Christianity, Family, Religion

Finding A Spiritual Home

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I mentioned in another post that my husband and I have finally found a place of worship that we feel comfortable calling home. We’re pretty excited about having found this unique little gathering of believers and I wanted to share some of the journey that brought us here.

After getting married in 2008, we both felt that we wanted to be more disciplined in attending some sort of worship service regularly. At first we were attending a church where the people were great, but the church itself was entirely too big and we felt that the leadership was always trying to “sell” us something – books, CDs, videos, etc. We wanted something that felt more genuine and so we kept searching. We’d tried a few different places, but became more and more disillusioned and disconnected with each new place. For me, a huge part of the problem was that I kept feeling as though I was “going” to church, and not “being” the church. Outside of the Sunday praise, worship, and sermon ritual – there was nothing authentic throughout the rest of the week to help connect and sustain us spiritually.

Another issue for me was the fact that most churches we visited felt more like Christian self-help groups. All of the messages were centered on a specific topic, for instance – how to build good relationships in the workplace – and Bible verses that supported the pastor’s view of that topic were discussed. Although it is important to gain wisdom about different aspects of life, I wanted to be a part of a church where the Bible was read, taught, and discussed as it is – not manipulated and taken out of context in order to fit a particular pastor’s views.

When my husband and I found out we would be moving to another part of the U.S, one of the things that really excited us was the idea that we might be able to find something out here that we had not found in our 6 year search of our home state. I didn’t want to feel like I was “shopping” for a church, but at the same time I knew that there were certain things we needed in a spiritual home. We created a short list of things that we felt were important for us in a church.

We wanted to be in a place where we could truly learn the Bible, in all of its confusing, seemingly contradictory, messy glory. I quickly lose interest in places where all the hard verses are ignored and all the pleasant verses are cherry picked to prove a point. I enjoy that the place we’ve been visiting spends time studying and dissecting entire blocks of scripture. This makes it harder to take a particular reading out of context. Instead of using scripture to support whatever topic is on the speaker’s mind, the topics arise from these blocks of scripture being studied.

We wanted to be in a place small enough for there to be genuine community, but big enough for us to find ways to get involved. I don’t know about anyone else, but for us, going to church is always just a Sunday thing. We go on Sunday and the rest of the week we’re on our own! To that end, we needed to find a place that embraced the idea that we (believers in Christ) are an organic, living church – and that being the church doesn’t end on Sunday afternoon when service lets out. So far, I have met people at this place who have immediately gotten involved in our lives. And they didn’t get involved in that creepy, cultish sort of way. They are just intentional about not leaving us out as they live their lives and develop on their own spiritual journeys. More importantly, my husband and I have been able to seamlessly get involved as if we had been there all along.

We wanted to be in a place that does not discourage ritual and/or the historical traditions of the church, but is not dogmatic about it either. I really love how the Catholic and Orthodox churches allow for perpetual spirituality because their sense of community and their traditions are built into the way they live. Although we highly respect those groups (and sometimes borrow from some of their practices!), we have not felt led to join any particular denomination. At the same time, I have grown weary of those who teach that ritual is inherently wrong or idolatrous. I like that this place we’ve been visiting recognizes the beauty of the historical church traditions and rhythms of life, without forcing those traditions on anyone.

We wanted to be in a place that is diverse in many ways. We wanted a place that has a mixture of ethnicity, age, physical/mental ability, and socioeconomic status. For the most part, we’ve found that here. What is lacking in racial diversity is made up for in the diversity of age, ability, and tax bracket. And that’s not to say that there is no racial diversity – just not a whole lot.

I guess the biggest factor in our decision to join with this particular group of believers is that we have felt God’s gentle nudge in this direction. It may not be where He has us forever, but we definitely think that this is where we are supposed to be for now.

We’re excited to see where this path leads!

What about you? How did you find your spiritual home?

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Christianity, News and Current events, Religion

How Can You Believe the Bible, When [insert objection]?

