Thursday, April 19, 2012

Brain Worms

Okay, the idea of brain worms is really gross. And they probably exist in nature but I don't want to know. Worms are disgusting, seriously. I hate the idea of them. But I'm titling this post "Brain Worms" because all the time over the past year I keep finding these ideas that are wormed (see?) deep into my mind that I just have accepted as true so not bother to think about again.

One occurred to me randomly in the shower yesterday. I had just gotten back from running, which is a time I do a lot of my deep thinking, so my brain juices were flowing. Suddenly, as I paused to let the conditioner really soak in (my hair has been so rough lately) the thought popped into my head, "Wait. Are all sins the same in the eyes of God?" This is just something I've always believed. I can't remember the first time I heard it and I can't count how many times I've repeated it, but I suddenly realized I have no idea why I should believe that. Where did God say that in the Bible? My 12 years of Christian school leaped into action and my brain began rifling through the Bible. And.... came up with.... nada. Nothing. I could see why some verses might make someone make that leap but none really stated that to God, all sins are equal. And why should they be? Why would it be reasonable, logical or acceptable to think that God looks upon a murderer or someone who has abused a child the same way as he looks upon a kind, generous person who just told a lie for whatever reason? Doesn't really make sense.

This is not to say that I think God's grace can't cover every sin, because I think it can. One of my favorite quotes is, "But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea." (William Langland) I also always loved the part in The Hiding Place where Betsy ten Boom is dying in the concentration camp and says to Corrie that she must tell people that there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still and they will believe her because she had been in such a terrible place. (I'm getting choked up just thinking about it) So yes, I believe that God's love extends to the worst of sinners, no matter how uncomfortable that can make me feel. Let's be honest, some people, like Hitler, you want to say do not deserve grace. But that is God's department, not mine and the Bible seems to say that he is always faithful and just to forgive those who seek forgiveness.

The thing I take issue with is sometimes I feel like we only offer a God who seemingly is less caring and logical than us and can only see in black and white. Like there's a checklist and you're either naughty or nice, one or the other, hell or heaven. And if every sin's the same then no matter how you lived or what challenges you faced or anything else, you better have asked for forgiveness or it's hell for you. We would have higher expectations of any other authority figure. We would expect a just judge to examine the case from every angle. We would demand a parent love their child, treat them with compassion and see the big picture. If I  missed curfew when I was in high school because I just stayed out late with my friends I was busted. Grounded for the weekend. That's that. But if I missed it because I got a flat or something similar my mom isn't going to ground me for the weekend. Both times I broke the rules of the household but my parents would examine how and why I broke that rule before punishing me. I believe God does the same.

Additional Reading on This Topic

World Vision

I don't want this to be taken the wrong way. It was great the way people rose up in anger when they learned about Joseph Kony via a video that went viral. Anything that sheds light on atrocities is good. However, I think this video is just as important. Yes, there are terrible humans like Kony doing terrible things. But, there are also simple things killing children every day. Any readers, and I know we don't get a ton, consider sponsoring a child. It is so easy and it helps so much. If there's something I know I can believe about being a Christian it is that we are supposed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the widow, orphan, poor, prisoner, etc.

It's a quiet thing, to sponsor a child. No fanfare, no travel, no stories of God working in your life (probably)- just a monthly check and some letters (if you're a good sponsor, unlike me). But that child will have everything they need. Food, medicine, school. Just something to think about.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To Church or Not to Church

I was reading this post over at American Jesus in which the author comments about the phenomenon of a high attendance on Easter Sunday that then instantly plummets. He discusses the idea that many people are trying to "pull a fast one over on Jesus" by showing up on Easter but then not making church a priority the rest of the year.

This was something that struck me as a spotty church attender. I think the last time I attended church here was last summer, maybe fall. It's nothing against the church here. I think they do great things and I really enjoy one of the pastors. I still listen to some of his sermons on line. It was just a sense that I didn't feel like I really belonged. I got tired of the people we know there questioning our absence whenever we would come. "We haven't seen you at church for awhile, where have you been?" I know their intentions are good but it's exhausting to feel obligation to go and sit in a room every Sunday. It's supposed to be meaningful but what if it's not?

This year was the first Easter Sunday I didn’t go to church. My husband and I woke up, looked at each other and said, we haven’t been going regularly any other Sunday, it doesn’t feel honest or sincere to go this Sunday so we won’t.

Frankly, our friends and family have made us regret that decision because we’ve gotten so much grief for not attending church on Easter Sunday. No one seemed to be that bothered that we hadn’t gone for the previous 3 months of Sundays but that we didn’t go on Easter Sunday was horrible. Next year we will probably go to church whether we’re attending or not just to avoid the post-Easter fallout. I imagine there are a lot of people like us out there who go on Christmas and Easter to make family members happy, not to try to pull a fast one over on Jesus.

Church and church attendance and the idea that I need that community is something I’m struggling with in my life right now. I have an amazing, supportive, wonderful group of friends, believers and nonbelievers, that challenge and inspire me. Do I need church as well? I spent Easter Sunday praying and thinking over the Great Commission and talking about it with my brother. Would I have gotten more out of my spiritual life that day if I had gone to church?

In my past experience I have found that the church swallows me up and takes over my life to the point that I don’t feel like I am helping a single person in my life who is not a Christian. I’m also anxious about avoiding the propaganda of the Christian culture that often gets presented hand in hand with the gospel. I am wary of trusting a pastor, a fallible human, to tell me something true.

Every Sunday you go to church and you sing some songs and you hear a man (or woman) tell you what they found significant that week. They were struck by a verse or a book they read and now here is your challenge for the week: we should read a Psalm a day, pray for an hour, read this book, make a goal in your spiritual life, find a non-Christian to pray for, ask someone to come with us next Sunday. Every week there's something and it's really easy for me to just try to do my Christian homework each week and let that be my spiritual life. I can hang with the other Christians and we can talk about our struggles sharing our faith or being a submissive wife or having daily quiet times. We'll pray for each other and smile and go about our day. And we'll have real friendships with each other. But what about everyone else?

Maybe this is a personal problem but when I was in college and deeply involved in my church, that was my life. I was a Bible study leader and I had church activities 5-6 days a week. I didn't have other friends. I didn't do other things. I don't really want to regret that because I loved my friends and I loved my time in college. But I think I was very restricted in my understanding of the world around me and of the people I was trying to "save." I don't want to be like that anymore.

I tried to go to church more casually. Attend but not be involved so much. Not be a volunteer or a leader, just go on Sundays. But somehow that feels meaningless to me. And I can't shake that feeling. Sometimes I go and I feel moved and inspired, but most of the time I feel like I'm just fulfilling an obligation. Until I figure out a way to reconcile this I’m not going to go to church out of sense of duty or for that “checklist” of Christianity.

In that post there was the statement, “So, if you don’t want to be a very real part of that community now, you won’t want to be a part of that very real community in heaven for eternity." Do I need to go to church to be a real part of a community? Are only churches real communities? I'm not sure.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Life and Death

Today is a day I always feel melancholy and introspective. As a Virginia Tech alumni, the terrible, tragic events of this day five years ago still shake my heart. Every year I think of how terrified I was while I waited to hear from friends and family on campus. I remember having my first (and I hope only) panic attack at grad school when people talked badly about my town and called me cold-hearted for coming to class, though I had no choice if I wanted to pass. I remember watching TV with my fellow Hokies in LA while we all talked about how much we wanted to go home.

Blacksburg is my home. Born and raised. It's in my blood and I love that place. And I hate that it is tarnished by tragedy but I love that my Hokie family stood strong under the scrutiny and responded with love, courage and poetry (thank you Nikki Giovanni). So I will also spend this day thinking of love, courage and poetry; celebrating life in the face of death and that I believe we are very eternal, mysterious, amazing beings.

Why, then, do we have to be human
and keep running from the fate
we long for?

Oh, not because of such a thing as happiness—
that fleeting gift before loss begins.
Not from curiosity, or to exercise the heart...
But because simply to be here is so much
and because what is here seems to need us,
this vanishing world that concerns us strangely—
us, the most vanishing of all. Once
for each, only once. Once and no more.
And we too: just once. Never again. But
to have lived even once,
to have been of Earth—that cannot be taken from us.
-Ranier Maria Rilke

(Another translation as Rilke wrote in German and I think each translation is very profound)

Why, then have to be human?
Oh, not because happiness exists,
Nor out of curiosity...
But because being here means so much;
Because everything here,
Vanishing so quickly, seems to need us,
And strangely keeps calling to us…
To have been
Here once, completely, even if only once,
To have been at one with the earth -
This is beyond undoing.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Great Commission?

(A couple disclaimers/confessions. I don't really like the idea of short-term evangelism mission trips. I'm not going to get into the reasons though many of them are discussed on Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary's blog (in a few places). I will also say that I went on 3 evangelism short term mission trips in my teens with Teen Mania. By the third I was to the point of feeling disenchanted with the whole idea but I went for other reasons.)

I received a support email from a friend today asking for money to send him to Nepal for a short term mission trip this summer. I found the second paragraph particularly thought-provoking and I turned it over in my head a bit on my run today (when I was not thinking, "Ow.. oww... my legs... oww... must... breathe...")

"The purpose on the trip is to bring people into a personal relationship with Jesus.  THAT is our ultimate focus.  In a land where its people are deeply religious, the battle for the hearts and minds of the people are won by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  It is not because of our own efforts that people accept Jesus as our redeemer, but because of His working in their heart."

When I first read this I was struck by the way he said this because to me it read, "We are going to Nepal to bring people to Jesus. However, only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to Jesus, we can't do it." Interesting. 

In light of today being Easter, I've been reflecting on the idea of Jesus saving mankind from their sins. My facebook feed is full of my Christian friends thanking Jesus for the gift of life and for his sacrifice. While running today I thought to myself, it's true. As humans we search desperately for hope and meaning in life. To believe that the God who created you and the world around you cared enough about your plight to suffer and give you redemption is great news. It's amazing news. It's the best news. You're loved and cherished. 

However, if you think of all the humans on this planet, about 7 billion of us, and according to the most favorable of statistics only 33% of those are Christians, things get sad. Are 66% of humans really hell bound and is it because of us? People claim that with these words Jesus put the responsibility of people's salvation in our hands: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt. 28:19) And is that good news? To take something as important as eternal salvation and place it in the hands of stupid, selfish, awful, deceitful, confused, scared, humans? To call that "The Great Commission"? It's the verse that short term missions clings too- we need to go and tell people about Jesus and save them. We might be their only chance.

But, today I wondered, is it salvation Jesus wanted us to bring to people? Or is it just, as Rob Bell says in Velvet Elvis, that a life knowing Jesus, knowing that you are loved and precious, is the best possible life. That we have found the best possible life to live on this planet and we want to share it? We want to invite people to live a life that (also from Mr. Bell) brings heaven to this earth. Whatever brings love, peace, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is the best life. That's good news.

Salvation is complicated. Eternity and heaven and our final destinations are murky and confusing if you start poking at them. I'm not entirely convinced that Jesus intended for us to try to "save" people and place their salvation as a responsibility on our checklist. 

Those are my disjointed ponderings today. No conclusive thoughts, just some questions and wonderings.