Friday, November 21, 2008

Christmas conundrum

Since I am a follower and seeker after Christ, it would make sense logically that Christmas would be this wonderful, happy, joyous season that I was glad for in my heart.

I try to get there.

With a few exceptions, I try not to talk about how I feel about Christmas really. Because unless you feel really happy about Christmas, people don't usually want to listen to the belly-achin', and I can say that's honest. I love Easter, and I don't really want people to be bringin Easter down, rather I would like that they could just enjoy it, and put problems aside for a day.

What that amounts to is not talking about some things that cast a shadow on an otherwise beautiful season. And that creates a hollowness to the season that can be hard to deal with.

For better or worse, I associate Christmas with alot of stress. Being in the right place at the right time, with the right gift for everyone perfectly wrapped and good food and good spirits and just being cool with everything even though you have no money and the expectation sometimes gets burdensome as is the guilt that accompanies. I can be honest and say that when my family divorced, Christmas ceased to be fun. When I married stepchildren in another state, Christmas didn't get any easier.

This pic to show that I am aware of how I may sound to some.

And since wandering around all season pouting or whining and puling isn't an option, I am left with the other option of finding a way to make the best.

This year, and for the past couple years, each year I am revealed something new that kind of redeems Christmas a little bit for me, makes the nervous twitches subside, allays the nausea and dread.

How I started to not dread Christmas

I always felt bad about not liking Christmas. Can you beat that? Feeling bad and then feeling guilty about it? What a flippin mess. Small wonder I tried to not talk about it. I still try not to talk about it, but since I feel like I have found some solutions, don't want them to escape.

I read Philip Yancey's book The Jesus I never Knew. In his book he shines light on aspects of Jesus that I never really thought much about before. He didn't say this, but today when I look at Jesus under this new light I see something amazing, even more amazing than a cute little baby that was the son of God. It is God's planning of all this. I can't pretend I know what God thinks, but I imagine him thinking "They will never believe in me unless they can see and know that I am real and that I love them," and so he created a form of himself as a human. Not some big strong charismatic powerful male figure, as we might think of God, like a celebrity a la Barack Obama or larger than life like Genghis Khan, but as a little baby.

A fragile little baby who could do nothing for himself as he arrived on earth. I guess because I am a mom of a newborn, this image touches me. It is like when we talk to little kids, we ask them questions that we might already know the answer to, not because we want to know the answer, but to engage them, because we love them. The idea that God, the creator loves humanity that much, in fact as much as I love my little girls, arrives as a newborn child to an unwed teenage mom...hmmm. Does life get any more tenuous or delicate and fragile than that?

When came upon this in my own heart, I felt differently about Christmas.

There are more reasons why I feel differently about Christmas, but I will go into them next time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Shack

I have picked up this book cos it came to me for free and there is apparently quite a bit of hubub about it.

I don't want say too much about it, because I ought to reserve judgment until I have finished it.

I can say this... it is about a guy who has 3 or 4 kids and what seems like a happy marraige, his dad was a drunk and he took off from home at an early age. He is characterized as being a humble, average, thoughtful everyman with Christian influences in his life--though like alot of people I am sure, he is only about half way in with the church scene. On a camping trip while helping his kids recoup from a tippy canoe, his youngest daughter is snatched and ultimately brutally murdered. All he ever sees of her again is the stain on the floor of a shack where her dress is found.

From here, the story begins and it has themes of reconciling with God after an atrocity like this occurs in ones life.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

More stuff I am reading: The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren

You'll notice that there is alot of McLaren popping up here, I guess I am sort of bingeing.

Okay, the first thing I just have to get out of the way before I say any thing about this book is that the *Secret Message* is not really that secret. Was sort of wondering if maybe this was like a spinoff of the popularity of DaVinci Code sort of stuff where there is this secret message that most people don't see at first and you have to read a book or watch a movie to get it. I watch Alias (the TV show) and that theme runs through that show, we just watched National Treasure which is all treasure maps and whatnot and so I am thinking this just must be a very popular theme--code.

I had to sort of just ignore that aspect of the book, which wasn't too hard. But Mother Teresa knows the secret as do most people who have been Christian and have kind of looked closer at why they believe what they do...or questioned some prevailing cultural norms of the church for the past 50 years.

Beyond that, I enjoyed this book less than most of McLarens books. It was still a decent read and really the guy writes so well, and he is very intelligent that even when I don't agree with him, which is often enough, I just enjoy the conversations he initiates, or the process of thinking about "Why don't I agree?"

True to form, this work is very well organized, which I am noticing is a theme in McLaren's writing, and one that I appreciate. I feel like it is a sign of good writing when the author can organize their thoughts such.

Like most of his books, there are parts that I want to read to someone else and say "This is it exactly,". And there are other parts where I turn the page and think "Um, where is this coming from? How can he justify this point of view?"

Anyhow, I am all for a good conversation, and McLaren never disappoints. If I was going to start reading his stuff though, and I started here, I don't think I would keep reading. I have started the Ancient Practices book that he just published in August, and so far it is showing all the same strengths and weaknesses that I have seen in his other books...

Give McLaren a chance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some more missing the point--wrapup

Brian McLaren's Adventures in Missing the Point was a pleasant read.

Sorry y'all but I don't have a book club where I can talk to people about the stuff that I am reading, and the Man is asleep.

