Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Shelter From the Storm

Happy Birthday Vincent.

(He's my favorite artist, and I wanted to find something religious he painted. I found Pietà (After Delacroix), which is lovely but too big to have here. Go check it out.)

I was reading In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado last night (I warned you, book switches) and here are some quotes that I liked:
"All solitude and no service equals selfishness. Some solitude and some service, however, equals perspective." (p.54)

"Let me state something important. There is never a time during which Jesus is not speaking. Never. There is never a place in which Jesus is not present. Never." (p.91)

"Blessed are those who acknowledge that there is only one God and have quit applying for his position." (p.99)

(That last one stung while I was reading it, but anyway...) I love the way Lucado phrases things. I've read this before (and a few others of his) but I felt like it would be a good book to reread just about now. It examines the second toughest day of Jesus's life (the first was obviously the Crucifixion) and uses that to demonstrate that God understands how we feel during our most stressful times. I know that sounds cheesy but what's wrong with a little literary upper every now and then?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Your Mother Should Know

I hope you all had a lovely Easter. Mine was lovely as far as family days go, but it wasn't very spiritual. That was my fault. I didn't go to church, not because I didn't want to - I did - but because I have been having a hard time getting myself to do things lately. I suppose it's laziness but depression will do that. Best Friend wanted to see me, so I made her come spend the weekend because I didn't want to leave the house. I'm lucky she's Best Friend, otherwise she might not have catered to that request.

Anyway, Future Priest gave me "The Passion" as an Easter present. I haven't watched it yet. I have never seen it because I didn't think I could stomach it. I'm not one for gore, even when it's meaningful gore. I suppose I will watch it sometime this week. A review will be forthcoming.

Easter weekend brought forth a ton of History Channel programs on Christianity (Christmas did that too). Mother and I skimmed a documentary on hell. Gee, that was fun. It provoked some good conversation, though. After that, we were flipping channels and we came upon a woman preaching. I said, "A woman preaching? That's disgraceful," and smirked. That raised the whole Paul misogyny issue once again. She said that I have a lot of pride because I act like, "Paul's not going to talk about me, a woman, like that!" I said, "If those verses said that both men and women should or shouldn't do something and I complained, you could call that pride. It doesn't say anything derogatory about men. It's unfair." She also argued, "It's not sexist. Paul felt that way because he was raised during that time." I replied, "That's like reading KKK literature and saying that it's not racist because they couldn't help being raised like that. It's still racist."

Mother and I have a very close relationship, and I'm not asking her to break down and agree with me. At the very least, I just hope she understands where I'm coming from. I feel like the heathen of the house sometimes.

And okay, fine, it was the time. I have a feeling I'm going to have to just accept that argument because no one seems to come up with anything better! I can deal with contextualization. However, the whole wife submitting to her husband thing is still prevalent. I don't see how I could marry a Christian man who expects to be the spiritual leader of the home who I will submit to and bear children for. I mean, what year is this? I tried to get involved in a debate at a Christian message board, but even women argued that this is our role and we need to fulfill it. I asked them what was wrong with an equal partnership where both submit to each other and God, and no one answered me.

Maybe I should marry a Buddhist.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Beautiful Surprise

Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Not to make heads spin, but I am not the type of person who starts a book or two, reads them, and then moves on to others. I am constantly in the middle of at least five books (and usually many more than that) because I cannot resist temptation. I will go to the library and take home five or six books when I know I have no time to read them. So, in this blog, I'll be jumping from book to book. It doesn't mean I have stopped reading the others I previously mentioned; maybe I have, maybe I haven't. Just don't expect consistency :)

That being said, Sister gave me The Feminine Face of God for Christmas, and I resumed reading it today. The back cover reads, "For many contemporary women, the old patriarchal models of religion are no longer relevant, forming a need to look beyond the male-oriented past to a wider, more fulfilling spiritual horizon." That should give you an idea about the book's purpose. The authors, Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins, interviewed over a hundred women in order to assess their spiritual experiences.

"[...] throughout history women have learned about spiritual realization through men. Male guides and male interpreters - priests, rabbis, ministers, Zen masters, yogis, and countless other male teachers have defined what spirituality is and how it is to be developed and experienced in our lives. In almost all accounts of the sacred, both language and story have been the expressions of men conveyed in male imagery. [...] For many and varied reasons, women's experiences have remained unspoken. [...] We cannot learn how women develop spiritually from men. The responsibility for describing this process is ours, as women (7)."