Last week, a friend of mine posted a link to an article that was written to show that Christians who say they take the Bible literally on the issue of same-sex marriage do not (and cannot) even follow all of the Bible’s rules concerning hetero-marriage. The article had a list of Biblical instructions concerning the hierarchy of husbands over wives, the practice of polygamy, and what to do in case of a rape. She followed up on the article by asking a few genuine questions for her Christian friends to answer. I thought this was an interesting topic, but I didn’t want to answer on her newsfeed because (1) it would be too long, and (2) although my friend might be genuine in her questioning, I’m sure there would be others who would read my comments and only be looking to pick a fight. I thought that perhaps it would be better to answer these questions in blog form. It is important to note, though, that there is a lot of diversity within the Christian faith. Each Christian has his or her own view on issues of Biblical interpretation, doctrine, and the spectrum of how literally they follow the Bible. In my opinion, it doesn’t make a person any less of a Christian simply because they have a different view of the Bible than I do, but I want to be clear that my answers to these questions are my own. Christians (and non Christians) with different views are welcome to chime in on the comments section – or even answer these questions for themselves in their own blog posts! It would be neat to see the diversity of responses. So, without wasting any more of your time…

What do you do when you read something in the Bible that you clearly don’t believe?”

I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of things in the Bible that seem pretty crazy. I’ll also admit that, to my extreme disappointment, when I have asked other Christians about questionable Biblical passages – they became defensive and have either labeled me as someone who didn’t really have faith, or have uncomfortably tried to gloss over my questions with shallow “pat on the back” answers that really held no weight. This is a huge problem that Christianity seems to have – we don’t like to face the hard stuff. We want to pick all the nice, happy scriptures and focus on those without really looking at the whole picture. When we do this, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice but we are also keeping others from understanding who we are and what we believe. I have learned, unfortunately, not to ask the hard questions to other Christians because I never know how they will respond. This is not a good thing, and this is something that I hope will change, but it is where I am right now.

In my personal study time, however, I enjoy delving deep into the tough stuff. Here are a few things that I look at when I face a passage of scripture that seems brutish, cruel, and/or unlike the God that I have come to know and believe in.

I look at historical context – what was happening at the time? What were the normal customs of the people I am reading about and the people around them? We have to try, as much as possible, to read the Bible through the perspective of the people about whom we are reading. We can’t read it with our 21st century American views and expect to come away with a full understanding of what was going on. I look at original meanings of words – the Bible was written in a few different languages, and I’m sure that there are puns, popular metaphors of that time period, and other words that have just gotten lost in translation over the years. There are probably words that they had in that time, that didn’t exist anymore when the Bible was first translated into English. Some Bibles have footnotes that tell you where a word used might have actually replaced another word or meant something different at the time of the original writing. Those are important clues to look at, as well. I ask myself whether the outcome of a passage is something that God wanted to happen, or something that happened because of the people involved. There is a huge difference. One of the scriptures listed in the article is about when Abraham slept with his wife’s servant-girl, Haggar, in order to produce an heir to his family line. The article incorrectly assumes that the Bible condones rape as a way to ensure your lineage. In actuality, God never told Abraham to sleep with or rape Haggar. Abraham and Sarah devised this plan on their own, independently of God. When reading the Bible, we have to remember that most of the Bible’s stories are stories of people who did not believe in or obey God. Most of the Bible’s stories are about people who take matters into their own hands and disregard God’s instructions. That doesn’t mean the Bible condones a certain thing, but the Bible just tells us what happened. Finally, if I find something questionable and it is a direct result of God’s instructions, I ask God about it and I continue to study the issue until I get an answer. Descartes talks about the need to doubt everything you know in order to know anything with any certainty. This has proven true in my faith journey. I think it is okay to respectfully challenge God. In fact, I think it is essential. How else are we supposed to get to know Him? I don’t want to walk away simply because I come up against something difficult. I want to understand it. I want to understand God to the best of my ability. And there are plenty of things in the Bible that I am still working toward understanding.

“How do you reconcile following the Bible as a whole?”

I think a lot of people see the Bible as simply a rulebook and we have to read it and do what it says. The Bible is more than that. It’s really the very (very) long story – spanning thousands of years and various cultures – of God’s interactions with flawed people. The Bible often tells what actually happened, and not what should have happened. Many of the Bible’s heroes are really just reformed criminals. Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. Does that mean God wants me to go out and murder people, or is He just showing me that He can change lives? The Bible also has poetry, symbolism, metaphors, letters, and allegory. When I say that I follow the Bible as a whole, what I mean is that I believe its historical accounts are true. I mean that I have studied the history of and the laws created for the Israelites, and have studied how Jesus fulfilled those laws. I mean that I have sought to understand the hidden meanings of the Bible’s poetry, symbols, and parables. I mean that I have studied how Jesus is foreshadowed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. I mean that I have read the letters written to the various groups of new Christians and learned about how the early church developed. I mean that I have read the stories of people who disobeyed God, and I have tried not to follow in their footsteps. Yes, there are certain commands in the Bible that I, if I say I believe, should apply to my life. However, following the Bible “as a whole” is really less about following rules and more of an attempt to understand this story of redemption that God is writing.

