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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Ramblings

What would it look like for me to hold certain beliefs in the deep crevices of my being that don't align with the official teachings of the church to which I choose to belong?  I think this is the underlying question I have long tried to make sense of in my spiral revisiting of the various faith traditions in the world.

I am learning about natural law and principles, and conscience has come to my awareness.  Even the Catholic Church teaches that we are not to go against our own conscience.  While it also says we are responsible for forming our conscience in alignment with official church teachings, the only way I can see that holding water is to expect any Catholic of good will to educate herself on what the Church teaches and why.  And/but once this is done, what if my conscience still disagrees with what Catholics higher up in the hierarchy believe, those with the institutional power to announce that their revelations are straight from God while mine, as a common layperson, are subject to the influences of demonic forces (I may be exaggerating just a smidgen here)?

A person cannot be compelled to believe anything without clear evidence to support any given claim.  And in a lot of cases - most I would even venture to say - what constitutes "clear evidence" is subject to interpretation. 

Speaking of interpretation, I once heard this great Catholic reproof for Protestants: "every Protestant is his or her own Pope."  Today, I don't actually think this is something bad.  If the papacy is seen by Catholics as something positive, as a way of interpreting Scriptures, then to assign that title to individual Christians who opt to be their own pope is merely saying that a different fallible human being is interpreting Scriptures.

I will dive into the papal argument another time, but for today, what I'm trying to unpack is my initial question: what does it look like to live in line with one's own conscience while at the same time stay aligned with an official denomination?

Followingjesus.org gives some ideas. What are the possible points of contention of such an arrangement?  First and foremost, when we adamantly disagree with what is preached from the pulpit on a regular basis, this would likely not be a good arrangement.  If we cannot be open about our own lifestyle and expect full support from the fellowship of the church, this also wouldn't be a healthy set-up.  But what if both my conscience and my church teach me to turn inward and trust God?  What if they both tell me to discern the will of God in my life on an ongoing basis?  What if they both tell me to empty myself of all the vices and serve others?

Do the countless differences among the various denominations really matter?  It seems that trying to fit one's conscience into one's denomination or vice versa is the reason we have thousands of denominations and countless others who merely go through the motions.

That's the real sorrow of a disconnect, I think.  Not that so-called "Cafeteria Catholics" disagree with the church but that they often end up feeling lukewarm because what they do believe is overshadowed by what they don't. 

What if I learned to keep silent on issues that don't need to be aired out?  What if I don't have to always be right?  Is that part of it?  I want to belong to a group where what I believe is already considered true and correct?  Am I concerned about becoming a social parriah over dissent?  Or am I concerned about displeasing my God by holding untrue beliefs?  Because only the latter ought to give me pause.

I have explored enough faiths, both with and without Christianity to know that indeed each holds some kernel of truth as to ultimate reality.

Every time I read about the apologetics of a denomination, I see it their way.  At least part of what they claim.  This used to cause me a lot of flip-flopping, constantly wanting to change affiliation.  But now I see that none of these denominations is the verbatim will of God.  They're all just interpretations of His will.

I cannot believe that God intended for us to have so many religions and be so totally confused over who is right.... unless of course religion was never meant to be the conveyor of truth, but merely of spiritual practice and cultural tradition, in which case there is no arguing over which is better because they're all equal in His sight.

This must be what His view on the plurality of religion is.  It makes no sense to on the one hand allow multiple interpretations and at the same time condemn them all.  Because no single denomination is safe from condemnation by at least some other denominations.  Jesus wanted unity, and here we are, 2000 years later, bickering over who deserves to sit at His right and left, just like James and John in Mark 10:37.

Let's back up for a bit.  What is the spiritual/religious/faith life?  What does it consist of?

There's public worship.  For us that is the Mass.  It includes Scripture reading, singing, communal prayer, a teaching by the priest, reception of the Holy Eucharist, and often a collection. But it is also the optional public worship, like the Festival of Praise at our church once a month, or a group Rosary or Novena.

There's private worship.  This is prayer, meditation, contemplation, Scripture reading, singing and listening to Christian music. Being in nature. And anything else that brings us closer to God.