I have read two chapters so far, and I'm definitely looking forward to the rest. In my experience, people don't like to talk about this. If you call God "She" you're a heretic, yet nobody considers the fact that in the Old Testament, one of the Hebrew names for God - Shekinah - is feminine. When questioned, many will admit that God is gender-neutral, but to refer to "Him" as "Her" is shocking and inappropriate.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Getting Better

I took some quizzes at Beliefnet today.

What's Your Spiritual Type?

Questioning Believer - You have doubts about the particulars but not the Big Stuff.

What's Your Faith? Belief-O-Matic

1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
2. Orthodox Quaker (91%)
3. Liberal Quakers (89%)
4. Unitarian Universalism (83%)
5. Mahayana Buddhism (70%)
6. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (70%)
7. Theravada Buddhism (69%)
8. Seventh Day Adventist (67%)
9. Sikhism (67%)
10. Reform Judaism (65%)
11. Hinduism (64%)
12. Bahá'í Faith (63%)
13. New Age (63%)
14. Eastern Orthodox (62%)
15. Jainism (62%)
16. Roman Catholic (62%)
17. Neo-Pagan (61%)
18. Taoism (53%)
19. Orthodox Judaism (52%)
20. Secular Humanism (46%)
21. Islam (45%)
22. New Thought (42%)
23. Scientology (38%)
24. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (37%)
25. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (33%)
26. Nontheist (29%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (24%)

Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/ Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.

• Belief in Deity
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.

• Incarnations
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.

• Origin of Universe and Life
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.

• After Death
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.

It's funny, because the last time I took this quiz (months ago) I wound up with 100% Reform Judaism. If my memory serves me correctly, Fellow Seeker got Liberal Protestant and Devout and Ex came out as Orthodox Quakers :)

Monday, March 21, 2005

That'll Be the Day

Tonight I read an article in Newsweek entitled "From Jesus to Christ." It was about the Gospel story and how a carpenter like Jesus rose to such great fame after his death. If the Resurrection isn't true, how could an "average Joe" (or, arguably, his followers) launch a world-wide explosion of faith? Good question. I have always found the arguments for Christianity's historical accuracy compelling, but that's just me. A while back you could have said it was my bias. Not so anymore.
Favorite quotes:
"For the religious, the lesson is that those closest to Jesus accepted little blindly, and, in the words of Origen of Alexandria, an early church father, "It is far better to accept teachings with reason and wisdom than with mere faith." For the secular, the reminder that Christianity is the product of two millennia of creative intellectual thought and innovation, a blend of history and considered theological debate, should slow the occasional rush to dismiss the faithful as superstitious or simple."
"On historical grounds, then, Christianity appears less a fable than a faith derived in part from oral or written traditions dating from the time of Jesus' ministry and that of his disciples."
"In the second century, the anti-Christian critic Celsus called the Resurrection a "cock-and-bull story," and cast doubt on the eyewitness testimony: "While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who say this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion ... or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale ..."
(Oh, screw you, Celsus.)
"The uniqueness—one could say oddity, or implausibility—of the story of Jesus' resurrection argues that the tradition is more likely historical than theological."
Lastly, the article quoted a scripture from the book of Revelation:
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new."
While reading that, I retrieved the mental image of that scene from Titanic when the ship is sinking and the priest speaks that line. And then I had this thought that humanity - all of us - are on a sinking ship. I mean, turn on the news. We're going down, folks. And as I previously stated regarding self-hatred, I don't feel that this is something the Bible has told me so much as something I've observed, and the Bible is explaining. And I hope that I can find a way to cling to this verse, because, crutch or not, what else is there?

On My Own

Last night I was chatting with Cynic. I have known him for eight years, and between my sensitive manner and his abrasive one, we both marvel at the fact that we're friends.

Case in point: I was telling him that I wish I was still as religious as I used to be years ago, because if I was, I would be handling this current situation a lot better. He disagreed, but I know myself and I know it's true. Then he said, "You have to learn how to handle your own shit and not rely on divine intervention." I was somewhat irked by his ostensible insensitivity, and he clarified by saying that he feels that I can find the strength in myself (without God). Ever the humanist.

