Monday, November 23, 2009

Religious Extremism

I recently read Uwem Akpan's book "Say You're One of Them" and it left a permanent ache in my heart, stomach, mind.

I'm processing it, and as i do, it feels like i hold things up to the light and say "What's this?" and magically it goes from something foreign and strange, to something familiar, something, perhaps even a part of me that i've known forever.

In one story, a boy named Jubril is fleeing the religious tension and murders that are happening in his home city of Khamfi. He's Muslim, most of the passengers on the bus are Christian (or animist). The tension is between Christians and Muslims, and he feels that if he can only keep his identity secret until he gets to his father's village, he will be safe. Problem is, he is missing a hand. The passengers are waiting and waiting for the bus driver to get back with black market fuel for their "Luxurious Bus", and meanwhile they are hot, poor, scared, mourning, completely shell shocked.

It's a tightly written story, whose ending comes too quickly. Someone sees his hand, pegs him as a Muslim, and he is taken off the bus and killed.

I am simplifying way too much - but when i read this i thought "What monsters are these who would kill a man for being a different religion? Especially a young boy, already maimed, without parents to protect him?" Actually, every story in this book raises an indignation that anyone would take advantage of children - and as such, i don't recommend moms with little children read this - we are already so sensitive to injustice.

But today i was thinking over that story, and realized this is us. This isn't Africa. No, we don't kill people we disagree with - but here's the tight little truth. In churches, don't we do the same thing to those who make us uncomfortable. We don't maybe spread outright lies about what they believe/do (or maybe we do. I can't say we don't, because i have seen that happen) - but we might make intimations, or "prayer requests" or share "in confidence" (gossip) about someone else, and effectively kill that person in the fellowship.

It's not Africa, it's not Muslims, it's not Christians, it's humanity. Humanity without Jesus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I wanna hold your hand

sunday hike8 (1 of 1)

I used a picture of my little girl in my last post, and looking through them, two more stuck out for me.

We love getting out of the house - it's supposed to be a mild winter here this year, but the pond is frozen over, and snowsuits seem a sensible option when we go out for a hike on a Sunday afternoon...

My little girl was her biggest brother's darling until her baby brother was born, and even then, she was his tiny princess, until her baby sister was born. Now, most days, her big brother who just turned 14 runs after his baby sister who is 20 months old, cooing at her, doing ridiculous things to make her laugh and yelling at me to get the camera whenever she does something adorable.

Naynay watches from the sidelines, and her thumb sneaks unconciously to her mouth. Watching him loving the little baby makes her want his attention all the more, and so often she only gets his attention when she's being naughty.

Sometimes i am like that. I'd rather be yelled at by God than not hear His voice.

I remember praying when i was young "Please talk loud, God"... I was so amazed to find, finally, at 18, that God was interested in me, cared about me, wanted to talk to me, and was willing to teach me...

Some days i get caught up in what's wrong, why does it hurt, why does it feel so bad - and i let go of His hand to sit down and muse out the world's problems.

When i realize what i've done, i need to run up to Him, catch up, and grab for His hand...

And oh, the joy to find myself back where i belong. Back where i long to be.

sunday hike9 (1 of 1)

Annie Dillard quote

i left a comment on a forum, and ever since i keep getting updates on their thoughts - some i just delete, some make me think... On the whole, it is a forum of Christian ladies who are *opposed* to what i have embraced, thinking it slavery, or less than feminist to choose freely to devote oneself to family and being a good mother - on the other hand, it is a forum that shines with *thought* and i am so hungry for that. Even though i would not find them wholly sympathetic to my choices (most likely), i do enjoy the give and take and the thought that goes into some of the posts

One woman posted this quote today that i loved.

"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews." (Annie Dillard)

I love that someone else *gets* what i feel like on Sundays. We skipped church today. I think depression in me turns into paranoia and church is just too painful a place for me to be then. I will go next week...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tithes and Paying for Services Rendered

Here is one thing that eats at me.
Lately we haven't been going to church.
I feel like... well, i have a lot to say about it.
And the title i guess is prodding me to finish my thought.

So here goes.

I feel like maybe it is a sin for the Western world's version of the Body of Christ to be continually building, buying real estate, making comfortable places for their entertainment, when so many of our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world - far more who are far less blessed materially - suffer for lack of clothes, food, medical attention, Bibles, clean water. They need help just to live.

And instead people like James Dobson (who i like! Whose books i have found very helpful and his shows for children are a fun and safe thing to give to my children) - but there are many people who say the same thing... Anyway, people like JD say "When you tithe, give it all to your local church, and if you have anything else, give *that* to other charities".

To me, it reminds me of the Bible verse where Jesus tells the Pharisees that their regulations are making null and void the word of God:

Mark 7

1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a])

5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b] 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

9And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observec]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[c] your own traditions! 10For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,'d]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[d] and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'e]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[e] 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."