There's fellowship.  In our church, we have a monthly family dinner night at the parish.  There's often other workshops and classes available.  There's small groups and Bible studies.  There's Celebrate Recovery and other support groups. There's even a Facebook presence for the ladies of our parish.

There's service.  This can be done either in connection with the church, like the monthly Casserole dinner we make and bring back, or otherwise connecting with the homeless population through our SALT program, or the various other opportunities to share our treasure, talent, and/or time. There's serving our own parish community, as well as the community at large, both locally and globally. There's charitable donations and volunteering.

There's morality and virtues.  This is the way we live our everyday lives.  The decisions we make.  How we affect the lives of others.  How we grow in self-discipline and in how we view ourselves.

There's how we live out our faith through politics and the law.  This is an extension of the previous morality and virtues.

There's apologetics and evangelization.  This is how we defend and share our faith and hope in Jesus.

We can, and in fact are called to, serve others regardless of their belief system, if we are to treat all others as we want to be treated, regardless if we agree on matters of faith (or anything else for that matter).  Similarly we are to fellowship with others for the sake of spreading the Gospel, so we cannot cut ourselves away from those who don't already believe as we do.  The only aspect of religion that seems to truly necessitate uniformity would be public worship.  It would be chaos if everyone came with their own agenda to church, each standing up at will to share what was on their mind, some breaking into song, some perhaps into a dance, or otherwise everyone staying silent if no one had anything prepared.  Oh, wait, I just described an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting!

It would appear then that even there we don't "have" to be uniform.  We just like it that way.  We like to draw a line in the sand and say "this is where we begin and this is where others begin".  It makes us feel like we belong.  But is this what we're called to? To belong to a human-run institution?  To belong to a group of fellow humans according to agreed-upon values and beliefs?  Or are we called to belong directly to God?

Now, I am not suggesting we eschew organized religion altogether, or communal worship.  I am saying that I wish I could simply hear from within my church that even if we disagree, I am still loved by the Father and saved by the Son and strengthened by the spirit.  What I hear instead is the need to repent of my sins, meaning anything that veers away from the agreed-upon standard.  I hear from some Catholics that I'm wrong for going to New Order mass.  I hear from other Catholics that I am wrong for not wearing a headcovering in front of the blessed Sacrament.  Some Catholics tell me I'm wrong for having adopted embryos.  Others tell me I'm wrong for eating meat on Fridays.  There are Catholics that think too much adherence to tradition is scrupulous and not in line with Rome.  Then there are Catholics who think too much freedom of expression is disrespectful to the holy presence of God in the tabernacle.  Everyone seems to think they speak for God Himself. 

And this isn't just Catholics who have a Pope.  Protestants do it, based on their own interpretations of various verses.  Orthodox do it based on their own patriarch's teachings.  Groups that seem to have broken off even further away from mainstream Christianity, either by way of theology, as in the case of nontrinitarian Christians, or by way of lifestyle, as in the case of the Amish, also claim to have found the truth that was lacking in the mainstream.

It seems to be impossible to actually find truth among so many voices.  The only way I see around the problem is to transcend the differences all together and focus on natural law and principles.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Will My Soul Never Find Rest?

Believe it or not, my previous crisis of faith was actually very short-lived.  A week I think.  Everything went back to normal, growing in my relationship with Christ... or God? Now, if you're a to-the-core Trinitarian Christian, you won't understand why the previous sentence. But this actually snuck up on me out of nowhere, it seems.  I had actually just posted the following on my Facebook page regarding why I believe in the Trinity:

Why I believe in the Christian God: 
if God is beyond all human understanding, 
if God is not merely "made in the image of man" (as many nonbelievers would claim), 
if we cannot "see God and live" (see Exodus 33:20), 
then it's too simplistic to think God is a mere being like us, only omnipotent and omnicient.
No, the mystery of the holy Trinity is mind boggling enough to tell me it's closer to the reality than any other interpretation of God. 
My inability to understand is no measure of an idea's truth. 
There's plenty I don't understand about the natural world, why should it be any different about the supernatural spiritual realm?
And what DO I understand about the Trinity?
That God transcends individuality and is Father AND Son AND Holy Spirit.
That for God to "be love" as so many unaffiliated people like to say, He must be a relationship, not an individual, for love is self-sacrificing and never focused on the self.
And just as Jesus said in John 15:13, "there is no greater love than to give up one's life for a friend", which He did. 
The immortal God couldn't have given up His life for us had He not first been incarnated as one of us, voluntarily and temporarily limiting Himself for our sake.
THIS is why I am a Christian. Not based on blind faith or habit but based on sheer reasoning. 

