Monthly Archives: March 2007

Does religion do more harm than good?

This is the title of a recent article by Gwynne Dyer in The Japan Times Online. It is the type of article that totally depresses me. Now I know statistics can be used to prove almost anything, but it is compelling stuff. Ms. Dyer is discussing a study that linked high rates of belief in God or religion with high rates of crime and other morally deprived actions specifically in the US. As a big fan of God (despite my struggles) and a big fan of my country (despite it’s many issues) I hate for statements like this to be made. What’s more I’d hate to think that I in some way was a contributor to the moral depravity of this God fearing country. Must be that guilt kicking in again. 😉 How can I reconcile this?

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giving back to God and kerygma

A friend has recently explained the word kerygma to me. Which, to use his words, means a message in us that we are likely to preach over and over again. In seminary he learned that this message would also affect how they read the Bible. I’ve been thinking about this in relation to myself. You know, reflecting again ;). I thought about the manta on the blog – the concept of if something’s easy your doing it wrong. Or to put it another way, everything worth doing will be a challenge. And, I’ve realized that in general I expect things (especially things that are meaningful to me) to be a struggle.

Recently this has backfired on me. I have a lot of very good things going on in my life right now. Kids are well, wonderful man in my life, new exciting job, etc. It has gotten to the point however where I found myself stressing over what “bad” thing was going to happen. I mean, how could everything be so good so easily right? Although some would rightly point out the getting to this point wasn’t easy. I’ve done this my whole life. I used to call them stress fantasies – where I would imagine horrible things happening, because if I worried about it that would somehow fend it off. I know, it’s crazy.

So yesterday, I was rereading the email about kerygma and contemplating how really happy I was and realized that I had to put an end to this cycle of negative stress fantasies. I had gone from accepting a struggle to expecting a struggle to actually needing it, which is never healthy. But how? My mantra or kerygma hasn’t changed. I do believe that typically things will be challenging if they are worth having. But how could I continue to accept the really wonderful things in life that I had been blessed with without the negative thoughts?

A C. S. Lewis quote about “giving back to God” came to mind. When I first read this line, I had no idea what this meant. But it did seem that if I could somehow take the burden of all these good things off me then perhaps I could also shed the expectation of the corresponding bad thing.

But how was one to give back to God? Was I to thank Him for these good things? That doesn’t work for me since I don’t see God as handing out favors. Was I to thank God for the talents he gave me that allowed me to accomplish these things? Thus admitting everything truly came from him. Well, ok, but still that didn’t feel like giving; it felt like patting myself on the back more than anything. I pictured myself “offering” these blessings back to God. It looked awkward to say the least!

Perhaps, yet again, I was being too literal with God. After all, if He’s perfect He doesn’t need me to give Him things, just to lighten my burden. But to truly give back to Him I should give to others, His other creations. Share my joy, my happiness with others. By being happy, by caring, by giving others hope in some way. This for me feels like a very real way I can take my blessings and spread them around. And the best part for me and my kerygma is that it won’t be easy. I will have to seek out ways to give, ways to use all this positive energy I have right now to negate negativity.

notes from the edge of the river – V on “spiritual reflection”

These writings were from my solo vacation to a little red caboose cabin near Bandera, Texas this past week. A long weekend of relaxing, reflection and exploration.

A quote from the Barclay Press blog:

But my life is lacking when I’m not part of a greater cause, and living only for myself or my “own spiritual growth”.

I had to laugh when I read this line. Lately that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. And there is defintely a sense that there’s only so far it will take you. I feel I won’t really begin to understand God and my relationship with him until I get out there and practice what I sit around thinking about. It’s easy to forget that we experience God so much through other people, which of course means you have to be around them.

During my weekend of reflection, I took the C. S. Lewis book Weight of Glory. Amazing collection of essays. When I first read the below quote I was offended, but it doesn’t take long to realize how right he is!

The attempt to discover by introspective analysis our own spiritual condition is to me a horrible thing which reveals at best, not the secrets of God’s spirit and ours, but their transpositions in intellect, emotion, and imagination, and which at worst may be the quickest road to presumption or despair.

How true, how true. Of course it’s the kind of thing you have to do to fully understand the limitations of it – so not a total loss 😉 And, being the hyper thinker that I am, I’m sure these to wise men won’t stop me. It will however certainly add other elements into my quest.

