Spirituality · Uncategorized

What difference does it make?

Some time back, someone whom I love and respect whose spiritual views are very different from mine asked me what difference my faith made to me. I gave her an inadequate and inarticulate answer about hope. Once in a while that conversation comes to mind and irritates me. I’m not promising a magical answer here, either, but I want to address a few things that I failed to convey then.

A lot of people claim that God makes their life better without qualifying the statement. Others seem to work really hard to qualify it, pointing to his supernatural influence as the thing that got them a new job, perhaps, or a clean bill of health after an illness. I am not here to disagree with them; I’m not in their shoes. Usually, though, that’s not how I feel about my interactions with the divine.

So, how does my faith enrich my life?

  • The most important thing I can say is that it doesn’t fix my life in the short term. I can’t objectively judge what God has effected in my life because his hand is not always visible to me. So maybe he has made my life easier and better in ways I’m not aware of, but I still struggle to not let depression get the better of me, to motivate myself to do the stuff of daily living, to build relationships and show love. Bad things happen and will continue to happen. But you know that desperate feeling that life is not as it should be? That restless, almost angry stirring that says you should be feeling another way that you try really hard to suppress with worldly distractions? I still have that feeling a lot and still occasionally try to buy or exercise or plan or volunteer my way out of it. But I know that it won’t work. And this is where I find comfort: I believe that I DO know where that feeling comes from and what will ultimately fix it. I will continue to experience it here, but I don’t seek its resolution in the same unhealthy ways I might if I didn’t believe the way I do. I’m also not destroyed when I recognize the futility of those efforts because I already knew they were futile, but I believe that the thing I’m missing IS obtainable after death. Waiting still stinks, though. 🙂
  • This seems off-subject, but to relate the meaning that faith holds for me, I need to address two things about Christianity which often concern people: the biblical assertion that Christ is the only way and the related concept of Hell. I understand why these topics upset people – they absolutely ARE upsetting. My view of faith is dependent on God’s goodness and I don’t believe these apparent hang-ups are obstacles to that goodness. These views likely won’t sway people who don’t already have Christian sympathies and they aren’t unique or revolutionary, but maybe they will be another perspective for someone struggling to reconcile these facets of the religion with their faith. To be clear, though, I may be way off-base. I am not the one who defines goodness, so while I seek truth and have feelings on the matter, I’m no authority.
    • Many of my more conservative friends will passionately disagree with me, but while I believe Christ is the only way, I don’t believe that looks the same to all people. I think it entirely probable that acknowledgment and acceptance of Christ can even happen when the person doesn’t know him by that name. This is not a post-modern or universalist assertion. But I think Christ affects us all individually, quite outside of human religious constructs. I think it is presumptuous to assume that Christ couldn’t reveal himself in a completely different way to someone whose life experience and soul is different from mine. Bottom line: I don’t know, but I do trust God’s goodness.
    • Hell is one of those things that is still largely mysterious to me. I haven’t read anything in the Bible that gives me a solid grasp. What I do believe is that God created humanity and the world we live in. I believe that he cares about that creation and hates what hurts it. I trust that if my soul is so polluted that it would threaten the goodness of his creation, he won’t allow me to continue beyond this life. I also believe that separation from God would be unbearably painful.

Thank you for letting me define the fruits of my faith in a small way. Feel free to weigh in, disagree, agree, whatever floats your boat – as long as you keep it kind. Happy Tuesday!