And yet, not more than a week later, I suddenly have an almost overwhelming sense of guilt over calling Jesus God.  I think, "am I an idolater?" I wonder, "am I keeping to the First Commandment?" And interestingly, for the first time in my spiritual journey, I want to know the truth.  This is huge, because it means that I assume the truth can be known.  In the past, I've only looked for a good fit between my personal values and beliefs and those of various religions.

I find myself praying before reading Scriptures for the Lord to open the eyes of my heart and to allow me to get to know Him better.  In my personal prayer time, I've talked to God directly, unencumbered by thoughts of what "the powers that be" would have me believe about how I ought to address my Maker.

I know that I most likely will not leave the Catholic church because I do not expect to find a church community that is any better of a match for me than the one I'm already comfortable and familiar with. Yet I still feel an urgency to figure out my beliefs for the sake of integrity when it comes to teaching "the faith" to my children.

Not too long ago, during a Bible lesson with my 5 year old, we were reviewing the meaning of the Sabbath and when I said that God created everything, my daughter said, "I thought Jesus created everything?" Now I was stumped.  I know that we say that God the Father created everything "through" Jesus the Logos or Word, before His incarnation, but we also talk about Jesus being our salvation, and the first point in our family mission statement (yes, we have one!) is that "we aspire to be a Christ-centered family".  To be honest, I'm actually quite confused by the whole thing.

I had the same issues with Catholic devotion to Mary.  Once I left Paganism and had a layover in quasi-evangelical Protestantism, I no longer felt the same desire to honor Mary as I did when I actually ascribed a lot more meaning to her than was appropriate from a Catholic Christian standpoint. My spiritual director tried to help me past this.  I went through the motions of a Marian consecration and everything.  But sorry, no relationship with Mary has developed.  I'm too busy trying to focus on following Jesus.  And now, I'm at the same standstill. 

The single most important commandment, arguably, is to love God.  I need to know somewhat Who this God is in order to love Him.  What if ascribing divinity or even Godhood itself to Jesus, even if He is the Messiah, is actually contrary to loving God by placing my entire spiritual focus on  - at best, an incarnation, and at worst, a mere mortal?  If Jesus is not God, I can love Jesus to the moon and back and I still won't be fulfilling the first commandment to love God.  Of course, if Jesus is God, then indeed I am loving God by loving Jesus.  But how to know which is true?

It would appear to me that something as fundamental as knowing Who God is shouldn't be shrouded in so much mystery.  It should be blatantly obvious, at least if God expects everyone to actually come to know and love Him.  If a person needs to read Scriptures, turn to a priest, keep track of various devotions and ordinances, in order to please God, then this automatically eliminates the majority of people on the planet, first of all, and second of all, creates havoc and chaos among those who know to do this but disagree on how!  Yet we know God is not a God of confusion but of peace! At least that is my fundamental understanding.

I thought I found what I was looking for the other day when I started reading (again) about Christian Deism.  It really resonated with me - the God of nature, available for everyone to experience directly just by observing nature and being still enough to feel Him resonate inside our hearts and minds.  Christian Deists, as opposed to traditional deists, do believe God continues to be interested in our lives, and they do pray.  They don't, however, expect miracles.  One miracle in particular they don't believe in is the Resurrection of Jesus.

And this is where I had to stop.  I realized that I do think I believe in His Resurrection.  I also believe in His Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Please note neither of these beliefs necessitates that I believe Jesus is God.  God can do anything, including resurrect Jesus, and including allow Him to stay present to us in the form of Holy Communion.  It would seem then that the easiest thing for me to do would be to just sit tight and keep quiet about my Arian heresy.

