The Walt Disney World of American Christianity

Do you remember What Would Jesus Do?

It was a pop culture phenomenon in the 1990s, still limping along today, that prompted Christians to question their every action and thought, with the goal of aligning it to Christ’s message. And because it — like many “Christian” movements — was market driven, Christians were encouraged to buy bracelets with WWJD on them.

cows ruminating in country rural field watercolor steve henderson

It’s a sad reflection that, sometimes, cows spend more time ruminating than humans do. Rumination by Steve Henderson, available at SteveHendersonCollections.

Apparently, the idea was not only to remind Christians of the message, since it’s incredibly difficult to remember four words in succession — What. Would. Jesus. Do? — but also to tease and tantalize outsiders (these are non-church attending people, by the way) into asking, “Say . . . what does that WWJD on your bracelet mean?”

Like most fads and Walt Disney movies, it crested and waned, and even enjoyed — as do the ubiquitous Disney princesses — being plastered across t-shirts and over an endless array of products. But, just like the movies, it carried too little substance to make a meaningful difference in the way that people act and think. (Positive impact, that is. Christian pop products, similar to their fairy tale counterparts, prompt confusion between fantasy and reality, to the point that pretty ditties like, “When you wish upon a star . . . Makes no difference who you are . . .  Anything your heart desires will come to you . . . ” take on the nature of prayer.)

Not a Bad Question

The sad part about What Would Jesus Do? is that it’s asking a valid question, one that bears reflection far beyond finger waggling at the dieter breaking their resolve with an Oreo cookie and chiding, “What would Jesus do00000000000?”

As children of our Father, with Jesus as our Elder Brother — the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29) — to lead by example, we benefit greatly by truly asking, throughout the day, “How would Jesus act, or react, in a situation like this?” whether that situation is an encounter with our eminently unreasonable boss, some absolute idiot cutting us off in traffic, or being dumped, via text message, by the jerk who isn’t worth all the thoughts we spend on them.

Curiosity little girl in hat toddler charcoal drawing by Steve Henderson

Children ask questions, and adults can learn from this habit. “What would Jesus do?” honestly asked without condemnation, is a good question. Curiosity, original charcoal by Steve Henderson

The point is, the situations are real, living situations, and if Jesus is to be a real, living factor in our lives, then He needs to enter into them. And one way He enters into them is by joining us as we go about our business.

Dallas Willard, in his excellent book, The Divine Conspiracy, described the situation like this:

“If he (Jesus) were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles.

“In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surroundings, and time.”1

Words such as these prompt thought, but then again, unlike the acronyms or one liners assaulting us on social media, Superbowl ads, and sermons from the pulp, thoughtfully written words don’t fit on a bracelet, bumper sticker, or Tweet. Digesting them takes time and effort, and putting into practice concepts we learn requires a lifetime, one which we will more successfully live — from a meaningful standpoint — when we don’t allow our relationship with God to be reduced to purchasing a product, repeating a mantra (“It’s a God thing . . . ya know?”), or following a movement.

Jesus is, after all, real.

1(Willard, Dallas (1998) The Divine Conspiracy. San Francisco, CA. Harper Collins Publishers) P. 14

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes.

Posts complementing this one are

Got Jesus? Nope.

The Lost Christians of America

Is Jesus the (American) Way, Truth, and Life?

 

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Posted in america, Christian, Culture, Faith, Family, God, home, Life, Lifestyle, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

To All the Discouraged Mommy Bloggers

Years ago, in the efforts to “grow” my blog, I participated in blog carnivals. These involve a host site setting up a single page where other bloggers leave a link to one of their articles, with the idea that the many visitors to the carnival will see it and click.

Afternoon reading book young woman black and white charcoal drawing Steve Henderson

We all want people to read what we write. Afternoon with a Book, framed art by Steve Henderson at Steve Henderson Collections

Theoretically, it’s a way to drive traffic to one’s own site, since the carnivals are supposed to attract actual readers — as opposed to other bloggers — like flies. Hosts tried to counteract the natural outcome of desperate bloggers dropping links and running by encouraging — or demanding — participants to read another person’s blog and comment on it, and/or follow the host to increase her own numbers. It is one of many schemes propounded by social media “Influencers,” many of whom find success — both in readership and finances — by selling their wisdom through webinars, seminars, books, online or in person classes, and “consulting.”

“Build that brand!” they command, so successfully that few stop to ask, “What is your brand, by the way, other than that you sell others ‘secrets’ to building theirs?”