Anyway, that got me thinking: Is religion a crutch, or is it a viable coping method? Is there a difference between the two?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Dust in the Wind

I adore this song. It reminds me of Cool Aunt. I spent most of my time as a 12 and 13 year old sleeping over at her place. She was an actress and musician, and I hold her personally responsible for nurturing my love of Shakespeare and Arthurian Legend. We used to rehearse scenes from Hamlet, watch "Braveheart" and "Excalibur," and stay up all night recording music in her studio (yes, she had a studio!). Sometimes we went to church together, or studied the Bible. It was always fun. Many of her songs were spiritual, and she would let me sing back up for her. We used to go for late night walks too - sometimes on foot and sometimes on roller blades - and just talk about life. I haven't seen Cool Aunt in years, and I miss her. But, I digress...

When warming up on guitar, she always used to play "Dust in the Wind."

Years ago my mother saw an interview with Kerry Livgren, the Kansas guitarist who wrote this song. He has since become a born-again Christian and he doesn't sing the song anymore because now he feels that we are more than simply "dust in the wind." I still love the song, and I actually find it quite spiritual (in a humbling way). Has anyone ever taken a look at Ecclesiastes?

"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

-Genesis 3:19-

"The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say."

-Ecclesiastes 1:1-8-

"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. I thought to myself, "Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."

-Ecclesiastes 1:12-18-

King Solomon was human, and even he felt this way sometimes.

Stairway to Heaven

I missed my book group the other day, and I don't think I'm going to make it to church tomorrow. Swamped. But I did finish The Problem of Pain. It ended with "Heaven," and here is a quote I liked:

"There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw - but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. [...] You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it - tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest - if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself - you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say "Here at last is the thing I was made for." We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all (145-147)."

Fairly self-explanatory, and it has been true in my experience.

Also, I read this wonderful interview with Helen LaKelly Hunt, the author of Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance. It discusses the question, Will Religion Complete the Women's Movement?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Honest With Me

I spent some time in Barnes with Fellow Seeker, Skeptic, and Devout today. We congregated in a Fiction & Literature aisle (I believe it was in the S's) and sat on the floor with stacks of magazines. One of the magazines that I had grabbed was The Progressive. It caught my eye with the mention of an article entitled, "God Owes Us An Apology." It was written by Barbara Ehrenreich, whom you may know as the author of Nickel and Dimed. The article was very good; if you're interested you should check it out. She basically wrote that the tsunami had nothing to do with man, and that an omnipotent, all-loving God has a lot of explaining to do. I loved this quote:

"If we are responsible for our actions, as most religions insist, then God should be, too, and I would propose, post-tsunami, an immediate withdrawal of prayer and other forms of flattery directed at a supposedly moral deity--at least until an apology is issued[...]."
It's like a God boycott. What a funny concept. I apologize to those who would take offense at my finding this amusing. But imagine if people started questioning God instead of simply taking all that is handed to us. Yes, I will certainly go back to church, just as soon as You explain Yourself, Mister. Reminiscent of talking back to our parents as children. I have been under the impression that you're not allowed to talk back to God. Friends of mine (Mentor and Future Priest, for example) tell me that it's okay to be angry at God. But just how much is okay? Am I supposed to voice my dissent and then just get over it? In social relationships, that's not how it works. Telling someone that they have hurt you doesn't help you heal. The healing comes when they either (a) apologize because they had no good reason for hurting you, or (b) explain the good reason they had. God is not prepared to do either. Is He? (Goodness, it's so tiresome calling God "He" all the time.)

Now I see what my problem is. I look at God as a person - a parent, of sorts. This is why this humility stuff is so hard for me. I respect my parents, but I expect them to be fair to me. Whether I expect that because I see it as my right, or because my parents have generally behaved that way, is up for debate. However, now that I'm older, they can explain why they did or didn't do certain things, and it makes sense to me. With God, there is no such explanation in this life. I look at Him as a parent who doesn't play by the rules. You hurt me (or allowed me to be hurt) without an explanation. Tsk, tsk, God. That's not playing fair. Come to think of it, how many of us were satisfied with our parents' explanations of "Because I said so"?

Every time I start writing how I really feel, I sit here and reread it and marvel at my audacity. Not in a good way, either.