At the moment, I don't see another viable solution.  I enjoy and understand and benefit from Catholic worship and community.  I agree with the majority of Catholic social teaching.  And I don't see any reasonable alternatives as far as church homes.  Perhaps I just ease away from talking about the Trinity and focus on what I DO believe that IS in line with Catholic teaching, both for my own sake and that of my kids.  We can still be a Christ-centered family, since His ethics and example are superb.  We can still "want the atmosphere of our home to be built on the fruits of the holy spirit" (the third point of our family mission statement), although I think I may stop capitalizing both words, rather thinking of it (not "him") as the holy spirit of God.

Really, this is scupulosity in one direction, as opposed to in the typical direction... well, not really.  Scupulosity is the extreme desire for virtuous decisions, and that's my motivation as well, so I guess this is an example of my scrupulously trying to adhere to the first commandment... This is quite an insightful eureka, actually, if I say so myself... let me go think on that some more!


💝

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This seems to be the question on the minds of many faithful Catholics who feel they are at a cross-roads right now with the shameful state of the church.  I can only speak for myself, but when I finally started reading up on what all the talk was about, I started to make several observations about my faith.

1. I feel torn between wanting to stay and quite frankly go on with life as planned before I realized what had been going on for decades, and wanting to disassociate myself with a church that no longer sounds like it's living up to its promises.

2. I have realized that I have idolized my denominational affiliation over my relationship with Christ.  My current parish family has been amazing in slowly but surely helping me work on what's important - namely my relationship with Jesus, but this has not been my Catholic experience prior to this parish.

3. I am going back to the Scriptures, weighing the interpretations of different denominations, and really questioning some of the unique aspects of Catholicism.  Jesus's Real Presence in the Eucharist is chief among these.  It seems that faithful Catholics who are not considering leaving the church simply refer to Jesus' Real Presence and say with resignation, "where else could we go?"  But as I've found out, this is a misleading question, because several other denominations believe in some version of a literal interpretation of John 6's Discourse of the Bread of Life.

4. Which brings me to my next thought - is it Jesus's Real Presence in the Eucharist that I want to continue to have access to in my church community?  Do I really believe that I cannot follow Christ, cannot have a relationship with Him, cannot do His will, unless I receiving Him in Holy Communion?  (The answer is a resounding no, underlined actually by a statistic I learned from today's homily.  Apparently only 6% of Catholics believe that sharing the gospel is a priority.  Um, what are we doing in church then people?  Are we not listening at all at the end of Mass when we are sent out to do just that?)  Are we looking at weighing the reality of our Eucharistic Lord against having a vivid and real relationship with our Savior?  Is it an either-or situation?  Certainly, there is room for both, but in my experience, having Jesus physically yet mysteriously present in the Eucharist has set up boundaries around Him.  It has limited where I turn to find Him.  It has encouraged a private devotion with zero interest in sharing Him with others. 

5. Is my desire to remain Catholic a holdover from simply what is familiar?  And if so, is that in itself so bad?  Well, I don't think so, with one big caveat: If I stay, I nonetheless have to do something.  What, I don't know yet, but something.  If I stay and do nothing, then yes, I am condoning the scandal and the cover-up.  And I am not OK with that.

6. And if access to our Eucharistic Lord is a hindrance to a living relationship with Christ, am I then obligated to distance myself from this one manifestation of Jesus in order to better find Him elsewhere? Because regardless, ultimately I am to share Christ.  Which brings me to a good resting point.  This week I start the Sharing Christ series, the third and final installment of an intentional discipleship series I've been participating in.  Perhaps there I can get some clarity.


Practical reasons why I need to commit - and soon - to stay or go, in no particular order:
1. Choice of homeschooling history curriculum spine.  Do I want the Catholic-friendly Story of Civilization, or the Protestant (and hence at times anti-Catholic) Story of the World?

