Posts tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

The Knitting Club

So, this weekend I took my granny squares and met up with a group of people who meet every other week at the Central Market to knit and crochet. I now have 97 out of 100 granny squares completed. When I get done with the 100 squares I have to crochet a black border around each one and then sew them together. I anticipate that I may be done sometime between now and the year 3000.

I wasn’t sure what I expected out of the group exactly, maybe a bunch of old biddies or a group of soccer moms. Neither was true. It was a pretty large group. There must have been at lease eight or nine people there. There were even two men.

We looked at pattern books and ate cookies and worked on our projects and talked. The lady who sat on my right was a technical writer who lived within walking distance of my house. The one on my left was a crochet guru who worked for a library. The woman directly across from me was from Oklahoma, and she teaches composition and rhetoric at a local university. The woman to her left was a former high school English teacher and a former Christian educator. And the two men were mos. Could the group have been more tailored made for moi? I don’t see how.

We talked about the news, its quality or lack thereof. The tech writer and I talked about the zoning plans for our respective neighborhoods and how sad it was that the area was destined to be Downtown: The Sequel. This means that it’ll be all vertical multi-use with outrageously high rents. In twenty years, they’ll have stripped this neighborhood of its poor and its minorities as well as its character. It will be homogenized, pasteurized, pristine, pretty, progressive, and predominantly white. It’ll also be pricey. I was glad that someone else besides me found that sad.

The tech writer was an African American woman, and when the subject of marriage and children came up, and I said that I thought marriage and children were both wonderful things but that I was tired of being made to feel less of a woman if I didn’t experience them, she said something profound. She said, “I have two grown children and a grandbaby. I’ve been married and divorced twice. All I ever wanted to be was That Girl. You know, like Marlo Thomas. Just a cute little career girl with a steady boyfriend.” Funny how you never think about the grass being greener.

We talked about writing and reading. We talked about grammar and novels. The meeting started at 2 and didn’t break up until nearly 5. Afterward, I went to the Mr. Brewsters for enchiladas and to see baby Punky.

I had intended to try a new church this weekend, but I didn’t get my nerve up and procrastinated instead, staying in bed under the covers and reading issues of The New Yorker. However, I did go to the church building on Sunday afternoon and drive by the outside so I would know how to get there for next week. I consider that progress.

I think I found a church that might fit with my particular brand of theology. I think I found some place where they might not think of homosexuality as a sin and where gays might be welcome to worship without being given the cold shoulder or the love the sinner speech. It’s small, and it’s close. The website talks about their commitment to service.

I like the Presbyterian church my landlords go to except that it’s all money. They pour most of their resources into buildings and programs designed to fill the needs of the church members and very little money comparatively into service and missions. Austin Stone is committed to missions, and they’re close now. I like the people who worship there, but that church is a member of the Southern Baptist Conference. I’m going to be pretty diametrically opposed to some of their theology. Plus, I’m pretty certain you’ll never see any gay or lesbian couples filling the pews at either of those churches.

January 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

The Perfection of Imperfection

Cindy on the cover of the magazine George.

Image via Wikipedia

I read two blog posts recently that really made me think about some things. People are always saying that God doesn’t make mistakes, and, indeed, I believe this to be true. God has a plan. We just don’t know what it is.

On John Shore’s blog, he published a piece of writing from a young man who was contemplating his first real exchange with a transgender female from the Thruway Christians. The young man talked about his struggle with how God could make a female who is trapped in a male’s body when God is perfect. Some people often use the same argument for why gays can’t be born that way. It’s got to be a choice because God doesn’t make mistakes.

There was another echo of that same concept on Julie Clawson’s blog, onehandclapping (also on my blogroll – please check her out), about Julie’s disability. Julie was born without an arm below the elbow. She talked of her frustration with well meaning Christians who believe that they should pray for her arm to sprout. And she talked about the same concept of God’s “perfection.”

Well, let’s think about that for a minute. Would we want a world where everyone was perfect? If perfect is a young Cindy Crawford, would we really want a world where every woman looks exactly like Cindy Crawford did in her twenties? I’m sure some guy out there will say yes. But I think most people like variety.

I realize that’s not quite the same thing as being born transgender or being born without an arm. But when we question God’s perfection over making people with disabilities or diseases or less than perfect looks, or less than stellar intellect, then aren’t we questioning God and his plan?

I don’t think that God is the god of eugenics. Do you? I mean, do you really think that God sits in his bunker in heaven with his tiny mustache and tries to create a super race of blond haired, blue-eyed specimens of perfection? Do you think the real problem is that we keep thwarting his master plan with our free will and haphazard procreation?

Yeah, me, neither. For one thing, the Hebrew people are God’s chosen race. For another, we’d all get tired of those tall blonde, blue eyed Nazis after awhile. Even they would get tired of one another and eventually long for some gorgeous, swarthy person of the opposite sex to whisper in Yiddish to them. I know I would, anyway. Please. Whisper “shiksa” to me.

The parallel may seem like a stretch – from questioning God’s perfection over a missing arm or a gender identity issue or a sexual orientation issue all the way to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. But really, not so much. It’s all the same concept, just on a different scale. I believe those things that we humans see as being imperfect are not imperfect at all to God. Learning to love people who are “different” makes us all a little more perfect in God’s eyes. And remember, even Cindy Crawford has that mole.

January 12, 2011 at 12:10 am 7 comments

Proof That Atheists Believe in God

Angry man

Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t known that many atheists, let alone been close to them. But the ones I have known, frankly, didn’t seem like true atheists to me. They still seemed to acknowledge God’s existence. They just seemed angry or bewildered at God. They spoke of God and their frustrations with Him and their perplexity at the dichotomy of a cruel world and a loving God. They spoke of their disappointment and disillusionment with the God of their childhood.

Finally I have “proof” that atheists actually believe in God. An article I read yesterday on CNN is about a study on college students that will be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Students of all religious backgrounds were studied, and they reported having felt anger toward God. Not towards fate. Not towards the deck of cards they were dealt. Not towards The Force. Not towards Xenu. Towards God.

I ask you, logically, how do you experience anger towards someone who doesn’t exist? Well, you don’t. The fact is that whether you choose to believe that God created man or that man created God, God does exist for you if He’s real enough for you to be angry with Him. And anyone can start there.

http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/01/anger-at-god-common-even-among-atheists/?hpt=Sbin

January 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm 18 comments

Lyrical Mishaps

So, the video to “Take A Chance on Me” reminded me that song lyrics are something that I frequently mess up on. For instance, the lyrics to that song include the line, “Honey, I’m still free/Take a chance on me,” but when I was a kid I thought that they were singing, “Olly oxen free/Take a chance on me.” For real. Like they were playing hide and go seek.

Or how ‘bout the lyrics to “Blinded By the Light” as recorded by Manfred Mann? I grew up thinking that they were singing, “Wrapped up like a douche/Another runner in the night.” Turns out the guys were singing deuce, not douche. They were referring to a deck of cards and not a bottle of vinegar and water marked Massengill. This should have occurred to me since I’m pretty sure that douche is a word that would have been censored from the radio when I was a child. Probably even now. Since I wouldn’t have had the foggiest notion of what a douche was at the time I guess it’s kind of a moot point.

And what about “Down Under” by Men at Work? Could anybody from the States even tell what all those lyrics were? For instance, all this time I’ve been thinking that they were saying that I better, better run, I better take a boat when it turns out that they were saying that I better run, I better take cover. Did anyone else besides me get that version? I had to look it up on the internet to figure out the real lyrics. And what the hell does it mean to chunder? I think they made that up.

Here’s another great one. You know “Let It Snow”? Well, I always used to think the lyrics went like this, “Later on we’ll perspire as we dream by the fire.” Frankly, that made sense to me. That fire’s toasty warm. You’re going to be sweating.

Well, I’m sure that you can all think of some great examples yourselves. Happy holidays!

December 22, 2010 at 12:36 am 2 comments

Early Christianity: The Writing of The New Testament

Jesus appearing to Thomas the Apostle, from th...

Image via Wikipedia

The New Testament consists of 27 books written by an assortment of different authors. There’s a lot of argument and speculation about who wrote a great many of the books, with some scholars even insisting that some of the Pauline letters were not written by Paul. There isn’t even any agreement about when the books were written.

The gospels could have been written as early as the 50s C.E. or as late as the second century. The debate for when and who wrote many books of the New Testament is important because it establishes the authenticity of the books. If the gospels were written within the Apostolic Age, then there is a good chance that they were written by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

If the date of authorship is later, then the gospels lose some of their clout as they are most certainly a written version of an earlier oral tradition. And we all know what happens when you play a game of Telephone.

The earliest church didn’t see a need for a New Testament. The Jewish scriptures were their scriptures. No need to reinvent the wheel. Also, early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent. They wouldn’t have seen the importance of preserving church tradition or the stories of Jesus because they were convinced that Jesus was coming for them before they could have children to whom they might pass it on.

This might explain some of Paul’s views on celibacy and marriage, which would have been contrary to Jewish tradition. These views, in turn, undoubtedly influenced the monastic tradition.

Some extremely conservative evangelicals would argue that all four gospels were written by disciples or contemporaries of Jesus. But I would ask you to remember that these are the same people who like to say that Moses wrote the Torah, which requires him to have written of his own death. Seems unlikely to me. So, I think we have to at least be open to the possibility that the Gospels were written after the death of Jesus’ contemporaries.

