Are You Sure About That?

galileo

There was recently a televised debate on the subject of evolution versus creationism. Bill Nye, representing evolution, and Ken Ham, representing creationism, were asked what would change their mind on the topic. Their answers were strikingly different.

The scientist’s answer: Evidence. The theologian’s answer: Nothing.

What an amazing difference in attitudes! “I’m willing to change my viewpoint if there is sufficient reason” versus “My mind is made up and I’m not changing it for anything!”

I’m not going to debate evolution versus creation here. My personal thinking is that God created everything and it’s been evolving ever since. But I wouldn’t try to argue against either side or any blend of the two.

But what really gets my goat is when people take perfectly good faith and ruin it by refusing to further consider a question. To remain viable, faith MUST be tempered by doubt. Faith untempered by doubt descends into the realm of dogma.

If there’s one thing that’s constant in this world, it’s change. Good faith is flexible enough to absorb the impact of change. If the impact is large enough to permanently alter the faith, that’s okay too. That’s called spiritual growth.

Bad faith, on the other hand, lacks flexibility. It seeks to shield people from change by hiding them behind rigid doctrine. It’s like being encased in protective concrete. NOTHING is getting through that concrete, right? But when that huge impact of change comes along, the concrete shatters, and the people are left naked and defenseless.

Our spiritual journey is just that: a journey. If we think we’ve arrived, we haven’t. We’ve simply settled for where we are. If we think we’ve found all there is to find, we haven’t. We’ve simply given up looking. If we think we have all the answers, we’re only fooling ourselves. It’s just possible that we could be wrong.

Never give up on what else God has to show us. Never believe that what we understand is all there is to understand. Never stop asking, “What if?”

And may we always keep a child-like sense of wonder and an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

Drawing Trees

Wow! Can I ever relate to this! I love her last sentence. She nails it.

It's a Mis-fit

 

decorated christmas tree clip artImagine being a little kid, sitting in class a few days before the Christmas break. The teacher passes out sheets of construction paper and instructs everyone to draw a picture of their favorite thing about Christmas. Now imagine that you have nothing to draw. You have no favorite Christmas anything. You’ve never celebrated Christmas. You, are the sole person in your class, quite possibly in your entire school that does not celebrate Christmas, or any other traditional religious holiday.  You are truly a religious minority.

That is my clear memory of Christmas as a kid, along with having to go to the library during school holiday parties, where I tried to find solace in the books I had all to myself. I would have much preferred eating cake and ice cream and singing Jingle Bells with the other children, but that was strictly forbidden by my father’s faith. It…

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A New Perspective

12 panes

Christmas gets on my nerves. A gazillion people on the road, stores clogged with shoppers, every merchant asking for donations for their pet charity. Grumpy customers, frazzled clerks, cranky children being dragged through the aisles. Bah humbug!

On this day all I needed was a bottle of low-dose aspirin, but it was not going to be fast. I wound my way through the maze of shopping carts to the medicine aisle. Dodging so many people it would have made Herschel Walker proud, at last I reached my prize. Considering how my blood pressure was rising, perhaps I should open the aspirins and chew one while waiting in line. I decided against it. If I died in line, maybe they would clear out faster. Did I mention bah humbug?

Why wasn’t the line moving? Everything in the store is a dollar. I mean really, is it that hard to count to five and ring it up? Or in the case of the lady in front of me, it was more like count to five hundred and ring it up. How much crap did she need, anyway?

Eventually I made it through the checkout without killing anyone, tossed the aspirin in the truck, and started down the road toward home. WHERE DID ALL THESE CARS COME FROM? Go away already! In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, I’ve got to pee! Get out of my way!

As I approached a T intersection about halfway home, I saw lights. Lights everywhere. Red, yellow, blue, white. Just great, I thought. A DWI checkpoint.

I was six cars back from the intersection. Sighing, I got out my license and insurance paper and waited. And waited. And waited some more. But the line didn’t move.

Then I noticed the ambulance. In the sea of other lights, I had missed it. And that vehicle I thought was the breathalyzer van turned out to be a fire truck. It was hard to tell in the darkness.