I also decided to leave my “weekend of refelction” a day early. I’m still not sure if it was the quote or the lack of city noises – but I felt very ready to move on!

teaching religion, from the more learned

I am prompted to post this if for no other reason than to keep track of the recent posts I’ve seen that mirror my position on why it’s important to teach religion. It’s heartening to see that people who’ve given this more thought than I have agree. I hope you enjoy them as well.

The first is from Aedificium.

Religion is not going anywhere, and this is true regardless of whether God really exists or not. Rather than spend our time focusing on all the differences between “our” religion and “their” religion and using those as points of attack, we should be figuring out what the similarities are between us and what our mutual concerns are, both spiritually and “earthly,” and learning how each religious tradition addresses those concerns using their particular cultural expressions from their own wells of tradition.

The second is from Bruce Feiler’s blog. Titled: “We Teach Sex, Why Not God” recounting Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz’s thoughts on the subject.

There is a need to give children at least some basic and true notions about the subject. The schools should not be proselytizing. They should not be dictating how these concepts are used practically by the students. But at least young people will have the chance to acquire basic knowledge about what they will or will not practice in their later years.

notes from the edge of the river – IV the universe

These writings were from my solo vacation to a little red caboose cabin near Bandera, Texas this past week. A long weekend of relaxing, reflection and exploration.

There’s nothing like staring at the stars to get one’s mind turning to thoughts of how the heck this universe came into being. By 7pm (pre daylight savings) it is too dark in the hill country of Texas to do much outside. So I’m in for the evening. Luckily the owners of the caboose had quite a selection of videos to choose from – yes the VHS kind. I decided on Stephen Hawking’s “Universe”. Truly amazing; watching things like this always reignites my love of science and my awe at people whose minds can figure this stuff out.

For those who believe in a strict constructionist approach to the Bible Mr. Hawking’s theories would be blasphemy. It detailed the big bang theory, dark matter and questions on how the universe might end. The planet Earth was a miniscule part of this discussion as it was just one of hundreds of thousands of mass in the universe. It made the biblical original of earth seem almost ludicrous. If God created this amazing expanse, why focus so much time and energies on Earth? Then again, who knows what God theories exist on other planets!

It made me ponder the divine intervention concept, one, as you know, I don’t particularly believe in. But why would God go through so much trouble (at least I assume it wasn’t easy) to create all this just to ignore it? Maybe, I thought, the evolution of life on earth was a fluke. You picture God playing around with matches or something, suddenly there’s a big bang and next thing you know He’s got kids to look after. 😉

Ok, I’m only 1/2 kidding. But I do wonder about this creation theory. The accidental nature of it isn’t a new theory. The Gnostics believed that it was either created accidentally or maliciously by an “evil” deity. I could understand then why God would want to take human form. To see what it was all about to understand his creations better. Maybe he comes back as every species at some point.

Back to the Gnostics, these dudes were totally sci-fi. So in their concept (as far as I understand it), not only was the world get created maliciously, when that happened divine sparks got trapped inside human bodies. Jesus came to earth to give secret teachings that would free those who had sparks of divinity hidden in them. Frankly this seemed quite credible to me after watching “Universe”. Hey, it’s at least no more incredible than Genesis.

What I love about science and the study of the wider universe is that it gives me a different perspective and a new way of thinking about God. I find it invaluable.

notes from the edge of the river – III more on the bible

These writings were from my solo vacation to a little red caboose cabin near Bandera, Texas this past week. A long weekend of relaxing, reflection and exploration.

My struggles with Jesus actually complicate my whole relationship (for lack of a better term) with the Bible, specifically the New Testament. What do I do with all of these scriptures claiming that Jesus was the messiah? I can’t just ignore them. That means the Bible becomes for me a collection of stories. Stories that people interpret and bend to mean what they want them to mean.

Taking the Bible purely as allegory is problematic, because where do the interpretations stop? Where do they enter the realm of the completely ridiculous? I don’t know what I want or need from the Bible yet – I just know that the elusive “it” exists. I can’t pick and choose what I like. When I first starting learning about the bible (and the Early Christianities course is excellent for this) I felt that I was moving further and further away from it.