2. Do we prepare our children for their first Reconciliation and Communion in a few years as planned?

3. Do we change how we talk about God to our children? 

4. Do we change how we pray? What we pray?

5. Do we embark on a dual denominational period during which we start exposing our kids to a church community that isn't centered on the Eucharist?


I think the best thing for me to do right now is to pretend there is no other church to which we can belong (as often is the case in various places in the world), and therefore maintain our ties there for at the very least the fellowship aspect of our faith.  And then we would need to step up our private devotion, Scripture study, and the like.  I think it's a good method no matter what, because ultimately, our personal relationship with Jesus is up to us as individuals, not the church we belong to.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Scandal and Fallout

So I have been living under a rock.  I mean, I "knew" about the previous sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, but I never took any time to learn any details about it.  As recently as last month, I assured fellow Catholics that no one threatens to leave the country when scandal breaks out at the White House or among the police, because we know the country is built on something greater than the individuals that disappoint us. I didn't think it was any different with church membership.  But you know what, that's a little like comparing apples and oranges.  It's nowhere near as feasible for most people to migrate to a foreign country as it is for them to choose a different church to go to.

I also engaged in a little bit of "blame the victim" mentality, or rather, blame the victims' parents.  I thought - where were the parents of the kids being abused?  Why did they trust clergy to be alone with their children?  I've never been an altar server, nor have I ever attended vacation bible school.  I didn't meet many priests personally until recently.  So this is foreign territory for me.  But my daughter has now experienced her first vacation bible school.  I remember writing in my first letter to her that I support whatever path she may follow in life, consecrated religious life included.  I thought about the possibility of my son being a priest someday since before I had confirmation that I was pregnant with him. Today, I have to say that I would be very cautious about the idea, and I don't know that I'll actively encourage my kids to discern this possibility anymore.

And in a much more pressing, immediate scenario... Confession.  We may need to seek out the old screened confessional booths again to maintain some level of security and safety.  I love and trust our current pastor, but the sad truth is that these clerical criminals have tainted the reputation of all the clergy.  Their victims and their victims' parents also trusted them.  So my feelings of trust are no consolation anymore.

It is a sad day when I feel I have to take it upon myself to put into effect safety mechanisms to protect my family from the leaders of my church.  It shouldn't be like that.  The church is not supposed to be just another secular organization.  Yet, I don't see how I can see it as anything other than anymore.

Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 "upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." So I'm left with a few thoughts on this.  One - I believe that Jesus meant to establish a church based on the leadership of Peter.  Two - I believe Satan has been attacking Christ's church and this is a renewed effort. Three - I don't believe Jesus started an organization, so I don't think it is necessary to think of His Church in terms of a hierarchy.  I believe it is more appropriate to think of the fellowship of all believers as Christ's church.  I don't feel bound by loyalty to the Pope anymore.  The Pope has failed me.  He has failed his calling to lead his flock.  But his failure does not negate the value of the church. I just have to reassess how I define "church". 

But there's a much bigger obstacle to my "leaving" Catholicism.  Ironically, it's an obstacle many converts to Catholicism struggle with before finally embracing the faith: the Eucharist.  But there is no denying Christ's words in the 6th chapter of the gospel of John, verses 35-66.  I'm finding myself on a mission of interpretation. Because let's be honest.  If I were to not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, then I would see no reason to remain a Catholic.  

The current scandal is merely forcing the issue because I'm having a hard time believing in anything - having faith in anything - coming from the same hierarchy that has shown itself to be completely unconcerned with its mission and calling.  If they don't take their position seriously, how can we, the laity? 


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

When I Considered Religious Life

My senior year of high school, I thought about becoming a nun.  I had just read a little book by now Saint Theresa of Kolkata (then and still today known to the world as Mother Theresa).  I was young and naive with romanticism about travel, experiencing other cultures, and spending my days in silent contemplation.  I had not real idea of what it meant to be a religious sister, much less a missionary abroad.  I was certainly confusing that and the life of a contemplative hermit-style nun.  Either way, it didn't take long for me to move on to other aspirations after I got discouraged from the idea by my family.