Monday, March 14, 2005

It's All Too Much

Sister went to church with me yesterday. She's 18 years old with a serious 'tude, but loads of fun to be with if you catch her in a good mood. She makes me laugh harder than anyone I know. Anyway, she's a Christian but she doesn't like church; it bores her to death. I told her that the one I go to is very modern: they play clips from t.v. shows and movies when they pertain to the message, they have awesome multimedia presentations, and they mail first- and second-time guests free Starbucks and Blockbuster cards. I go to the 7:00 p.m. service, and it's all people in their 20's. Mostly college students. Last, but not least, it's only an hour. So she agreed to try it out. After the service, someone told her he liked her new cross tattoo, so she was happy, although I'm pretty sure she didn't get it for religious reasons. She had originally planned on getting a frog.

The service was pretty good. The pastor preached his message in jeans, as usual (casual church, folks), and it was a good message. The thing that got me, though, was the songs they chose to sing. What in the world has happened to worship music? Was it always like this, and I just never noticed? One song referred to unbelievers as "the perishing" and contrasted it with "but to us who are being saved." The next one actually had a line that said "We all deserve to die" while singing about God's mercy. The words We All Deserve To Die flashed on the screen and people are singing and clapping. I looked at Sister with knit eyebrows. "I don't like these lyrics," I said. "Why, what did they say? I wasn't listening," she said. She hates when you have to sing in church.

After the service, we saw Free Spirit. He was so late that he missed the entire thing, except he was lucky enough to come in for the last song and hear the uplifting lyrics. When we left the building, he was like, "What was up with that song? We all deserve to die?"

We then met up with Fellow Seeker, whose Episcopalian church service runs from 7:00-8:00, just like ours. We all went and had coffee together. When we told him about it, he started cracking up. He knows the non-denom church scene. He knows how it is.

So this got me thinking: if you read the Bible, lyrics like these are not all that far-fetched. The "perishing" part came straight out of there (1 Corinthians 1:18). The other part - well, that's all over. Here's my point: Me having a problem with this is either a humility vs. pride issue, or religion promotes self-hatred. Think about it. This is either a problem with me or a problem with it/them/whatever. If we really are so wretched that we deserve to die, we deserve hell, etc. then I should humble myself to the point where I can fully accept that and sing those songs without reservation. That seems very hard to do. One wonders, however, if religion is not so much promoting self-hatred as explaining self-hatred. Perhaps since we all do wrong things and feel guilty about them, the Bible is explaining why we do them and what we can do about it. I guess that makes sense.

I'm still put off by those songs, though. It's things like this that keep me from believing I'll ever be into church the way I used to.

Aside from that, Sister actually enjoyed it. If any of it would have offended her, she probably daydreamed through it. After the service, I introduced her to Group Leader, who said that she should come to the group sometime. I told her Sister doesn't do the reading thing (she thinks I'm a big loser because I always have my nose in a book) and G.L. said it doesn't matter because she and I are the only ones who read the book anyway. Good point.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)

I'm perturbed, folks. I had to change my template because for some reason, it was sticking my links, posts, and profile at the very bottom of the page. I e-mailed Blogger Support but a lot of good that did me. It's a shame, though, because I tried out all the other templates but none of them were "me." This one is the closest to "me" aside from the previous pink. (Shrouded in darkness... oh, the irony.)

Shhh! Do you hear it? :) It's "Faith Enough" by Jars of Clay.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Devil In Her Heart

Yesterday was my book group meeting. We talked about "Human Pain" and "Hell." It was pretty interesting. We were talking about God's justice and whether or not hell should exist. Group Leader mentioned that there are always opposites in the world (e.g. good and evil) so it makes sense that there would be an opposite to heaven. She just threw it out there as a thought; she didn't seem to believe that it was a strong argument or anything. We talked about Lewis's example of the evil person (that I mentioned before), and I said that I can understand evil people going to hell, but what I don't understand is that regular, decent people who just haven't accepted Christ supposedly go to hell also. (This group is from a non-denom church, so they do believe that if you haven't accepted Christ, you won't get into heaven.) Someone mentioned that when you look at the childhoods and lives of people like Hitler, you see that certain psychological factors (like abuse, for example) play a role in forming who they become, and we all have impure hearts, and we could all easily get to that point if the conditions were right, so we can't separate someone like Hitler from ourselves entirely and categorize him as evil and us as good.

I raised some questions about the fairness of it all. One of the other members made the comment that we all deserve hell, we just don't have to go there because of Christ's sacrifice. I was thinking to myself, we deserve hell? That's a very Christian thing to say; I've heard it before. But do we really? I admit that I'm sinful and have made mistakes, but have they been so bad as to deserve eternal torment? I think that's what Lewis meant by saying that we have to fully understand how sinful we are before we can proceed, otherwise we'll be wondering what God's problem is. So I said, "I don't think that's fair, because we didn't ask to be born with sinful natures. We didn't have a choice." That started a whole discussion about Adam and Eve's sin being passed down, but I think I made a valid point. Group Leader said that she can think of bad things she has done in her life, so it's not like we never sinned and are being punished anyway. I reminded her that the only reason she (or any of us) have done bad things is because we were born with a sinful nature. It's like the chicken and the egg, only it leaves little room for doubt that (in our case, not Adam and Eve's) the chicken came first. Group Leader also mentioned that it seems like without a judgment, what is the point of anything we do on earth? Another interesting question raised was why a perfect God would allow the possibility of evil in the world.

I was glad to see that other Christians have doubts about this stuff too, and that the doctrine of hell bothers them as much as it bothers me. I remember in the late summer/early fall, Ex and I were on a bus going somewhere when we were accosted by what I like to call a crazy Christian. She was an older woman, probably in her fifties, and as we passed her church on the bus, she asked if we had ever been there. We said yes, a couple of times (it's a pretty well-known church). She said to us, "And??" We looked at each other and looked back at her. What was she looking for exactly? I think we said something like, "It was nice." She looked angry. She said, "You've gone there a couple of times and you never accepted Jesus as your Savior??" I shot Ex an "Oh, no, here it comes" look. We assured her that we were Christians - I have been a Christian practically all my life, and he's the son of a Lutheran pastor - but that wasn't enough for her. Then she left Ex alone and started in with me. She started telling me that if I hadn't accepted Jesus, I would go to hell. She punctuated the argument with a smug grin and a "You'll see." Ex got angry and started telling her it was none of her concern if I went to hell (how romantic). But it raises the question: is hell a power trip? A "you're going, but I'm not, hallelujah" thing?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Yer Blues

I got a little carried away with my last post, so I removed it. I couldn't help getting caught up in the blogging moment :) My apologies. I'm retaining bits of it in this one.

I feel that since I'm being completely honest here, I might as well articulate my goals a little better. I admit that I am not interested in converting to another religion. Christianity means too much to me, and it has made sense to me for years. My aim is primarily to dispel all dissatisfaction I have with Christianity so that I can embrace it again. I realize that this new and improved faith will probably be quite different than what I am used to, but that's the exciting part :) Hopefully the foundation will be the same.

I understand that I am exposing myself as a somewhat phony seeker. I'm sure that courage (well, the lack thereof) plays a role. Prior to my father's accident a few months ago, I was a lot more open to other things. The other day I was in the lounge on campus and I had a conversation with Faithful and Agnostic. Faithful was telling us that his father began going to church regularly after a tragedy occurred. Agnostic said that his mother has gotten religious on him lately in response to a tragedy as well. This is what has happened in my life. I find this somewhat sad. It makes me feel like I'm using God as an over-the-counter antidepressant or something. Lewis addresses this as well (sorry to keep referencing him, but I'm reading him right now!). He says that the reason God allows pain in our lives is because we are going about our lives, disregarding Him, wrapped up in other things, and when pain strikes we cling to Him. Painful things happen more than once (and sometimes often) because as soon as the pain is relieved, we drop God and run to the nearest substitute. Lewis gave an analogy he got from a friend: God is like an emergency parachute that you hope you'll never have to use.

That being said, the reason that I'm looking at other religions is because I believe that there are elements of truth in all of them, and I'd like to accumulate as much truth as I can. Perhaps I can incorporate it into what I believe. Why not? Spirituality doesn't have to be the rigid, categorical system people make it out to be. "You're either a Christian or you're not, and if you are, you have no business reading the Qur'an." I don't agree with that.

Speaking of which, I have been reading a book called Towards Understanding Islam by Abul A'la Mawdudi. Some guys were giving out free copies the other day, so I got one. It has been interesting. So far, I haven't come across anything radically different than what I've been raised believing. If anything, it is just more intense.