“Do you just not follow the parts that don’t work in society anymore, and then follow the parts that mean something to you?” 

To answer this question, I need to go over some of the different parts of the Bible. If we’re looking at what is considered the “Old Testament,” we are talking about three parts. The first five books of the Old Testament are what make the Torah – or the law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). These laws were meant for Israelites to follow, most of them were for ceremonial purposes. The laws were there to form a covenant between God and the people through whom He chose to reveal Himself. Some of these laws were only for priests, some of these laws were only for men, some of these laws were only for women – so not even the entire people-group for whom they were written could follow them all. And yes, some of these laws are weird and/or cruel! Even the people to whom they were handed down did not always understand them – but they sought to! Many of the Torah’s laws are expounded on, debated, and discussed at length in the Talmud – an extrabiblical source that helps Jews to make sense of Torah’s rules. Likewise, just because I don’t have a cultural or religious obligation to follow these rules – or because I don’t always understand them – doesn’t mean that I should disregard them. Many of these laws had symbolic meaning that looked forward to the coming of a Jewish Messiah – who I believe to be Jesus Christ. I personally do not believe that one can fully understand the New Testament without an understanding of the Torah, similarly, I don’t believe that the big picture of the Torah can be seen without an understanding of the New Testament. Christians who emphasize too much of one over the other – in my opinion – are missing out. After the Torah, you have the Nevi’im – or the prophets. This is the part of the Old Testament that has all of the fascinating stories and carries a lot of Jewish history (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc). These are mostly stories of the people’s disobedience to God and the resulting consequences and warnings that God gave. In these books are people from whose experiences we can learn, in order to make wise decisions in our own lives. These books also give us good background and historical context. The other part of the Old Testament would be the Ketuvim – or the writings. This is what I would consider the “wisdom” parts of the Old Testament – Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations – and others. These books give advice, philosophical ideas, and insights into the meaning of abstract concepts like life, love, faith, and hardship. Many of them can be read alongside some of the stories of the Bible, because they were written simultaneously. For example, you may read in the book of 1 Kings a story about an incident that happened in King David’s life, and at the same time you can read one of the Psalms that King David wrote while that incident was happening. After the Old Testament, you get into the New Testament. The New Testament is also split up into different sections. You have the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which are all firsthand accounts of Jesus’ life, written by people who knew Jesus. They tell mostly the same stories but from different perspectives. Then you have historical accounts of how the Christian Church began to form (the book of Acts). Then, you’ve got all of these letters – many written by Paul, some by other authors – that were written to instruct the early church on doctrine and conduct (books like Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, the list goes on). Finally you have the book of Revelations, which is a book written by John after he was exiled for his faith to the Island of Patmos. The book of Revelations is the written record of visions that John had while he was on Patmos. In my opinion, the Bible is not meant to be followed as much as it is to be studied, learned, and absorbed. Although you may hear many Christians refer to the Bible as a “manual for life,” most of it contains stories and history, not rules. So, to finally get to an answer to the question, it’s not about following only what works in society or cherry-picking the portions of the Bible that you like, it’s about understanding the whole picture of a story that the Bible is trying to tell – and then making a decision about how you will respond to that story.

“Why [does] the Bible mean so much to people when they disagree with many parts of it?”

I can’t tell you why the Bible means so much to other people – but I can tell you why it means a lot to me. I like that it has real people who make real mistakes and are given second chances. Sometimes, when we hear of “holy” men and women, all we hear about is how perfect they are and how wonderful everything they did was. That’s not real life. No one’s perfect. It’s the reason why people don’t like the Duggars (although I do like them) – they seem too perfect and so it reeks of fake. I like that King David slept with another man’s wife, had that man killed, and then God changed his heart and turned him into a better person. I like that Jonah tried to run away from God, but ultimately ended up doing what God had originally instructed. I like that Thomas doubted Jesus, even after knowing him personally. I like that Peter denied Jesus, even after he’d been best buddies with Jesus for a few years. The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat. It doesn’t make people seem to be anything that they’re not. It doesn’t hide dirty laundry. It lays everything out there for us to see. I also like that the Bible has people who make real mistakes and don’t get second chances. Because, that’s life sometimes, too. Sometimes we screw something up and that’s it. There is no second chance. That doesn’t mean that we can’t find forgiveness or that God won’t help us, but sometimes the consequences of what we do are permanent. I like that I can read the Bible over and over and still find new things to learn and ponder. It’s like a bag that you can keep pulling things out of. I have been reading the Bible for all of my life and there are still things about it that I am discovering. It doesn’t get boring. It keeps me interested. I like that it leaves me with questions. I enjoy being intellectually and philosophically challenged. I don’t like to read something and just take it at face value. There are times when you really have to dig deep to figure out how to reconcile what the Bible says with what the present culture is telling you to believe. There are times when you have to look at science and look at the Bible and figure out how and if the two fit together. That’s good for me. It keeps me from being one-sided and helps me learn to look at things from a variety of different angles. I don’t want to be told what to believe or what to think, I want to discover what I believe and what I think. Studying the Bible really helps to challenge me in that discovery process. I love that the Bible’s wisdom has kept me from making mistakes. There have been times when I was about to do something, remembered what the Bible said about it, didn’t do it, and it literally saved the day. On the flip side, there are times where I’ve ignored the Bible’s advice and then felt stupid for what I’d gotten myself into. Finally, I love that the Bible has helped me to get to know God. God and I are friends. God is not some abstract concept that I struggle to understand, He is someone that I know. For me, the Bible has played a huge part in getting to know Him.