But few do ask, and in homes throughout the world, moms with young and/or multiple children snatch precious hours — late at night, when the kids are asleep; early in the morning, before they’re awake; during naps; and any other time that would otherwise be classified as free — to

  • Create quality content!
  • Connect with followers on social media!
  • Maintain a regular and consistent posting schedule!
  • Build relationships with readers! (All six of them. Thanks, Mom.)
  • Build that brand by commenting on other people’s posts, joining forums and online groups, and oh, don’t forget the most important one: promoting the blogs of other people, especially the Influencers, so that they, in turn will promote the blogs of their followers! (Does anyone seriously believe this? Apparently so.)
  • Write an ebook, and sell it! (This is sort of like, “Create quality content, and market it!”)
  • Set up streams of income on the blog so the money starts rolling in, as the viewers exponentially multiply!
  • Join with other blogs and create a group effort — and watch that blog GROW!
dandelions spring little girl mother child green grass flowers Steve Henderson impressionism representational

If we do not watch it, this is what we could be, but are not doing, because we are spending all of our time in front of the computer, working on our blog. Dandelions, custom framed art print at Steve Henderson Collections

For a very small percentage, this stuff works — at least in building numbers — and they join the ranks of Influencers to create Successful Blog consulting options of their own, but numbers are funny things. They — like the Influencers — don’t necessarily tell the full, unadulterated, honest truth (something that one does tend to look for in, most especially, a person who calls herself a Christian).  In looking through various Christian Mommy Blogs to see if we wanted to advertise in them for our business, Steve Henderson Collections, I was struck by the numbers they put out in the effort to draw me in:

“Christian Mommy Go-Go Blog is one of the fastest growing brands on the Internet, boasting 500,000 monthly views, of which 350,000 are unique visitors,” is typical of what I read. “We have 85,000 Twitter Followers, 250,000 Facebook Fans, and 20,000 Email subscribers. Advertise with us!”

mom child daughter ocean surf fabric teaching steve henderson impressionism

Parents are the best teachers of their children, and the first and foremost concern of every mom, mommy blogger, or Christian mommy blogger, is that very personal audience in our home. Into the Surf, custom framed art print at Steve Henderson Collections

Wow. My blog is such a failure.

Burrowing further in, I was struck by two things:

  1. I didn’t notice the advertising, either because there was so much of it or because it was buried in odd places, and
  2. The various posts, most of which didn’t hit me in the face as compelling, quality, well-written content, had few, if any, social media shares. Those that did were on the host’s blog carnival site, or linked to it. (There are exceptions. I am continuously amazed at the popularity of the “Titus 2 Mom” message, used to browbeat women into 18th century submission to their husbands.)

But obviously these people were successful — because they had numbers — and, carrying this to its natural conclusion from the teachings of American Christianity, they also enjoyed the blessings of God, who drove those numbers.

If you are one of the many, many Christian Mommy Bloggers who do not have these numbers — despite following all the bullet points above to the point that you spend more time at the keyboard than you ever did nursing your children — then there can be, within American Christianity (which we’ve exported around the world), only two reasons for this:

  1. You’re not working hard, and smart, enough, and
  2. You don’t have the blessing of God. Your blog, in order to be the ministry that it should be (been pressured by that one yet?), needs to reach lots of people and bring in income to your family. (Let’s be honest. Money, if we don’t watch it, is the driving force behind why we do things. This, also, is one of the major teachings of American Christianity.)

Before you believe 1 and 2, please stop.

follow me Jesus beach footprints ocean inspirational impressionism Steve Henderson painting

In anything and everything we do, this is sound advice. Exposé, custom framed art print at Steve Henderson Collections

Yes, your blog can be a ministry, in the sense that it touches someone who needs, deeply, your hard earned wisdom. Mine does this now and then, and it’s why I write — to counteract the corporate message of American Christianity that makes up the “teachings” propounded to church believers.

I don’t get a lot of viewers, but I treasure the ones who do stumble in, taking time to comment, “I’ve felt this way for a long time, but you put it into words. I thought that I was the problem!”

No, you’re not the problem — whether you’re a dissatisfied member of the pew-sitting populace who thinks that Christianity should consist of more than leadership meetings and Saturday church work days, or whether you’re a busy mom who has some funny, poignant stories to tell; or great recipes that are fast and easy to make; or thoughts on God and His love, beauty and guidance — and you can’t get a lot of people to discover what you have to say.

If it’s burning in you to write, then keep doing so and posting — but because the most important people you’re serving live with you and need face to face time, forget about the pressurized posting schedule, equating efficiency with godliness — and drop the idea that numbers equate intelligence and acumen on your part, or a sign that God approves of what you do.

Children grow up fast, and time is not something we can recapture. Be the true Influencer that you are, right now, by focusing, first, on the members of your household, family, and friends: stop what you’re doing and look at people when they speak, listen with your heart to their words; and invest your time in growing the love that exists among you.

This is success, and it has nothing to do with numbers.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. I used to post on an insane schedule and hover over my stats, waiting for the numbers to confirm what I knew in my heart: I write worthwhile content that has meaning and purpose to it.

If this describes you, then don’t despair when your results don’t match what the Influencers say they should be. Who, after all, is the One who should influence us most?

Posted in blogging, Christian, Culture, Current Events, Encouragement, Faith, Family, God, home, inspirational, Life, Lifestyle, Motherhood, Parenting, Social Media, success | Tagged , , , | 28 Comments

Blessed Are the Rejects

Maybe it’s because we live in the country and don’t have a proper lawn, but I really like dandelions.