And we might say "Well, we *are* taking care of our own when we build big beautiful airtight buildings, nicely heated and comfortable!"... But are we? When Jesus said:

Mark 3

31Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

33"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.

34Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!35Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

As long as there are persecuted Christians, hungry Christians, Christians without a home or clothes or citizenship, as long as our brothers and sisters are hurting and crying out for help - we should feel guilty and ashamed of not helping.

I do.

Now, here is the really bad part.

I also feel guilty for going to church and taking part of the pageant of Western religion (and trust me, it's not a fancy pageant in our little town, but it is opulent compared to most third world nations). I go there and think, "Well, this is the way we do it - someone has to pay the pastor and keep the lights on, and so long as i am *here* taking part - i should be helping with that end of things."

And so we do pay some or all of our tithe to the church for awhile, till our hearts reproach us too loudly, and then we give to places like Voice of the Martyrs, Love146, or other charities that speak too loudly for us to get them out of our minds.

And then feel guilty that if the church goes under, it will be our fault.

Basically, it feels like friendly blackmail. If you aren't flaky, you will not think about those other brothers and sisters. If you pay a steady sum every month to the church, we know you are steadfast in the faith.

I know my heart, my husband knows my heart (poor man!) and God knows my heart.

(in case you're wondering, i handle the money in our family - it's just the way it goes in our house. I would love to not have that burden, but it is one way i can bless my husband, so i do it.)

To be honest, it feels like buying friends. If you support your church, people treat you differently than if you just show up every once in awhile with your passel of children and never put anything in the plate...

James 2

kind of summarizes two points about this dichotomy that i'd like to make - can you spot what i mean?

Favoritism Forbidden
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a] you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, "Do not commit adultery,"b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b] also said, "Do not murder."c]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Faith and Deeds
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is uselessd]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"e]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

I think what's happening is in the absence of any visible way to measure the fruits of the spirit, we end up judging "faith" by "works" - and money donated is a quick shorthand for where your heart is (I agree! Jesus said it!

Matthew 6

21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus talked about money a lot, and i think for good reason. He knows how much we'd like to hold on to it, make plans for it, use it for good but ultimately self serving things. And it's important that we fall into line with His thinking on money.

But is giving it to the local church necessarily the way to follow Jesus' heart for His church? I'm not convinced.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What i like about church:

i love getting together with other people who love God.
I love praying as a group for others.
I love worshipping together with others in music.
I love knowing others enough to be able to help meet needs, and be helped when i need it.
I love other people's desserts
I love mature teenagers for my children to look up to and emulate
i love parents who are done raising their children that i can ask questions of.
i love being able to work together to do more than we could as a family.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Balance of duties...

And here's the place to put it! ARgh.... I wish i weren't so complainy... but this is my blog, and it's about church/Jesus... so here is where it fits.

Thing is, i have grown very disgusted with *men* in general. After hearing stats that said somewhere between 30-50% of *ministers* struggle with pornography *addiction* - i thought, well what about the guys who aren't even Christians? It made me look at them all as animals and base, bestial creatures - and made me even more impressed with my own (impressive in every way) husband.

but now i'm thinking, there's more to this story than meets the eye. Maybe, being a "professional Christian" isn't the greatest job for a man. My boys need to work out all the time. Even the little (pre puberty) boys need to get outside and run and wrestle, and lift heavy objects. Otherwise, they go a little wonky, get emotional, it just doesn't work.

So what of men who are indoors for the most part, not accountable to anyone, expected to sit in their study and read the Bible and pray all day, and occasionally do a funeral (i know, i know, many Godly men do much more than this, and they are probably not the ones having trouble) - i mean, it just seems to me like a recipe for porn surfers. Nothing better to do... temptation... opportunity....

And then it blows up and is one more bruise on the Body of Christ.

But maybe it's just not the way we are meant to live this life.

My husband and I were talking about something that i felt needed to be done for people we know. T is a Godly man, a righteous man, but he is loathe to get into other people's lives, to hear their pain. If he knows there is trouble, and money can help, he will help. If he knows muscles are needed, he will do muscle-y things. But being a friend, listening... those are harder for him. He has me, who needs friends, right?

But thing is, if we all, as individual believers, did the things we think the pastor should do (visit the sick, the bereaved, the hurting, organize missions, organize youth events, impromptu worship evenings, and on and on) - Christians would look different to the world. Our communities would be transformed, just by us living what we say we believe....

Instead we delegate all of our Christian activity to one man - and he is supposed to do all the good things that 500 or so people are "too busy" to do. And we don't have the opportunity to grow that doing hard, but God-called things, gives us. We miss out on growth, service, and relationships.

In short, the pastor should probably have some meaningful work to do, and people should do more of what they want the pastor to do. Balance.