a cord with him. [Star Wars, by the way, is a constant theme in my life] Eventually through all the talking he got to a point that he felt comfortable with and I got one of the biggest compliments: “mom, you’re a little better than the teacher at this stuff”. 😉 Wow! And I was just fumbling through!

So, as I begin my attempt at seeing more beauty in the world (see “impatience“) it should come as no surprise that once again it the lesson is from my kids. They are a constant source of joy and inspiration when I least expect it. My daughter has an amazing ability to move on – she can be devastated one moment and laughing the next, forgiving whoever had so disturbed her. I am in awe of her. My son’s big heart and practical approach remind me of myself – without the cynical taint of adulthood.

I was thinking about this last night when I saw and NPR story titled “On Ash Wednesday, Religion and Joy

On this Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and a period of fasting, Father James Martin reminds us that joy is one of the upsides of being religious, although it’s not mentioned nearly enough among the faithful.

Lately, I’ve been more focused than usual on the non-joy of religion. My journey is at a point where I have more questions than answers and because of that I find I’m frowning more than smiling; which is probably affecting my ability to see the things I’m blessed by. So I’m taking this chain of events as a wake up call. I will take hint from Father Martin’s piece and focus on the joy. I suppose this means I’m giving up pessimism for Lent!

the re-education of religion (and Howard)

I’ve been reflecting on how my young impressionable kids are learning about religion. Through the eyes of someone who is in the process of re-learning it (me), much of what they are being taught makes me want to add in caveat after caveat. I find I answer most questions they pose with “well yes, but…”

We approach teaching our young about whatever our preferred religion is in a very matter-of-fact, this-is-how-it-is way. My children believe in Jesus as heartily as they do Santa right now. And there was a time in my life when I did as well. This makes sense probably for most people. I certainly didn’t question it until my own crisis in faith occurred.

Some of us will grow up and never question what we were taught, never seek more or stumble across things that might make us question our faith. I have no clue what percentage of the population that is by the way. There are others who will, somewhere along life’s path, find something in a book, a college lecture, a personal experience that will cause doubt. That doubt may lead to an eventual total rejection of religion or at least that religion for another. Or it might cause one to dig deeper to find out more. This is the group I place myself in.

I’ll admit I’m bitter. I feel a bit duped. Why wasn’t I taught all these other “things” (the existence of non-canonical gospels, the historical realities of early Christian times, the vast differences in types of Christianity, the corrupt nature of some religious groups) before? Were people afraid that I would never believe that no one would ever believe if they knew this? I don’t want to set my kids up for the same crisis.

I hope that the people who are our religious teachers, our priests, our ministers, our rabbis, etc. are not ignorant of these facts – but they have faced them and moved past them. They have found their faith despite things that may shed doubt on it. I hope they are not the ones who don’t question anything and accept all they are told. That never makes for a good teacher in my opinion.

I’m jealous of those who’ve accomplished this. And I want them to write a guide book. 😉 Ok, maybe I’m only slightly exaggerating. But I feel we don’t hear enough out other people’s struggles with but eventual acceptance of their faith. Surely people do this. I would love to have guidance on how to accomplish this. I don’t want to let go of Christianity, it feels like such a big part of me. But I want to know that I can get to a faith that combines my questions and my beliefs.

I think this is one of the reasons I love reading C. S. Lewis. His writings on Christianity are so intense; you can feel his faith on the pages.

I wish my grandfather Howard was still alive to talk to about this. He was a man of science, from whom I inherited my love of history and also a very devout man of faith. He always appeared to me as a child and even as an adult (he died when I was 27) to have all the answers. It’s ironic that I spent so much time with him talking about everything: his past, family, history, college, men, but never religion. And not because it was a taboo subject; it was just one that didn’t interest me at the time. How much I would give to have that discussion with him now, to have his insight and guidance.

This is one of the few regrets I have in life.

impatience (aka quaker meeting #4)

After my 4th Quaker meeting, I felt a real sense of failure. I had not yet really been able to concentrate on prayer and certainly hadn’t felt moved by God. As usual my expectations were quite high, and wholly out of sync with my actual set of beliefs!

I don’t know what I thought would happen exactly. I would open my heart to God, actively seeking to have a deeper understanding of Him and spirituality in my life. Then I would get a personal message from God letting me know that I was on the right path and everything would turn out fine. Riiiiiight! I don’t even believe this sort of thing does happen – yet there I was feeling dejected that, despite my four Quaker meetings and one hour a week where I at least thought about praying even though I didn’t always manage it, I had not received personal confirmation from the Almighty that I was ok.