Dandelions original painting impressionism girl and mother in green field of flowers in spring

People with the minds and hearts of children see and understand with a wisdom denied to the canny and clever. Dandelions, by Steve Henderson

To most (urban/suburban) people focused on keeping that living carpet pristinely green, dandelions are a scourge, a pest, an abomination that need to be trampled upon, plucked out, and sprayed at all costs. And while the hostility is understandable, it’s also a bit sad when we consider we’re talking about a bright yellow flower that covers the hillside in spring with its blooms.

As a bonus, the flowers turn into white puffy rounds that many of us remember, as children, blowing into, oftentimes while making a wish.

Such is the difference between the thought process of an adult and that of a child, and while there are many advantages to thinking like an adult, we do it at our peril when we totally forget how to think like a child.

Jesus understood this, which is why he repeatedly urged us to look at children and emulate them — not the immaturity, not the lack of knowledge, not the naivete (all aspects, incidentally, which are abundantly found in people claiming to be adults) — but the sense of wonder, the humility, the acceptance of not being powerful and influential, and the ability to appreciate and enjoy the world around us for the simple reason that it is beautiful.

Light of Zion woman in red fabric walking through canyon impressionism representational painting steve henderson

Life is a gift, to be wisely used. The best way is to ask the Giver for guidance. Light of Zion by Steve Henderson

Dandelions are beautiful. In a rural meadow, blanketed with golden sunshine on the ground, dandelions shout with joy and invite us to sing along. It is only when they pop up in our perfectly groomed yards that we attack and kill.

In the world of flowers, dandelions are the rejects, never to be seen at shows or flower shops, although some people are willing to eat them.

But like most rejects, they are misunderstood, especially when they are in the wrong place, and if dandelions were as capable of thinking as they are of reproducing, they would feel very bad about themselves indeed.

We, however, are capable of thinking. And those of us who are followers of Christ in a world that worships power, money, cunning, manipulation, and control, get the idea that we wind up looking like dandelions on a suburban lawn — something to be dismissed, derided, rejected, and treated with contempt. We don’t fit into the suburban theme, and because we so supremely don’t fit, we begin to wonder if we are missing it all somehow because we’re . . . ugly flowers.

Surely, we muse, there must be some way to be believers in Christ and still manage to meld into the world’s mold of success and acceptance?

But we already know the answer to that — Jesus told his listeners in Matthew 6:24,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

He wasn’t telling us not earn a living. He was, however, making the distinction between working to live and living to work, a distinction that is blurred beyond recognition in our own day, our own world. Too many Christians try to blend two very polarized ways of looking at things, with the result that we’re not very good at functioning with either one of them.

As long as our goal, our world, our place of living is the suburban lawn, we will feel like rejects and outcasts — which we are, in the world of suburban lawns.

But if we recognize that our home, our real home, is the meadow, the field, the wild expanse of nature’s great outdoors, and that children gravitate toward our happy yellow color, and that these children understand the sheer wonder and beauty of a field of dandelions, then we will stand up straight in the breeze, calling to the world to glory in the beauty and wonder of our Maker.

We make our living by writing and creating art, two very dandelion-like professions that are not cool, savvy, or sharp. But without art, our homes, offices, and lives are dreary places filled with technical toys and worries about finances.

Beautiful art gives us a glimpse of the fields of dandelions, and reminds us that suburban lawns are not mandatory.

Find affordable prints, home decor (throw pillows, towels, duvet covers), personal items (tote bags, phone cases, coffee mugs), and greeting cards at Steve’s collection at Fine Art America. Click on the image to the left to see the Dandelions page.

Posted in children, Christian, Culture, Daily Life, Encouragement, Faith, Family, fine art, God, home, inspirational, Life, Lifestyle, spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Saying Grace in Public Places

The other day I ran across a Precious Moments/Norman Rockwell style meme of a little boy — looked like some child in the 1950s — with his hands folded and head bowed, saying grace in a government school lunchroom.

In the background, snickering children laughed and pointed.

Afternoon Tea mother and child in meadow on sunny day oil painting by Steve Henderson

In saying thank you to our Father in heaven. we can learn from the actions and attitudes of children, who do not worry about their public persona. Afternoon Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

The saying was forgettable, which is why I don’t remember it exactly, but went along the predictable lines of,

“I will stand up for the Lord regardless of what people around me think.”

Now actually, this concept is not a bad one at all, especially when one considers standing up for the Lord in light of befriending the awkward person who is embarrassing to be around, or forgiving someone’s thoughtless comment about how we look that day, or not making a judgment about the food the person ahead of us in line — obviously on public assistance — is buying, or giving $20 to one who asks for it without worrying if we’ll ever get paid back, or refusing to add our opinion about So and So’s family situation to the office water cooler or back-of-the-church coffee chat fest.

These are tangible, unromantic, far-from-glamorous ways of honoring our Lord by imitating Him in His own actions. They take five seconds to do, and generally do not engender any sense of pride or puffiness in our soul that cause us to say to ourselves,

“As for me and my house, I will serve the Lord!”