Fifteen minutes turned into thirty, and still nothing moved. Come on, cops! Write somebody a ticket and let’s get on with it!

Another fifteen minutes passed before anything moved. It was the ambulance. No lights, no siren, and not in any hurry. It lumbered off toward the hospital.

And then I understood. The F word.

No, not that F word.

Fatality.

The realization was like a dash of cold water in my face. It was a rude reminder of just what was important in life. And what is important is NOT how many people are in my way in the store. It’s NOT how long it takes to get through the checkout line. It’s NOT how much traffic is on the road.

No, what is important in life is the smile on a loved one’s face. It’s the moment when your children’s imagination is kindled. It’s the bouncing excitement of a loyal pet welcoming you home.

A young lady sat down in the road, her hands in her lap. I wondered what was her relation to the deceased. Had she lost a parent? Fiancé? Or God forbid, a child?

My face burned with shame as I thought about what a heel I had been. I wondered how many people in the other cars were having similar thoughts.

The young lady rocked side to side, hands still in her lap. With the lights of a state trooper’s car shining on her, I could make out a rosary in her hand. I wondered what she was praying. Was it the standard Hail Marys and Our Fathers? Surely she wasn’t performing a layman’s version of the Last Rites, in the absence of a priest? That last thought was particularly sobering. My heart went out to her.

A tow truck rolled in, and the young lady stood up and put away her rosary. There was some coordination with the troopers, and the tow truck hauled away the car. And then a second tow truck came. A mangled car I hadn’t seen, hidden behind the emergency vehicles, was towed away.

Eventually traffic resumed moving. An hour after I arrived at the accident, I was on my way home again, this time with a new, more thankful attitude. And a very urgent bladder.

If you have a mind to ease a soul, pray for those involved in the accident. Losing someone is difficult any time, but especially so at Christmas. May God grant them peace.

Empty Churches ft. Pope Francis

stmarks

No, this isn’t a new hip-hop song, despite the catchy title. This is about why so many churches are withering away. But if anyone wants to use that for their band name, I expect royalties. 🙂

Anyone who bothers to look around can see the churches in America aren’t anywhere near as full as they used to be. We are becoming increasingly secular. We kick religion to the curb, either explicitly denying it, or simply ignoring it until it goes away. There are a great many theories on why this is the case. Some cite more access to entertainment. Stores are open 24/7 these days. Kids sports schedule games for Sunday now, creating scheduling conflicts with regular church attendance. There are a gazillion external reasons not to attend church.

But I think the main reason people gave up on Christianity is the Christians themselves. Too many of us have adopted a “my way or the highway” approach. “I can show you right *HERE* that God said it, and if you don’t believe it, you’re going to HELL!” Where is love in that approach? Where is the Jesus who reaches out to sinners, inviting them to walk with him? Where is the acknowledgement that *gasp* WE COULD BE MISTAKEN?

Pope Francis addressed this recently. Here is a short excerpt:

“When a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith. He is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought. For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge. The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people.’
But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new.”

The full article, with video, can be found here: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/21/pope-francis-describes-ideological-christians-as-a-serious-illness-within-the-church/

What can we do to correct this issue? First, we must learn to see others as our brothers and sisters, no matter their theology or lack of it. Rich, poor, black, white, Republican, Democrat. We must get away from the “us and them” thinking that has created so many of our problems. Second, we need to pray for a spirit of humility rather than arrogance. It isn’t about us anyway. It’s about God. When we reflect His love, rather than our demands, we lift him up for all to see. Third, we have to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us. We have the Bible, yes, but we need God to interpret it for us rather than man. In this way we will realize that yes, we have been wrong on some things, and we can quit turning away true seekers by insistence that our ways are absolute.

Labels, Labels Everywhere

puppy_with_steak

“He’s a liberal.”

“She’s gay.”

“He’s gifted.”

“She’s a Republican.”

“They’re freeloaders.”

“You’re a slut.”

“She’s a Christian.”

“He’s an addict.”

Labels. We use them all the time. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes negative. But what’s in a label? What do labels do?

In general, labels are used to help us categorize things. If a steak is labeled USDA Grade A Choice, we have a high degree of confidence that the meat is top quality. If a movie star is labeled as “a train wreck” we’re pretty sure there are some serious issues. We don’t have to see the steak or the movie star to make these assumptions. We base our expectations on our interpretations of the labels.

But as useful as labels are, they can also be detrimental to a well-rounded understanding of the object being labeled. How big is the steak? What kind of steak is it? Is there a lot of fat on it? How much does it cost? Is it still fresh? If we look only at the label, we miss a lot of information we may find useful.

So maybe we put a second label on things. “Bone-in porterhouse” might give us more information. “6.99/lb.” provides still more information. But all the labels in the world won’t tell us how good that steak is. We only know when we take a big honkin’ bite of beef. Experience is the true test.

Now think about the labels we use on other people. “She’s a Christian.” How do you evaluate that label? If our past experience with Christians has been positive, we likely assume that she’s a good person. If our past experience has been negative, we may see the very same label and come to the conclusion that she’s a self-righteous bigot. In either case, we have ascribed a quality to the person that may or may not be warranted.

So just like we did with the steak, we add more labels to the person to minimize confusion. “She’s a liberal Christian.” So she’s either a progressive or an oxymoron, depending on your point of view. Once again, adding more labels is a failed attempt to explain just who she is. If you really want to know who she is, get to know her. See for yourself.

What happens when we attempt to label God? Savior. Great Physician. Lord. Prince of Peace. Mighty God. King of Kings. All of these are labels. Each one has its own meaning and its own connotations. Each label is an attempt to describe some facet of God. We may as well attempt to rope the wind. How can we describe the ineffable majesty that is God? How can we convey His greatness?

Moses once asked God for his preferred label. “Who shall I say sent me?” he asked. God’s answer may seem cryptic until we realize that it completely avoids the limitations that labels place on our understanding. “Tell him I AM THAT I AM sent you.” I AM. The very essence of identity, unclouded by labels.

God invites us to know him. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” the scriptures tell us. Forget the labels, and just reach out to I AM. He’ll leave the Light on for you.

Finding Grace Between the Lines

stmarks
Recently I was invited to attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Gastonia, NC. It was a new experience for me. I’ve been to several different denominations, but I had never been to an Episcopal church before. It was a visit I won’t soon forget.

Some things were familiar from personal experience. I learned the Nicene Creed in the Methodist church of my early childhood. The responses to the readings of Scripture were the same ones I learned listening to Cardinal Dolan’s mass on Catholic radio. The candelabras had seven tapers, common symbolism in Christian churches.

Other things were familiar only by proxy. I knew of the Presence Lamp only from reading my favorite fiction author, Katherine Kurtz. Likewise, only through my reading did I recognize the Cantor bowing respect to the High Altar.

Some things, like the Collects, were completely foreign to me. And yet they were comforting, like finding a pair of jeans that fit so well they don’t even need breaking in. The priest, Father Shawn, also fit this description. When I went in to worship, he was an unknown quantity. After one homily, he has earned my respect.

But what really blew me away was the centerpiece behind the High Altar. It was a large embossed bronze plaque containing the account from Matthew’s gospel of the baptism of Jesus.

Matthew 3:16-17 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Most Christians, including myself, have seen this passage many times. But this time, it took on an entirely new meaning for me.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Another very familiar scripture. But in an instant, sitting at the far edge of a pew in the back of St. Mark’s, the two passages merged and took on a new meaning for me. I had to cover my mouth to stifle a gasp as the full import registered.

You see, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God fell on him and a voice came from heaven saying “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” And when we repent and are baptized today, the Spirit of God falls on us as well, saying “This is my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” It won’t be a visible dove nor an audible voice, but it’s still real. It’s a spiritual event.

Family. We are born into the Family of God. A new identity as a child of the King. And he is well pleased. Another affirmation, hidden in Holy Scripture, that God really does love us.

Peace be with you.