"Islam is an Arabic word meaning submission, surrender, and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to God [...]" (1-2).
Mawdudi raises the point that everyone and everything is already obeying God's law. The sun obeys it when it rises and sets. We obey it when we sleep and eat and perform typical human functions. But there is another level at which we have free will, and we can choose Islam or disbelief. Sound familiar?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Slip Slidin' Away

Future Priest said I misquoted him in my homosexuality post. He said that it's a choice whether or not to engage in a homosexual relationship. He thinks that homosexuality itself is a deviation from a person's normal psychological development, not an alternative lifestyle.

Anyway, continued reading of Lewis. I just finished the "Hell" chapter. Let me start off by saying that I hate, detest, despise, loathe, etc. the doctrine of hell. I'm sure it's not a big hit among most people.

"As things are, however, this doctrine is one of the chief grounds on which Christianity is attacked as barbarous and the goodness of God impugned. We are told that it is a detestable doctrine - and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart [...]." (p. 119)

He goes on to describe the worst person imaginable, someone who hurts and manipulates other people to satisfy his own greed, and asks the reader if we would really be comfortable with the idea of this person never having to answer for his actions, ending his life in contentment, laughing at God and the rest of us. Of course not. You could insert any abominable figure in this slot, and it would play out the same way. We have an innate sense of justice and morality that is not imposed by society. We feel that accountability should and does exist.

He goes on to explain that God offers forgiveness to all, but it is not enough for Him to simply offer it. A person must accept it. Self-surrender is involved in reaching our potential, but you can't force someone to surrender the self to God. They must make a conscious choice to do so.

"I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside." (p.127)

"In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: 'What are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does." (p. 128)

No matter how much I believe something about a particular doctrine, I find it so hard to argue with Lewis. There have only been a few instances in which I took issue with something he wrote. I think he makes a good argument for hell here. (Still hate it though!) God gave us free will, and He can't force us to choose Him. I wish that there could be an alternative for hell, but what justice would there be for all those people who have been seriously harmed by unrepentant others?

Some meaningful quotes from the "Human Pain" chapter:

"For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John." (p.111)

"We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." (p.115)

I guess they're self-explanatory. The first one is pretty powerful, because it basically says to me that God will effect His purpose in the world regardless of the choices we make, but our choices matter to us for obvious reasons. The second one is an interesting theory on why we never reach sustained happiness on earth.

And finally, the reason for the Simon and Garfunkel entry title:

"Thus all day long, and all the days of our life, we are sliding, slipping, falling away - as if God were, to our present consciousness, a smooth inclined plane on which there is no resting." (p.76)

I'm going to have to read something really liberal after this :)

My Favorite Things

I went to church today. It was really something. I was supposed to help serve because I joined that book group, and it was scheduled to serve. So I served. I stood behind a table and gave free copies of books to people who were visiting for the first time. I got to meet new people, I got to wear a nametag... life was good. They spoke about marriage, and I thought that I wouldn't really get anything out of it - not being married and all - but I did. I also got to see Free Spirit, which is good because I hadn't seen him in a while. All in all, it felt good and seems like something I will do every Sunday. Why not?

You know what's funny? I write all these angry comments in this blog, and it's like a release for me. I can go to church and really enjoy it because I feel like I've left all my bitterness here. Does that make sense? I thought that writing these things down would draw me away from God and church, but it has had the opposite effect. I feel like I'm getting it out somehow, so I don't have to carry it around with me.

Free Spirit and I met up with Fellow Seeker after church. He was coming from his church service, and he brought a friend, Expert Seeker. Apparently this incredible idea we had of visiting different places in order to draw upon various religious experiences is being done already. So much for originality :) He said that we can tag along with his group when they go.

Okay, I have an idea. I don't want this blog to be too one-sided, so I'm going to list the things that I love about religion (Christianity in particular). Bear with me.

  1. Sense of community at church, feeling like I am a part of something bigger than myself
  2. Comfort in times of trouble and distress
  3. Belief that there is a purpose for my life, and it's not all as meaningless as it appears to be
  4. Not having to be afraid of death (although I still am)
  5. Theory that there is absolute truth and morality, and that not everything is as relative as 21st century Western society would have us believe
  6. Feeling of peace that I get when I go to church
  7. Enables me to think outside the box, and dream bigger than this world

Can anyone think of something else? Add yours :)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Think For Yourself

I just read perhaps the funniest and most powerful thing I've read in a while. It's from a religious satire magazine called "The Wittenburg Door," and it's God's Interview with Larry King about the Tsunami. I don't even want to try to paraphrase it... just go read it. It's worth it. (Andi, this magazine was nominated for the 2004 Utne Independent Press Award.)