Saying grace in public places, however, is a dicey situation, and rare is the person who can do it without thinking to himself,

“Everybody’s watching me. I’m going to pretend that they’re not, because I’m so absorbed in relating to my dear, Sweet Jesus,”

or

“I feel awkward, but if I’m afraid to show thanks to God in public, then I’m ashamed of Him,”

or

“I am a living testament to my Lord, and people around me will be inspired by my actions! (If they’re not, then they’re wretched sinners who do not have His Spirit).”

white blooms flower roses shabby chic oil painting Steve HendersonAll of these thoughts, which are extremely understandable, are evidence that something is not quite right in our actions, and it’s highly likely that saying “Thank You” is not the foremost motivation behind our public prayer.

But why should this matter? some ask, insisting that the outward action witnesses to those around us, bearing rich, rich fruit.

But does it?

When it comes to living our Christianity and loving our Lord, the motivation behind our actions matters, a lot. This is one reason why Jesus says in Matthew 7:21,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

With apologies for Scripture jumping, the immediate thought that comes to my mind when I see someone in a restaurant with head bowed and eyes closed, or, if they’re in a group, clasping hands with heads bowed and eyes closed, is,

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

It is eminently possible to pray in public without anyone around us being aware, and indeed, the more we talk to God throughout the day — asking Him for insight, clapping the hands of our heart with joy over the beauty of a sunset, admitting that we’re impatient and inclined to be snappy, observing the actions of a toddler and remembering Christ’s words about children — the more normal it becomes. How easy, then, to look with our eyes into His and say,

“Thank you for this meal. I’m hungry, and it smells delicious. You take such good care of me.” Even if we had to briefly close our eyes, we could do so without drawing attention to ourselves and, more importantly, would genuinely fulfill what we say is our intention, thanking God.

If we’re concerned about showing God’s love and grace to those around us (and this is a great thing to be concerned about), maybe we could do so by treating the wait staff as social equals, leaving a good tip (consider leaving something as well for the people in back who did the cooking and wash the dishes), listening — truly listening — to the people in our group, smiling kindly to the woman with the crying child, and not grumbling about the guy in back who laughs too loud and sounds like a donkey.

Of course, none of these actions will overtly alert those around us to our status as Christian, but that’s probably a good thing. While showing off our piety is a poor way of drawing others to the unconditional love of our Father in heaven, living that unconditional love is a much more attractive — and effective — way of getting the message across.

Social media buttons for sharing this article are at the bottom. If the words in this essay resonated with you, please consider sharing. (That sounds really self-serving, doesn’t it? I ask, however, because in my search for truth, real truth, I found few people talking about the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about.)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

The Lost Christians of America

It’s Okay to Do Nothing for God

Attack and Kill Style Christianity

The artwork on my site is by my husband, fine artist Steve Henderson, who creates images of beauty and hope. View his original paintings and commissioned work on his website, SteveHendersonFineArt.com, as well as find prints of his work at the online retailers below:

         

 

Posted in Faith, Family, God, home, inspirational, Life, Lifestyle, prayer, spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Who Cares Who You Voted for — Whom Do You Love?

The peculiar thing about living in a mass media culture is that we feel as if we know people we actually know nothing about, like Don, or Hillary, Barack, George Jr. and his good old dad, Ron, Bill, Beyonce, Oprah, Kim, Miley — the names are endless because so are the celebrities.

Beachside Diversions woman and child on ocean beach with nostalgia hat by Steve Henderson

People matter, and there are plenty of real ones with whom we personally interact each day. Why not focus on them? Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints available at various retailers

On the quasi-Christian front there’s Billy, Frank, James, Tim, Joel, John, Joyce, Beth, although we might want to plop Pastor (or Doctor) in front to designate the spiritual and material separation between them and us (except for the women! No woman should be a pastor, right? Jesus said that somewhere, this we know, although it’s difficult finding where He used the term pastor in the first place . . . )

We have friends, on opposite ends of the political spectrum, who vehemently defend the words, lives, and actions of their particular political idol, and in order to maintain a relationship with them (we’ve never had the two in the same room, and suspect this to be a very bad idea indeed), stay off hot topics, like current events, politics, education, food, religion, technology, science, medicine, patriotism, foreign policy, finance, and anything to do with human relationships. It’s wise to block their Facebook posts.

So enamored are they of the person they address by one name, first or last, that their loyalty to a face on the screen exceeds what they grant to a friend, or family member — these latter someone they know well enough to get genuinely irritated with, because at some point during the day, we’ll mess up and do something to offend. But their idol — whom they know only through what they’re told by Bill or Glenn or Arianna or Thom — is perfect, and when he or she isn’t, well, what are friends for but to understand and forgive one another?

Somehow, I don’t think this is what Jesus meant when He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and in synthesizing the entire law and prophets into two statements, He simplified something that we insist upon keeping complicated.

The Harvesters two children picking grapes on a sunny autumn day by Steve Henderson

We can learn much from children, who tend to gravitate toward the things that matter. That is, until we teach them otherwise. The Harvesters, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

We are to love one another.

Now before we jump to extending our feelings, emotions, loyalty, and sometimes money, to people we’ve never met and certainly wouldn’t be invited to eat (National Prayer) breakfast with, it might be good to look around us and see if there are any humans nearby whom we actually know: parents, children, and siblings come immediately to mind, and because they are so immediately at hand, we frequently discount their importance.