I know this was long.

And I don’t know whether or not this post was at all helpful, but – to my friend who asked these questions – thanks for bringing up such a neat topic that caused so many of your Christian friends to really think about what they believe. We need that in the Christian world, more than you know.

 

 

 

 

Christianity, Religion

Adventures in Rosaries // The Apostles’ Creed

I woke up early on a Wednesday morning in mid-August and went into our living room with a Bible, my cell phone, and a rosary. I had never prayed a rosary before, and found an app the previous night that would show me what to do or say. I felt a little nervous. I felt as though I was imposing on a sacred tradition that was not my own,  thereby disrespecting the place that the Rosary holds in the hearts of actual Catholics for the sake of my own curiosity. I was hoping my husband wouldn’t wake up to go to the bathroom or anything, because he surely would have asked me what I was doing and I know I would have felt awkward explaining it.

I sat down on my couch and, as I am a head-covering Christian, pulled a small scarf over my head. My cat jumped up onto the couch, curling up beside me and I rubbed his ear with my left hand as my right hand pulled up the rosary app on my cell phone. The first step, said the app, was to make the sign of the cross and recite the famous refrain, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” That was easy enough. In all honesty, I’ve made the sign of the cross plenty of times in my life and have never felt uneasy about doing so.

The second step was to say the Apostles’ Creed. I have been familiar with the Apostles’ Creed for a few years, but I grew up in a church that – to the best of my knowledge – never mentioned it. I learned about it through my self-directed study of Christian history in my early and mid twenties, and had not ever heard of it before then. I went to my first mass at twenty-seven years old, and that had been the first time I’d ever heard the Apostles’ Creed (1) recited aloud and (2) recited as a prayer in a church. It certainly isn’t something that I had ever been taught to memorize or had taken the time to memorize. I had to read the words from my cell phone in order to know what to say. As I read, I was reminded of Romans 10:9, which says that “If you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” I thought that the recitation of the creed is probably supposed to serve as a confession to God and before others of your faith in Christ, and also as a reminder to yourself of what you stand for as a Christian. It sets the tone for prayer to Christ by affirming your faith in Christ. 

But the Apostles’ Creed also set the tone for my prayers in another way.

My husband and I have been attending a church whose morning worship has, lately, consisted of a lot of songs about having hope in the Lord. I have also been coming across this theme of hoping in the Lord in my Bible reading. Sometimes the words of these songs and verses of scripture baffle me. I enjoy thinking abstractly when the topic of my thoughts is one that requires no action from me, but I hate abstractions when I am being instructed to do something. In other words, I don’t like being asked to hope in the Lord without being told how to do so. Sometimes it is so hard to have hope when we don’t know the outcome of our personal circumstances. It is even harder to have hope when we are constantly bombarded with all of the tragedies of our lives and the lives of those around us. I am always inwardly asking what it means to put our hope in God. That’s probably another post all together, but my answer came from the Apostles’ Creed.

“He (Jesus) descended into hell. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  It reminded me of when Jesus said “…take heart, for I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Jesus has already overcome the world. Somehow I had forgotten that, and the Apostles’ Creed brought that truth back to my memory. Nothing that could ever happen to me or anyone else is something that has not already been overcome by Christ. He overcame evil. He overcame sorrow. He overcame death. I am not supposed to be hoping that Jesus will somehow fix something later on the the future – it’s already been dealt with! Perhaps this is a terrible analogy, but I liken it to thunder and lightening. We see the lightning long before we hear the thunder, although they are both part of the same event. Jesus is the lightning, way ahead of us – and we are the thunder, struggling to catch up.

