Category Archives: General Christianity

it’s okay not to know

The article Betting on A Generous God, by Peter W. Marty in the latest issue of Christian Century has so many lines I love, I decided it was worth a blog post. He perfectly captures my hesitation to join churches. It’s also a review of the book Love Wins by Rob Bell, which looks like something I must read.

From Marty:

When Christian people convert their spiritual confidence into theological certainty and then apply that certainty to their account of God, faith becomes ideological. Humility all but vanishes.

The truth of this is striking to me mostly because last Sunday my pastor did just the opposite. His sermon was about Jesus’s statement in John 14:1-14 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” These words have been used by many to exclude those from the kingdom of heave who do not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. A phrase and practice that makes my blood boil – that’s for another post!

But he stood up in front of us and said, “I don’t know.” I don’t know if this is how it really happened. He couldn’t say if that’s what Jesus really said or if it was written to speak to an audience over 2,000 years old. When was the last time you heard a pastor say they didn’t know something about a bible passage? For me, I think it had been never. It was so refreshing, because his admission in no way detracted from the message, and it made it okay for me not to know, for all of us to have unanswered questions.

More from Marty:

Have you ever noticed how love takes a backseat when self-righteousness is behind the wheel?

When the focus is on absolute certainty in knowing the mind of God, the journey of faith quickly becomes impoverished. All that is incomprehensible and all the unanswerable questions have to be ignored or shortchanged. The wonder and glories of mystery get shelved. God begins to be more domesticated than our favorite pet.

Seriously, I love this stuff.

these people are really kidding themselves

Wow, a dangerous excuse for teaching the bible in public school. The only way this is even slightly okay is if other religious texts are taught in the same class for their “literary and historic qualities”. Can’t help but wonder how well those students who disagree with the literature of the bible will do in this class??

Texas Board of Education … be very afraid

YouTube video of an opening prayer at the Texas Board of Education meeting.

Article from the Texas Freedom Network.

Anne Rice vs. Christianity

When I first heard the news clip about Anne Rice “quitting Christianity”, I thought what most people probably thought – ah, she’s gone back to atheism. That would have been an interesting story considering her public recommitment to Catholicism and her books on the subject of Christ. Turns out it’s not that interesting, as a matter of fact it smacks of a media ploy.

Her much publicized quote again:

“In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control.

“In the name of… Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

And now she feels better about herself. Congratulations. Really, what’s so new about this? People get fed up with Christianity and/or Christians every day because of some non-compassionate, backward stance. And it’s no different for Jews or Muslims. I’m willing to bet everyone’s got a beef with some aspect(s) of their religion.

The real problem is that this is just a cowardly response to the hard issues. Is it right to turn your back on something you supposedly care about because of disagreements? What about sticking it out, making it what you want it to be? Be the example you don’t see. I would have been much more impressed with Anne had she said that those positions were not Christian at all. That, indeed, she would continue to embrace Christianity while fighting for the acceptance of all those things.

By quitting, she’s saying: Yes, that [anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti….] IS what Christianity is about.

Thank goodness for the Muslims after the 9/11 bombings that stood up and said: this act does NOT represent my religion, it is NOT what we stand for and I will continue to embrace my God.

So, her statement becomes either a media play with no real substance, or an easy way out of dealing with what makes her uncomfortable with her chosen religion.

Get a backbone Anne.

appalling

So much for “liberty”…
Liberty U. Drops Democratic Club

shut up! (really)

Although I like to keep it positive on this blog, I’ve really had it. The subject applies to anyone who has ever uttered or written the term “all christians”, “all atheists” or even “all religions”. Nothing makes me want to go out and buy a bible and go to church as often as possible more than people who would decry “all Christians” (or religious group of choice) as brainwashed idiots who just aren’t smart enough to realize there is no God. Likewise, every time someone insinuates that “all atheists” are likely unenlightened wanna-be-devil-worshipers I’m looking for the needle to sew a big “A” on the front of my shirt.

The point is the people making these declarations are extreme and are doing NOTHING for the religious dialog. As someone who loves the conversation, the debate over God these types of statements are pure trash. They add nothing to collective knowledge about the group, they show an enormous amount of personal ignorance, and immediately turn me away from what they have to say.

There will always be atheists, there will always be people who believe in God(s) – so if you don’t have anything truly constructive to add to the conversation about how both groups can live peacefully in their belief system, SHUT UP!

happy Easter all

I enjoyed this post, What’s a Quakerpalian?. Mainly because it’s about Quakers, but also because Mystery of Inequity liked it.

Happy Easter all. The one Christian holiday that matters. I even gave up margartias (mostly) for lent! I mean, how much more committed can one get??

thinly sliced religion

I’ve always been interested in the protestant reformation and the split from the “Church” back in the day. Many of Martin Luther’s objections were more than reasonable – and the split in the church seems normal through the lens of history. But, I can’t help but wonder a) what our Christian religious landscape would be like if it hadn’t split, and b) where it will end? Churches continue to splinter off over comparatively small disagreements. And wasn’t at least one of Jesus’ messages about coming together and putting differences aside? Instead we’re slicing and dicing interpretations of scripture to thinly that eventually we’ll each just form our own individual church!

Several recent blog posts reminded me of this. One from the Evangelical Outpost – Church Branding is the title of the post. The central theme is that Americans are switching churches with more regularity and don’t seem to be loyal to any one brand of their religion. Without getting into whether this is good or bad – because I don’t think that’s even the point. The bigger question is why are more and more people “jumping ship”?

Couple this news with the recent article “Most US Christians define own theology”. To sum it up with one quote,

“A sizable majority of the country’s faithful no longer hew closely to orthodox teachings, and look more to themselves than to churches or denominations to define their religious convictions, according to two recent surveys.”

To me it’s clear that both these phenomena exist at least in part because, within the Christian faith particularly, we have a history of walking away when we disagree with each other. There’s no sticking around to work out differences. Denominations split and splinter continually over differences in interpretations of the Bible, and disagreements in Doctrine. Including the most recent divorce of the Episcopal Church from itself. Is it any wonder that individuals do the same thing? Or pick and choose what pieces are meaningful to them and reject the rest. The Christian faith has been the guiding light for this behavior.

And why? Because there’s far too much focus on WHAT we believe and not enough on how that belief should impel us to act. So, the more specific churches get on that What, it’s inevitable that people will look to other ships, searching for that ONE that will meet their needs and match their belief system. News flash, it will never happen! No church will be completely sympatico with any one person’s beliefs. So we continue to break off. And what then, once a church breaks away, is it more pure, more true to the “real” teachings of Jesus than what it left behind? If so, we’re creating a dangerous Christian culture of elitism. Each group thinking they are better than the rest because of what they believe. When in reality they might all be equally appalling in how they actually behave on the planet!

Recently I’ve been familiarizing myself with the Buddhist and the Quaker religion – for those of you who’ve followed, I’ve attending the local Quaker Meeting on and off over the past several years. What I absolutely love about these two traditions is the almost exclusive focus on HOW to act with an indifference to one’s personal interpretation of doctrine. In the case of Buddhism, there is no doctrine really. It’s not about a God at all; it’s about how you personally can achieve true happiness (enlightenment) in the world. Quaker’s are more closely tied to the Christian faith but there is no dictate of what one should or should not believe. It’s a very personal experience with God with true understanding only be achieved as a group learns together.

A quote from A Quaker Book of Wisdom, by Robert Lawrence Smith,

“The premise of Quaker Meeting is that no one person sees the entire truth. The group search after truth is more comprehensive and more exacting than the search of one individual. At Meetings for Worship, the shared silence creates receptivity to the continuing revelation of the truth. People who are moved to vocal ministry offer small insights that contribute to each person’s understanding.”

Many foundational beliefs of both the Quakers and Buddhists, living simply, adherence to truth, and non-violence are not at all different from Christian teachings. Jesus was one of the strongest proponents of these concepts. But in learning about, and being part of the Quaker tradition for a short time, the difference is, these are not just things to say we believe in, they are a way of life.

How or can Christianity regain the focus on the wonderful acts of Christ without getting bogged down in the thin deli slices of scripture?

progress

I’ve been going through the list of 2008 Weblog Awards for Best Religion Blog. Check out the whole list, because it’s a great way to catch up on something you may have missed.

Working my way down the Religion list, I went to Christianblog.com. It was new to me, but looked interesting. Just click to sign up, no problem. Then I hit a snag. To sign up, I would have to agree to a statement. Below is the quote from the site.

ChristianBlog.Com is a website strictly reserved for those who know they are a Child of God (aka: a Christian.)

We do not believe it is possible for us (or for anybody) to define what a “Christian” is or is not, other then to quote Romans 10:9, which says, “if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”.

If you feel that is you and you are being honest with yourself then we stand on the Holy Word of God that you and God have worked out your Salvation and we feel you have the right to become a member of ChristianBlog.Com

I have no issue with their asking this of potential members. Certainly, if you want a blog to discuss Christianity, it would be quite normal for those members to believe that “Jesus is Lord…”. Problem is, I couldn’t do it. I could not agree to this very simple statement that quite naturally defines a Christian. I do not know for certain that Jesus is Lord, that God raised him from the dead for my sake.

I was surprised actually, by how quickly I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t sign it. I didn’t twing, didn’t feel any pangs of guilt, it was just a matter of honesty for me. Maybe I’m getting somewhere in this journey after all…best of luck to you on the christianblog, I’ll be surfing elsewhere.

weird stuff

There is some weird stuff going on out there in the name of religion. These are from The Church Around the Corner: Offbeat religion stories.

Muslim hate preacher claims ‘Christmas is the pathway to hell’

A Muslim lawyer has launched an extraordinary rant against Christmas, branding the celebration ‘evil’. Hate preacher Anjem Choudary claimed the festival was the ‘pathway to hell’ and urged his followers to boycott it. ‘In the world today many Muslims, especially those residing in Western countries, are exposed to the evil celebration Christmas,’ he raged in a sermon broadcast on the internet. … ‘Decorating the house, purchasing Christmas trees or having Christmas turkey meals are completely prohibited by Allah. … ‘Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire. ‘Protect your Paradise from being taken away – protect yourself and your family from Christmas.’

– Source: ‘Christmas is the pathway to hell’: Muslim lawyer’s extraordinary rant at ‘evil’ celebration, Daily Mail, Dec. 10, 2008

New Capitol display sought with Santa “hell” warning

A Kansas-based church that has blamed deaths in Iraq on U.S. tolerance of homosexuality has asked Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office to approve a “Santa Claus will take you to hell” message to display among other religious statements in the Capitol’s third-floor hallway. The Westboro Baptist Church’s message would be near a Nativity set, three signs mocking atheism, and an atheists’ sign that celebrates the winter solstice, while also taking a shot at religion as “myth and superstition” that enslaves minds, all in the state Capitol’s third-floor hallway.

– Source: New Capitol display sought with Santa “hell” warning, Seattle Times, Dec. 12, 2008

Man says God ordered him to ram vehicle

A man who rammed his truck into a woman’s vehicle on a highway early Friday told authorities he crashed into her while going more than 100 mph because God told him “she needed to be taken off the road.”

– Source: Man says God ordered him to ram vehicle, AP via MSNBC, Dec. 1, 2008

Nude Virgin Mary cover prompts Playboy apology

A nude model resembling the Virgin Mary on the cover of the Mexican edition of Playboy magazine, published only days before a major Mexican festival dedicated to the mother of Jesus, prompted the company’s U.S. headquarters on Friday to apologize.

– Source: Nude Virgin Mary cover prompts Playboy apology, Reuters, Dec. 16, 2008

Virgin Mary appears woman’s brain scan

A 42-year-old woman without insurance and mounting medical bills plans to sell an MRI scan of her brain in which the image of the Virgin Mary seems to appear. … Having seen where other supposed images of Mary or other religious icons were sold for thousands of dollars, Latrimore plans to post the MRI scan on eBay, the online auction site.

– Source: Virgin Mary in Fort Pierce woman’s brain scan; next stop: eBay, TCPalm.com, Dec. 5, 2008

Dante banned from selling soul on eBay

A musician fed up with his life was today barred from selling his soul to the highest bidder. Dante Knoxx, 24, offered the “used” item for a starting bid of £25,000.50 or a buy it now price of £700,000 on the internet auction site eBay. But eBay pulled the listing today with about two hours to go and no bids because it breached one of the firm’s policies. “You cannot sell anything that is not physical,” said Mr Knoxx.

– Source: Dante banned from selling soul on eBay, Independent, Dec. 15, 2008

It’s always good to read these when I think my writings might be too “out there”! Makes me feel very mainstream.

the happiness challenge

A friendly challenge to blog about happiness has been opened, because apparently it’s contagious and, as I consider myself a very happy person, I’d like to spread the wealth. Since the topic of this blog is religion I’ve decided to write about something religious or spiritual that makes me very happy. Hmm, it is at this point that I realize I don’t typically associate my writing about religion with happiness – not that it makes me unhappy, as a matter of fact it’s quite fulfilling, it just doesn’t bring that big smile to my face :). So time to change that!

Top 9 things about religion/spirituality that make me happy (10 just seemed too predictable 🙂

1. My children – because the miracle of birth will always be a miracle. It never ceases to amaze me how little doctors actually know about why things happen in pregnancy, why people can’t or can have children. All I can do is thank God for allowing me to raise these two precious souls.

2. The concept of God – I would be nowhere without this, and I certainly wouldn’t have a blog ;). But the belief in a greater being/spirit/whatever does make me very happy.

3. The Christmas season – see previous post, conflicted but VERY happy. We get our tree today as a matter of fact, yea!

4. The cross – I collect crosses and there is something very joyful to me about the symbol, despite all that I can’t decipher about my personal feelings on the subject of Jesus and the crucifixion, the symbol itself does make me happy…and maybe that’s enough.

5. Karen Armstrong – I must say, I get giddy excited when I hear she has a new book out or is speaking somewhere. The religious discussions that she inspires, and her charter for compassion are totally joy inducing.

6. The Quakers – I LOVED attending the Quaker meetings and felt happier than I ever had “going to church” in the traditional sense.

7. Graveyards – this may seem like an odd one, but ask those who know me, I’m gaga over graveyards. The history, the peace, the sense of seeing into the past, and for the spiritual unknowns of death.

8. Churches – much like the crosses, I’m drawn to churches in a way I can’t really explain. Or I should say houses of worship in general, not just Christian churches.

9. The journey – my journey with faith, the seeking itself, is so rewarding to me. It can present extreme moments of happiness and the opposite – which we won’t mention in a post about happiness. I’m very thankful and happy for my personal quest, and for anyone else seeking.

my conflicted christmas

I love Christmas – for so many reasons – the jolliness, the holiness, the cold weather, the eggnog and rum! It’s the holiness one that always gets me though (well, the rum get’s me too…). I’m conflicted over a few things and would love any thoughts on these:

1. Like others, I’m disgusted by the material focus of the holiday, on the other hand I love shopping for loved ones and feel it’s important to teach my children to GIVE – and yes, that may mean shopping occasionally. Everything in moderation people!

2. The Christmas story (i.e. virgin birth/manger) is very spiritually meaningful to me (part I), but, more frequently, I enjoy the wider reach of the Christmas spirit – that it is really for everyone, including the non-Christian friends I have that celebrate it and anyone else who wants to spread good cheer! Making me wonder how important the “Christian” aspect of Christmas is.

3. The Christmas story is very spiritually meaningful to me (part II), but I don’t believe a word of it. This is the real douser!

But Jesus is the whole reason for Christmas right?

Sure – but the means do not equal the ends.

The birth story is one of the more touching ones in the Bible for me. Despite my love for the story, I push it aside. I don’t want to focus on the story but rather the meaning, the application in life. Help those in need, bring gifts to strangers, open doors rather than shut them.

Whether or not the story itself is based in fact is almost beside the point. The story should represent how we show we believe rather than just what we believe – if that makes sense. Let Christmas become less Christian if it means that more people come together for celebration and sharing. Secularize Christmas for the sake of the true meaning of Christmas! Ok, I know I’m getting carried away, but this topic is hard to articulate for me (I’ve rewritten this more times than I’d like to admit).

The Christmas tree, the stockings, the cookies, the carol, all those lovely traditions – and so many others – all remind us to spread joy, give willingly, and embrace life. I know God’s message is not so easy to boil down, but I don’t think he would object to this version. Let’s just not let an amazing story distract us from the more amazing meaning.

P.S. And the Santa thing, when can we give that up? Pretend jolly fat men don’t spread joy, people do!