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Spirituality

1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Another new year. Like most years, scads of possibilities for personal improvement and greater good have surfaced in my brain and, like most years, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities. This is also a time of year that typically ushers in, for me, lower mood and energy. This is not a pity party; I am not powerless to take action against this negativity, but I do feel like many people can relate to these feelings and might appreciate the acknowledgment amidst all the Facebook posts detailing the number of miles their friends have run (even though it’s eight degrees outside) and the new healthy eating plans they’ve implemented. There. Now I’ve acknowledged the crappy feelings and pray that my sympathizers and I can move on to being inspired by other people’s successes instead. 🙂

Before the new year started, my fellow-blogger and inspirational friend, Crystal, suggested that we try an adapted form of the 60/60 Experiment. We aren’t reading Soul Revolution, but we are using the idea to stop once an hour to honor, incorporate, remember God in our lives. After a rough start, I downloaded a customizable timer app that helps me remember, although I’m still not perfectly observant. I find that what happens when that timer sounds is a sort of accountability exercise. Because I get caught up in daily life and I’m not expecting to communicate with God at those moments, I wind up examining whether whatever is happening in my head or whatever action I might be taking is good and pleasing to Him. It’s been valuable and interesting. I’m planning to maintain this practice for the foreseeable future.

Now for the worst part. I decided to couple this experiment with a resolution to stop looking at my Facebook feed 1,800 times a day. I am not commenting on the evils or merits of Facebook, but for me, it was turning into a bad habit. I prayed about it and told God my intention to check it only once a day. I failed to honor my commitment. I am ashamed of my lack of discipline. This sin is not limited to this single, self-imposed thing. I struggle with laziness. While it might not appear that way to those who know me, I know myself well enough to make that assertion with no hesitation. Therefore, my “resolution” is to avoid idleness. I will continue to value R&R, but I have been lazy even in that, failing to take from it rejuvenation and joy. To my intention stated here, I add prayers for forgiveness and guidance.

Happy January, folks!

Spirituality

Words Fail Me

I talk… a lot. So much, in fact, that I get tired of hearing my own voice; even in my head. In that rare quiet moment – when I’m not praising, scolding, cajoling, singing to or explaining something to my three-year-old, she is downright confused. “Mommy,” she’ll say, “Why are you not talking?” So when Crystal suggested that we blog on the nature of words, I was game. It’s a subject I think about frequently, but never with very much direction.

I have a difficult time separating my thoughts and feelings from the words I use to express them; but I know they are separate because I often find that the words don’t accurately represent my thoughts and feelings.

I love words. I love to write and read and speak. Sometimes, though, I wonder if there isn’t a better way. They can make us so lazy! Babies can’t speak, but parents know to hold them tightly when they cry, to soothe, feed, change. We become attuned to those needs. But I miss (or ignore) those cues in my adult interactions. I might know something is bothering my husband, but if he says nothing is wrong, I leave it alone. I don’t attend to him as I should.

And of course, while words can build people up, show our hearts and be wonderful tools, they can also get us into loads of trouble. We don’t have great impulse control, we humans. The Bible is full of admonitions against idle or evil talk. James 3:1-12 is quite a passionate disparagement of such talk. And Romans 8:26: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words…” (Forgive me if I overuse this verse. It always speaks to me. So to speak. :))

But another story also came to mind. Genesis 11 gives us the confusing account of the Tower of Babel, wherein God recognizes that the people have united and are creating incredible things.

Genesis 11:6-8: And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Huh. Seems awfully anti-progress. I don’t believe that God fears any threat from us, or even that we can pose a threat (other than perhaps grieving or angering him), so was He in fact protecting people from the detrimental actions they might take? Was it to keep us from hurting ourselves? How many scifi movies are there about very, very smart people making decisions that are ethically questionable or just downright scary? God’s unwillingness for Adam and Eve to know and understand certain things seems like it might stem from a similar concern. I know this isn’t exactly the same thing, but I wonder if our inability to communicate effectively with language could make us a lesser threat to ourselves. It seems counterintuitive that good communication could be a bad thing, but it is an interesting idea to explore. I know that I want the Spirit to continue to “intercede” for me. I never want be so cocky about my skill and sufficiency and mental clarity that I no longer seek His help.

Even if our confused brains and words are somehow a good thing, I don’t think incorporating a little more silence would cancel out any of that positivity :). In fact, I think it could augment it, giving us greater opportunity to notice His presence and seek His will.

Sigh. I’ve just reread this, and I’m arguing my own points. Ah, well. What do you think?