Before I talk about how I got to this book, I will mention a sort of time in my Christian growing up. Disillusioned is a strong word to use, but a few years back the Christian church started to really bug me. There were alot of things going on there, but probably the worst of it was that I wasn't thinking about not being a Christian, there was never a question on that, but I kept finding these strange distasteful things in churches I would go to that made me really uncomfortable. I wasn't a "church shopper", I wasn't looking for what a church could do for me, I was looking for a church that wasn't going to water itself down in order to bring in more folk.

The stuff I was seeing?

Churches that looked like a marketing team had taken over, and the goal was to sell the church to those who walked through the doors. They had catchy slogans "Refresh, repent, renew", they quit calling it a church or dropped off "God" and instead just called it a "campus". Why can't we call it a church? Is the word church so offensive?

I went to services where the pastor, the worship leaders and everyone in leadership scolded the congregation for not worshiping fervently enough, and whipped up the congregants into a moaning, dancing, flag waving worship fury.

I listened to sermons where the pastor boiled the gospel down to baby food, ostensibly so that "we" could understand it better (the service I mention was about Ephesians 6 which suffered through a comparison to Star Wars, where he showed clips of the movie and wore a mask to start the sermon-sigh-).

And I went to churches that were a sea of grey hair, and it looked like things pretty much were the same as they were 50 years ago.

The hard part was always that I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about my frustrations, because I would be being too critical about superficial details. But my thought was, how could I bring someone to a place that I was going to feel compelled to apologize for? I decided that I would just suck it up and go, and that every time I had the urge to shake my head at an overly simplified sermon, or at worship songs that were devoid of any meaning, I would just not criticize.

It was hard because I was coming off a time of struggling with my faith because it mainly felt like a collection of rules that dictated that anything that was fun was probably not ok, and I would be judged accordingly by my fellow Christians. Lovely. It was a bad place to be with my faith, but I knew I wasn't going to stop being a Christian, just that I had to figure a way through that present quagmire.

On an aside, I am a person who is entirely comfortable with disagreement. I don't need to have everyone around me think the same way as I do. It came as a shock to me even to find out that this was maybe unusual? In speaking with a coworker, I offhandedly mentioned that my husband was republican and so was much of my family, though I often tended to lean a little further left on some things. She out of hand couldn't believe I would marry a republican, declared she never could do such a thing. Huh, I thought. I just can't imagine that it would be kind of boring to marry someone that agreed with you about everything.

So with that back story, enter a book like Missing the Point, and that is why I felt like it was a good book. Not because it was so hyper intellectual, it wasn't. He just says things that I needed to hear at some point.

McLaren has such a wonderful way of setting straight without being painfully critical. He does not do the polemic/iconoclast thing, for which I am grateful. He doesn't seek to rip everything down and declare it without value or show its lack of worth. He does point out some very obvious but not necessarily positive trends in the church, and points out that they are not, in fact, biblical whatsoever. What a relief.

I like the fact that I don't have to agree with everything the authors say. I like the fact that disagreement is written into the book with a commentary after each chapter by the co-author. I can't speak highly enough of the format, because sometimes McLaren is way more liberal that I am at, and the commentary by Campolo might be a relief because he comes back to the center.

I am appreciative that there are times when they put their finger on how things might be better, where the church has gotten off track. Each chapter tackles a different subject and one author brings up how aspects of the current status might be improved. And then the other author will make a commentary, adding, agreeing, disagreeing. It was well organized, which made it very easy to read and still interesting.

Early on in the book they point out that things that are standard procedure in churches today aren't something that really came out of the bible, but tools that are used to hold up what the church has become today. Altar calls, sinners prayer, and the heavy focus on the individual in the church are all sort of artifices that we do now, but they are not something that is biblical.

I appreciate that they do see it as the job of a Christian to be mindful of caring for the environment. I am relieved to see that level of responsibility within those who are in the church.

I think the thing I enjoyed the most was that this book spurred discussion. It makes for some very good talking points and I thought it would be great for a book club. It's books and conversations like these that can help a believer dig a little deeper, ask the right questions, start to think about what they believe and wrestle with things in a constructive way. All that is good stuff.

I would say read it. It will make you think and probably disagree with at least a thing or two, but agree with a thing or two as well.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Adventures in missing the point

I was reading fiction for awhile but then I started missing reading my books that make me think. I didn't have any recommendations to go on, so I just aimed and shot. I came up with the McKinley book "Jesus in the Margins" because what he writes is pretty reliably easy to digest, and typically interesting enough. I had just gotten off of trying to read the New Conspirators by Tom Sine. I made it like to page 60 something and while he wasn't saying anything that I strongly disagreed with, he was just had some ideas that I was having trouble stomaching.

So this here is the next foray, and I guess even though sometimes McLaren will say something that makes me want to be critical of him, more often than not I appreciate what he says, that he says it, that he is even thinking about it, and that he writes so well on the subject, he makes me think more and well, that's what I want.

It's interesting because by and large he is talking about directions and misdirections the church has taken. Points where we might have gotten a little lost. I am not enough of an expert to speak coherently whatsoever about the topic, in public at least. The book has generated several really good conversations at our house though, and here's what is coming out...

Postmodernism, McLaren says, looks like premodernism. There is more stress on experience, beauty, mystery and I might describe it as what things look and feel like rather than what they are. McLaren says that in modern times, particularly in apologetics christians were very interested in proving things, evidence, making a case and generally using a very rational approach to showing why the bible was credible.