“Oh, I see them everyday,” we shrug. “It’s not like they’re important or anything; they’re just . . . family.”

Yes, they are just family, and if and when the wrenching day comes that they die and are no longer in our lives, nobody will be putting a flag at half-mast for them, because in the world’s eyes, they don’t really matter. But in our eyes, can we think of a single half-mast-flag-worthy personage who has left that depth of impact upon us? Media, religious, and political celebrities are names, personalities, flat, two-dimensional images whose essence is defined for us by newspapers, magazines, movies, talk-show commentary, videos, agents, speech writers, marketing managers, social media, and history books.

So why do we accord them so much of our love?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus told His disciples — His very close friends — in John 13:35.  A few verses earlier, in 13:15, He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

He listened to them, He bore their shortcomings, He patiently taught, He loved them to the end (John 13:1). He knew them, because He spent time with them, and He addressed them by name.

These are actions we automatically take with the loved ones in our lives, because our commitment to each other transcends (or should transcend) our differences, foibles,  failures, and flops. Only when we are given really bad advice — like parenting tips from “experts,” or relationship instructions dictated by gurus who misapply Bible verses or commonsense — do we close our hearts, push away, and reject, actions we find acceptable because, for many Christians who listen to two-dimensional religious, political, and media celebrities, this is how God works.

But Jesus showed us how God works: He loves us, and wants us to do the same.

What better way to learn what love looks and feels like, than to practice on the people immediately around us?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Setting the Right Goals

Do You Suspect That You Don’t Matter?

Why Your Life on this Planet Means Something

 

 

 

Posted in celebrities, children, Christian, Culture, Current Events, Daily Life, Faith, Family, God, home, Life, Lifestyle, Politics, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Feel Like a Loser? You’re on Facebook Too Much

Frequently, we joke about things that actually matter to us. Perhaps this is because we are insecure with our ability to make sound judgment, based upon our intellect, acumen, and instinct. After all, we are trained from the cradle — at school, at work, at church, in the movies, on the news — to trust and accept the pronouncements of our experts, leaders, pastors, teachers, and guides.

Floral texture original oil painting, shabby chic daffodils in a glass by Steve Henderson

Our lives are fragile, delicate things, safe only in the hands of our Father who created us. Floral Texture, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

But an ability to reason and think is not dependent upon one’s social status, family name, or aptitude in raping profits from the masses, and when something doesn’t seem right to us, we are wise to listen to ourselves, even if no one else does.

One of the things we collectively joke about is our reaction to Facebook and other social media that put the lives of others — in all perfection, glory, and accomplished excellence — before us. If we’re not in a relationship, we feel bad because everyone else is. If we’ve got a job, it’s never as fulfilling as that of our “friends.” Even our children, or our pets, are the wrong shape, form, or personality type.

“My life sucks,” we say with a self-deprecating smile. “Isn’t that funny?”

No, it’s not, and the first truth we bring to our reasoning intellect is that social media is shallow, skimming just the surface of things, presenting an outer shell of people we know so distantly, we accept their carefully brushed shellac covering as representative of their entire being. We’ve done this with celebrities and politicians for years; now we do it with our acquaintances. (Generally, the people we know well enough to regularly communicate with, we are not fooled by. We are intimate enough to hear their real thoughts, and express back to them our own.)

Being Human

Quite recently, I was blindsided by a surging, pulsating sense of jealousy arising from an adventitious post by a person I superficially knew many years ago, and haven’t kept in touch with since. She had something I wanted, and not only that, everything about her was perfect: her hair, her clothes, her circumstances, her life.

“It’s unfair!” I cried to God. “Nothing is wrong with her life. NOTHING.”

Early Blossoms original watercolor painting of shabby chic flowers in glass

Our lives are short, fragile yet tough, capable of great beauty — but like flowers, we need light, water, nurture, and care. Early Blossoms, original watercolor by Steve Henderson

Even as I spoke I knew that, 1) I was being inaccurate and, 2) this way of thinking is not good, but there was one thing, to my unexpected gratification, I did not conclude:

“I shouldn’t say things like this! God will be angry with me. I must, before I can come before Him, conquer this evil jealousy within me. I cannot enter His Holy Presence with such unclean thoughts.”

Such is the training I received during years of church indoctrination, in which I was taught the subtle, slippery canons of men in place of the wisdom of God. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) someone is sure to advise, were I foolish enough to reveal my true thoughts to a stranger.

But God is no stranger; He is my almost shockingly and too often unbelievably loving Father, and as any good parent knows (or should know — there’s a tremendous amount of bad “Christian” parenting advice about demanding craven obedience from one’s children as a sign of their love), children are just that — children. They grow and learn by gentle teaching, not harsh rejection, and good parents are safe enough, accepting enough, wise enough, understanding enough, that a child can approach and say,

“I feel really angry with my brother. I know it’s not right, but I can’t conquer the feeling within me. What can I do?”

What parent, upon hearing this, would reply,

“Get out of my sight, vile creature, and don’t return until your attitude is right!”