Does this mean that we should automatically disregard the New Testament as nothing but propaganda for a fledgling religion, a sect of Jews who were concerned with communal living? Well, oral history isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to scripture. The myths that make up Greek and Roman mythology were originally transmitted this way. This is also probably true for much of the Old Testament as well.

One great argument for the accuracy of oral tradition is the commonality of the flood myth amongst various cultures. Given that it’s a story that circulated through numerous peoples in geographical areas that couldn’t have influenced one another, there seems to be at least one case for the relative accuracy of oral tradition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flood_myths

November 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm Leave a comment

Early Christianity: The Apostle Paul

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, 16th century ...

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What could I write about the apostle Paul that hasn’t already been written? Damn near nothing. He is without question the single most powerful influence on the Christian religion as we know it today (if you don’t count Jesus, that is). His conversion story is dramatic. His zeal was catching. His passion for converting the gentiles made Christianity its own religion rather than a subset of Judaism, and this allowed Christianity to eventually flourish throughout the Roman world and beyond.

Saul of Tarsus was born a Hellenized Jew and a Roman citizen. Saul means “asked for” in Hebrew, and he may likely have been named after King Saul, King David’s predecessor and father-in-law. He was probably sometimes called Paul prior to his conversion since Paul was the more Greek friendly version of his Hebrew name. It was almost certainly a calculated choice to use the Hellenized version of the name in his later ministry.

Saul’s dad was a Pharisee, and Saul grew up to also become a Pharisee. He first learned a trade before he was allowed to go to rabbinical school. Saul learned to make tents. Apparently the people of antiquity also felt that their children should have something to fall back on. At the tender age of twelve he would have been sent to learn scripture.

He would have been sent to a fine school, as Tarsus, located in present day Turkey, had a reputation for being something of an intellectual capital of the Jewish world. Think of Tarsus as being like present day Boston, Massachusetts. Close your eyes and throw a dart at a map of the greater Boston/Cambridge metropolitan area and pick a school, any school. Yours landed on MIT? Damn! What a shame for you!

At rabbinical school Saul would have studied intensely to become the modern day equivalent of a professor, a pastor, and an attorney. Becoming a rabbi was no small feat. It’s not exactly a shabby accomplishment now, either.

Saul of Tarsus was a contemporary of Jesus, and when Jesus’ ministry was in full swing he would no doubt have been aware of it. Jesus was only one of many such men who claimed to be the Messiah that would deliver the Jewish people from Roman occupation. The Jews dreamed of political independence and a Jewish state free from the oppression of the Romans. The Pharisees and Saducees that Jesus spoke of with such disdain for their beliefs – Saul would have been one of them, even a leader among them.

After Jesus was crucified Saul became a chief persecutor of early Christians. He was present at the martyrdom of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. His conversion experience would have been just as shocking to him as it was to the people who heard it. In fact, many Christians did not initially trust Paul’s motives when he insisted that he had been saved and wished to preach for Christ. They were suspicious and fearful of him. I would be, too, if I were a Christian then. Paul, before his conversion, was a big Bob Dylan fan – everybody must get stoned.

Because of his impeccable Jewish education and his familiarity with Greek culture and his Roman citizenship, Paul was uniquely poised to bring Christianity to the masses, especially to the pagan masses. Thus began Paul’s ministry. He became convinced that Jesus had died to save the world from its sins and that by grace alone are we saved. This was a far cry from his previous beliefs as a Pharisee, which emphasized strict adherence to the law.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’,” (Romans 1:16,17)

The most lasting contribution that Paul made to the Christian religion was the authorship of thirteen epistles. These epistles are letters that Paul wrote to early Christian churches. He probably wrote them with the help of a scribe who may likely have paraphrased him, such was the custom of the time. The letters that Paul sent were not meant to be scripture but rather to be a means of delivering comfort and encouragement to scattered congregations. When Paul wrote on matters of theology, he was frequently answering the questions of confused parishioners or settling disputes over differences of opinion amongst a congregation. He was ultimately, in many of his letters, determining just which Jewish laws would stay a part of Christianity and which would go.

Paul wrote the following books of the New Testament:

Romans

1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

Galatians

Ephesians

Philippians

Colossians

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy

Titus

Philemon

Along with the scribe controversy, many modern theologians like to point out that Paul has a massive amount of influence for an apostle who never had any first hand knowledge of Jesus. We are, as Mohammed called us, People of the Book. We do not have Jesus among us in the flesh so we must rely on what the Book tells us about the words of Jesus, his character, his life, his ministry. What would Jesus do? Many of us would turn to the words of Paul to try to decipher this.

And why not? If no one but people who met Jesus wrote about Jesus our Bible would be the size of a tract. We’d also be missing out on some really great theological contemplations by C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, J.I. Packer, Rick Warren, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Josh McDowell, Henri Nouwen, Anne Lamott, G.K. Chesterton, and the list could go on and on. All these people are also unqualified to give their opinion on Jesus.

Paul’s legacy is well deserved. That he was a faithful disciple of Jesus cannot be questioned. Paul was imprisoned four times for a total of five and a half to six years. How many of us would be willing to do that for Jesus today? He was killed for his beliefs. We’re spoiled because in the Western world we don’t have to contemplate the possibility of prison or death for our faith. Why? Because ultimately what Paul started made freedom of religion a possibility for Christians. He didn’t get to see it in his lifetime, which is a pity. But perhaps it’s also a good thing that he didn’t get to see the complacency with which many Christians worship today.

November 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm 5 comments

Early Christianity: James the Just

 

Icon of James the Just, whose judgment was ado...

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“Faith without works is dead.” – James the Just

James 2:14-26

James the Just is one of the three pillars of the early church, the other two being Simon Peter [https://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/] and the Apostle Paul. James has little to do with this website [http://www.jamesthejust.com/], just for your information, but I think ancient swords are wicked cool. Check it out.

James was, depending on which church tradition you choose to believe, either the brother, stepbrother, or cousin of Jesus. Just what relation he was has to do with church doctrine and different interpretations of certain Greek and Aramaic words and phrases. I won’t get  into that here since that’s for way smarter people than me to debate. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches’ official theology says that Mary remained a virgin until her death, which in part explains the stepbrother and cousin theories. I could get started on the sexual politics inherent in that belief, but I’ll reign myself in just this once.

Not much is known of James the Just, so there’s not much to tell, and the most interesting thing about his existence was the controversy surrounding whether or not he was actually Jesus’ brother and the son of Mary. James was called James the Just because he was especially righteous, or pious. He ministered to the Jews, and he is generally recognized as being the church’s first bishop. The seat of the church at that time was in Jerusalem, and he would have been the superior of both Peter and Paul, although to read the Bible that was written maybe thirty or forty years later one would hardly guess he’d played a role.

James is not one of the two disciples of Jesus named James. He is, however, regarded by church tradition to be the author of the book of James. This means that although he was never explicitly defined as such in the book itself, early church fathers assigned the book’s authorship to James the Just. Many modern scholars believe it to be written after the death of James the Just. Evangelicals generally regard it to be the work of James the Just. The book of James, though, is generally regarded to be “…a Christian revision of a Jewish work,” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_of_James] and since James the Just was described as a pious Jew this seems to lead credence to his authorship.

We know that James was a married man and that he was a Jew who continued to observe all facets of Jewish law, including diet. There’s an instance in Galatians [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+2&version=NIV] when James comes to visit Peter where he is ministering to the Gentiles. Peter had been eating “unclean” food with the Gentiles, but when James made his visit he quickly got up from the table and insisted that Christians should be kosher, in a show of hypocrisy that Paul later called him out on.

From the fact that there’s not much talk of the outcome of that showdown, we can probably safely assume that James sided with Peter on that one. James probably believed that they weren’t starting their own religion so much as they were reforming Judaism and that being a good Jew was intrinsic to being a good Christian.

As far as I’m concerned, James the Just is the greatest argument that we have for Christianity. Think about it. James was Jesus’ brother. This means that whether he was an older brother or a younger brother, he undoubtedly observed his brother in his daily life. They probably had the same sibling rivalries as any other two brothers. He saw Jesus fall and skin his knee, heard him fart, and watched him pick his nose and maybe soil his diapers. Yet this same man picked up the torch for his brother and carried on his beliefs and his ministry after Jesus ascended to heaven. He died for his brother’s faith. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but although I love my brother I wouldn’t perpetuate a massive deceit of this scale for him.

The most amazing thing we have in the Christian faith is the hope in the resurrection. People rising from the dead is nothing new. There are stories stretching back into antiquity of people coming back from the dead, Lazarus among them. Today people return from their deathbeds with a shock from the paddles. But Jesus was the first man to resurrect himself. And he remains the only man to have done so.

It’s a pretty heady proposition; it’s a bold and audacious claim, not only that your brother is the Son of God and the Messiah but that you know that he came back to life from the dead. Now, if you were James, and any of that weren’t true, wouldn’t you, at some point, while the masses were throwing stones at you, scream through the arms protecting your face, that this was all a farce.

“Wait! Stop! I admit it. He was my brother, and this is all nothing but a hoax. Son of God, poppycock! He shit just like everyone else. Please! Listen to me! I renounce him. Let me live.”

But no. What James the Just did instead was to die by stoning, for his beliefs that his brother Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and that he had come to save us from all our sins and was resurrected. And while they stoned him, he said, “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

October 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm 3 comments

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