In that time, I say, how the church looked and felt was like a judgemental somewhat self absorbed older brother or sister who were more focused on the appearance of success and making proclamations about what was ok and not, like homosexuality and rock music and the like. We had some bad mouth pieces, and on the popular culture way, they did us some harm. The way the church looked and felt was not a place that the postmodern gen wanted to find itself. So postmodernism starts to go back to creating a Christianity that is less focused on proving things but is more toward beauty and goodness. I dare to say, a Christianity that is authentically attractive for those who want to pursue the teachings of Christ.

He brings out somethings that Christians today do and practice but that were never a part of the bible explicitly, like the sinners prayer. Some may not matter but some may, as a raft of things get tagged on to our beliefs, where a verse here or there is explored so deeply that it starts to get perhaps overly emphasized. For example, in the churches I went to, there was this big thing about spiritual gifts. You were supposed to serve according to your spiritual gifting. 1 Corinthians 12:7 talks about them. My problem was that I never had a clue what my gifting might have been. Even if I did, I wasn't sure if limiting my service to that area was really what was the direction that people should be guided. It seemed to me like a tool that could easily be used by people to do little or nothing, because they didn't know what their gifting was. So since I wasn't alone, the church started helping people to figure out their spiritual gifts with inventories and questionnaires.

I don't mean to pick on the guy that came up with this idea, its not the only thing that has gotten alot of attention in the American church there are also angels, the prosperity doctrine, speaking in tongues, and a whole raft of aberrations by which people can get sidetracked if they spend too much time emphasizing the importance (or in some cases believing at all like the prosperity doctrine). But it was the kind of thing that made me scratch my head and wonder "Explain to me again how this is germane to me following the teachings of Christ?"

McLaren writes in such an easy to take style, I could take some lessons from him. He is critical without typically criticizing. He analyzes or shines a light on things without being radically and violently iconoclastic. He is knowledgeable enough to challenge me, and yet I never feel like I am supposed to believe everything he has to say.

It used to be that this stuff might not interest me, that I would feel like overly looking at these things would be missing the point in itself. But I think differently now. I am aware that the church is viewed as not the kind of place people view as a respite from the world, but rather a place they would never want to lay their sins down because too often it is where they would be judged by the ones who think they don't have sin. The church too often is a place that is misrepresented. I want to see how I can avoid doing that as well, and I suppose a little awareness is a good place to start. I appreciate this book for that...go read it!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Manly devotions

I am reading "Jesus in the Margins" by Rick McKinley. It is a fairly easy read. I am enjoying it, looking to see if there is some new insight in there.

One thing he talked about was the story from Jeremiah where the people make broken cisterns to hold water rather than relying on God. From there McKinley talks about some of the broken cisterns we have. For a person whose heart has been moved to the decision to put Christ as the foundation upon all the rest of life flows, one would think that there would be no broken cisterns. But there are. For me, especially in the past couple months it was "Why haven't you been spending time in prayer/meditation?" and then I nag myself "If your God is really as important as you claim he is, why is there no time in your day for him?" Ouch.

That isn't entirely true. In some ways everything I do has a spiritual element. I am constantly giving thanks, not because I am so great, but probably to compensate for the lack of actual time being spent.

I read this all to J, about the distractions that we happily fill up our time with, computers, TV sets and entertainment or busyness. He, as usual disagrees. He tells me he has never gotten anything from devotion time.

(Sound of brakes screeching to a halt) What? How can you spend time seeking God and come away feeling like the time was wasted?

Then he cites people who spend time in devotion and it doesn't seem to make any difference as to their ability to live out the Lord's teaching.

And of course with my liberal education I am thinkin "WAAAAAAIIIIIT a minute!" Are we even referring to the same thing and in a leptosecond I realize, no, probably not.

So let's define what we are talking about. I am talking about time spent meditatively in prayer. It might be reading the bible as well, seeing how the Lord will speak to you through his word.

Further out, like a poseur or wannabe of some sort, like a meat or milk substitute, like carob for chocolate or saccharin for sugar are the books called "devotions". I realize in the course of our conversation that while these books are apparently useful for some people, to me they are unnerving, useless. They offer light platitudes of things that I can't believe people don't already know. They offer them in bite sized pieces, one per day, that may or may not have anything to do with anything in ones life. I realize instantly: this is what J thinks is a devotion time. These are what I have tried in vain to find some use or meaning. I have grow to a point of holding little more than contempt for these "devotions".

Suddenly I understand why he considers meditative time to be close to worthless. Neither he nor I need bite sized pieces of gospelfood. But we do need to not give up that time spent listening, meditating and praying.

Before this conversation, I never realized that I had any feeling here nor there about these "devotion" books, only that like vitamins, maybe I was supposed to read them, however, the books I was reading made me think more, reflect more, seek more and pray more than the platitudes of a devotional.

It isn't important what I think about these books, but it reminds me of a bigger thing. J detests the singing in churches by and large. As we have talked about it, I understand why. The lyrics are very feminine in a way. "I want to know you, I want to hear your voice, I want to touch you, I want to feel you..." I have to admit, I can't sing this song. It has no value to me, at times it just grates. Now I hear these lyrics and I can tell J is tuning out without even looking at him. He does feel more at home with hymns, but will sing anything as long as it doesn't sound ridiculous to him. I gave up a long time ago figuring out whether the lyrics were ridiculous, feeling like I should just not be critical. However, I do understand his point of view.

I think for a guy, church is a place largely reflecting the touch of women. It is very hard to find a place as a guy. There is a mens group that meets on weekday AMs at our church, which is a strange time since most men are at work. I understand his frustration. At one point he belonged to a great group of men, and then the studies started being watching a DVD. I understood when he expressed "How is that fellowship?"

So when I asked him about devotions, I could just imagine him trying to read one of those day by day devotions and have him think that this is the way time with God is done. A rigid definition. No wonder he rejects it, I have my own difficulty with it.

And yet as followers of Christ it is our job to not stop there.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Meeting missionaries

I met B and C just before or around the time that J and I were about to marry. They were leaving to Afghanistan with their newborn daughter. That was approximately 6 years ago.

I have been trying to keep in touch with them for the past 6 years, not letting go of them because I feared for them, admired the courage and wondered just how does one do that for so many years in a country that seems as dangerous as Afghanistan. They are home on home leave with C pregnant and 2 weeks away from her due date. It was hard not to contrast the enthusiastic young couple I met when I first met them with the people I met this afternoon with their kids.

I liked C because she reminded me of some of my friends, young, intelligent, not superficial, realistic and bold in a mature way, but still enthusiastic, easy to smile and laugh. I saw qualities in her that I admired.

Today when I met with them, I was just I guess, surprised at the couple I met. They looked much older, though they are younger than I. They seemed tireless, but reserving their energy. They seemed serious. They listened well, questioned carefully. Talked about daily life and looking for bombs under their car before going places.

I saw B first, and probably because in Afghanistan females simply don't talk to males they don't know, he looked visibly uncomfortable with my introducing myself and extending my hand for a handshake. He went to find C.

It all made me consider how hard their job and life must be, and wonder about the changes that I saw in them.

I asked probably too many questions, not wanting to pry and saying "If it isn't private..." because I wanted to hear, but I didn't want to make them uncomfortable or unwittingly ask something too private.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Inquiry is what got me here

I heard a report on NPR about a camp for kids that was an alternative to Christian camps all over the place this summer. I thought that was interesting. The camp was called "Camp Inquiry". I was confused, since when is inquiry the opposite if faith?

I listened to the testimonies of kids who proclaimed God as not existing, as being as valid as believing in fairies and basically in their youthful wisdom (ahem) declaring belief in God a rather disdainful, delusional path to take. I know when I was their age, I was pretty much in the same place. I almost killed myself on account of it.

The thing that struck me though was the name of the camp. It is as though Camp Inquiry is the only place where kids are asking the hard questions. And Camp Inquiry, being decidedly outside of religion, sounded like it was the alternative to church camps. This is taken from the Center for Inquiry's website.

Through education, research, publishing, and social services, it seeks to present affirmative alternatives based on scientific naturalism. The Center is also interested in providing rational ethical alternatives to the reigning paranormal and religious systems of belief, and in developing communities where like-minded individuals can meet and share experiences.

So, one can inquire, but the inquiry has to remain in the realm of what can be proven by humans. Which kind of purports that humans are the ultimate, what we don't know doesn't exist, or what we can't prove doesn't exist. I heard a person say once, in talking about cosmology that if our science doesn't allow for the humanly unknowable, our science is very limited, and while not useless, substantially lacking.

So I suggest that Camp Inquiry is faith based as equally as a Christian camp is, only the faith is in humanity. To me, this thought is depressing, disturbing and wanting.

It also makes me appreciate faith based camps more as being more open minded.

Inquiry is an absolute part of any real choice or decision that isn't going to retract itself shortly thereafter. I actually was excited and thought "I want my kids to go to camp Inquiry!" when the show started, but then I realized it was not a true sort of inquiry, but one limited to what can be proved by science. This belief is called alternately "Naturalism" or "Materialism", and they are based on humans. Too bad Camp Inquiry wasn't true to its name.

It is isn't a place of true inquiry. Camp Inquiry inquires really in only the direction of secular humanism. They teach you about evolution and why creationism is dumb, and they give you a safe place from all those Christians. At first I thought I would send my kid there, until I saw this. That and the radio interview really espoused a negative attitude against faith. I don't really think it is inquiry they are after, they are after getting away from religion. They believe instead, in humans.

Because honestly, since no one knows if there is a god, it all takes faith of one sort or another. Since evolutionists cannot recreate the theory they hold about the beginning of life (you know, the proteins in the primordial pool), it takes a level of faith to believe that their theory is true. Natural selection is different than this idea of life coming from nonlife. So is evolution.

So the question ends up as who are you going to put your cards with? A God that is better than we could ever be, or humanity as it is.

I am sorry if I sound dogmatic. I was once one of the kids at Camp Inquiry, I read Camus, went to parties and tried it all once. I was a secular seeker. And none of it made me very happy. All my inquiry in that direction just lead me to a "Is that all there is?" place.

I think the change in direction (going toward God rather than actively escaping him) actually opened my mind rather than allowing the culture and media at large determine what to think of Christianity (after I became Christian, a friend sent me a mixed tape with the song "Christianity is Stupid, give up!"), my "inquiry" made me see that even if none of it was true, my life quality would be infinitely better pursuing the direction of God.

And it is. So I suppose that in the way some people feel it is bad to raise your kids within your faith, it seems equally as unkind to raise your kids without the option of a faith. Camp Inquiry, at best is this limited inquiry masquerading as "enlightenment" and at worst a way to leave no option for a kid to make sense of the world and give them a reason to hope when hope is gone.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Interesting, at least...

J was reading this book and I picked it up after the previous post, wherein atheists got in quite the uproar on this radio program I listened to. They can be quite uncharitable to people who believe in God, those atheists! I guess I am always surprised at the rancor people have regarding faith. They are often times quite angry. There is alot of emotion in them...and I guess it is surprising to me because if you believe there is no God (yes, it also requires faith to believe there is no God), it seems like you would just shrug after saying so and go your way, without much ado.

From what I read though, Sam Harris' book "The End of Faith" is really quite hot with emotion. He obviously feels very strongly about not believing in anything. Why does that always strike me as the opposite of what one would expect? I guess it is because it seems that when a person finds their answer, it seems they would achieve a certain amount of peacefulness, satisfaction and a sort of closing of the book of questions about origins, purpose, morality and other large philosophical questions. Instead, Harris is the opposite of peaceful, he is combative and seeks to rip apart everything that is not what he believes. Huh.

I guess I would want to be happier once I decided to believe a certain way, not more argumentative. It seems that confrontational way indicates an uncertainty or insecurity about those beliefs. Kind of like the person who is so offended by the bible they cannot bear to hear it referenced. Why? If you truly don't believe, why do you even care?

Never mind. I picked up this book and for the first time I am following Ravi and glad he and I are seeing the same things. I humbly admit that sometimes when I listen to him, he gets so abstract it is like work to follow his line of thinking.

A long time ago when my life was aimless, sort of depressing and full of searching, before I decided to pursue the Christ of the Scriptures this thought came to me:

Even if when all was said and done, and we are dead and wherever we go afterward, would having pursued Christ one's whole life have been a waste of time? If someone laughed at me for my faith after dying...would I feel like a sucker? My answer informed my accepting the Christian faith "No," Even if after if was all over and it was revealed that Christ was a hoax perpetrated on the most gullible, I would still feel like I had chosen the best possible path here on earth. I would not be ashamed, embarrassed or otherwise ever regret having chosen to follow Christ.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Think Out Loud: Faith in the Northwest

In a previous post, I talked about a pretty standard issue Portland resident who was against religion, particularly Christianity.

I agree with the guy who said that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is utter indifference. So along the lines of "Me thinks thou doth protest too much", on one angle, the amount of anger against religion makes me wonder. Why so much offense? Why so much threat? Why not ignore and walk away?

Edit: In talking with J about this, he made a good point: alot of the the really aggressive proselytizing has come from the generation before ours when there was alot of pressure to convert people. There is still mission, but with today's young folk, many have distanced themselves from this aggressive approach. That being said, the aggressive are still there. Still, I have run across enough people who wanted me to convert to this or that, and I primarily just ignore them and wish them well. Maybe it's the hellfire and damnation that turned them off? Ya think?

So today on Think Out Loud, they talked about faith in the Northwest. You can listen to the show online or read the thread. In the thread there were:

People who did not have a favorable opinion of religion/faith or Christianity
Baha'i talking up the Baha' faith
Some people who worshiped with trees and nature
Some people who felt Christians were pushy, judgmental and resented organized religion
Some intrepid Christians (very few)

And the only reason to post this is because I think that it nicely portrays the religious climate here in Portland from a secular point of view. From a biblical point of view, that climate fits well with what the Bible says about the offense of the word and the incomprehension of the Message.

I appreciate this conversation immensely. I appreciate it when people even talk about this, because it is such a touchy subject, no one wants to go near it. It's like talking about abortion. So here the door is open, what will the church say back? Are they listening? What response is there? Can we keep this conversation going?

Some pertinent links from the guests. The Rebelution: a site for teens about being Christian, what that looks like.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dear Mr. Spurlock

Dear Morgan,

I take your name attached to a movie as an identifier that it will be well-reasoned, above average for what TV offers and sometimes reaching and achieving excellency, and sometimes goofy. I also think you are the only host I have ever watched that knows how to do the job correctly. I like the fact that your angle is off beat but fair, your investigation is typically relentless and balanced. You see, I am in your corner.

However, with this second season of 30 days, I feel like 2 of the 3 episodes on this disk, the cards were stacked. You wanted the viewers to come away with a certain feeling, more so than you wanted to be balanced and fair.

For example, the guy who was against immigration, the one who volunteered for the Minutemen, I felt the whole episode was designed to change his mind, rather than to ever give the Mexican family a sense of empathy as to why illegal immigration can be actually a very bad thing. He was dogmatic, a gun toter, and rather than painting a coherent picture of the victims of illegal immigration, who are lower middle class Americans as well as illegal immigrants and their families, the episode seemed designed to enlighten him. I would like to think that at least a few people against illegal immigration are so out of compassion, rather than being dogmatic self appointed policers of the border, whose anti-immigrant sentiment at times sounds like an allowed version of neo-nazism.

Additionally, I didn't feel the atheist and the Christian family were a fair matchup.

The Christians by and large looked like rich, white people who were barely barely able to scratch the surface of their beliefs before their brains tilted, where the "atheist" clearly had give alot of thought about her decision.

There are alot of not very smart or informed atheists, and there are also many critical thinking Christians out there. A more fair matchup might have had a Christian family that didn't merely typify the churchgoers who try to convert everything in sight.

I thought it must have been really hard for the atheist too.

A better version of this show, whose premise was to elicit mutual understanding between atheist/agnostic people and Christians, was to put them both at a level of wrestling with spiritual issues. Were they both thinkers who were mature enough to not resort to fiery emotion at the first incongruence of beliefs, there could have been some very thought-provoking conversations. As it was, the father of the Christian family was thick with incomprehension of how anyone could not believe the way he does. His approach left the atheist woman feeling threatened and scared to talk, less able to articulate her beliefs.

Anyway, will continue to watch and show your stuff in my classrooms, but your fairness is really crucial to what you do. If it seems unbalanced, alot of credibility is lost...

I won't even go in here on how abyssmal Chalk was. Meh, please. Don't insult our intelligence!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Culture wars and Religion wars in Portland Oregon

I have always liked more to live in an environment that is relatively liberal. Such as Portland, Oregon. But sometimes, Portland and me, see, we don't always agree. There is a sort of tension I see/hear/read/experience living as a follower of Christ in the wildly liberal PacNW.

Recently I met a friend up at Mississippi Pizza and Pub and had the sort of experience that kind of illustrates this "culture war". While I was reading Willamette Week, I sat next to a young lady who was telling a friend first about a college class she was disappointed with (the forestry service was sexist because they gave the ladies daintier, smaller patches to wear--the outrage!), but then about her wildly religious brother. They had disagreed I guess.

It sounded like he was talking to her about his faith and she was getting offended, saying things like "Just because I have a tattoo, doesn't mean I am going to hell,". It's hard not to smirk at these types of comments, and if her brother was suggesting that she was going to hell for her tattoo, than I would be agreeing more with her.

Later she said something like she believes that she would be judged based on how she lived her life as to whether she would go to heaven. As a Christian, I am wondering, she rejects the faith, why would she want heaven?

Her tone was hard but pretty much common. At one point she mentioned how he might be going to hell because he was wearing socks that had mixed fibers in them. She seemed to feel she had bested him in this comment, said that he was confused. Probably because he was so ignorant about the bible? Apparently he did try to explain to her that Christians didn't live under that law anymore, but this was more than she wanted to go into...

While I am trying to not hear this annoying conversation, I am reading WW which is panning a short film made by a Lake Oswego man called "Jesus save me from your followers" or something like this. The reviewer lambasted the film's producer as a "milk toasty emergent church type." How sad I thought, here this guy is trying to address the weird malice that exists between the world and the church here in the PacNW, and this fellow can do nothing but be critical. Sometimes it seems that Portland, like others I know, are so offended, annoyed and "evolved past" religion in their post modernism, that any acknowledgment of religion smells like caveman to them, and is thus retrograde.

Further, in the car listening to a podcast from Speaking of Faith, Shane Claiborne (a new Monastic and Christian activist) discusses with Chuck Colson (born again Christian indicted for scandal for Watergate crimes, now prominent Christian author) and Greg Boyd (mega church pastor who preached about the church not endorsing politics and lost a bunch of people from his church) are on a panel talking about the best way to represent Christ in the voting booth--basically a whole lot of conversation and fresh air on the subject of the religious citizen, not left right or otherwise. This wonderful podcast found here.

And it is played out in my life too. I was baptized and in alot of ways mentored by folks who were very Christian/Republican--and I never quite felt like I fit in with them. We don't talk about politics because it gets too hot too fast. My husband as well comes from a conservative background, and we find ourself not allying with with either a left or right viewpoint.

My eternal questions are "When can we stop talking about political parties in religion? When can we just get to the point that we realize that if political parties are dividing a faith, they need to be eschewed as a bad thing? When can we stop singing patriotic songs in church and when can we quit mixing up religion and nationalism? Hasn't Islam showed us how these things don't mix?"

As for the girl I overheard, I know that there are alot of people out there who have been utterly turned off by the religion due to the sheer humanity that represents it. At one time I was among her ranks. No one told me to dislike Christians, I effectively absorbed it from the culture. Christians were weak, sad, brainwashed, suffered from mystery maladies, told strange stories, spoke in tongues, were doggedly right wing and incapable of thinking outside that---a whole slew of negative connotations that in my younger years I attributed to Christians.

So what happened? Well, I got changed around, and yes, it was the best thing that could have happened. And miraculously I didn't also turn into a republican, stop thinking, become sad, weak or brainwashed or begin suffering mystery maladies.

In fact, I began thinking more about bigger questions...I struggled and wrestled with the stuff in the bible (and still do) to make sense of it and sometimes to put it on the shelf until it becomes clearer. I know that if I could understand every aspect of why God is how he is, he wouldn't be worth pursuing. I wonder about how this faith will work out in my every day life, and that is where the excitement it, really. I learn more, in general, about many of the bigger questions-- stuff I never thought of before I became a Christian 18 years ago. I have to reconcile things. All in all, being a Christian has been much more exciting, thought provoking, lead to interesting conversations, joyful and challenging than I ever thought it could be when I was on the outside looking in.

My brain didn't switch off, actually, it was more like it switched on. I thought for myself rather than absorbing what my surrounding "culture" (my friends, my media, my education) told me about "religious types".

And so Imago Dei prays for Portland. And I do too. I hope Portland will also start thinking, listening and the church will be there with something worth listening to.

Actually, that part worries me the most. To be continued.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A good change.

It's hard to talk about decisions made regarding church without talking about things that were hard to bear at some point. And whenever one goes there, there is a bit of "Oh so you think you are too good for..."

or it sounding like one is being overly critical.

When in reality, my heart just started wanting something really different than the way church was being done. I wanted a place to study the bible. I wanted maybe a few other people my age. And of course, I wanted to be in a church service that didn't mostly talk about self help psychology and have singing that reminded me of the 700 club. I wanted no more people in front of me shouting "JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESUS!"

And I had begun reading contemplatives and had for some years seeing service as really the best way for me to serve.

Enter the alternatives. I looked at the emerging church. I still listen to the podcast sermons from Imago Dei, not because they are emerging, but because they are so solid. I never could see what the distinctives were really, and felt like the distinctives were little more than they were distinct. Being different for the sake of being different, was that all there was? I never understood how what the emerging church was so terribly different, but if they were bringing people to the Lord, well that has to be good. I liked Brian McLaren, I agree with him, and Rick McKinley and that other Blue Like Jazz guy...but something inside me wanted more than merely new.

I am at a Quaker church. And while no denomination is always going to be the best at all the time, so far I am so impressed with some things I am seeing...

People here actually are involved with so much of what happens at the church. It isn't a top down type of thing. People talk about what shape they want their worship services to take.

People read books and they have a huge active library, they share their books with you and they are a nice bit beyond one's life having a purpose.

There is a focus on service and equality. This focus isn't entrenched in decisions that were made eons ago. It is dynamic, new daily. "How does this look now?"

The services blend technology so elegantly. I don't feel like I am in a theater, nor do I have to read an overhead projector.

The church is a nice size. I don't know how many people, but with 3 services, we have to look for a place to sit in the balcony if we don't come early enough. There is a good mix of ages, from youth to the seniors.

They think about what they believe, and ask questions and discuss and it is interesting to them. I thought for the longest time that Christians didn't talk about religion because it was maybe not tasteful, or it might be a secret, but the nitty gritty, well, it was not nice or something. And if I did want to talk about it, it became so dogmatic, a reiteration of the same talking points... I am so relieved to be able to talk about it here.

And if that wasn't good enough, there is a Friends church with a co-op preschool just a touch down the road. Most excellent for the mom with little ones.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

An about faith

My friend L and I, once when we were talking about faith told me that she envies me for being able to believe in God. She said she just never could. My thought was "That's too bad," because nothing in life would make any sense or having any meaning without Jesus.

I left here comment at that. But whenever one runs in evangelical circles, there is always this question about unsaved friends. People have plenty to say about our unsaved friends.

One person though talked about having a friend just like my friend L. This person's friend also said that they were envious of people who had faith, they wish they also had that faith.

And then this person said that if we follow the logic, that this friend was saying "only crazy people would believe in this nonexistent supernatural entity" and then was saying that they could suspend disbelief long enough to be able to have the comfort that would come from believing in this nonexistent supernatural entity.

So this person concluded, that when a friend tells you that they wish they could believe in God, but were unable to, they are really saying that they wish they could be crazy, like you are, because it must be easier.

I laughed and thought this was pretty harsh, but as I think about it, I can't really see where it is untrue. Even if I don't choose to see my friends this way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Prosperity Doctrine

Joel Osteen

His message is so mixed of truth with just "feel good self help" it is spooky. How to discern the fluff from the scriptural?

And for John Piper, who I respect, it makes him angry.

Spending time on the aberrations of the church is kind of negative vortex of wasted time, but I see so much of this "feel good self help messages" that I wonder if the bible got boring for the pastor. I wonder if he feels that we know everything about Revelation already. I don't. I want to learn some more. And so I wonder why I keep entering these churches that people rave about that look more like rock shows and deliver and nice fluffy message that barely touches the word of God.

I feel these places sell deception and prevent people from growing in the richness of coming to know Jesus. It is a reason to pray for the American church.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

One of the pastors showed this on Sunday. At first we are smiling because it is like a cross between James Brown and a pastor, but towards the end, you have to admit, it's good.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Henri Nouwen: The Selfless way of Christ. I really enjoy most of the way he writes. He brings out aspects of Christ's character that I haven't seen emphasized much, and it's really a drink of fresh cold water.

Mother Teresa: The Simple Path, In My Own Words, In the Heart of the World. Well clearly I have been on a frenzy of Mother Teresa stuff. I think every person could learn alot from her, I know I can. Reading what she does, her encouragements, prayers and about her work is some good soul food. (not like bbq, a little different) Her life's work is just powerful, only in that it is so incredibly simple.

Randy Alcorn: Heaven. A friend read this and it is coming highly recommended so I am going to start.

And I am not sure about this blog. I initiated it because there really are so many thoughts that rattle around in my head about spiritual subjects. But when I write about them, they become so trivialized, I feel like. It's like writing about some really very personal stuff, and just throwing it out there. Knowing fully this blog isn't read much if at all, I am not sure to what extent it matters, but when I write some of this stuff, it feels a little cheaper. Unless I can make fun of something, and it's funny, I am not sure if publishing is the way to go.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Past

In China, when they are embarrassed about something or aware that they have broken one of their many rigid social norms, they lower their face.

I found this an easy cultural thing to adopt after I went there. Enough were the times and even now, are the times when I want to put my face down, I can't explain all the reasons why.

I guess part of me wants to blame it on something else, the misspoken words, the ill-conceived ideas, the overreactions. "I was brought up this way," "I was young," "That was a hard time in my life, that's why I did that," In fact, alot of times, I look for an excuse for my mistakes to understand myself.

