Archive for the 'Religion' Category

21
May
11

Time to Unpack

I’ve called it History’s Quandary. The Middle East, where enemies and allies change by the day and the best we can ever hope for is choosing the least unfortunate. Right now, our president is standing in fallout that is too deep to sort through, and for that he deserves our sympathy. Presidents before him have acted on the best knowledge to make the best decisions only to be judged by generations of history.

Right now, though, the President is not only drowning in the fallout from the troubled Middle East, but also at home. His Israeli peace plan has brought nothing but controversy over a steadfast ally. I have a knee-jerk opinion on what he said, but I like to do a little research before I speak out on the Middle East, so I’ve spent two days reading the blog circuit regarding this speech, Hamas, Abbas, Netanyahu, the Muslim Brotherhood…Finally I came to a conclusion.

It’s time to unpack, America, or our baggage is going to drown us.

Every comment stream I read turned into a circular argument of name-calling, blaming, excuses, and hate. Is this what our great nation has become? Golda Maier said that there will be war until Palestinians can learn to love their children as much as they hate the Jews. What about us? After reading all I have, it occurs to me that Americans are so caught up in rhetoric, we cannot reach a viable solution on any issue. In the name of being right, we have forgotten that love fosters growth, but hate destroys everything in its path. The Israeli conflict is an appropriate backdrop for such a realization. Israel, though a small and young nation, has grown more than many of its peers in the area. The nation is democratic, based on a general concept of freedom. It’s peers are bent on destruction. Nothing can destroy and intimidate its way to prosperity – not governments, ideas, egos, or armies.

We Americans inherited a legacy of peace and prosperity that we have squandered. Now that it is threatened, we are up to our ears in blame and hate that jeopardizes our future. We cannot even agree on good an evil. When we reached out to the Katrina victims, there were criticisms. The Gulf oil spill? Not an environmental tragedy, but a political blame-fest. We fight about gunmen in our schools and killings on the border. Obama compared children being blown up on school buses with the humiliation of occupation and NOBODY SAID A THING. Children are being killed, people, and we have turned it into a political debate without spending a moment to grieve for humanity.

America has always stood for what is right and good. She has been a bastion of freedom and solace. Right now, though, America doesn’t know what is right and therefore cannot stand. Instead, we have replaced good vs. evil with red vs. blue and are battering both to the ground. I promise that our skirmishes over things like abortion and clean water will look luxurious when we are fighting for existence. If we cannot come together and remember that a dead child is a tragedy no matter who her parents were and that injustice is a scourge, we will fall from within.

Right now, we are carrying our own versions of history in heavy backpacks that weigh us down, hindering our movement and keeping us out of the fight. We have got to unpack those so that we can step up and remember that good is worth fighting for. The enemy is powerful, but he should be easy for us to recognize – he’s the one threatening our future and that of the world. Usually, he has less problem saying he is bent on murder than we have believing him.

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26
Apr
10

My Crisis of Faith – From Seed to Blooming Tree

It started in church one Sunday. There was a technical difficulty during worship, a missing piece. The worship pastor asked us all to bow our heads in a prayer he eloquently led. Amen, heads up, eyes open, order restored on the stage.

It was a seed.

How often are we led in prayers that are less of a plea to the Lord than they are curtains for a very human pastoral staff to rally behind? I began to wonder about the humanity, the efforts they made for the appearance of seamless perfection. It is not the imperfection of that humanity that nurtured this seed. It was the effort to cover it up. Mistrust began to grow from my church’s inability to admit imperfection.

I love my church, and the pastoral staff has always exhibited the utmost wisdom and integrity, so it’s possible that this little plant rooted in such shallow soil could have quickly died, but then Pat Robertson spoke. If you remember, he blamed the Haitians for their sorrow after the earthquake, saying that it was God’s judgement. My little plant sprouted so fast, the economy turned green with envy. Then missionaries went to Haiti and stole children, assuming they were better fit to raise them, apparently. More leaves on my little plant.

Then I watched a debate unfold over a Super Bowl ad. Christians fired off in support of Focus on the Family, decrying everything that had ever stood in their way. I love the American Family, but it’s time to take note that married parents, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever is not realistic for most Americans. Though the ad itself was positive and not controversial, the message was lost in the debate. Both sides were cruel, but there is a real problem when Christians are cruel in the name of the Lord. My little plant leafed out all over the place.