After looking at the Killing the Buddha and Utne websites, I was googling for some more "different" periodicals. That's how I found The Door. It's actually run by Christians, not heretics like yours truly. They're just tired of hypocrisy and stuff, and they're funny about it.

That makes me think of Fellow Seeker. He's one of my best friends, and I wish we spent more time together. We have the best conversations. I remember once we sat in Starbucks for a few hours and shot the theological breeze. He's one of those intensely smart individuals that knows everything. He knows random facts about St. Thomas Aquinas and the formation of the early Church and Kierkegaard. Great stuff. He told me during this Heresy at Starbucks episode that he wants to pull a Thomas Jefferson and take out all the parts of the Bible he doesn't like. A little drastic for my tastes, but to each his own. F.S. went to the same Christian college as me, and he was there for four years. He used to be big into the whole church thing, but he struggled with his homosexuality. Now he goes to an accepting Episcopalian church, and I occasionally go with him. He loves God more than most people I know. I wouldn't like to be in a heaven where people like him can't get in.

Another problem I have... I don't feel that homosexuality is something that can be changed, like a bad smoking habit. F.S. is not attracted to girls. He won't ever be. If any of you know a gay person well, you'll know this is true for them as well. Let's face reality here. So why are they ostracized from the church? People always tell me, "Because the Bible says it's an abomination." Then why are they gay? My friend Future Priest says that when they hit puberty, they just make the choice. Come on. Think of the gay Christians who struggle so much with their identity. Don't you think if it was a choice they would just unchoose?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

I've Just Seen A Face

I have been fascinated with the various representations of Jesus for a while. He always looks different. I like what Sue Monk Kidd wrote in her novel, The Secret Life of Bees:

"Everyone needs a God
who looks like them."

Paul McCartney Jesus. I don't like European depictions of Jesus.
He wasn't born in a manger in Liverpool.

This one is by Talib-Lala Dhu’l-Kadari, and it shows
Jesus and his disciples. Don't you love it?

"Since the white people have seen their own God
through white spectacles, we have now started to see
our God through our own spectacles."
-Marcus Garvey-

She is my favorite.

I read a really cool Unitarian sermon a while ago called "Liberal Like Jesus." I gave a copy to Fellow Seeker and he loved it. I remember back when he was reading American Jesus. He showed me the pictures in it. One of them was the black female Jesus above. There was also boxer Jesus, white collar Jesus in a suit with a short haircut, etc.

Friday, March 04, 2005

I Just Don't Understand

Last night was the group meeting. I really enjoyed myself. There are supposed to be 16 members of the group, but it's one of those things where different people come every week, so there were only six of us yesterday. Everyone is having slight trouble in following Lewis... this is one of his harder books. When they heard that I had read it before, Group Leader said, "Great! So you can explain it to all of us!" I said I read it, not that I taught a course in it :) I find myself having to reread parts in order to grasp them as well.

We got into a good discussion on humility and does God have a plan for our lives? and do we want Him to? and why does His "plan" include pain? It was very interesting.

Also, I wanted to show you all this blog entry by forgottenmachine on the topic of God letting evil things happen. I think it's an interesting discussion, and certainly one that's been on my mind while reading The Problem of Pain. Now, I have a hard time reconciling a loving God with the horrors of this earth, but I can sort of accept it. What I can't accept, however, is something like the tsunami. God gives us free will, we're evil, we hurt each other, fine, fine, I get it. But something like that, not caused by us, that wipes out hundreds of thousands of people, I absolutely cannot understand. God couldn't have intervened and stopped it without messing with our free will? Um, wrong. So the only viable alternative argument is that God wanted it to happen for a reason. I can't even imagine what that reason might be. And yes, it's true that God gives life and can take it away, and yes, maybe they're better off if they're somewhere happy, but still. Is anyone else seriously bothered by this?

And then I hear some Christian arguments that just make me angry, like:

"God let/made it happen because it's one of the signs of the end of the world."

"I don't know why it happened, but did you hear this great story about the [Christian family, pastor, church group, insert privileged group here] who was miraculously saved?"

I love this whole idea of God only looking out for certain people He created. I guess you could argue that Christians are the ones asking for His protection, but I don't like that argument. It's not a person's fault if they're praying to the wrong God (and isn't it incredibly arrogant of religions to assert their God over all others) or if they don't believe in God at all (can you blame them? I feel that there's a lot of evidence for the existence of God, but I can also see how someone wouldn't see that... and even so, it's not painfully obvious which God is the God.)

Which brings me to another piece of doctrine that makes me mad. Christianity is fairly exclusive, don't you think? I went to a Christian college briefly and one of my professors said that Christianity is extremely inclusive and extremely exclusive at the same time. Inclusive because anyone - regardless of background, class, race, sex - can accept Christ and be saved. Exclusive because... well, you have to accept Christ to be saved! And that's really what the religion comes down to. Catholics have that lovely baptism by desire doctrine, but for all of us Protestant folk, we just have to wake up every morning knowing (well, believing) that many, if not most, of the people we encounter during the day will spend an eternity burning in hell. Because they were child molesters and rapists? No, not necessarily. Because they were responsible for mass genocide?? Nah, don't have to be. All they have to be guilty of is choosing the wrong religion, or not choosing a religion at all. So if you grew up in a Hindu family, and you really don't know anything else, hate to break it to you but you're screwed royally. Same for all you Muslims, Buddhists... la de da. The list goes on.

And not to mention that Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Africans, Native Americans, Anglo-Saxons, etc. who, according to the Bible, didn't even have the option to be saved until Christ came (salvation was only for the Jews back in the Old Testament days). And when Christ did come, did half of these people know about him? And how did many of them come to learn? Well, Christianity was preached to the Africans as they were enslaved, beaten, and raped. It was preached to the Native Americans as they were being killed and their land was being stripped from them. Is it really fair to expect these groups to adopt this new religion, considering the circumstances surrounding their "enlightenment"?

I once asked Mentor how a person can remain sane while believing that people of other faiths go to hell. He laughed at my choice of the word "sane." (Perhaps it implied that Christians are insane. I really hadn't even thought of that, and it's not what I meant, I swear!) I ask you all, how can a person remain sane while believing that?? Then he said that maybe God makes a way for people who haven't heard of Jesus to be saved anyway - something my mother likes to theorize about. Which is a possibility. I just don't like even saying that Jesus is the only way. I realize that's essential to the religion, but geez. It's so... I don't know, ethnocentric? Is that the right word when it comes to religion?

(Note: Just to clarify, the brand of Christianity I am constantly agitating against is that which I have been brought up with. I am aware that there are more liberal denominations out there. I just address my own because it's my background. If anyone wants to share more about their background, please do.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

If I Fell

Okay, so I'm reading The Problem of Pain and loving it. Lewis is so wonderful. He makes abstract theological arguments seem completely logical and relevant. Tonight is the group meeting, and I can't wait to discuss it.

He is a little sexist, which comes as no surprise to me after having read Mere Christianity. The only thing I've found that was offensive so far was this:

"For we are only creatures: our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative." (p. 51)

He was talking about our subservient role to God, and he threw in that great analogy of "female to male." But anyway, I found this really interesting:

"A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. [...] And when men attempt to be Christians without this preliminary consciousness of sin, the result is almost bound to be a certain resentment against God as to one who is always making impossible demands and always inexplicably angry." (p.57)

"We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God's feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day and God's share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of "our own" pocket [...]." (p. 75)

"[...] so they [generally, mankind; specifically, Adam] desired to be on their own, to take care for their own future, to plan for pleasure and for security, to have a meum from which, no doubt, they would pay some reasonable tribute to God in the way of time, attention, and love, but which nevertheless, was theirs not His. They wanted, as we say, to "call their souls their own." But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner of the universe of which they could say to God, "This is our business, not yours." But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives." (p. 80)

I can completely relate to the first quote; if you don't truly feel that you are a sinner, it makes you wonder, "What does God want from me??" (according to organized religion, anyway). But we're human, and fickle, and our perceptions vary based on our actions. Sometimes I feel like a sinner, sometimes I feel like a saint. Isn't that how human beings are?

The others are interesting too. Most was from the chapter entitled "The Fall of Man." Lewis is big on giving all to God and not being so cocky as to hold things back as if they're actually ours, because nothing is ours. Fascinating thing to consider. Extremely difficult thing to live by.