And I am comforted by all the mistakes that I see in the people that God loved alot throughout the bible. I guess it makes me feel among good company of mistake makers.

But I don't live with God, I live among people. And some people have seen me at my worst. I have done stuff, said stupid stuff and hurt people I care about such that even now as a married person I consider how I can let them now how sorry I am.

It's not fake contrition, or histrionics, I don't talk about it and I basically try not to think about it because it does me no good to wallow in my mistakes.

But I do guess I wish someone would have told me that I would have to live with these mistakes with a memory as fresh as a warm loaf of bread.

And while there might be anxiety management, and anger management and ways to help with depression or all these other things, shame is something people get to deal with entirely on their own.

God forgives. But what about people who were friends? I don't think that most people are very good at completely forgetting when they were trampled. All the memory still is there.

And so why does it matter? Let go, be done with it. And so it is. But I miss the friendships I had with these intelligent, creative people, and I am compelled to stay away so that I don't do anymore damage or cause unpleasant memories to arise in them.

And ironically after every time I make a foolish misjudgement, I think "Well, at least I am smarter than that now," And while I would like very much to believe that, I have said it just often enough to wonder if I believe if I will ever be free of the mistakes I make, if ever I will just get to be a good thing to my friends.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Something old, something new

So we moved in November. New community. New neighborhood. We don't really know anyone here.

So we had to find a new church. I might have voiced before, I wasn't entirely unhappy about this change. I am not a church hopper, but I honestly was just okay with taking a different direction in church.

About a year and a half ago, I got all curious about Anabaptists. Then I got all curious about contemplatives and new Monastics and all my real closeness with God was happening in service opportunities. It was through those experiences my heart was changing, I was learning. Mostly because I didn't know what I was doing and so anything good I had to offer had to come from the Lord. And I knew and know I had/have a long way to go, but felt and feel that I really had found where my direction was.

So back to finding a new church. As fate would have it (or perhaps it was planned all along), we moved to Newberg. Initially we were going to move to another town where my job is, but all the houses there were insanely overpriced. We would have to move out of the city into the country into a smaller, less attractive, not well located home to afford this other town. Before that, we looked in many, many other towns. All had obstacles that were forbidding. Overpriced, poor, no homes or whatever. The final option was Newberg. And here we are, happy with where we landed.

So the first part of establishing our community and getting involved was to find a church to dig roots in.

Our first church was a foursquare church. It was like our other church in many ways.

But on the way to the foursquare church, the Friends church we passed seemed to always be hoppin. And since we were looking for something new, we gave it a try.

It is hard to explain why we liked it so much with out letting on a little about what we were trying to get away from. We had visited a church that honestly felt more like a Janet Jackson concert than a church. It was very dark with many TV screens and while the message was fine, the whole experience was so passive that it made me feel like I was in the audience, watching other people worshiping.

Since I got back from Russia, the American church I had to deal with more than anything. I felt like church was starting to look like 700 club. I couldn't not go. I didn't want to be critical. I just resigned myself to a church that was changing into something I didn't really like. Apparently there were small groups, but it was never clear how to become involved. Worship, opportunities to serve, the depth of teaching...I decided church was important, but not because it was necessarily edifying.

Both J and I have been happy with how this Friends church is meeting us right up to our every hope of what we could find in a church home. It is contemplative, it is relevant, it is open to voices from the congregation, it is service oriented. It didn't hurt either that a really nice couple opened their home to us.

I am excited about what we are going to be learning...we haven't settled on this one place yet, but it is a Friends church, Quaker. Hopefully they will invite us to their potlucks :o) (could they possibly be better than a Baptist potluck is for a starving college student?)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A new old concept

So, there are alot of ways that we are told in general how to approach diversity. We are supposed to celebrate it, and tolerate it and all these things we are supposed to do.

It is really important I guess...I was surprised at a parent conference to hear a colleague getting herself chewed a new one by a couple parents objecting to the word diversity, because it meant homosexuality (according to them) and so their kids were being taught to accept homosexuals.

Glad I wasn't on the receiving end for that one.

Learned from a colleague later that the town had passed some sort of legislation that made it illegal to be homosexual or some such thing. The state overturned it, but it still stands: the people in the town where I teach, they are anti-homosexual.

The new word I heard as pertaining to diversity was humility. I almost fell off my chair. Before, the highest anyone has reached has been "tolerance" which always left a sort of unpleasant taste in my mouth. It isn't exactly loving. I mean, I do more for my friends and neighbors than tolerate them. I hope anyway.

So this new word is exciting to me. It encompasses a more appropriate approach to our diverse communities. To me it says "How about, rather than merely tolerating people of diverse beliefs, backgrounds etc., we come to admit that it isn't really important what we think about them? How about we just be as we are supposed to be, which is loving our neighbor?"

Getting down to brass tacks, is our opinion really important? Could it be, especially as a follower of Christ, that we submit to something higher, like humility and that our response be closer to humility reflecting the biblical call that we are not to judge? We are however, called to be loving.

How does this look? Well it probably looks like what a lot of people already do, in that, we just go along, get along. What other people do in their lives is not our domain for judgment. It doesn't matter what we think of what they do. All we are called to do is to Love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That is it. And that means that this is how we feel in our hearts as isn't an act. Because everyone can tell if one is just trying very hard to do what one is told, but that isn't really how one feels.

I am sure I am hopelessly flawed, as I usually am when I feel like I have found something right. Feel free to gently enlighten me, or agree with me?