Their reasoning wasn't exactly based on the fact that I had no idea what I was talking about.  Rather, it was based on the fact that they didn't want me to live a life of poverty.  My grandmother, I remember, mentioned, that if I were a boy and expressed an interest in the priesthood, that'd be different.  There were clearly stereotypes about what the various religious lifestyles entail.

In the end, I wasn't being called to the religious life, but I can't really say that I actually discerned this.  Rather, in retrospect, after having actually learned more about what it takes to live out such a vocation, I see that God knew me better than I knew myself.

In a nutshell, if I'm being honest, what I wanted was to live free of charge on an eternal spiritual retreat.  I have since learned that a) you can't enter a religious order with debt, b) they put you to work, and it may not be what you want to be doing, c) the hours of prayer and contemplation come at the price of sleep and free time; they are not in lieu of the full time work that is expected, and finally, d) that entering a religious order is a calling, not a decision. 

This last one actually applies to married life as well, but sadly no one seems to discern if they are called to married life.  They just sort of assume that they are, unless something nudges them to the contrary.  And that's a shame.  Alex and I recently became mentors to engaged couples wishing to be married in the Catholic church.  Our first couple has been together for a decade, has lived together for most of that time, and have three kids together.  It's probably a bit late in their circumstances to be discerning if married life is what they're being called to.

So with that in mind, I want to raise my kids to keep their options truly open.  I don't want them to assume anything.  We don't know yet to which vocation God will call them.  We want them to stay open to all the possibilities, and this is reflected in our family standards regarding dating.  I know first hand how easy it is to "fall in love" as a teenager and then be unable to imagine a life without the significant other. By then it's too late to start considering if God is even calling you to married life or not.  I can't imagine having to break up with a steady boyfriend because "it's time to discern" a vocation.  Instead, we will discuss the different vocations (religious life, single life, married life) as they're growing up, and allow group dating but no serious steady relationships before age 18.

I got off easy.  I used to "blame" my family for discouraging me from pursuing a religious vocation, but now I realize that, had I actually discerned it seriously, I probably would have come to the same conclusion.  But you see, then the realization would've been my own, and I would've owned it.  I would have been able to know without a doubt that this is what God wants for my life.  Instead, I sort of cowered with my metaphorical tail between my legs, playing the victim to my family's lack of support.

Last year at a retreat I met a woman who spoke of the mixed blessing it was to have a daughter join a religious order.  Until that moment, I hadn't actually considered it from the parents' perspective.  But it didn't change my determination to be sure I give equal opportunity to all the vocations for my kids.  After all, married life - even single life - doesn't guarantee that my kids will live close by after they're grown.  My daughter, at 4.75 years old, may swear up and down that she always wants to live with me, and I always tell her she's welcome to it, but I can't hold her to it.  I may envision a happy multi-generational household like the one I grew up in in Poland, but it is not up to me.

I have grown a lot since considering religious life over twenty years ago.  Chief among the maturation process is the understanding of discernment.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Goal of Faith

"Although you have not seen Him you love him; even though you do not see Him now yet you believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9

"The goal of faith: the salvation of your souls." What would happen to my soul if I didn't have faith?  Well, what kind of life would I lead?  Where would I find the hope, peace, joy, and strength to overcome my tendencies to sabotage doing good?  Whom would I worship, follow, glorify?  I cannot deny my Maker.  And I no longer question WHO God is, and what He's done for me.

If God is just the god of eastern religions or neopagan religions or modern quasi-religions, then He is only one among many, or an abstract concept like gravity.  There is no hope in that.  I'm still on my own to find my way to a life of purpose and meaning. 

If God is like the God of the Qu'ran, He's more like a political leader than a loving Father.  We already saw this in the Old Testament, and Jesus clarified where this view is incomplete.  I've often wondered why Muhammad seems to have reinvented the wheel of Judaism. 

I mean no disrespect, but from an outsider, there are very few differences between the lifestyle and moral expectations of Jews and Muslims.  There are dietary restrictions.  There are dress considerations.  There is mandatory male circumcision.  There are clearly defined gender roles. There is a focus on marriage and family life for every individual.  There are expectations to fast, pray, tithe.  To an outsider, it seems like the advent of Islam was a cultural reaction to Judaism. 