Bad Parenting versus Good

Sadly, some do, but mercifully, God does not style His parenting techniques after the teachings of pop psychological Christian authors and radio show prattlers, or their foolish acolytes. He knows, though we often do not, that our growth into maturity is not something we can reach inside and get if only we try hard enough (false Christianity calls this “faith”), and our attempt to put on a front is just that: we deny our feelings and “act Christian,” which fools our Facebook and church acquaintances, and eventually, even ourselves, but not God.

“Tell me your feelings,” is His invitation to us. “I know them already. It is you, Child, who do not. Together we will work, and I will teach you how to understand your feelings, face them, change them, and because I am gentle and humble in heart, I will not beat you, or hurt you, or be disgusted by you.”

Or, as the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” which means what it sounds like it means, regardless of innumerable Bible studies setting it in lofty heights of twisted theological contortions. The good news of the gospel, twisted theological contortions nudge us into missing, is that God cares for us, understands us, and embraces us.

We are His children, and He Loves Us.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I hope to encourage you to think about the things you’ve been taught about God, and ask yourself, “Is this the kind of Person I want to believe in?” It’s a valid question, you know, and you’re perfectly in line with asking it, as well as seeking an answer.

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Got Jesus? Nope.

In a distressing oversight for which I have no excuse, I do not keep a gallon of Jesus sitting in my refrigerator.

“Got Jesus?”

Jesus is not something that we own, but a Person whom we know. Breakfast, original watercolor by Steve Henderson

Jesus is not something that we own, but a Person whom we know. Breakfast, original watercolor by Steve Henderson

I’m sure you’ve seen it, Quasi-Christianity’s not so subtle attempt to mimic an overworked slogan of corporate dairy interests. It’s not surprising, given the blend of church culture with business, that what we see on TV one day, we read on a church LED board the next. I recently passed billboard that asked, “Need prayer? Text (777) GodLuvU and our caring worship staff will pray for you.”

It would be sad if it weren’t so . . . sad. I remember back in our church attendance days the pressurized discussions from leadership on why we needed this latest technology or that because, we learned via Powerpoint and charts and colorful graphs, today’s savvy, modern people demand this. If they walk into a sanctuary and see something old fashioned, like a book, say, they immediately leave, because the Modern Christian wants to worship in the Modern Way.

Guess I’m not an MC. I always kind of liked people, talking to them and getting to know them in an informal fashion without interference from a spiritual facilitator (leader), but this was not the way Jesus worked in the settings we endured.

How Jesus Works

How Jesus works, I learned in a recent article, is by being a material product, something I can grasp and hold and own, but only if I exhibit enough faith to do so:

“I’ve got Jesus.

“Oh, yes, I’ve got Jesus. He’s mine. I’ve got my sweet Jesus.” Just how one acquires this Jesus, which sounds more like a Precious Moments statuette or something to be ordered through Amazon or GreatGiftsFromGod.com, the writer did not clarify, but given the incessant repetition of the theme —

“I’ve got Jesus. Jesus is mine. My sweet Jesus is my sweet Jesus mine,”

On the Beach ocean beach coastal painting of people walking

We get to know people by spending time with them, talking, asking questions, even disagreeing with one another. On the Beach, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

it must be possible, desirable, and necessary. The overall impression I received was that, for those of us who don’t associate the Son of God with an overworked advertising slogan, we are missing something in our relationship.

But there’s a problem about “getting” Jesus, not just limited to a lack of clear thought about what this phrase means. The problem with Jesus — actually, the really great thing about Jesus — is that He’s a person, like you and me, albeit a different sort of person in that we interact with Him on a spiritual, not physical (for now) basis.

Our means of knowing Him is just that: knowing Him, the same way we know the people around us whom we love. We spend time with them. We listen to what they say. We argue with them, as we try to understand their way of thinking, versus ours. We contribute to the conversation by talking about our fears, our desires, our wants, our hopes, our hurts, our anxieties. And Jesus, because He’s a good listener, listens to us, even though we frequently think He doesn’t because the things we ask for don’t happen the way we think we’d like.

The Real Jesus Listens

But in the Got Sweet Jesus world, our only hope in life doesn’t want to hear about our desires, wants, hopes, hurts, or anxieties, because He wants us to want Him so much, that nothing else matters. We become so spiritually At One with Him, that we no longer live, operate, think, or act like . . . human beings.

In place of asking Him questions, we are to just “love” Him; instead of going to Him with our deepest needs, we are to toss those aside as evidence that we “trust” Him; rather than struggle with our understanding of what He is like, we need to just “accept” Him, but the problem with this requirement is that we frequently don’t know who, or what, we’re accepting, especially if our primary, indeed, only, exposure to Him is what is taught in standard evangelical circles:

Jesus loves you, but only if you accept Him by following a specific series of steps. If you don’t — and there are millions and billions who don’t — then you head to hell, forever and ever and ever. But it’s not His fault, it’s yours, because by not following His rules, you’re showing that you don’t love Him enough, and there’s nothing He can do about that.