It makes me laugh to think about now. But I marvel at my impatience, at my forgetfulness that the journey is the most important part not necessarily the destination. I was reminded again of Elaine Pagel’s quote about needing to practice Christianity, and not just to be it. Patience is my first big lesson from the Quakers I can tell. It’s something I have so little of on a daily basis – I always want things faster, sooner. Then of course when I get there, I have a moment of shock and say “wait, I wasn’t ready for this!” It’s quite typical of my pattern.

It’s a pattern I’m looking to change. I remembered a post from a woman on a message board I read describing an incident of a bird fluttering about her head, sitting on her shoulder and chirping in her ear. After the bird flew off the woman thought to herself how wonderful it was that God had shared that moment with her. She saw that bird almost as God Himself, taking time to share His beauty with her.

I am in awe of people who can see so much beyond what is in front of their eyes. These are the truly blessed. I would have seen a bird, and more than that, I probably would have been annoyed by the chirping and flying. How many times have I missed seeing something for more than what it was? How many of God’s messages may I have not heard because I was expecting a phone call?

I’m a practical person by nature, very much seeing things for exactly what they are. I believe I can learn, and that anyone can learn, to see beyond. To be open to more than the surface physical attributes of something or someone. But like everything else it takes practice and patience. Although a phone call would be nice too! 😉

my crosses

A passage in the book Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels forced me to pause and write this post. It so accurately described my feelings I was amazed. One of those wonderful moments where you realize you aren’t alone in your crazy world. But scary at the same time for me because I realize I still have so far to go. This is the passage:

“When I found that I no longer believed everything I thought Christians were supposed to believe, I asked myself, Why not just leave Christianity-and religion-behind, as so many others have done? Yet I sometimes encountered, in churches and elsewhere-…something compelling, powerful, even terrifying that I could not ignore, and I had to come to see that, besides belief, Christianity involves practice – and paths toward transformation.”

I’ve asked myself that same question about why I don’t just give up; the truth is I find it almost impossible to completely turn away from Christianity.

I have quite a large collection of crosses; some are pendants that I wear around my neck, and some hang on my wall. I started collecting them years ago – before I could say I even started my journey. Once I felt like faith was something I understood and connected with those crosses became all the more meaningful to me. In my current moment of misalignment I wonder how sincere it is of me to continue to collect crosses. Maybe I shouldn’t since I don’t know exactly what it means to me yet. But I find I can’t stop.

There is something so addictive to me about this symbol; it holds on to me. It supports me and brings me joy, I can’t abandon it. I understand this description of something that cannot be ignored and so I continue on my path with all my wonderful crosses.

joy moments

I started a tradition with my kids at the dinner table called Joy Moments. Each night we go around the table and each of us list our “joy moments” for the day. These are, as I tell my kids, whatever made you smile. It’s [usually] a fun exercise and a great way for me to hear about my kids days. There is the occasional squabble about who gets to go first and then it’s all downhill from there!

My kids never have any trouble listed 5-10 joy moments for the day. One of them is always “eating dinner with my family”, which of course I LOVE! On the flip side, I do occasionally have a hard time coming up with some bit of joy from my day. If it’s a particularly bad day the joy moment is picking up my kids and coming home. Not a rousing endorsement for my life. So of late, I’ve really tried to learn from my kids and focus more on the little joy moments and try and over look the general feeling of blah at the end of my work day.

One way I do that is to save the last 1/2 hour or so of the day for catching up on my blog reading, especially the Quaker blogs that I regularly visit. I find the most inspiring, wonderful thoughts there that really help me focus on the Positive. This routine has made a huge difference in my dinnertime joy moments. As a matter of fact, the online Quaker community was a wonderful surprise to me. I’ve just recently started attending meetings and the wealth of support and information online is amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen this much virtual positiveness anywhere else online. Keep it up!

My second trick is a slight variation on joy moments. I call this “the good things”. As I lie in bed at night, right before I fall asleep I list all the good things that happened to me that day. These are not necessarily joy moments. They may have even been stressful at the time, but with the day behind me I can look back and see what events really had an overall positive impact on me. This practice helps me focus on the unexpected good that can happen during the day. And understand that even what we don’t appreciate at the time can be a source of strength for us.

My last tactic right after the “good things” is to visualize what good things or joy moments I want to have the next day. It’s about mentally preparing me to have a good day. The things I envision don’t always happen of course but that’s not really the point. My brain is already thinking positively about tomorrow.

Try these out; share them with your kids. It’s a wonderful experience.

science vs. religion

This debate both annoys and fascinates me to no end. Has anyone actually changed anyone else’s mind? Well, maybe they have. The issue for me is, it’s pointless. Science will never prove or disprove God – nor should that be the goal. God is inherently improvable. That’s kinda the point of faith right? I mean we don’t have to have faith in gravity or the Pythagorean Theorem; they just are – now they still have to be “discovered”. Really smart people had to get together and figure out just how things worked.

God however, didn’t need to be discovered. God as a concept in one form or another has been around as a human concept as long as humans have been. And it doesn’t even take brilliant scientists to believe – anyone can do it! The thing is people who believe in God do it because the need to, not because it’s a proven fact. There would be a profound emptiness in my life if I did not believe in some higher force/spirit/whatever you want to call it. I feel safer because of it; I feel loved; I feel close even when alone. These are feelings quite frankly that I wouldn’t want to be “explained away”.

And maybe that’s how some religious people feel about the scientific theories that challenge or even completely disprove something biblical. They are afraid science will one day completely explain away the existence of God or even the need for God. Frankly I think we have more to fear from Prozac than from evolutionary theory in that regard – but that’s another entry. I can understand that initial fear, I’ve felt it. I think it’s a normal human reaction to not want to lose or even change something that brings you joy.

But is that what God wants for us, just to be happy and feel good? I was struck by a passage from David Plots “Blogging the Bible” series. This passage is from his first post on Exodus:

God shows that He loves a challenge. He has no use for lumpish yes men. His truest favorites so far—Abraham and Moses, as well as Jacob and Joseph—don’t back down from Him.

Maybe we should all take a few notes from our New Testament brethren and talk back occasionally. Not because it will change Him, but it might put us in a more honest position. Instead of the proverbial a**kissing we’ve been doing.

Knowing God is a challenge. We don’t get fireside chats with God (ok, maybe Abraham did). It supposed to be hard otherwise we wouldn’t appreciate it/Him. We should embrace concepts and ideas that are contrary to our own. Accept these challenges. That doesn’t mean agree with every change of the wind, but give it serious thought and understand the roots. Unless there are none – and there are a lot of ideas out there with no roots to stand on. They will die, like all things without roots do so don’t get too worried about those either.

Admittedly the science/religion debate is a tempting one to watch. Check out the Sullivan/Harris debate on Beliefnet. The smack down is just too much fun to pass up, especially if your side is winning! But know from the get go how worthless it is in terms of coming to any conclusions. If you can approach it like you’re watching and endless version of Rocky – both sides going the distance into oblivion – you’re on the right tract. Just make sure you have enough beer to see you through!

as if they read my mind…

A very interesting article titled Churches Observe Evolution Sunday from the Mercury News on the church and evolution. Read it here.

A few excerpts:

We “believe the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably co-exist,” states an open letter signed by 10,500 clergy members. Science answers the when and how the world came into being, but why we’re here falls into religion’s realm.

In May, the nation’s first Creation Museum is set to open in Ohio. Founder Ken Ham said it was important to open the $27 million building because the natural science museums propagandize evolution. His group takes issue, for instance, with museum time lines declaring that dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago. Some Christians believe the world is only about 6,000 years old. At the Creation Museum, the dinosaurs will be much younger.

…Won’t the dinosaurs be thrilled!

Ham is impatient with those who read Genesis metaphorically instead of accepting it as God’s literal truth. If one questions the very first chapter of the Bible, he says, they are undermining everything that follows.

…ok but what about the fact that Genesis actually has two creation stories, which one are we supposed to believe?

He has no problems with personal religion, but he’s frustrated by moves to have it replace scientific facts, especially in classrooms and politics.

…I couldn’t have said it better myself.

does God belong in the science classroom?

As I was waiting to pick my daughter from the Lutheran school she attends I was perusing the pamphlets and books that were on display by the sanctuary. One set of materials addressed the topic of creationism vs. evolution – some pointing out the holes in the scientific theory of evolution, others meant to show how one could introduce creationism into the discussion of human history. The church was hosting a lecture on the subject. These made me very uncomfortable but I’ve really had to think through why that was.

I like to think of myself as an open minded person who is very willing to listen to all sides of an argument. Evolution doesn’t bother me; it doesn’t offend my religious sensibilities. I believe strongly that it was God’s influence that created our solar system and beyond. I don’t believe for a second that there were 6 days of creation with different things being created on each day, etc. Some people do and that’s great; they are entitled to that opinion because at this point that’s all it is: my opinion vs. someone else’s.

Scientists have done a lot of research and have discovered a lot of information about our universe and the beginning of human beings. They are in no way complete, final discoveries that we can claim have definitively proved how or why earth/life was created. The history of scientific discovery has proved to us time and again, that we are frequently wrong about something and need to modify our hypotheses and theories with new information. Historically, organized religion has reacted negatively to those scientific theories that throw into doubt religious beliefs (Galileo would have a lot to say on this subject). That does not mean that science is always right and the church is always straggling behind in these matters, I’m just stating what I know to be the historical tendencies.

For a church to host such a lecture and open the discussion on creationism sounds reasonable. I welcome a healthy debate on subjects to give people a more in-depth understanding of both sides. What bothered me was what my daughter would be taught in science class. While I’m fine with discussing God’s role in the history of man in church, it’s quite another in the science classroom. Bringing a deity (a concept that is completely improvable no matter how good your scientific method) in a science classroom does not make sense.

If we had regular religious classrooms those would be a perfectly logical place to address these questions. My children go to religious schools for many reasons, but one of them is to be exposed the ‘spiritual’ aspect brought into their world. I want them to have an understanding of religious theories, practices and sensibilities. I also want them to get an education on the latest theories and practices in science. God does not belong there.

It would be too easy for me to just say “…it’s so because God did it, it’s in the bible, so let’s not question it.” I don’t think God gave us the brains He did so that we would sit back and not wonder about and attempt to explain things. We should not be afraid of what we will find. What if the answers we find disprove something in the Bible? God forbid! But what if it proves something else? What if what we find brings us to a greater understanding of God and His will?

Science can gather and test and retest and postulate and theorize. It can never tell us God’s intentions, His methods; the thought is ludicrous. I want my children’s scientific education to give them the wonder of what man and learn and discover based on the gifts that God has given us. I want their religious education to open their minds to the awesome possibilities we have with God’s strength.

quaker meeting #3

I went to my third Quaker meeting this morning. This was an interesting one for me. I have been enough times that I’m feeling a little more at home, yet still so much an outsider in my view. My mom and my boyfriend Matt came with me today. My mother has also been interested in the Quakers for some time and was eager to join. My boyfriend came mainly because I was going and he’s wonderful that way.

Although, unlike when my children joined me, I was not worried about mom and Matt’s ability to remain quiet throughout the meeting; I still found it hard to concentrate. I so much wanted them to enjoy it and have a positive experience that I once again found it almost impossible to hear God through my own ramblings. I wonder if I’ll ever have that “quaking” feeling? If God will ever be able to get through my brain! There were some wonderful sentiments expressed by other members so at least I got to listen to that.

For several hours after a meeting I find myself thinking about whatever was said. It always gives me great food for thought and helps expand my thinking in areas that I wouldn’t get to on my own. I can’t help compare this to the Catholic service I’ve been attending for 8 years. There, the priest gives the homily with the “correct” interpretation of the scriptures and basically tells us how it is. The Quaker monologs, in contrast, lead me to think about how things could be. The Catholics represent limitations, limits on how the bible can be translated, what we can believe and even how we can worship. The Quakers represent possibilities, looking forward not back in time.

I have enjoyed many a Catholic service and have found wonderful elements of the homilies to learn from. However, there is always the sense of college lecture – the learned professor telling his class what they need to know. In the Quaker meetings I experience people sharing themselves with us. Giving tidbits of their lives and thoughts for us to ponder – it’s so eye-opening because it’s simply a whole new way of worshiping God. One – through the texts that so many believe He inspired thousands of years ago, another – through individual members of my own community that He continually inspires.

Oh and I was wrong about Matt being able to sit more quietly than my 5 and 8 year old. They had him beat hands down! 😉

the bible blog

I recently ran across this blog: blogging the bible: What’s really in the Good Book from slate.com. David Plotz decided to read the bible and blog his findings. The concept was fascinating to me, yet so simple. One of those “why didn’t I think of that!” moments.

I’m not even through Genesis yet and I’m hooked. The entries are funny and enlightening. It probably won’t sit well with the traditional bible readers. Of which, I am certainly not one. I associate reading the Bible with the dreaded Bible-thumpers, those who are not interested in my opinions, but just want to preach to me and convert me to their way of thinking. A very judgmental view I can see now. Mr. Plotz is not afraid to admit his own ignorance. He asks questions (for which there are plenty of responses in the comments section!)

I was impressed with David’s undertaking. The bible is a daunting book. My dad gave me one when I was nine. Always the avid reader, I cracked it open. I don’t think I made it past the third begat. And I’ve never picked it up since. This is too bad really. As I read David’s blog on the Bible it becomes more and more something I want to experience for myself. After all, this is the whole reason Martin Luther had the Bible translated into German – so that the common folks could read it.

One of the things that Mr. Plotz is most amazed with (at least so far, he’s not done yet) is the presence of really horrid events that take place in the Bible. It made me realize how much I’ve assumed about the Bible and how far I really have to go to come to terms with it. It’s a book, or set of books, that no on wholly understands. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many other books written about it and people wouldn’t gather in living rooms to continually discuss it! Anyone (including myself) who wants to journey to a better understanding of religion or God has to read and struggle with these words for themselves.