I am the first to admit that I know next to nothing about the history of the region where Islam was born, but I do know that Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter) was known to the early Muslims.  If they took issue with polytheism, they could've become Jewish.  If they took issue with the incarnation and divinity of Jesus, they could've become Jewish.  But instead, they created what seems to me to be a parallel religion.  I don't deny that Muhammad probably felt nudged by God to do something, to improve the quality of life for the people of the time and region.  But I do not believe God wanted more of the same. 

(If you're wondering why I felt the need to get into a mini comparison between Judaism and Islam here, it's because I discerned conversion to both of these faiths at some point along my journey.  So I am not judging either from a disinterested philosophical point of view, but rather explaining my thought process as to why I did not ultimately end up Muslim nor Jewish.)

But the God of Jesus - the God: Jesus - He brings hope.  Only He brings hope.  The Gospel says that we are loved by our Maker.  We are not alone on our journey.  We are good enough just as we are.  All He asks of us is to repent and believe.  Ignore the naysayers.  Put our mistakes behind us.  Turn to Him.  Follow Him.  

It sounds too good to be true for many.  An approachable God sounds downright blasphemous to some.  The idea that we are not the center of the universe is too difficult for a lot of people to admit.  So they stay in denial, where it feels familiar, comfortable, even "safe".  But it's a perilous false sense of safety.  Denying the truth doesn't make it go away.  The first step of every recovery program is to step out of denial.  Take that risk to meet the unknown.  Make yourself vulnerable to God's will.  Trust God.  

It's the only way to life.  It's the only way to truth.  It's the only way.  That's' why Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me"  (John 14:6).  They may come close, but not quite into God's loving embrace.  They may think they've arrived when all they have is a distant wave from God.  He is beckoning you to come closer.  Only Jesus can take you there.

And this is the goal of our faith in Jesus: that we may be saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).  Saved from a life of servitude.  Saved from a life of hopelessness.  Saved from our own mistakes.  For without the Spirit of God, we are slaves to this world, Satan, and the flesh.  Without the mercy of God, we are here on Earth until our time is up, and then it will have been all for naught. Without Christ living in us, we cannot overcome our frail tendencies of selfishness, self-centeredness, self-consciousness, self-importance.  We cannot remove ourselves from the center of our lives without placing Christ in the center instead.  

And that's what it takes - removing ourselves from the center of our lives, and living for others.  Imagine what the world would be like if everyone lived in service to their fellow sisters and brothers here on Earth.  Imagine the peace and cooperation that would bring!  Imagine the joy and celebration of our diversity!  Imagine ... paradise on Earth!  Because that is God's original design, for us to live in harmony with each other and with Him, forever.  No death, no sickness, no pain, no war, no confusion, no ugliness, no chaos, no fear, no disappointment, no anger, no power struggles, no lies.  But it takes a critical mass of people to make lasting change.  Until we get there, while we are in the minority, we must put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) and resign ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God. 

And to anyone who would quote statistics here, alluding to the fact that there is already a critical mass of Christ-followers in the world, and it is still in shambles, I say look again.  The statistics will tell you religious affiliation and church attendance.  They will not show you the heart of the believer.  Because sadly (and I was one of them for a long time), many accept the label of Christ without welcoming Him into their lives.

We must not look to the left nor to the right lest we lose focus or begin to doubt (see Proverbs 4:27).  I have already experienced life without hope, and I am not tempted to rejoin the empty promises of Satan.  I still struggle.  Daily.  I still doubt.  But I know what I stand for now; I know Whom I serve. I have been gifted the grace of faith.  And I so wish you would join me on the journey!  There's so much truth, goodness, and beauty here!

Monday, May 14, 2018

The M Word

Is modest a new dirty word?  It's one thing to note that a majority of people in our society seem to not care about being modest, but I've noticed lately that it's antithesis is being paraded around as some sort of women's right.  And as a woman, I'm both confused and discouraged by it.  I have no choice but to cling to my faith for the only sound, timeless, guidelines to a life of integrity, because secular society offers nothing of value.

Take this article, for instance. A college student in a performing and media arts class was given feedback from her professor regarding her outfit. The professor apparently noted that the student's shorts were "too short" (granted, a subjective opinion), and that "she was making a 'statement' with the clothes she was wearing" (is this not a given?) 

Aside from common sense telling us that people perceive us the way we present ourselves, I also learned this in the context of a feminist class in college.  That for women in particular, no matter what we do regarding our looks, it will be perceived as a statement.  Our clothes, hairstyle, and makeup or lack thereof.  There is no way for a woman to leave her home and not be judged based on what she's wearing.  This isn't fair, of course, but it is a fact of life.  This professor was pointing out to the student that there was nonverbal communication taking place via her clothing, so that she could take that into consideration when making her final presentation.  The professor wasn't being sexist; she was being honest. 

The student chose not to find gratitude for this reminder.  In fact, she took it as an affront and ended up - I kid you not - stripping to her underwear instead.  In the end, after reading the article, I have no idea what her thesis topic was, but I did inadvertently imagine her standing at the front of the class with nothing but a bra and panties.  Not sure this in any way helped her deliver her message.  Instead, her message seems to be quite different, and quite popular among more recent generations.

The message seems to go something like this: "I can wear whatever I want, with no regard to the fact that it makes a difference in how I am portraying myself, and no one has a right to mention anything about it.  I deserve respect regardless if I am dressed completely inappropriately for the circumstances.  I have rights, you know?"

What's missing in the message is this: "I also have a responsibility to present myself in a way that shows that I respect myself, and that I have done my due diligence not to portray a persona that doesn't command respect from others.  I cannot control how others view me, but at least my conscience tells me that I have done my part to dress appropriately."

Here's another example of students, this time in high school, taking offense at their elders (school administrators) making a judgment call technically outside the official school dress code about visible bra straps not being appropriate.  The dress code also doesn't specify the need to wear pants, but I'm confident any bottom-less student would be promptly sent home as well.  Rather than making a note of it and choosing more appropriate tops in the future, the student complains the she "keep[s] getting pulled out of [her] education" for repeatedly wearing tops that reveal her bra straps. What about the education of her fellow students, who may be distracted by seeing her underclothing or excess skin? Essentially, the message here is that it's not her problem.

What we seem to be dealing with now, and I don't know if it's a generational thing or what, but basically, "let's not take people's rights away by mentioning responsibilities which are supposed to go along with those rights. That's so last century.  Rights and responsibilities are completely unrelated to each other.  They do not overlap."

I will say that this issue most definitely ought to apply to both sexes, and the examples here seem to focus only on females.  While bra straps may not be relevant to men, pants are.  And there is definitely a problem with the whole pants-around-the-knees-with-entire-behind-out phenomenon. I'm sorry, but I don't care where it originated, the point is twofold: 1) if you can't actually walk properly without holding up your pants, you may want to reconsider how you're wearing them; and 2) it's called underwear for a reason - it goes under the clothes you show to the world.

But let's be honest.  Other than the falling-off-pants, men just aren't socially expected to expose their skin.  Quite the opposite tends to be the case.  Men's swim shorts are more like skirts in a lot of cases. Tight pants are discouraged. But when I start seeing armpit hair, I have to say something.  Where are my rights to go out in public and not have to worry about seeing too much of anyone?  Where are my rights to free speech when someone does something I find offensive?  Where are my rights to expecting people to take responsibility for themselves, instead of walking around with the assumption that entitlement is a civil right?

Modesty - there's that forbidden M word - is merely this: not exaggerating how one view's oneself in terms of skills or looks; it's being in the world without looking to draw unnecessary attention to one's person.  It's the opposite of arrogance.

But in a society that sees nothing wrong with arrogance and, as a society, runs from vulnerability at all costs, I guess I can't really expect modesty to be valued on any level. And just like that I'm reminded of why following Christ is countercultural.  It's things like this that remind me that virtues are not accepted universally, and that people value radically different things.  I leave you with this thought from Scripture: "if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14).