From what I understand:
1. There are no actual writings of Jesus
2. There are no proven writings of the original 12 apostles
3. What we know of the New Testament in particular was not canonized until hundreds of years after Jesus’ life and death
4. The stories/scriptures were transcribed by scribes over those hundreds of years, making numerous mistakes
5. Some text was actually altered purposefully to counter the religions considered heretical at the time
6. There are many forgeries in the New Testament not written by who the author claimed to be

After this list, I didn’t see how I could be left with anything but an interesting collection of stories. Based on little fact. Stories that inspire perhaps. But then don’t a lot of books? I can think of many books (even fiction!) that I’ve read that completely move and I might even say transform me. Transform my way of thinking and looking at things. I don’t worry that these aren’t fact. I just accept the emotion and go with it. I learn from it and have no problem applying my new found truth to my world.

Why can’t I look at the Bible like this? As long as I don’t condemn others for what moves them. Maybe the Bible is like a treasure chest, where everybody reaches in and comes out with something precious to them. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

I feel at last that I’m approaching this book more honestly than I ever have. I just needed to understand the foundation, the beginning. I didn’t like the feeling (real or imagined) that there were things I shouldn’t know as a Christian because it would rock my faith. On the contrary, I feel I can build faith better on an honest crooked foundation than a smooth façade.

notes from the edge of the river – II

These writings were from my solo vacation to a little red caboose cabin near Bandera, Texas this past week. A long weekend of relaxing, reflection and exploration.

I find that sitting out here in this quiet spot makes me want to write – you know, like with actual pen and paper! At home I always use the computer and I find manually writing to be tiresome. I just can’t go as fast as my brain wants to.

But here, the thought of turning on a computer almost repulses me. There is something calm and relaxing about moving the pen across paper. The brain moves slower as well – no longer trying to keep pace with the typical busy day. It’s relaxing and thinking evenly.

I thank God that I have the time, money and inclination for these excursions. There was a time with I had none of those things. It makes such a difference for my mental health.

The sunset is lovely. I’m looking forward to actually seeing stars tonight. I’m always amazed by the real night sky. The one hidden behind layers of city filth that is invisible to me. It’s that awesome expanse of stars and darkness that rekindles my thoughts of and thankfulness to God.

notes from the edge of the river – I

These writings were from my solo vacation to a little red caboose cabin near Bandera, Texas this past week. A long weekend of relaxing, reflection and exploration.

cross.jpgIt was on my drive up to the little red caboose, while contemplating my relationship with Jesus (yet again!) that I saw an enormous cross on the top of a hill. The effect was startling. I tried to visit it a few days later but it’s apparently located on private property that no one can access. I found this quite annoying – like the person who wants to convince me that Jesus is the way but isn’t willing to hear my thoughts. I’m probably overreacting but that was my honest initial feeling.

I’m sitting in this peaceful, serene spot now thinking how lucky I am to get to have this time for me. I want it to be a contemplative time. You know, solve all my religious issues in 4 days! 😉 I can hear the river from the back deck – all nature all the time. A big change for a city girl like me.

So what was I thinking about Jesus you ask? I was reflecting that the more I learn about early Christianity and the history of the church the more I come to believe that he was mostly a man, if a God at all. But my circular argument with myself is that no matter what I think, or what historians find, or what theologians write about we’ll never know for certain. We will never have proof. When I get here I’m stuck. Not because I’m not comfortable with not having proof, but because I have a perverse need to pick a side!

This dilemma also causes me to contemplate those who believe they do know and without a doubt, the Truth. Knowing for yourself is wonderful, and I hope to get there someday. It’s the knowing for others that bothers me. “Knowing” that someone is going to hell because they don’t believe is like sticking a cross on a hill and not letting anyone visit it. Just pronounce, don’t debate.

Some would say that because I don’t ‘know’, I don’t have faith. And I guess in a way they are right. I believe in God without proof, why can’t I make the lead with Jesus? Probably because of just those people who insist vehemently that he is the son of God. Maybe I’m just reacting against something, instead of for something – I don’t like that concept and it’s one I will have to work on. Good thing I have 3 days left!

love like it’s 75% off

I don’t know about you but I’m particularly fond of things that I buy on sale, and not just any sale, but huge 75% off type savings. It can be a truly religious experience for me 😉

One of the things I struggle with is the “love thy neighbor like yourself” concept. This struggle has become more obvious to me since attending the Quaker meetings. Each Sunday there is a gentleman who stands up at the end of the meeting to ask us to hold in the light whoever the state of Texas is about to execute. I’m very much against the death penalty and I admire this man who can think of these criminals in such a caring way. I’m not sure I am able to do this with as much sincerity.

I was thinking about this concept while driving down a busy street the other day. As I looked at my surroundings, trees, people at a bus stop, birds sitting on a telephone pole I felt nothing for them, other than idle curiosity. I wondered what it would be like to really care for each of these people/things. What if I could love them like they were mine, like my own children, like something that was 75% off!

But if I had this much love for everything wouldn’t it blind me to the bad things in the world? Wouldn’t I become the type of person to only see good and miss the pain; making excuses for anything bad that happened because deep down everyone’s good. I’ve know people like this, it’s the opposite of the pessimist and far beyond the optimist, it’s the “nothing’s ever really wrong” uber happy people. I want to slap them, because ultimately if you see no pain you see nothing to change, nothing to fight for.

Maybe I was making excuses for why I didn’t have to care. I mean, I didn’t want to lose my perspective right? Caring too much might make me the disgusting uber happy person I dreaded. I didn’t want to not see pain and therefore not feel compelled to do anything about it. That was my excuse anyway.

Almost instantly I realized that it’s only in the caring that you truly see the pain. It is the love that opens you up to see and respond to someone else’s need. A need you probably didn’t even know existed until you loved them. As opposed to blinding me to all that was negative, it would open my eyes to the real and expansive understanding of human pain and love.

I actually started crying in traffic when I realized this. Such a simple concept that I had never grasped before.

I’m not at the point yet where I can see the positive side of everyone, but I work at it daily. And it certainly takes the religious experience out of shopping and puts it where it belongs.

quaker meeting #5 and the staircase

I’m sure at some point I will stop numbering these meetings 😉

This Sunday I had a wonderfully productive meeting with the Quakers. I went by myself, which was good for my focus. And I decided that if I was going to have idle chatter in my head it might as well be directed at God. So I just started talking to Him – first about what I felt my biggest struggles were recently then about people who were top of mind in need of “blessings” as the Quakers say. I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to carry on this one sided conversation but I just kept rambling.

It was an experience akin to calling your best friend and after she asks how you are, you’re talking a mile a minute catching her up on everything. Next thing you know half an hour’s gone by and all she’s managed to get into the conversation is a polite “uh-huh” every now and then. I love these conversations. My friend calls it “clucking”. It feels so good to share and be shared with.

So although God didn’t get his half of the conversation, it was incredibly satisfying to me. I was pleased and admittedly surprised that I didn’t run out of things to tell Him. I’d thought that this kind of opening up wasn’t possible for me. But when I stopped expecting to hear back it became much easier to find my focus and give.

After that first half hour flew by, I was spent, needed a shift in communication. So I started visualizing – just letting whatever images popped into my head be there. This was something that I didn’t have high expectations for, just an experiment. The image I saw was a staircase. This didn’t surprise me, staircases are often in my visions. When I was first going through the realities of my marriage being over I would visualize a healing path. Something very literal that I could see myself doing to show progress toward my goal – like climbing a staircase. Having just finished Karen Armstrong’s book The Spiral Staircase, this was an image I was very attached to.

When I first started my visualizations I saw myself sitting on the bottom step of a very tall spiral, iron staircase in a cylindrical room with no doors or windows. It was mostly dark. Looking up I could see a ceiling very high above me, a circular opening at the top with light shining out of it. I could also hear faint talking and laughing, like from a cocktail party. I knew that up on that level were all my family and friends having a good time, waiting for me to join them again. And, very slowly, I began to climb.

As months passed I would continue this vision. And each time I would see myself on the staircase in a different place, usually slightly higher up. Sometimes pausing, sometimes climbing steadily, occassionally backing up a few steps but never back at the bottom. I thought about this staircase for at least six months. But after that, my thoughts didn’t go to it that often and when they did I could almost see the people at the top. Eventually one day I saw myself standing on that level with everyone who I thought would be there welcoming me – I had that vision several times actually (it was a nice one to replay).

Sunday at the Quaker meeting when I closed my eyes, I saw myself looking up. There were white walls all around me, almost blinding white. And I realized I was once again on a staircase, but not the same one. There was as opening at the top with a amazing white light coming out of it. And no noise, I was all alone. I knew instantly what this meant to me.

Much like the emotional recovery from my divorce this staircase is leading me to an emotional recovery with God. And it is fitting that I should be alone on the stair; everyone’s journey is unique and personal. It was so comforting to be back on a familiar vision, one that I have confidence will end with success because I have done it before.