I thought about this while I was praying the Rosary and felt grateful that I had come across this. For me, it gives an entirely new meaning to scriptures like, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Ps. 31:24).” I realized that hope is not so much about pleading for a future outcome as it is about knowing that even if the outcome sucks, God is already there and His son has already overcome it.

As I continued to pray through the Rosary, I felt like God was reminding me of things that I had forgotten, and was helping me to see certain parts of the Bible in a different light. Next time, I’ll talk about the Hail Mary and how a non-Catholic accidentally wraps her mind around the idea that someone who is not physically present could hear or pray for her.

What are your insights on having hope in God? What has been your experience with the Apostles’ Creed?

Christianity, General, Religion

Everything Beautiful.

Blogflower

Like most people on the eastern side of this country, I am ready for spring. I wondered last night what Groundhog Phil’s predictions for this year would be, and was kind of disappointed to discover that our furry little friend is predicting another six weeks of winter! (Thankfully, he’s only been right 10 times since 1988 – perhaps he will turn out to be wrong this year!?)

As I outwardly await the spring season, I also feel like I have been inwardly awaiting a season of newness. The most obvious area to which this applies is in the ‘trying to conceive’ journey that my husband and I have been on. But this desire for change also applies to a hoard of other things  – I want to grow intellectually, professionally and academically. I want the time to be more involved in extracurricular and volunteer activities. I want the mental space and freedom to cultivate my spirituality.  I need the energy to continue my pursuit of personal hobbies, such as reading, studying languages, writing, and learning about religions. In general, I have been feeling stagnant despite my best efforts to take the initiative and make changes in my life.

But all is not lost.

As you may know by now, I spend a lot of time reading not only the Bible, but the sacred texts of other religions as well. One of the ways in which I feel that God speaks to me happens when I find themes in two or more of the texts that I am reading. Last week, I posted my thoughts about verse 29 in the Tao Te Ching, and those thoughts have been sandwiched over the past two weeks with verses from the Bible that have stood out to me during my reading time.

Why do you cry aloud – have you no King?” (Micah 4:9)

“Sometimes things are ahead, and sometimes they are behind; Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily; Sometimes there is strength, and sometimes weakness; Sometimes one is up, and sometimes down.” (Tao Te Ching, 29)

“He makes everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

I feel like these past two years have definitely been a time where things are behind, breathing is hard, there has been weakness, and I have been down. But I shouldn’t despair. Perhaps I may have to wait another six weeks for spring to arrive.

But I have a King, and He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Uncategorized

Patience is a m…

Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.

This quote comes from the Buddhist monk, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, in his book ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems.’ I first heard this quote nearly a year ago and have tried to live by it ever since hearing it. And of course, I don’t always succeed. The Buddhist principle of letting go of what we want and accepting what comes is a hard one to follow! I’ve always been a patient person when it comes to others, but never as patient regarding myself. I have prayed to have the type of patience that this quote describes, and it seems that God is giving me an opportunity to cultivate this mindset!

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband and I have been planning a move! We found the perfect place and just when it seemed that everything would go smoothly, we started running into a lot of ‘bumps in the road.’ The first bump had to do with the fact that they suddenly wanted more money than they’d originally asked. We did some negotiating and came up with a number that made everyone happy. During the negotiating time, I was so worried that things wouldn’t work out and we wouldn’t get to move into this place. Our current living circumstances – although I’m grateful for them – are way less than ideal and I have been itching to move for over a year. To get so excited, only to be let down was irritating, to say the least. Especially since I’d already experienced this excitement/let-down only a few weeks earlier when I thought (mistakenly) that I was pregnant.

When we were finally able to confirm that we could move in to this new place, I was happy and excited again. Still, though, I had a feeling that something else would go wrong. And I wasn’t sure if I only felt that way out of caution or because of my sometimes-keen instincts.

I had a dream that my husband would get into a car accident and lose his job as a result. And two weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.

Hopefully, he will find something before moving day (which is in three weeks)!! Just before he lost the job, we had been hearing sermons in church that dealt with not worrying and trusting God – certainly those were messages for us! But this situation is also stretching my patience, my ability to ‘welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises,’ and give up ‘the idea that things should be other than what they are.’

I’ll obviously be sad if we can’t move to this perfect place that we worked so hard to keep. But we have sought God in every decision we’ve made, and so He is guiding us. Perhaps what we think is perfect for us is not actually what He wants us to have. Maybe there’s something better.