Then it grew a branch. The Catholic Church chose to stand with those priests accused of the most heinous crimes of pedophilia. What cruelty from an institution that should be based on hope and love? Jesus Himself said that the punishment for a man who leads His flock astray is beyond that which anyone else will experience. If the Church stands behind these “men” in the name of forgiveness, I appreciate that. But forgiveness and trust are very different. Forgiveness does not imply restoration, as illustrated by the way this same church treats divorcees, homosexuals, and those of other faiths. To allow these priests to continue to represent what is right and holy uncovers gross dishonesty that I simply cannot abide. It has become nearly impossible for me to watch a public display of religion without skepticism. The branches are in the way.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,“ but I’m pretty sure he meant something entirely different. He meant that we should feed from Him and grow like Him, strong and fruitful. But an interesting thing happens when a person accepts Jesus as his Savior. Nothing. Loved ones still get sick. There still isn’t enough money. Tragedies still headline the nightly news. When we hear of salvation, the message is confusing. It is disheartening and discourages real growth in faith. We have fed from soil polluted by humanity and grown into weak hybrids. Then, we have taken it upon ourselves to save the world, to fuse it to our hybrid trees. Since we recognized that the tree didn’t look right, we tried to coerce everyone into being like us. We forgot about the branch entirely as we promised our own cross-bred salvation borne of judgement. This judgement and coercion is coming back to us now as our great nation dies from within, suffering from the fatal wounds of deep division.

Jesus promise of salvation is simply to save us from ourselves, a need we don’t always recognize. When God created us, he granted us the greatest gift, far greater than anything He gave even to the angels who dwell with Him in Heaven – Free Will. But, like anything great, it is this gift that leads to our demise. Within free will rests ego, greed, self, and everything else that divides the human from the divine. Thus, it is that very free will that Jesus asks us to lay down for Him in obedience. Not a popular pulpit message, bu to be free from the trappings of humanity is a gift, indeed. What we do with it is where our free will lies. Do we continue to live the same lives, resting on the laurels of this forgiveness? Or do we accept the brevity of our salvation and walk alongside others, trudging through the furrows of humanity?

14
Dec
09

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

I call it the Blaze of Glory. It happens when one does not simply transgress, but actually fails so miserably in an aspect of life that he is forever changed. Not just him, but those around him and those who know of him. Such is the life of Tiger Woods right now. I don’t want to pick on Tiger because any of us could find ourselves in such a predicament. He is simply a good example of what we all are capable of. Though I generally dislike celebrities, Tiger was on my good list. Watching him play and interact with fans and press was reassuring, that good people can make it and stay good.

Then he was found in the street next to his SUV and everything changed – Blaze of Glory. His just keeps on blazing, too, brighter and brighter with each porn star that flares up.

So is Tiger really a bad man? Near the end of Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives some of the most famous Biblical advice. He says that a wise man builds his house on a rock so it can withstand the wind, the rain, and the flood. The fool, he says, builds his house on sands that shift and it will not survive. Of course, this is good advice. With 2000+ years of construction technology under our belts, it is common sense. We all know to come in from the rain. Our houses are built on the rock and churches are full of hurting people who have come home to escape the storm. A few chapters later, James goes so far as to say that a trial is an opportunity for real joy. He is right. This is when we grow, when we learn, and when we live under a certain restraint.

What Jesus failed to mention, though, is our love of fun in the sun. When life is good, we leave the shelter of home and we go to the beach. We settle into the sand, taking advantage of its shiftiness to install a flimsy umbrella, then we bask in the goodness of it all. The trouble with the beach is, if a sun bather falls asleep, her toes will be wet as the tide changes. She will probably be burned, too, unless she used good sunscreen. In these good times, it is easy to forget the Lord, and there is real danger in the sand that shifts beneath us. When times are difficult, we retreat to him. We pray. We ask for guidance and wisdom, and I would be willing to say that the wise take steps to avoid temptation. When things improve, though, we venture out, forgetting our prayers, feeling wise in our own right, and lacking any guidance. We go to play in the sun and it feels so good. It is far too easy in these good times to find ourselves lost, burned, and maybe even regretting foolishness. Funny that the trials James speaks of can bring joy into our lives and these easy times can burn us. So much better if we could just remember that even if we stray from the Rock itself, we should still remember the sunscreen.

20
Oct
09

Joy is in the Journey

Sometimes just sitting in church is overwhelming. I go to a church that nearly 10 per cent of my city attend. It’s huge and I never know who I will see…the mayor, presidents of banks, scandalized newsmakers, teachers, friends, and even enemies and convicts. Once in a while, I glimpse a moment for one of these people – a tear or a hug more emotional than just hello – and I realize that we are all journeying together. Regardless of station, good or bad, every one of us is a human being with very similar feelings and struggles.

Sunday was one of these days. There is genuine concern in these times. Children are at war, homes are being lost, and the future is uncertain. Pain is everywhere. Then I wonder how many people walked into this church, hanging their hope on a Sunday school promise that God will take their troubles away. Because of this pretty and simple package, how many will leave this building in a bitter sadness, defeated and even angry at a God they have never met?

