More Than a Feeling

I’m not terribly well-versed with classic rock, but for some reason the words ‘more than feeling‘ have been stuck in my head. I’ve talked a lot about how Christianity has issues with emotions, how Christianity pressures people to show certain emotions, and how other emotions are viewed as unacceptable. As much as I often end up on the pro-emotion side, every now and then I’m not sure that I feel much of anything. Lately it’s been a major battle against writer’s block. I’m just not feeling inspired. At this point some who are anti-emotion would likely point out that just because I don’t feel God’s inspiration or presence it doesn’t mean that he’s given up on me and that’s proof enough that I shouldn’t put so much emphasis on emotion.

Then I think about what I learned about leprosy; how it deadened the body’s pain receptors so that people didn’t know they had been hurt because they couldn’t feel it. They didn’t know they needed to clean and dress a wound because they couldn’t feel it. They didn’t know that infection had set in because they couldn’t feel it. Not being able to feel slowly and surely was detrimental to their physical and spiritual health. For those who are anti-emotion, they choose to train themselves to avoid their emotions, they teach themselves not to feel and remind themselves never to trust what they do feel. That’s just how I used to be but it created more problems than it solved.

For one, I didn’t seem to find much Biblical justification for our general mistrust of emotions in Scripture. Jesus seemed to be freely emotional crying at the death of a friend or being angry that another was in his way or being the life of the party or having compassion at the plight of others, etc. Paul was pure passion – completely against the early church and then completely for the early church. Each of the disciples had different personalities that shined through the gospels – from doubt to pride to devotion and betrayal. When I stopped reading the Scriptures as if they were a black and white story, I began to see how emotion colors everything from the words the people in the stories say, the actions the people in the stories take, and how they lived life. I think they’d be among the first to look at modern Christianity and shake their heads in disappointment at how wrong we’ve gone with our quest to deny our emotions.

I know, emotions can lead us astray. Being angry gets us into all kinds of trouble. Being sad can get us lost in a deep fog. Being scared is even worse because the Bible says over and over again not to be afraid. If we let our emotions run the show, we wouldn’t much different from little children who haven’t learned how to restrain their emotions. And yet, we are all God’s children. Shouldn’t that mean that we should be somewhat freer with our emotions that we would have been otherwise? Emotions can’t be that bad of a thing – they’re part of being human.

I struggle with intentionality. I always have. Let’s say I feel like reading a book. I can devour it in three days. But when I don’t feel like reading a book – even if it’s half the size – I’ll drag my feet for weeks and maybe get through a page or two every other month. Let’s say I feel like blogging. Day after day I can write new posts. But when I don’t feel like blogging, I struggle to come up with something, anything to say. I struggle the same way with my faith. I can be all about God, or I won’t feel quite up to it and I’ll find something else to occupy my time. I know that believing in God is more than a feeling, but I have feelings that need to feel something, or else, why have them at all?

Maybe it’s just this disappointment with the Church; in a world where we should be above worldliness, too many Christian leaders are corrupt, too many protect the guilty and throw the innocent under the bus, too many lie or cheat or steal, too many take a page out of a business magazine and too few take a page out of the Bible. But there’s also the problems in the system – like trying to justify our failure to help the poor because that’s entitlement or if we fix famine and prevent hunger, it won’t be around like the Bible says it will at the end times and if it’s one thing Christians are looking forward to, it’s the end times. Why would we want to throw a wrench into God’s plans to destroy the whole world? Shouldn’t we feel bothered that we don’t mind world hunger or war or people dying of preventable causes because we’re hoping that we’ll be Raptured before God systematically wipes out the remaining population in a series of judgements that render the Ten Plagues of Egypt to be gentle in comparison? Why am I not okay with that now and why was I okay with that when I was younger?

And yet here I am struggling with the concept of being intentional. I could intend on reading the Bible through, but I know I wouldn’t make it. I could intend on studying a particular branch of theology and get myself confused before I make any amount of headway. Then I know that there are times that I can’t get enough of studying Scripture, but I know it doesn’t last. Sooner or later it fades.