With an “understanding” like this, it’s no wonder that people are reduced to repeating a mantra, a mindless series of words that numb their mind into accepting the love of a person who doesn’t act anything near like an even nominally decent human person would act (and when this is pointed out, the inevitable response is: “But God’s ways are not our ways,” which is true, but only because His ways are supposed to be better than ours, not worse).

Jesus isn’t a product. He is not a gallon of milk. He is not reduced to a simplistic song or a bumper sticker slogan: He is a deep, complex, merciful, loving, accepting, gracious, incredible Person, and getting to know Him requires struggling with the misconceptions that we are taught about Him, misconceptions that we cannot see, analyze, questions, override, and get beyond when we can’t get beyond pagan babble:

“I love my Jesus, my Jesus mine, my sweet Jesus, so Divine — Don’t you love your Jesus too? If you don’t, what’s wrong with you?”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. If you like what you read, please pass me on via the social media buttons below.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7.

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How Meaningful Is Your Job, and Your Life?

The other day I chatted with a young woman who was excited about her first “real” job, that of a counselor working with troubled and potentially suicidal clients.

Firefighter, commissioned watercolor painting by Steve Henderson.

Firefighter, commissioned watercolor painting by Steve Henderson.

“It’s good to be doing something that means something, you know?” she said to me. “Kind of like your daughter, who just became a firefighter. She’s doing something of value and worth to the community and humanity in general.”

“I understand what you’re saying,” I replied. “But all people, regardless of their job description, and whether or not they even have a job, have the potential to do something of value and worth to the community and humanity in general. Their day’s activity may not be associated with what we consider ‘meaningful’ work, but just by virtue of interacting, kindly and compassionately, with other people, we all have the ability to impact others.

“Otherwise, we have scores of people on the planet in danger of thinking that they don’t matter, because they’re not working the ‘right’ job.”

“Oh, yes, of course, of course,” she replied. “That’s very clear.”

Is it?

We as humans have a lamentable tendency of valuing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, assigning worth, prestige, pay scale, and commendation to some quarters and not to others, sometimes for reasons that are understandable, but just as often, other times for reasons that are not. And while there is exceptional merit, indeed, in being the first one in, and the last one out, in an emergency, even the merit of a firefighter is based upon more than our image of what he or she does while the time clock is running: it’s who they are, deep down and physically unseen, that makes the lasting, lifelong impact — upon their community, upon their family, upon their friends, upon strangers that they meet in the grocery store.

Within a 24-hour period, which every living human is given, we can do great things that look ordinary, but leave lasting results. Afternoon Tea by Steve Henderson, original painting and licensed print.

Within a 24-hour period, which every living human is given, we can do great things that look ordinary, but leave lasting results. Afternoon Tea by Steve Henderson, original painting and licensed print.

And it’s in who we are, deep down and physically unseen, that all of us have the potential of doing incredible good, astonishing bad, or something in between.

“The good man brings good things out of his good store of treasure, and the evil man brings evil things out of his evil store of treasure,” Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in Matthew 12:35. Many Christians, steeped in the teaching that we are mere worms deserving the wrath of God until, and even after, we lisp through the Four Spiritual Laws (authored by, not Christ, but Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ), have difficulty accepting that we can be, and do good.

And yet oddly, we look at certain people and certain professions and accord an instantaneously worshipful stance toward what they do: missionaries are a special class of people, pastors are extra blessed, anyone in uniform deserves added respect, wealthy businessmen must be that way, surely, because they are blessed and honored by God.

But you? me? Anyone who just muddles through the day doing something unexcitingly ordinary?

We’re nothing, our jobs are meaningless, and our lives an extension of the fact.

But this is not what Jesus teaches.

It’s not a matter of assigning a number to this work or that, ranking one above another, or one person’s life below another. Those of us who call ourselves Christians are not called, and have never been called, to treat others in accordance with their perceived station in life — indeed, James 2:2-4 expresses disapprobation toward favoring a rich man and denigrating a poor one, an attitude accepted within globalized, Americanized, societal “culture.”

When we find ourselves addressing our work, or others’ work, on the same continuum of standards, we belie Christ’s words, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7).

My friend, if you are a human being, you matter. You have been given, by the creator of all people, interests, skills, the ability to reason, and the capacity to love, listen, care, understand, show compassion, refrain from judging, and just be there when some other human being is hurting.

When we do this, regardless of what we do to earn money to pay for food on the table, we perform great, meaningful, lasting acts.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. It is time that we, as Christians, stop thinking like peer-pressured school children and take our place in the household of our Father. We are His sons and daughters, and we have work to do.

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The Lost Christians of America

If you underwent any sort of Christian religious conversion, you probably took few breaths as a new, spiritual babe in the kingdom of God before you were plonked on a pew to begin absorbing all you need to know to live your life in Jesus. We are vaccinated with conventionalized Billy Graham teachings, one of which is, “Get those new believers into a church where they can be nurtured.”

The Traveler woman in hat with guidebook in Paris by Steve Henderson

Still confused about God, Christ and Christianity? That’s okay — it’s the people who say they have all the answers, and assure us there is no need to keep looking, who cause travelers to be lost.