I hold the church responsible, in “recruiting efforts,” for painting this simple picture of a joyful life lived with the Lord. I believe in this picture, but it stopped being simple the first time life got hard. When life got hard, I discovered that the Lord Himself does not just hand us a colossal aspirin and pain-repelling umbrella tied up in a red ribbon of exuberant joy.

What he does do is reach out a hand, often times from across a chasm, and promise to take the walk with with us. Unfortunately, when we have been promised a fluffy cloud will carry us along – over the hard parts – it’s hard to understand a God who still makes us take the long way. I worry that this is where people are lost, when they hoped to float over the chasm so they don’t take the hand and make the frightening leap.

Real life with the Lord is exactly that – real. The joy part of it is learned, through trials that are conquered because our faith is placed in a God who is unchanging. He never promised to remove the trials, he promised to make them smaller. Feeling the Love of God on my life reminds me most of being a child. There were scary times and sad times and so many times that I didn’t understand. In those times, there was my dad. He would pick me up, or put an arm around me, and nothing around me changed, but I felt safe. Somehow I knew that whatever came of us, at least something would be the same – my dad.

My dad was certainly not capable of fixing all the trouble that found its way into my life, but he made it more bearable. God cannot remove trouble from our lives, either. If He did, it would mean taking our free will, which is a dangerous but crucial blessing He gave us. He gave us rules to make the climb a little less painful; our obedience is up to us.

That is why there are so many severe warnings against sin. It is not to make us feel guilty or give us restrictions. As adults, we understand that there are just behaviors that are destructive. It would be miserable, if not even impossible, to live as eternal beings in a pattern of sin. And that’s where we got the provision, through Jesus, to give us the opportunity to live as was intended. God grieves that any of us perish, surely grieves in a way we cannot even comprehend. His love for us was the original first love. It is fully passionate, exciting, and hopeful. It never goes away – it may be put away, stashed comfortably in a recess of our heart, but it is never gone. He carries a torch for the world as we carry a torch for those we first loved, a torch that will never be extinguished.

27
Jun
09

Forgiveness, Evil’s Parasite

The University of Miami recently released a study comparing the hunting habits of the Great White shark to those of serial killers. This is not a surprise. In fact, I believe that this proves a long-standing hypothesis: sharks are pure evil. They are behemoth killing machines, not evolved or adapted since their beginning, meaning that they were perfectly created for their grisly existence. I contend that serial killers may share basal instincts with the shark, not the other way around.

I briefly stated my position on FaceBook and I was told “Ponder this…If you believe in true evil, you have no room for forgiveness.” I pondered this. I have spent a lot of time pondering forgiveness. I am forgiven. I have forgiven some dreadful things. I live with a man who is bi-polar. Forgiveness is a big part of my life and it is a big word. We throw it around fairly easily, but how often do we mean it? More importantly, how often do we genuinely seek it? When we throw out a hapless “I’m sorry,” do we really hope for forgiveness or are we sorry we are in the situation and we want it to stop?

As a Christian, I have to take a very honest look at what forgiveness means because my entire faith hinges on it. There is not a person on the planet God would not forgive, but we have to ask for it. It has to be different from saying “sorry” as though we bumped into God with a shopping cart at Target. When we seek forgiveness from God, it has be sincere, heartfelt, and indicative of a major willingness to change.

The same is true for seeking forgiveness from each other. We are not charged to forgive someone who is not asking us to. But when we are asked, that is the test. That is when we have to turn our backs on the past and step ahead, leaving the hurt somewhere on the road. There has been a misconception among us Christians, though, as we assume a need to forgive everyone who has wronged us. This dangerous misconception fills the Christian walk with potholes.

I turned an ankle in one of these potholes about a year ago. I had just begun to really grasp unconditional love as a matter of faith and I made this assumption that forgiveness is inherent in that. Enter the Bad Relative. This man exhibits deplorable behavior that only gets worse as he nears 70. He has done irreparable harm to our family and continues to do so. I was struggling with this, wondering how to forgive when I know that it only required my own heart to change. After careful study and a lot of prayer, I found an answer. If he is not recognizing a need for forgiveness and therefore does not seek it, I am under no obligation to forgive. I have to love him and have to treat him with the gentleness that comes with that, but to forgive implies a rebuilding of trust. It suggests a commitment to carry on a relationship despite the rifts of the past. It is impossible to forgive someone who does not understand he has behaved badly, or who will not admit responsibility for his actions. If this person feels no need to adjust his behavior going forward, it is not possible to carry on a relationship washed in forgiveness.

Contrary to my Facebook challenger’s contention, I do believe in evil just as much as I believe in forgiveness. Evil is evident throughout history and the world. I witnessed evil at the mall today (nobody should wear shorts and high-heeled boots, please stop so I can forgive you). Evil is the feeding tube keeping forgiveness alive. Without it, forgiveness would be obsolete. We may live in a shallow existence where shopping cart bumps are quickly brushed aside, but without evil, we could not appreciate the sacrifice involved in overcoming it. And sacrifice is the greatest expression of unconditional love.

12
Apr
09

Chinese for Easter

It’s Easter. Rather than the brunch I have planned, my husband suggested we go out for Chinese food. I shot him down quickly, saying that people should not have to work on Easter and I won’t support an establishment that makes them. I then turned up my nose, spun on my heel, and went back to my melon-balling.

“They worship Budda. They don’t care.”

I looked up from my cantaloupe and narrowed my eyes. “They are here now. They shouldn’t be working on Easter.” Before my melon-baller hit its target, I regretted my comment. I was kidding, but it was a comment that didn’t even deserve to be uttered. To nurse my guilty conscience, I pondered on the influence our Christian faith has on our culture. I think it is more profound than we realize.

Even today, as our nation strains against the faith that founded it, it molds our core values. It has permeated our ideology, whether we are subscribers to Christianity or not.

Obviously, our major holidays derived from Christianity, but so is the everyday. Our moral standards, even as we protest, are Christian. It is a Christian priniple that puts beef on our tables at night. Christianity keeps us from having slaves. It ensures that women are not oppressed. It offers charity to those who are desperate. It gives us a cohesive family unit, sanctioned in love, yet separate from generations before it.

Of course, we can look at that list and say it has nothing to do with Chrisitianity, it is just how we are raised, but I submit that we were raised on Christian ideals. If the above list were compared with other cultures based on other religions, it would look different. We take our way of life for granted and say that we are doing the right thing, but really we are all colored by the faith of our fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers.

Without understanding where our ideals come from, we cannot recognize the differences between us and the others. Without taknig time to learn about their cultures, we will never fully understand the minds of those around us. We can never afford to make the statement I made earlier. It is open mindedness that teaches us and allows us to grow. It takes a developed mind to be open.

Pen, of Pen and Teller fame, blogged about a man who gave him a Bible. Pen is a staunch atheist, but he still had great respect for this man. To paraphrase, Pen said that he appreciated the sincerity of this man who seemed to honestly want to save him from a fate worse than death. Pen suggested that for a Christian to not tell those around him about the Lord simply to avoid discomfort, is the greatest hypocrisy. He asks the question, how much would one have to hate a person to let him go to Hell rather than step in and try to stop it?

Profound statement, but my favorite part is that is comes from the heart of an atheist. He has obviously considered the other side. He opened his mind enough to appreciate the sincerity of this man’s heart and whether or not he believes in God, he is better for the time he took. This is a lesson for all of us, Christian or not. When we cry foul because of the Nativity scene in the city park, or we fuss about a Menorah in the town square or split hairs over whether the traditional music at a school program might be religious, we need to let our guard down.

It is a time to learn and to understand. There is no implied conversion in a restaurant’s decision to be open on a holiday. There is a difference, deep-seated and more sacred than we know. We would do well to understand this sanctity.

26
Mar
09

Road Rage is not Biblical

wyoming-plate2A Wyoming driver cut me off today.  In a big, dangerous way.  Now, far be it from me to stereotype, but I get many many closeups of the Cowboy State plates and I have some preconceived ideas.  So I loaded my verbal cannon and prepared to fire.

Then I remembered that I have a Jesus fish on my car.  I have made a choice to follow Him and turn my life (and tongue) over to him.  I ran my diatribe against the scriptures I happen to know and guess what?  Road rage is not Biblical.  I tried.  Momentarily, I wondered if Jesus would have been so perfect had he been in 5:00 traffic. 

Yes.  Yes he would. 

I stifled my anger and continued along my way.  As I drove, I realized that I have always given Jesus the obvious thanks.  He saved me from all kinds of horrors – single motherhood, drugs, alcoholism, a shopping addiction, bankruptcy, pregnant teenagers, probably even life on the streets.  Who knows what kind of damage I could have done on my own.  Really, though, I think my walk with Jesus has truly saved my life.  I have a poison tongue and I always loved to use it.  In fact, that was the hardest thing for me to let go of when I became a Christian.  Obviously, if I am loading verbal cannons in the safety of my Nissan, I still love it.  But out of obedience to the Lord, I stifle it. 

Odds are that if I had rolled down my window to fire away at Mr. Wyoming, he would not have shown me his 9mm, but if I were to fire my tongue every time inspiration strikes, I may not have made it very far.  It is amazing to me how God’s grace saves us.  I have always been greatful that my faith kept me from the world’s temptations, but now I reflect on my own self destruction.  Thank God for saving me from me.




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