All the while, those who are against emotion warn me of false positives, losing interest in the Gospel and therefore loving God less. I think they don’t understand that they days that are “downs” don’t last either. It won’t be long before I’m on the other side, up in the light, surrounded by the warmth of love and back in the zone. It sustains even when I’m back in the lows, knowing that it doesn’t last. Darkness is always defeated by the light. So I don’t worry about intentionality – it’s beyond me. But God, on the other hand, is intentional about his love for all of us whether or not we perceive him and that’s enough for me.

Resistance is not Futile

With punishing economic woes, frustration and anger had begun to build up in the populace. Fear, worry, and hatred weren’t that difficult to muster for “them” the cause of all of their problems. An inspiring leader known for his rhetoric was able to whip the crowd into a frenzy. He marshalled everyone to action promising them peace, hope, security, prosperity, and in surpassing measure to the good old days that everyone remembered with nostalgia. That was the situation that catapulted Adolph Hitler to power.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says that hate groups and anti-government militias have increased in number and are continuing to rise, coinciding with the increasing presence of fear and hate speech in mainstream politics. Our economy is not the powerhouse that it once was – so for many of us the woes are not over. It’s easy to become frustrated and angry when dealing with government bureoucracy these days. Conveniently, we even have a few choice people groups that can we can label as “them” – illegal immigrants, Muslim reffugees, LGBTQIA populations. All we’re missing is a firebrand of a leader or a charismatic take-charge president promising us solutions for all of our problems.

Having spent the last while watching about Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, I learned that the vast majority of people do not have the tools to resist authority. When the teachers began balking at administiring electric shocks to the obviously unwilling learner, the experimenter would urge them to continue like this: “please continue” “the experiment requires that you continue” “it is absolutely essenial that you continue” “you have no other choice, you must go on”. It was discovered that 65% of people complied with the experimenter to continue administering electric shocks.

Now, it seems, it’s more timely to ask ourselves: “what are the tools one needs in order to resist authority?” The thing is – I don’t know. With the experiment so famous, it’s not as if it can be repeated until we discern a pattern of teachings or beliefs that increase our resistance to amoral authority while continuing to comply with moral authority. So it’s up to each of us to figure out what we can do to increase our resistance to hatred and fear – the two common elements in most past, present, and future atrocities.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

I know that when people get right down to it, fear is a powerful motivator. We’re afraid what would happen if we didn’t have that gun. We’re afraid what would happen if that border didn’t have a fall. We’re afraid of what would happen if we opened the doors to let those refugees settle among us, if we let them build mosques, if those mosques were fronts for regular people to be radicalized, if those radicalized people orchastrated lone-wolf attacks all the time and killed people we love. We just can’t take that chance that the pregnant refugee is no danger to us because the child might grow up to be something dangerous. Best not to let her in – better safe than sorry. Besides, we don’t want all that violence we hear about in Northern Mexico to be commonplace in the southern states. Maybe a few illegal immigrants are hard-working family-men, but too many are mules for the drug trade trying to secure smuggling routes for the dangerous stuff. They’ve taken enough jobs away from the natural-born citizens or legitamate immigrants as it is. See how easy it is to rationalize our fears?

The wrong leader in office can not only rationalize our fears, but legitimize them to secure the power to do anything he feels is necessary to secure his power. Is this not the lesson of history? I wish I could give better advice than: “figure out how not to give into fear and hatred” but for each of us it’ll be different. None of us can really know what we’re capable of …

That experiment had teachers administering electric shocks to the learner, they could hear him scream, shout, bang against the walls … and eventually silence. They didn’t like what they were doing. They wanted to stop. They wanted to check on the man to see if he was still alive all the while the experimenter would say the same sentences in the same order: “please continue …”.

It might not be that far from now when we have that charismatic fire-brand of a leader who promises us everything we ever wanted if we just keep pressing switches and triggers when he says “Fire!”. One thing is certain, without the tools to resist authority, we will be doomed to repeat history. Hitler wasn’t the first. Atrocities can and still do happen. We have many of the ingredients in place but we don’t have to make the same mistake. Our resistance to amoral authority might not save lives, it’s certain to us killed; but it’s never wrong to do the right thing.

Antichrists Unite

It was a tall order for me to try to post new things about Lent, at the moment there doesn’t appear much more that I can say for the moment, so it’s time to go back to what I do best.
As I was reading my Bible – I noticed something in this passage:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18-19)
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)

I wonder if John had even fathomed a time such as this – the church is divided and fracturing. Whole generations of believers are now going out of the churches in search for an authentic faith. One might be tempted to read these verses and assume that all of the nones and dones, the prodigals, nomads, and exiles – are turning their backs on the institution that is church because each and every one of them harbor the spirit of the or an antichrist, who are sinning sinners deceiving themselves by failing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the church presents him.

One warning that appears all over scripture (2 Peter 2, 2 Timothy 2, 1 Timothy 1, 1 Timothy 3, and towards the end of Acts 20,) that false teachers would be a problem. The Bible promises that the false teachers will reap what they sow, but the advice it offers can be difficult to implement in order to remedy false teachers.

For one, false teachers often draw a group of followers who believe the teaching is genuine. We don’t have to deal so much with people not acknowledging Jesus – but we do have Word of Knowledge, Word of Faith, Seed-Faith, Healing, Prosperity Gospel teachings that often do much more harm than good. It seems as soon as one televangelist disqualifies himself (or more rarely, herself) others rise to prominence to replace them.

I can tell you from experience that sitting under false teaching is spiritually detrimental. To recognize that untruths are being said, to have to expend energy reminding yourself that “this pastor is not quite right” or “this teaching over-emphasizes God’s sovereignty but demotes His love, it’s not accurate” is wearying week after week, month after month, year after year.

I don’t think that the numbers will bear out that antichrists are leaving the church because they don’t belong and are sinning sinners. Far too many people have stories about how their church failed them. When a victim went to elders of church for help, she was ignored or the situation was mishandled. When a young person had ideas about drawing more people to church, every single one of them was rejected and they felt as if they weren’t being taken seriously because they were young like Timothy who couldn’t get enough elders on his side to fix some serious problems. When a child has serious questions about evolution and creation and the church isn’t giving them the best possible answers, making them doubt creation and everything that follows. Countless more stories from all walks of life …

Could John have foreseen that the Church would create this darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation? Would he have wanted believers to remain in a church where false teaching was believed to be solid, Biblical teaching? The thing about the corrective advice – “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” it doesn’t work when the people already believe that their teaching is sound, to them, any opponent is living a lie because they do not believe exactly as the preacher indicates the Bible says they should. Suggesting possible other interpretations of Scripture is seen as rebellion against the inerrant, infallible Scriptures and plain reading thereof.

A lot of us ‘antichrists‘ just want to try to figure out what it means to be a part of the one church that is the body of Christ just without the experiences that prompted us to leave our former churches. That means in my case, I don’t want to be branded as a heretic and driven out to wander wilderness until I come back to my senses and stop being like the prodigal son. I don’t care if you craft the most biblical list of beliefs one can believe in from the Bible with a complete list of scripture references to back it up – I’m not going to sign my name to some document as there’s no mention of such a practice in Scripture.

The interesting thing about being left to my own devices is that without the constant pounding of Biblical teaching I’ve come to see a much clearer picture of who Jesus is in the gospels. The tide has changed to tell another tale – not one where a sovereign God created a world full people to punish – one of a servant who came to seek and save the lost. Without the crashing waves of emphasis, I’m sailing on calm waters that gently rock me in the rhythms of God’s grace in action. Had I not been cast aside, I’d still be in that big boat, fighting God’s grace by believing in the doctrines of Grace. Being taught about God so sovereign over this world that he controls the pattern of dust swirling in light and everything good or bad that ever happens is rooted in his omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent will. I wouldn’t have come to know the servant who seeks and saves the lost. I’d know another version of him whose sole purpose was to model obedience to enact the plan of salvation. Day in and day out, this particular emphasis would mold and shape my beliefs and drive me forward through the storm.

In this way going out from the church has been the best thing that has happened in my spiritual walk. I get to meet Jesus as he his, not some presentation of him that emphasizes some of his aspects and ignores others. Maybe I’ll do what my ancestors did with “Sooner” or “Yankee” and own the term “antichrist” not as something derogatory, but turn it around into a badge of honor. “Anti” can mean “against” or “opposite of” but it can also mean “in place of” and as a follower of Christ, I am in the place of Christ in a world of people who lost who need to be sought out – though I’ll leave the saving to Jesus, there’s bound to be ways I can help, provide food, clothing, shelter, a kind word, encouragement, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind being that kind of antichrist that was a friend of sinners, who brought healing, mercy, and forgiveness, who challenged religious authorities for being legalistic and losing their way. I could live with being that kind of antichrist .

Special Sundays

Lent-631x295

I technically knew that Sundays were break from Lent, but I also know that one of upcoming Sundays is a special occasion – so I thought if one Sunday in Lent must be special, then all of them must represent something special.

That’s just how it works in pretty much every church I’d ever attended. Revival Week, for example, meant that there was a meeting at church every evening to try to spark the spirit of revival, but it was the last Sunday that was viewed as the culmination of the revival. Someone would likely speak about what happened in the meetings and tell us how many people decided to rededicate their lives or accept the Son into their lives and ask to be baptized.

Same goes for Vacation Bible School week – Sunday’s culmination of that would be a time when children could show us what they learned, the motions to the songs, talk about their favorite games, or a teaching that they felt was important.

So I expected the First Sunday of Lent to be culmination of the first week of Lent. Technically it’s only been a few days, but it seems that this Sunday is like any other Sunday. This is what I have learned:

Some will say “I don’t cheat on Sundays” and fast continue to fast much as the would any other Day of Lent. Others point out “Sundays don’t count” and break the fast. By the end of Lent, both groups will have fasted forty days – only the former group fasts six more days. Not counting Sunday isn’t cheating. When the calendar was created the church ministers recognized that the Lord’s Day was so sacred that it superseded Lenten traditions.

I expected Lenten Sundays to be special in the way that Holy Week/Easter or Christmas Sundays are special. Marked in some way, set aside somehow. Then I think back to the Sundays I read about in Little House in the Prairie – how Saturdays would be spent with double the work-load preparing for Sunday so that there would be nothing left to do. I think back to the Sundays I read about when blue laws closed down every store and business so that everyone could go to church. I wouldn’t want that. It’s unfair for those whose religious holidays don’t fall on the same day of the week.

So I struggle with the holiness of Sundays, they’re much the same as any other Sunday, a time when I have more time – but am not sure what to do with it. Perhaps Lent’s Sundays are special in their own little way – just special in a different way than Lent is special.

How to Spark a Reformation

Lent-631x295

Coming from a Baptist background, Lent has always been optional. It wasn’t always that way …

It was a Friday in March of 1522, Lent was well underway and the expectation was that nobody would eat meat. A printer in the city of Zurich, Switzerland by the name of Christopher Froschauer was thrilled to see that he and his workers had managed to complete a successful printing of the The Epistles of Saint Paul. He opted to celebrate by serving them sausages. He made the mistake of offering them to a few dignitaries and priests. Soon there was a public outcry and he was arrested.

Though Ulrich Zwingli hadn’t eaten any of the sausages himself, he was quick to come to Cristopher’s defense. He even preached a sermon: Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods – through which he argued that fasting should be voluntary, not mandatory.

Little did they know that in much the same way as Martin Luther had sparked a reformation through his thesis, this act of breaking a mandatory fast likewise sparked the Swiss Reformation.

Zwingli believed that Lent was subject to individual rule, and wasn’t a disciple that the church could require of everyone. By adhering to other Reformation ideas – Sola Scriptura, he pointed out that there weren’t any verses governing the practice or tradition of Lent in scripture. He also argued for Christian liberty. So Lent became optional.

Over time, churches continued to split and form new ones – the question of Lent would invariably arise. For those of us whose faith tradition is a descendant of that of the reformers and are Protestants, Lent is almost a foreign concept. I’m not sure if the Reformers would be celebrating to know that their actions are the reason why we have given up this season of fasting and service and prayer. I think they still would want us to maintain a sense of spirituality, just by our choice – they might not have wanted us to use their actions to erase Lent from the calendar altogether. It seems though, that’s what we’ve done. In a church famous for pot-lucks and high obesity rates, we’ve give into a tendency to overindulge.

I’m not sure of the exact occasion, but one year our church did challenge the youth group to complete the 30 Hour Famine, a fast that doubled as a fund-raiser sponsored  by WorldVision to help children living in poverty who far too often go hungry. That is the extent of my experience with church-approved fasting.

If want to be technical about it, Jesus might have said “when you fast …” but the Bible never directly tells when to fast or how to fast, so we can find any excuse not to fast we want. While we’re at it, we can probably cross Easter and Christmas off of the calendar as well because the Bible says nothing about some of the traditions we celebrate so they must be unbiblical. We can get out of a lot of religious obligations that way. But that doesn’t explain why we still cross off a lot of ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ on our to-do list; care for the poor, feed the hungry, provide clothing, provide shelter, visit the ill, visit the imprisoned, etc. We ignore even more religious obligations than we should. Which is why Lent is almost a three-for-one deal. It sets aside a ‘when’ to fast, a ‘when’ to give and serve, and a ‘when’ to pray. Sure, it’s not in the Bible – but some things that aren’t in the Bible aren’t worth erasing.

In a way, we’re the continuation of the story of an unwritten gospel, and how we live out our lives reflect what’s in our hearts. Our ancient brothers and sisters continued the story by creating Lent as a season they could focus on the gospel message, they celebrated it together for over a thousand years. Many still celebrate it today after all this time. Those of us who stand on liberty should remember that we’re also free to fast and pray and serve and give, these things aren’t exactly optional – so why not do all of that together with our spiritual siblings even if it’s only for one day of Lent?

***

Credit goes to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Sausages – I’m not so sure the name really tells the story, but it’s a fascinating look at a bit of history even I didn’t know.

Looking Back at Ash Wednesday

Lent-631x295

In Western Christianity, before Lent begins, Fat Tuesday / Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras is everyone’s last chance to indulge. Traditionally, the foods that people are supposed to fast from during Lent are cooked up and used up and served. After all, the ancient world didn’t really have refrigeration, so they had to either use it or lose it – throw it out. Pancakes breakfasts, eating pizza – if it uses up flour, odds are it’s on the menu. Carnival is also associated with this time – big parties go on, giving a chance for people to go wild. Carnival comes from the Latin words ‘Carne vale’ or ‘farewell to meat/flesh’.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the start of the season of fasting and prayer. During mass, the ashes from the palm fronds that were blessed the previous year are used to mark believers with a cross on their foreheads. The priests will say either: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” or “Repent, and believe the gospel.” Ashes serve as a visible symbol of penance and a reminder of our mortality.

Fasting doesn’t mean that believers must not eat at all, rather they are permitted to eat one normal meal and two smaller meals that do not add up to the same size as the larger meal. Snacks are not permitted. There are some exceptions to fasting, small children, pregnant women, and elderly men and women are not required to fast as it would be dangerous to their health. Also, believers are to abstain form eating meat on Fridays, but they can eat fish. Throughout Lent, believers fast in this manner, however Sundays are exempt from fasting as they are not as a part of Lent.

***

credit goes to the source: http://www.catholic.org/

Clean Monday, the Start of Clean Week

Lent-631x295

It shouldn’t be surprising that when the church began to split, it’s practices and teachings began to differ, particularly in the celebration of Lent. So let’s take a look at how one Christian tradition begins Lent …

In Eastern Christianity, the first day of Great Lent is Clean Monday, which is two days before Ash Wednesday. It is a day that focuses on setting behind believers sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. On the Liturgical Calendar, Lent actually begins the night before at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers which features the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness. It’s when everyone who is present bows down before one another and asks for forgiveness. This lets them begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. Going to confession and cleaning one’s house thoroughly are also apart of the first week of Lent.

At the 6th hour (which would be 12’o’clock noon) Isaiah 1:1-20 is to be read. Clean Monday is based on theses verses in particular: “Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (vv. 16–8).”

Clean Monday happens to be a public holiday in Cyprus and Greece – it has a happy, springtime feeling to it because of Matthew 6:14-21 (which is read on the morning before):
When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret… (v. 16-18).

Ash Wednesday is not observed in Eastern Christianity, so that’s how they get Lent started.

***

Lots of credit goes to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Monday for giving me the particular info on it – this should be an interesting series!