Uncategorized

Revelation: How many of us really want the truth?

I really wanted to tackle Revelation like a hard-hitting journalist. I was going to dig in and get specific. And then I got intimidated, so now I’m going to intimate more like Oprah. I tried to be witty, there, but I’m not making an excuse for my laziness. Anyway, here goes…

I’ve had dreams before that leave a sort of… halo, for lack of a better word, for hours. They might have been disturbing or just too strange to comprehend. Knowing how a brief, vague dream can affect me, I can only imagine how John’s revelation must have made him feel. I’m not sure my sanity could stand up to such a vision. Revelation always frightened me. It’s gory. It’s violent. It’s weird. And I can also sympathize with the skeptics, here. Be honest – what would you make of someone saying these kinds of things today? If Revelation doesn’t frighten you, it’s maybe because you don’t take it seriously or literally or because you’ve learned to read it without emotion. I’m all for objectivity, but I think it can lead to a disconnectedness sometimes. I know I use this coping mechanism and occasionally find myself disturbingly unmoved by… well… something moving.

Anyway, here’s the thing about fear: I’d rather know what I have to fear than have some abstract, dark shadow looming overhead. one of the messages I hear in this book is that while it is true that some of us will live painful lives and die painful deaths, the circumstances of this life will only have power over our next if we let them. Maybe that sounds like that disconnected coping I was talking about earlier, but I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s suffering. In a bad moment, maybe that promise doesn’t feel like comfort. How many of us can really look past this current life to find the comfort promised in the next? I hope I can when I’m facing something terrible. Revelation does end in a beautiful and comforting way, but it’s pretty hard to see past all the long-term pain and suffering and oppression. Still, we live with all of those things now. I’m not sure we’ll recognize these prophecies when we see them. I’m not even going to guess about how they might appear to us. What I don’t doubt is the intensity and importance of Revelation’s call to live righteously. Whether I understand or can reconcile these things and no matter what my fate, I believe that I should live as lovingly, honestly, faithfully as possible.

All that being said, there are some things I struggle with in Revelation. I can accept the truly awful things written about the world, the fantastic, odd things that will come to pass, but some of the things that it seems to say about God are harder for me to accept.  “…the great wine press of the wrath of God…” (Revelation 16:19) sounds horrifying. Is all that blood really necessary? Also, in 21:15 we’re told that Christ will rule with a “rod of iron.” My discomfort on this one stems, I suspect, from my feeling that people should not hold that kind of power… that it’s corrupting. But of course, we’re not talking about human nature here. I think it challenges our trust. How willing are we to be ruled? It also challenges us to reconcile obedience and freedom.

Oh, dear, no one is going to be able to follow this wandering-brain post. Ah, well. Read Crystal’s most recent post, instead. It is as cohesive as mine isn’t and very challenging. 😊

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Prophets Project – Isaiah 49-60

So often when I read my Bible the verses that speak to me are those that I find beautiful… and I’m terribly picky. I eat up melancholy poetry and evocative words of comfort. Poetry is not lacking in Isaiah, it just hasn’t been (generally) the kind that really affects me. These chapters were different, though. Each was a feast, and not for the usual reasons. It wasn’t so much the lyrical promises, but this sort of general-to-the-troops call for strength that stood out. You know, when the strong leader rides out on his white horse and shouts confident words of encouragement to his down-trodden, terrified soldiers preparing for war. And I needed that. I’ve been feeling a little weary lately, so it was good to be reminded that our spirits, while often burdened, are also robust, vibrant and strong. We have battles to fight, but ours is the side of light and ultimate victory. I’m not a very physically expressive person, but I almost felt like pumping my fist. 🙂 Just a few favorites from my reading:

Isaiah 50:7: “For the Lord God helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set my face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Man, I love the word “flint.”) 

Isaiah 51:1: “…Look to the rock from which you were hewn and the quarry from which you were dug.”

51:9: “Awake, Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord…”

51:17: “Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; the chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.”

And a couple of the beautiful, lyrical ones, too:

Isaiah 55:12: “For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

58:10: “And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.”

I hope you can find encouragement and renewal today as well. These chapters are full of thought-provoking themes, too, so don’t pass them over! Happy reading.

PS- Don’t forget to check out Crystal’s thoughts on these same chapters at www.treasurecontained.com if you’re following our project. 🙂

 

Spirituality · Uncategorized

Faith and Religion – Subjectivity and Validity

I love to think about and study my religion. I don’t do it in a terribly deep way, but I also love the idea of making that study an academic pursuit; approaching it in a way that is objective, even scientific. Growing my knowledge and improving my critical thinking skills are ever-present goals (not that I’m always working very hard at them). But I keep coming face to face with the inherent subjectivity of the thing, and it frustrates me. Our personal experiences shape our faith. They affect our mental pictures and interpretations of scripture. I think there is both beauty and relevance… and a certain danger in that. Our culture expounds upon the truths we find in scripture until we can’t seem to separate biblical teaching from societal wisdom. But really, what philosophy, what science isn’t subject to these challenges? Doctors, scientists, even mechanics practice their professions according to different schools of thought. Just because people hold different opinions about religion doesn't invalidate it. If anything, it makes it all the more important, because some things are true. Some things are right and real. I’d venture to say it’s much easier to learn answers to questions if we actually ask them. Seems to me, putting our minds to the task of discerning those true and right and real things should be a priority for all of us.

Prophets Project · Spirituality

Prophets Project – Isaiah 37-48

On this New Years Day, as I consider plans for the year ahead and make decisions for myself and my family, I find myself reflecting on and in awe of God’s… bigness. And littleness. This post, then, is an attempt to put those reflections into words. It wanders a bit. I’d apologize, but that’s just the way I roll. 🙂

I wonder at the long-range plan of God. It seems incredible to me that while he understands and manipulates the long-term, he also reveals himself to individuals in very immediate ways.  Hezekiah’s deliverance from Assyria and his miraculous healing (Isaiah 37:6-7  and 38: 1-6) remind me of God’s personal interest, his willingness to show himself to us. Maybe these particular acts had more impact later, as a part of the prophet’s story, but they certainly were meaningful for Hezekiah, too.

And then I read Isaiah 40:22, which paints a picture of humanity as insects beneath an all-powerful God. Our individuality is almost… demeaned in this verse. Sort of the same way I feel when we read about God dealing with “nations” as though all the people in them are the same. It feels like God has a corporate mentality now instead of small and family-owned. Now, that might not be quite fair; I think the Bible is clear that we are God’s beloved creation and the drivel I read into things sometimes would probably be better left unsaid. It does seem, though, like we walk a bit of a tightrope in the ego department. Take Isaiah 45:9-10. We’re reminded of our place. Who are we to assume we understand what God is doing? Creation does not equal Creator.

While I was struggling to reconcile what seem like two separate sides of God’s character (the intimate and the CEO), I realized that they aren’t separate at all. I mean, to be able to act in the best interest of both future generations and the current population all at once speaks simply to his love and crazy awesome power. Chapter 48:3-5 brought this home for me. Reading this book, I frequently wonder what the people of Isaiah’s time made of his prophecies; maybe I even harbor the occasional suspicion that they had more to do with future events and people than with Isaiah’s own; and then I get this awesome reminder that those people, too, had seen old prophecies come to fruition. God does things for us here and now, but those same things might be carefully planned to impact the future, as well. The scope and magnitude of God’s action… breathtaking. Trying to imagine the ripple effect of the actions of earth’s millions of people over thousands of years never fails to astound me and, quite frankly, make me sweat. When I consider the potential outcomes of even a small personal decision, I might feel quite paralyzed.

How must the view be from the top?

Happy New Year, all! And one parting holiday/food/theology thought: How can one deny the existence of God when faced with the miracle of whipped cream? 🙂