Or, as it says on Graham’s own training site for pastors who promote his events:

“The Festival process is designed to bring new believers into churches where their spiritual growth is encouraged. New Christians add vitality to congregational life and worship.”

(As an aside, new bodies tend to bring in new money as well, but it’s not . . . Christian to talk about finances. If we did, we might ask why celebrity Christians, and their “ministries,”  are so monetarily blessed.)

But back to Graham’s, not God’s, coaching, and what the church “nurturing” of new, and old, believers tends to teach:

  1. Attend service regularly. If you love God, you will want to be in His house. (Funny. I thought the Jewish Temple was destroyed, replaced by something, or Someone, better.)
  2. Read your Bible. And since it’s probably too difficult for you, make sure to be part of a small group for this. An elder or pastor or other leader will be able to “direct” your studies. (Nurturing 101.)
  3. Tithe. This is how you show your trust in God. (For all that we talk about grace and Christ’s fulfillment of the law, church Christians are heavily steeped in Old Testament doctrine, with the injunction to tithe being far and away the religious establishment’s favorite commandment. Jesus mentioned a couple that He thought more important [Mark 12:30-34].)
  4. Do not ask difficult questions. This is doubt, and doubt is sin. (One of the first questions older children and teenagers ask — if they haven’t been trained yet to stay silent — is, “How can a loving God condemn someone who has never heard of Him, and couldn’t possibly hear of Him, to hell?” Another logical one is, “Why would God create something that He hates so much that it’s (we’re) damned?” Oh, and, “God tells us in no uncertain terms to forgive — but He Himself doesn’t seem willing to do that, insisting upon the death of an innocent sacrifice. Why does He live by different standards than He expects us to?” My own son asked similar questions, quite genuinely, in a junior high Bible study. He was quickly shushed, and we were alerted that he was a bad influence on others.)
  5. Obey your leaders. God has set up a strict, inflexible hierarchy, and you must accept your place — generally near the bottom — in it. (While this is an ersatz teaching of groups like Bill Gothard’s Basic Life Principles, it doesn’t look much like, well, Jesus’s teachings [Matthew 20:25-28].)

I could go on, but if you’ve attended church for any length of time and tried to correlate what you’re told with the concept of a loving, merciful, gracious Father, one who is embodied in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), you may get a bit frustrated. And if your central nurturing consists of items 1-5 above, you may feel reluctant to admit — often years after you began the journey — that you don’t know what this is all about, you’re not sure what the answers are and are dissatisfied with the ones that you’re given, and you’re feeling a bit . . . lost.

Cadence inspirational oil painting of young woman on ocean beach in pink dress by Steve Henderson

If you stick to the wide, smooth highways, you’ll never go anyplace interesting. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson also available as licensed print at Fulcrum Gallery, Art.com, iCanvas, and more.

Because we’re not so supposed to be lost, right? Not as Christians!

But, as author J.R.R. Tolkien says in his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Indeed, it is those who are moving, those who are traveling, those who are walking to new places and discovering new things, who frequently find themselves confused, wondering just where they are. The more they seek, the more they find that there is to find. The more questions they ask, they more questions they find that there are to ask.

When we stay within a group, whether that group is a gaggle of 8th grade girls or a “community of believers” in a church, we are subtly but inexorably influenced to not disturb the status quo of that group: sadly, peer pressure does not end when we accept our high school diploma.

In our work, in our schools, in our shopping, in our movies, in our political arena, in our churches, we are relentlessly and unremittingly instructed in what and how to think, so much so that it takes us a long time — and some people never do wake up — to realize that our thoughts are frequently not our own, but simply weak infusions of Things We’ve Been Told.

So it is with our Christianity:

“This is what the church fathers said.”

“This is the doctrine of our church.”

“Jesus said it’s so.”

The most effective, and dangerous, counterattacks to propaganda, false teaching, and indoctrination are

  1. Questioning what we’re told,
  2. Finding resources and reading for ourselves (this includes the Bible),
  3. Praying — directly to God — for wisdom, and
  4. Trusting that He will answer that prayer, and has given us enough intelligence to think for ourselves.

I guarantee that, when you do this, you will eventually feel lost, because one of the first results of questioning the tenets we’re taught is the realization that they’re not necessarily true.

But keep going — keep questioning, keep researching, keep praying, keep trusting, keep wandering — and you will find yourself in a better place than where you started. And then you keep going from there.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. By the way, if the questions about God and hell are ones that have always bothered you, find a copy of the book, The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views by James Beilby (Editor) and Paul R Eddy (Editor) and start there. As one of the contributors said, the majority of American Christians have only heard one version of why Jesus died and rose again.

Wouldn’t you think that, in all those Sunday School classes you’ve endured, someone would have mentioned that there are valid, alternative ways of looking at things?

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Something to Remember When You Feel Afraid

Just a thought for today. I’ll let Emerson, and the image, speak for themselves.BoldInnocence.Emerson

Posted in Art, Christian, Current Events, Daily Life, Encouragement, Faith, Family, home, Life, Politics, success, World Events | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments