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?

Posts complementing this one are

The Titled Aristocracy of the American Church

Illiterate American Christianity

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

 

 

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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

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The Christian Worship of Numbers

In a society controlled by corporations, one in which people equal units and units equal money, numbers reign supreme. After all, the more people who respond to your ad, attend your seminar, vote for your candidate, or attend your church, the more money that is generated for your business, your stockholders, your management team, or your owners.

Where are treasure is, there our heart will be also.

Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

Christians are alive and well in this worship of numbers. As any visiting missionary drumming up support can attest, “souls saved,” “people reached,” or “local population participating in Ministry Outreach A,” is a major factor in releasing funds, with things like, “hurting people we’ve listened to,” or, “amount of hours we spend interacting with human beings and forming meaningful relationships” not really worthy of investment. If it can’t be counted, it doesn’t, well, count.

Churches themselves qualify their success rate by the number of regulars as well as new attendees, although regarding the latter, a plus factor of 2 families in Church A generally results in a 2-family decrease from Church B. Mega-churches, with their age- and economically segregated groups and programs, garner more respect from men (and, it is assumed, from God) than small, scrabbly little assemblages, which themselves keep weekly tabs of who showed up for “worship” service, Adult and Family Fellowship, and mid-week small groups, not to mention paying strict attention to financial contributions.

And the Pew Research Forum, which for some reason is accepted as the voice of authority regarding all things religious, regularly releases the numbers with carefully guided interpretations — U.S. Public becoming less religious by “key measures of what it means to be a religious person.”

The Numbers Game

People equal units, and units equal money — this is the way the world goes round, it is the system upon which the world thrives, and while we as Christians live in this environment, we are not called to embrace it as warmly as we do.

God is not counting the number of Likes on His Facebook, retweets on His Twitter, hits on His blog, or dollars in His bank account, this latter, presumably, managed by a series of celebrity Christians and internationally sanctioned, globally approved God-invoking corporations that reach the world, or families, or workers, or any other pseudonym for the masses of units that are nameless, faceless, and void of significance other than their paltry supply of copper coins.

The Hair Pin inspirational original charcoal painting of woman sitting at table by Steve Henderson

We know our number of social media followers; God counts the hairs upon our head. The Hair Pin, original charcoal by Steve Henderson.

In a world such as this, where numbers dominate because they translate into dollars, there is no room for ordinary, unimportant people like fishermen or women who draw water from a well. Frankly, we are unable to command those numbers and corresponding respect which are the principle signs, we are told, that the gospel is getting out there, and people being reached. Better to support the fine, established, large ministries, foundations, and conventions which successfully reach the world for Christ in a way that we individuals could never do. For convenience, regular payments can be billed directly through our credit or debit cards.

But is this God’s view?

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?” Jesus asked the crowd in Luke 12:6.

“Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted.

“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

God does not count people the way we do, nor does He focus on numbers — how much we make, how many people we “reach,” the percentage of chairs filled each church service — as a means of worth or value. Tellingly, it is the number of hairs on each of our individual heads — something over which we have no control — that matters: our names, our dreams, our fears, our hopes, our needs. Indeed, the few times large numbers are mentioned in the gospels (5,000 or 4,000 men, a quantity now shrugged as minor when it comes to social media followers), the central point was His concern for people:

“I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2)

Putting Numbers in Perspective

The number three is kind of important because that’s a long time to go without eating much. And while 5,000 men and attendant women and children could generate a decent amount of cash if each family gave the equivalent of today’s dollar to hear Jesus teach, He never made it His business to treat His Father’s message as a business.

God’s business doesn’t have to do with generating money or amassing numbers; it has to do with individual people, and in that respect, there is no better way to meaningfully reach individual people than one by one, something each of us, as individuals, is uniquely poised to do.

“My friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)

Paul’s argument to the Romans, while it says much that we pay little attention to regarding grace versus the constant drive to please, and appease, God, also directs us to leave behind the ways, the wisdom, and the wiles of the world — this world that relies so heavily upon numbers, statistics, quantities, Likes, reposts, indexes, and votes as a means to judge worth.

In Christ, we exchange the slavery of the world of men, with its drive to create wealth (for a few) and control nations (by a few), for the teachings and the life of God who walked on earth: one man who died for the many so that the many could be free.

That is our central message to others, but if we don’t get it ourselves, if we find ourselves trying to reconcile the world’s values with God’s, what is the good news that we are speaking?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. The further I walk on an extremely narrow path, the more I realize that “not fitting in” — at school, at work, at church, within any group — is a sign that we’re listening to different music than the rest of the crowd. Step away from the noise, and see if you can hear that music.

Posts complementing this one are

Do You Suspect That You Don’t Matter?

Housewives, Unemployed, and Other Invisible People

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

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Do You Suspect That You Don’t Matter?

Truth drops into our laps when we chit chat.

During one such light conversation, a business colleague mentioned her frustration in dealing with a quasi-non-profit organization — ostensibly out to help small businesses — that runs just like a government bureaucracy. Her numerous attempts to connect and join were impeded by the failure of the director to respond back.

The Hair Pin inspirational original charcoal painting of woman sitting at table by Steve Henderson

The realization that, despite the honeyed words of corporations, religious establishments, and government officials, we really don’t matter to them, comes as a slow surprise to many of us. The Hair Pin, original charcoal painting by Steve Henderson

“You know what it feels like, when you begin to suspect that you don’t matter?” she asked.

Oh, yes. Anybody who lives in the United States, or, since we’re globalized, a corporation-controlled environment that enforces excessive rules and regulations against individuals by harnessing the power of government, knows what it feels like to be ignored, overruled, not listened to, overlooked, quantified and qualified, and set into the back of a long queue.

Life, for normal people, consists of not mattering. So prevalent is this condition that we see it as normal, this hierarchy of humanity ranging from important and significant at the pinnacle of the pyramid, to a series of shoulders at the base to hold up the weight of it all. And though we grumble about it, though we don’t like the vague sensation that our lives, our loves, our hopes, our hurts are meaningless to those who impose their will to determine how we live, we give up and give into it.

“Work Harder!”

“I must not matter because I don’t deserve to,” we tell ourselves, falling for the lie that those who rule — whether they’re our managers at work, “public” “servants,” political officials supposedly elected to do the will of the people (which people?), or titled members in the local church — do so because they are better, smarter, and more hardworking than we (and, in the case of the religious elite, more “faithful”).

Whether those who rule are maverick entrepreneurs whose bold climb to the financial top is lauded from magazine covers (and while the inside article gushes about the successful person’s “vision,” “authenticity,” “aggressive intelligence,” and “purposeful drive,” it rarely mentions small, but important matters like investment capitol from connections and family wealth), or whether those earthly kings are celebrity Christians who meet with presidents and popes, purporting to speak for all believers and Christ Himself, we are fools when we give them the keys to our hearts, convinced that they hold the keys to the kingdom, of man or God.

You Are the One inspirational original painting of couple in red car hugging by New York skyline by Steve Henderson

As difficult as it is to comprehend, God sees each one of us as a unique, precious individual. It’s as if He were whispering, “You are the one.” You Are the One, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you,” Jesus tells His disciples in John 15:18. “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.”

Belonging to the world involves following its rules, generally unwritten because those who write them secure an advantage by keeping the masses — you, me — struggling to understand and figure out the system. In the world, “networking” replaces friendship or family, “promoting one’s personal brand” is the substitute for loving one’s neighbor as oneself, working smarter and harder is the ultimate solution, as opposed to humbling ourselves before our Father and God, secure that He loves us and will guide our steps.

Anyone dumb enough to say that latter in a company party will be told that he’s lazy and unwilling to do the work necessary to succeed. Actually, anyone dumb enough to say that in a church setting will be told the same thing.

We Worship Efficiency

“The cravings of the sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work,” (Proverbs 21:25) is the rejoinder, or more likely, some other paraphrase, not always correct, that involves the book of Proverbs and the word, “sluggard.” Establishment church Christians have bought, joyfully, the party pack of religion and business which teaches that nothing come free, God expects us to work for what we get, and He rewards those who stay late, pray early, hustle at work, and bustle in the church. It is a sad thing for them that, “God helps those who help themselves,” is not an actual Bible verse.

But 1 Corinthians 1:26 is:

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

It is a reminder to us that yes, by mankind’s standards, most human beings really don’t matter; my business friend trying to secure the attention of a socially and professionally inept bureaucratic director was correct in her assessment that to him, she doesn’t matter. In the same way, when we are chatting with someone in an after-church setting, especially if he is she is a Someone, who glances briefly over our shoulder in mid-conversation and abruptly cuts off the encounter to network with another, we have been summarily put in our place.

On one hand, it’s depressing, but on the other hand, it drives us to a better option: instead of securing the praises of men — which are shallow, fickle, and dependent upon factors that change with the whims of the elite who make them — we are safe in seeking what we’re looking for — acceptance, security, guidance, and the assurance that we matter — from God.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” Jesus says in John 15:9. “Abide in my love.”

And from there, Christ did not instruct that we network, mentor, strategize, self-brand, promote, work as a team, communicate for mutual benefit, interact intentionally, or be proactive, but rather, that we love one another as He has loved us (John 15:12).

Because the love of God — which we receive from Him and show to one another — is the only valid, tangible, “authentic,” and real evidence that we matter.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. I find it alarming that so many Christians think they can combine the concepts of the corporate business world with the teachings of God. But since that’s what they’re taught — at school, at work, on social media, in the movies, and at church — it’s no surprise.

Posts complementing this one are

Housewives, Unemployed, and Other Invisible People

It’s Okay to Do Nothing for God

Why Your Life on This Planet Means Something

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The Titled Aristocracy of the American Church

I ran across a pastor’s money blog the other day that was talking about (shrewd) techniques, (clever) schemes, and (subtly controlling) tactics to increase church giving because, as church leaders know, those headstrong, disobedient, and immature lay members are penurious and miserly little moppets. If you don’t watch them, they’ll go out and spend the little after-tax money they have on decent food, a package of new underwear, and maybe some extra gas for the car so they can take a Sunday drive. (Who are they to eat organic, when there are Adult Educational materials to be purchased? Boxed mac and cheese is good enough for the masses.)

Christ never called us to lord our skills, abilities, and influence over our brothers and sisters. Louis XIV King of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)

Christ never called us to lord our skills, abilities, position, and influence over our brothers and sisters. Louis XIV King of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)

What I enjoyed most about this article, which was, actually, very little, was the insight into Leadership’s brain: the writer described how, when regular giving took a slump (lousy economy, anyone?), he called all the titled members to a meeting to strategize and mobilize command.

(By the way, there’s a reason we increasingly use militarized and business terminology to describe actions taken by and within the establishment church. Are those people, still passive in the pews, comfortable with this?)

But back to the paragraph before the parenthesis: the concept of “titled members” was a new one to me, at least when one is (purportedly) discussing the (supposedly) egalitarian status of the body of Christ. Generally, the word “titled” is coupled with the word “aristocracy” or “nobility,” describing a set of people who presume the right to rule for no other reason than that they were born into a family that has already wrested enough power to do so.

A Spiritual Pyramid Scheme

And while we easily see this attitude within politics, finance, and even the national celebrity Christian scene (quick quiz: think of a celebrity Christian leader who has a relative following in his footsteps), I had not realized that the attitude of privilege and prerogative had so openly announced itself within individual church’s inner circles.

Light Reading inspirational original watercolor painting of woman reading book

While we’re all reading the same book, it’s amazing the different impressions — on major topics — that different people pick up. Light Reading, original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson

Who are these “titled members”? Even the most conceited and presumptuous of the leadership sect are reluctant to adopt titles like “Apostle” and “Prophet” (although we do, apparently, have some self-imposed modern-day ones), but “Pastor,” “Elder,” “Deacon,” who get extra points when they have “Dr.” in front of their names, come to mind along with “Administrative Head,” “Principal Worship Leader,” “Senior Associate Ministry Consultant,” and other such nomenclature that serves to divide the Do’s from the Don’t Do’s, or the Haves, from the Have Nots.

A Lead Deaconess or two may be allowed in the meeting as token representative of the ewes of the flock, but we all know that women aren’t really leaders. They are, however, excellent with children and sick people, as well as with all matters to do with cleaning, and we don’t want to infringe on their areas of expertise.

Whoever these titled persons were, they are called to do what titled persons in finance, politics, education, entertainment, and religion do on a national basis, and that is discuss how to push, prod, pull, and manipulate the untitled persons into giving, serving, submitting, supporting, and acquiescing because, as any leader knows, all pyramids have a big base at the bottom, and that base supports the top.

But is this how the body of Christ is meant to work?

All Are Called to Humility

Did the apostles — the real ones, not the ones on TV — see other believers as sheep and drones and recalcitrant children who had to be told, firmly but not necessarily directly, what to do, because if they weren’t, the lesser of God’s children are so stupid that nothing of worth would get done?

Is the kingdom of God set up like a corporation, with a few stockholders and CEOs, too much middle management, and a swarm of expendable workers?

Well, while the substitutionary kingdom looks, talks, and quacks increasingly like big business, the real thing, the kingdom with Christ at its head, runs on values that — quaintly archaic as they seem — are meant to work.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asked the disciples in John 13:12, after He had washed their feet.

“You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” 

Increasingly, within modern church aristocracy, there is little reluctance among leaders to adopt the title of “Lord,” in its more socially appropriate forms (Pastor, Reverend, Doctor, Evangelist), but that irritating little aspect of washing one another’s feet is far more difficult for men who love preeminence to accept. Surely Christ didn’t mean for all men, and women, to interact as true equals, as if hourly workers were on a par with salaried executives, or fishermen the same as a leader of the synagogue.

Or did He?

If you are a Christian who fancies yourself a leader, it would be wise to consult often with our mutual Father, asking Him for the vast quantity of humility necessary to lead, and teach, and shepherd, well.

And if you are one of the many untitled persons, or even one of a lesser title who battles feelings of insecurity about your allotted ministry, then do not leave your brain, and your right to self-govern, in exchange for the bulletin at the door.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where my prayer is that ordinary, regular, real Christians who have no problem recognizing themselves as such will wake up to the lies we are taught, and will quit making idols of mere men.

Posts complementing this one are

Housewives, Unemployed, and Other Invisible People

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

Illiterate American Christianity

Posted in Christian, church, Culture, Faith, Family, home, Life, Lifestyle, religion, spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Housewives, Unemployed, and Other Invisible People

We live in a society that validates — or condemns — people based upon the title of their occupation, and how much they make doing it.

Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother and child by Steve Henderson, licensed wall art home decor at icanvas, framed canvas art, amazon, and framedart.com

Children are so undervalued in our society that anyone who cares for them is considered worthless. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed wall art home decor at amazon, framed canvas art, icanvas, and framedart.com

To this end, we are conditioned to see people like doctors, lawyers, priests, U.S. postal workers, and teachers (it sounds like the list you were given as a child — from which to choose when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”) as valid, estimable people because they have real jobs that make a proper amount of money, although, even within these psychologically legitimate, acceptable occupations, participants struggle with their worth by comparing how much they make, versus how much “other people” make. This, in a corporately-controlled, oligarchical society, is the basic definition of who has reason, purpose, and meaning to live.

And then there are those others: homemakers come immediately to mind, mindless drones and drains on society, we are told, because “anyone” can fold laundry and change diapers, and who do these women think they are in staying at home while other people are working? Obviously, they can only do so because their spouses are doctors, lawyers, U.S. Postal workers, or teachers, although probably not priests.

Retired people are sort of useless, too, although if they’re retired from a high-paying job and/or enjoy a pension, then they’ve paid their own way. If they worked a “low-end” job all their lives and find themselves financially strapped, then they should go out and get a part-time position as a retail greeter so we don’t have to listen to their money woes. It was their fault, in the first place, that they didn’t get the right education to get the right job. (This particular spin keeps those degree factories busy, churning out graduates who eventually discover that there is not a vibrant economy out there, insatiably demanding people with their degrees.)

Unemployed and underemployed people — many of whom find themselves that way through no choice of their own — are intrinsically thought to be lazy because, really, if they had enough smarts or willingness to work, they wouldn’t be unemployed, right?

Human Value, versus Money

Our  virtually indistinguishable news and entertainment media only exacerbate the problem by yammering on about those lazy poor people who abuse the system, while the rest of us work. (Nobody, ever, looks to the system itself and asks why some people are able to so abuse it, but others are not. Could it be that the university degreed administrators and managerial developers of government programs created something that is designed to not sensibly and effectively work?)

Preening, inspirational original charcoal of young woman with beautiful back pulling up her hair by Steve Henderson

Human beings have value and worth simply because we are human beings, made in the image of God. Preening, original charcoal by Steve Henderson

The end result, in a society that extols money and position (both of which are much easier to command when born into a family that already possesses them in excess) as the definition of one’s worth, is exactly that: we judge, harshly, people by how much they make, and what they do. It’s extremely convenient, really, since it means that we don’t have to waste time loving our brother as ourselves, because if our brother didn’t, by societal rules, work as hard as we did, or make the right decisions about when and where to go to school, or invest smartly in the right places at the right time, then we don’t need to help him, or even feel compassion toward his plight, because he deserves every (bad) thing he gets.

One can’t help but think that Jesus wouldn’t see things this way.

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” Jesus told an enthusiastic potential follower in Luke 9:58. Born into a poor family, the Son of Man and the Son of God never distinguished Himself by His occupation, gated home address, societal status, income, title, or company that He kept. Indeed, the label He was given was,

” . . . a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” (Matthew 11:19), something far less impressive than “successful businessman,” “sharp financier,” “rising politician,” “eminent scientist,” “religious leader,” or “news analyst.” (Interestingly, if one does belong to any of these prestigious positions, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a covert glutton or a drunkard; it’s only when one’s job is part-time, at minimum wage, that eating and drinking habits become an additional attestation against one’s intrinsic worth.)

What Defines Us?

Seriously, people on this planet, we must get this one through our heads: what we do as our occupation, especially concomitant with how much we make at it, does NOT define who and what we are.

We are not successful because we are wealthy. Nor are we failures because we are monetarily poor.

We are not intelligent because we hold a university degree.

We are not brave because of a series of medals emblazoned across our chest.

We are not authoritative protectors of the weak because of the gun hanging on our belt.

We are human beings, with all the positives and negatives associated with that state: we can be greedy, selfish, unkind, demanding, judgmental, perverse, thoughtless, crafty, cunning, and hateful, and we can also be kind, compassionate, meditative, loving, generous, trusting, merciful and gentle: how much money we make, or what our title is, or whether or not anyone recognizes our name in a Tweet, are not the factors that affect who we are, and how we live — although, admittedly, the more money, power, and fame we command, the easier it is to slip into the first list, simply because those around us are more tolerant about our doing so.

We are made in the image of God, male and female He created us (Genesis 1:27), and as children of God, we have an Elder Brother who is the firstborn among the dead (Colossians 1:18) who goes to prepare a place for us (John 14:3), where the rules on this planet, under which we struggle now, do not apply.

As Christians, let us do our best to not join the forces of darkness in applying those planetary rules, upon ourselves, or others. It is not our Father, but another father, who makes them.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes where I write about Christianity, and religion. The two are very separate things, and what we learn in churches, and from celebrity Christians, and through pop-Christian books, frequently has little to do with the truth.

Posts complementing this one are

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

Why Your Life on This Planet Means Something

Defining Success

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Tired of the Command to Repent?

REPENT!

It is the battle cry of  melodramatic 19th and early 20th century evangelists, whose favorite image was that of the lowly sinner dangled over the flames of hell, toes toasted crusty as a reward for the hardness of his heart.

Such is the image of hope promoted by many a traveling preacher. Dante & Virgil in Hell, 1850 painting by Beouguereau

Such is the image of hope promoted by many a traveling preacher. Dante & Virgil in Hell, 1850 painting by Beouguereau

Modern day revivalists are more subtle, presenting the same message in measured, pseudo-intellectual tones, their words harmoniously and judiciously embellished by the pop musical worship team sharing the platform.

Lately, the favorite verse for injunction to the masses by 21st century hypnotically alluring preachers is 2 Chronicles 7:14, initially addressed to the Israelite community at the dedication of the temple built by Solomon:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 

What fascinates me most about this verse, used, overused and abused by celebrity Christians and quasi-Christian politicians alike, is that, while it gives the idea that we in the United States are a new and improved Hebrew nation of old, it is rarely — if at all — associated with the country that calls itself Israel today. I mean, given that it was spoken to the community that contemporary Israeli citizens hearken back to as their ancestors, wouldn’t they consider applying it as an option for overcoming lamented, present day travails?

But no, it is directed toward U.S. Americans, under the notion that we are a Christian Nation that somewhere went wrong, a new Jerusalem based in Washington D.C. that will be held accountable for not following the laws and rules and regulations of the Old Testament, at least those laws and rules and regulations that keep the underlings quiet, obedient, and submissive to the authority of our political, financial, and religious priests.

Are We Still Under the Old Testament?

But really, if we’re going to rely upon Old Testament verses to dictate how we live our lives, perhaps we should turn to Jeremiah 29:7, words of wisdom that were extremely unpopular at the time, addressed to the Hebrew exiles when the southern kingdom, Judah, fell to Babylon in 586 B.C. —

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

While the contemporary, celebrity preaching fare isn't as graphically hostile as the message of early 20th century evangelist Billy Sunday, the underlying message is remarkably similar. Image of Billy Sunday, circa 1915.

While the contemporary, celebrity preaching fare isn’t as graphically hostile as the message of early 20th century evangelist Billy Sunday, the underlying meaning is remarkably similar. Image of Billy Sunday, circa 1915.

Given that we, as Christians, are outsiders in the world’s systems of politics, media, finance, and international trade agreements, it would be more appropriate for us to follow this advice.

But no, we are constantly harangued to “Repent!” the preacher at the podium resembling, in a three-piece-suit sort of way, a fiery John the Baptist, who by all indications of the latter’s belief system and personality, wouldn’t be caught addressing crowds of worshipers in a sports stadium. Repent, in modern post-John days, does not mean “change your way of thinking” so much as, “Debase yourselves beneath your God and grovel: announce your sins to Him and your status as eternal sinner, and place your naked soul before Him in sackcloth and ashes.”

Over, and over, and over.

Those Christians who have spent a significant amount of time in a church setting are familiar with this repetition of repenting, citing the Four Spiritual Laws like a mantra, apologizing on a basis that couldn’t be more regular if they attended weekly confession in the pastor’s office. If anything is wrong in their lives, or in the state of the union, it can’t possibly have anything to do with circumstances, or with political decisions made by parties whose God has much more to do with mammon than anything else.

No, all of our problems are squarely in the lap of the masses, the people who have no power or ability to make decisions for the nation, and it is these masses — and not their leaders — who must crawl before God in fear.

Driving Us away from God

This very misconception of repenting — putting us in a constant state of anxiety and worry before Him who calls us our Father — gets in the way of His building, and our enjoying, a true and meaningful relationship. Think of it this way: what would a marriage look like if, every time the husband walked through the door, the wife’s first words were,

“I’m so sorry, honey. I’ve messed up again. Everything I do is wrong, and I am a bad person and a bad wife. In the future, I vow to do better. Please forgive me. Please, please please?”

Every. Time. He walked. Through the door.

And yet this is how we, the bride of Christ, are encouraged to address our groom, the husband who loves and cherishes us. He knows that we falter, He knows that we fail, but what kind of relationship will we develop if this is ALL we talk about? Aren’t relationships so much more healthy when both sides recognizes the love and acceptance of the other, and isn’t the commitment of the stronger person to be gentle and meek with the weak?

At least it is with Christ and His church, His people who are not obligated to offer sacrifices in a central temple, follow Old Testament Law, and live petrified because we are in constant fear of being tossed into the abyss.

You, my ordinary brother and sister in Christ, have no power to make national policy, and thereby, are not to blame for the policy that is made. If there is to be cringing and debasement for the lamentable state of political, economic, and religious affairs in one’s nation, then let it be begun by the leaders who ushered it in.

Conversely, you, my ordinary brother and sister in Christ, very much have a say in what your relationship with our Father will look like, and it can’t hurt to turn to Him and say,

“I love you. You are worth loving. Open my ears so that I can hear. Open my eyes so that I can see. Wake me up from my sleep.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I encourage people to stop listening to the media voices, and tune into the still, quiet voice that is best heard when we are still, and quiet, ourselves. That generally doesn’t occur in the midst of a packed sports stadium.

Posts complementing this one are

Attack and Kill Style Christianity

It’s Time to Change Our Minds about Repenting

How to Recognize a False Prophet

 

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It’s Okay to Do Nothing for God

Sometimes, doing nothing is what God wants us to do.

It’s a difficult concept, this doing nothing, conditioned as we are through multiple weekly church inculcations to see works as a means of expressing our faith: we attend services and Bible studies, we participate in outreach ministries, we talk to people about Jesus, we sing at corporate worship programs as our principal means of expression, we volunteer for “leadership opportunities,” we pray eloquently aloud, we teach and minister and . . . do.

Wild Child inspirational original oil painting of little girl by Victorian ocean beach house by Steve Henderson, licensed wall art home decor at amazon.com, framed canvas art, art.com, allposters, and icanvas

With God as our Father, we are children in His household, and He cares for us as such. Wild Child, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed wall art home decor at icanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Art.com, and more

Indeed, so important is the process of doing that it becomes part of our social lexicon:

“How are you?”

Deep, pensive sigh: “Doing great, but I’m really busy, you know? Insanely busy.”

“Oh I know, I know. I’m busy too.” To reply in any other fashion is to imply a sense of slothful indolence, a spiritual torpor resulting from an inactive prayer life and distant relationship with God. Nobody wants to admit that we’re not buddy buddy with Jesus.

In the 21st century it is busyness, as opposed to cleanliness, that is next to Godliness, but given that, in our quest to be continuously active in the work of the Lord, we host Small Groups Study Alive! on Tuesday nights, our house is probably spotless, at least superficially, as well.

All by Ourselves

As anybody who has ever cleaned a house knows, when you’re doing it by yourself, nothing gets done unless you’re doing it, so while you’re washing dishes, for example, the carpet isn’t being vacuumed, the toilets swished, or the laundry folded. Unless we’re doing it, it’s not getting done, an attitude we take with us from the home to the office, into the church, and throughout our world, without ever asking the essential question:

“Why am I cleaning this damn house all by myself anyway?”

In a home with multiple members, it’s not as if we are the only ones generating dirty underwear, discarded mail, and uncleared dining room tables, and when we take on the tasks of many, we are being unrealistic, and foolish, with our time. So it is in our spiritual lives: whether it’s because we want to exhibit — to ourselves or an audience — an external level of metaphysical maturity, or whether it’s for a deeper, embarrassingly humble reason: we have a desperate need that we long to have fulfilled, and we’re determinedly trying to get God’a attention, we feel the obligation to do something, in order to see action.

After all, in our Puritanically based culture, which meshes seamlessly with a corporate oligarchy, we know from childhood that it’s all in our court. Ain’t no one gonna do it for us.

Helpless in Our Humanity

No one could have had more of this attitude than the Israelites, when they were on the run from Pharaoh, trapped in an impossible spot between an angry army and a very large sea. And indeed, the Hebrews did get upset over their inability to control the situation, to which their leader Moses answered:

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Quiet Contemplation inspirational original watercolor of young woman in flower garden with abstract background by Steve Henderson

Waiting. Watching, Thinking, Meditating. They look like doing nothing, but often they are the most important things we do. Quiet Contemplation, original watercolor by Steve Henderson

Most of us know how that story ended — a literal sea of activity, with the Hebrews safely ushered to the other side. The principle activity required of them was to first, wait and see and second, walk.

A few weekends ago, we invited our 6-year-old granddaughter to spend the day with us, simply because we like being around her. The idea was that her mom would drop her off mid-morning, but in one of those unforeseen, totally unplanned inconvenient circumstances, the baby of the family spontaneously fell asleep for a much-needed and long awaited nap 20 minutes before mom was to leave. And while we live only three miles away,

  1. It was insanely rainy,
  2. It is the height of stupidity to wake a sleeping baby,

and

3. Nobody was about to escort the kid to the porch, point down the street, and say, “Take a left, go two blocks, then take a right; walk for roughly 65 minutes at your speed, take a left, another left, and a right, and keep a sharp eye out for Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Call if you get lost.”

In short, getting to Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a physical impossibility for a  6-year-old child, and while her great-great-grandparents no doubt performed far more impressive walking feats on their daily treks in the snow to the schoolhouse cabin, Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom didn’t see any reason to ask the child to do something that was effectively beyond her ability.

So Grandma got in the car and picked up the child. It was the decision of an instant, a no-brainer, really, because the central goal was to spend time with our granddaughter, and any minor schedule arrangement was more than worth the joy of being together. In a situation where one person is able to do nothing, and the other is able to do much, much more, the person of greater ability uses that ability to do much, much more, while the person who is able to do nothing, patiently waits.

God is a Person who is able to do much, much more than anything we can do. And while frequently, we work together, with His graciously giving us tasks and work within our ability, sometimes the task He gives us is to wait on Him.

And waiting, which feels like doing nothing, is incredibly difficult. We are tempted to fill the time with busy tasks — like running up and down the living room until Grandma arrives — but really, all we’re asked to do is wait. Quietly. Patiently. With a sense of trust that He loves us, He knows that it’s raining and the distance is too far, and He’s on His way in the car.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where it took me years and years to realize that I wasn’t the only person on the planet waiting for an answer to a prayer to which I really wanted and needed answer. On the journey, I encountered and talked to many people who felt the same way, and one of the benefits we receive as we wait is the encouragement that we give to one another.

God hears your prayers, and more than any U.S. President could possibly imagine, He feels your pain. Do not look to the examples of men to show you the ways of God.

Posts complementing this one are

Why Your Life on This Planet Means Something

Defining Success

Three “Christian Teachings” That Jesus Didn’t Teach

 

 

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

It is not easy to live life on this planet.

Most normal, ordinary human beings simply want to live — to love their family, feed that family, have time to be with and enjoy that family and their friends.

Forest Path inspirational original oil painting of trees and woods by Steve Henderson

We forget that the path we walk with Christ is not wide, and smooth, well populated, and super easy. But it’s beautiful. Forest Path, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

But there are always the Odd Ones — in our society we call them successful, canny, smart, businesslike, and accomplished — whose satisfaction, and lifestyle, depend upon depleting the resources of others: these people need more money, bigger houses, numerous cars, extra food to such an egregious degree that, in order to secure more, somebody else must have less. Much, much less.

So the ordinary people, in order to make enough to live, work harder while the Odd Ones luxuriate in kingly splendor; we the people struggle under laws and rules and regulations and taxes and fees that purport to benefit all, but in reality enslave the many so that the few, the Odd Ones, can freely do what they wish.

It’s not that the Odd Ones work harder and deserve what they get, which is what the ordinary people are told. Many ordinary people work very hard, and still struggle, simply because 1) they don’t start out with a well-connected, multi-generational inheritance and 2) there are so many factors working against them. One of those factors is a factotum of ordinary people, church Christians who thrive on laws and rules to the point that one wonders what difference Jesus makes in their lives at all.

Cold, Harsh Christianity

Within the United States, the country in which I live, there is an attitude that one wholeheartedly merits one’s circumstances  — “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied,” (Proverbs 13:4) is an adequate representation of this belief, exacerbated by our mega-church philosophy of prosperity for all those who are faithful enough. Indeed, those who follow this philosophy are unwitting agents for the Odd Ones, spreading their gospel that obscene wealth is realistically available only to those who are deserving enough to get it.

Just the Two of Us inspirational original oil painting of romantic couple dancing in ballroom by Steve Henderson

If Christ is the groom and we are the bride, do we feel cherished and loved? Just the Two of Us, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

And while we give lip service to kindness, charity, mercy, grace, and love, waxing eloquent on the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, we too frequently do so with the same attitude that visiting missionaries assure us about prayer being the most meaningful gift we can give them: yes, it’s sort of true, but please put something in the offering basket.

And so, within our Americanized Christianity, we acknowledge that the good things in life — faith, hope, and love — are free, but they’re not enough. Yes, we concede, we need faith, hope, and love, concurrent with the need to work hard, get ahead, think smarter, stay longer, be positive, and make more. But is that attitude — the American Way — conducive to the gentler traits: can one be ruthless and kind, deceptive and truthful, inflexible and merciful, dog-eat-dog yet innocent as a dove?

Yes, we’re told — be pitiless kindly; there’s no contradiction.

And indeed, for many church Christians, there really isn’t, because the God in which they believe, the merciful Father who is not willing that any should perish, is also a draconian disciplinarian, and when any step out of line, including those who call themselves His children, they are swiftly, inexorably, unmercifully punished, since this is no less than what they deserve. These particular Christians will fight to the point of bloodying their noses over the concept of hell, and how people who don’t “acknowledge the name of Jesus,” warrant going there, while, oddly, the Odd Ones who craftily know the right things to say and how to say them, smugly look forward to an eternity that is an extension of their life on earth. If they say they’re Christians, then words and actions don’t have to mesh.

It’s only when you’re ordinary, and poor.

Jesus Was Poor

Jesus was born into the home of poor, ordinary people, and thankfully for us, He had an affinity for the ordinary, unimportant, disenfranchised, powerless, and weak.

“I have compassion for these people,” He told His disciples in Matthew 15:32, prior to the feeding of the four thousand. “They have already been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

There is no mention of the people’s foolishness in not providing for themselves, an outrage against a sense of entitlement that someone will take care of them, chastisement over their laziness in not picking up a little work on the side so that they could provide for themselves. There is compassion, something unsurprisingly absent in the disciples’ initial, pragmatic, logical, businesslike reaction:

“Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

One chapter earlier, prior to Jesus feeding five thousand, their solution was, “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

It’s a purposeful, matter-of-fact, sensible, and efficient attitude. It is not, however, kind.

Christians enamored of the latest celebrity fare — whether it’s a book or a pastor — rhapsodize over living radically for Jesus, but the type of radical that Jesus did, on the surface, looks ineffective, and boring:

Treat people with grace and mercy, similar to the way that you want to be treated. If you do not want to be fooled, and deceived, then do not fool and deceive others, regardless of whether or not you lose the sale.

It’s not the American Way, I know.

But then again, Jesus does not walk the American Way. Do we?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I try to reach, one by one, people who wonder why Christianity and business look and sound so much the same. Posts complementing this one are

Attack and Kill Style Christianity 

Leaving Church: Is It Rebellious, or Obedient?

What Does “Real” Church Look Like?

 

 

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Illiterate American Christianity

There is a religious ditty that, once you hear it, sticks in your mind forever:

Read your Bible pray every day, pray every day, pray every day

Read your Bible pray every day

And you’ll grow, grow, grow.

Grazing in the Salmon Rivers Mountains inspirational original oil painting of Idaho countryside by Steve Henderson

America, we are told by the movies, the hymns, the presidents, and the history textbooks, is the land of big vistas and big opportunities. What no one mentions is that, for people who won’t read, we are slaves to the words of the myth-makers. Grazing in the Salmon River Mountains, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

And, because people who compose, and sing, mentally paralyzing bromide like this are captivated by symmetry, there is a second verse:

Don’t read your Bible, FORget to pray, FORget . . . etc.

And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.

While the level of banality is justified because this twaddle is designed for children — who really deserve better — more than one adult in Sunday School has sung this, in the spirit of “being like little children.” Not to get overly theological here, but Jesus meant more, and better, than that in Matthew 18:3. Really.

But let’s talk about theology for a minute — it’s a term that we as laymen, whether we’re in the Catholic or Protestant camps, are coached to fear, because theology is something that is taught (supposedly) in seminary, along with Successful Sermon Thematics 101, Coalescing Your Leadership Team, and Essentials of the Successful Building Program, so the study of the nature of God and of beliefs in Him (which is the definition of theology) is professedly beyond the ordinary mind.

We Don’t Read

For this reason, even though the Bible is no longer in Latin and thereby inaccessible to the average reader (which kept its message, words, truth, and interpretations locked up for centuries), many intelligent, literate people avoid reading it in any depth, cracking that book open once a week for Adult Learning Focus and maybe a second time for Small Groups Intensive Study. There, they are given a small, comfortable number of verses to plow through, with helpful commentary and funny teaching stories that gently lead them to the proper interpretation of whatever it is that they are “studying.”

The Traveler inspirational charcoal drawing of vintage nostalgia woman in paris france by the Eiffel Tower by Steve Henderson

Reading broadens our world and our way of thinking in a way that poking around on our phones will never do. The Traveler, open edition print by Steve Henderson

Songs like the ditty above make such itinerant readers feel bad about themselves and their spirituality, and to avoid shrink, shrink, shrinking, they may pick up a book of devotions, which offers a little verse at the top in italics, a teaching story in the non-italicized paragraph below, and a pithy prayer at the end to neatly tie things up. It’s just a little longer than a Facebook meme.

Calling this “study” is a generous use of the term, and while it is true that we are becoming a society that is less and less literate, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Bible, while it is dense, complicated, and not easily summarized into easy-to-digest platitudes (although authors, pastors, celebrity Christians, and denominational corporations do their best to provide pre-chewed fare), is not unreadable, and if the myths of history that we’re taught in school or church have any basis in truth, apparently people in the past brought themselves from illiterate to literate by reading this consistently best-selling book.

We can do the same.

Yep, We Can

But let’s say we are already sufficiently literate to read novels beyond Young Adult vampire, zombie, dystopian, and paranormal fare, which isn’t unreasonable to expect in a society where so many people get their high school, and even college, diplomas: we can tackle the Bible with the confidence of rational, educated, astute adults, capable of asking questions, seeking answers, and recognizing that, just because we don’t have a complete answer, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. We’ll just keep reading, researching, and digging, or, as Jesus puts it:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Now the pastors of prosperity teach, to people who don’t bother to read and learn for themselves, that this verse and others like it are a magic path to get whatever we want: just ask (confidently) and seek (with a positive attitude) and knock (insistently) and God, who doesn’t really want us to know the “secret” behind manipulating Him, will have to capitulate. It’s a system, and if you’re clever enough to figure it out, you’ll win.

Well, it’s a system all right, but it’s not Christianity, and those who truly want to know God, and find truth, and free themselves from the illusory visions that are packaged and sold to us as reality, will eventually understand that these words promise more than shallow, temporal, fleeting, materialistic goods: they promise wisdom, teaching, and truth:

You do not have to be a seminary graduate to read the Bible and learn from it. You do not have to be a slave of teachings by celebrity Christian psychologists, radio hosts, “news” commentators, doctors of divinity, economic gurus, CEOs of humanitarian organizations, speakers in football stadiums, and major, well-endowed denominations that interpret the words of all sorts of church fathers for us so we don’t have to. You don’t even have to be a slave to the words of the church fathers — they don’t all agree, you know, but were doing what many of us have given up doing: tackling difficult concepts and passages, and developing theories about what they mean. Theories.

In the process of reading the Bible for yourself, you will probably find that the answers and truths you have been given — different ones, depending upon the denomination — aren’t so firm and pat as you have been led to believe. More disturbingly for those who prefer that you remain asleep, you will ask Why? and, How could a loving God be this way? and, Is this truly the good news Christ preached? If so, why did it mean so much to poor people? What does it look like to be a Christian in a society — including religious society — that worships wealth, fame, and power? By these standards, does being a Christian mean that we’re no longer poor?

Ask.

Seek.

Knock.

READ.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I encourage individual Christians to follow Christ, not celebrities, and stop being drawn into the culture of myth and illusion that pretends to be reality. If we would wake up and see the lies, then those lies wouldn’t have the power to direct our behavior.

Posts complementing this one are

Why Your Life on this Planet Means Something

It’s Time to Change Our Minds about Repenting

How to Recognize a False Prophet

 

Posted in Christian, church, Daily Life, Education, Faith, Family, home, Life, Lifestyle, reading, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments