The Answers

Catechesis. It’s one of many spiritual terms that aren’t exactly in my vocabulary and with which I lack experience. When I was growing up, any Evangelical worth their salt would have said something like: “Oh, that’s what Catholics do.” And went about their merry way thinking themselves superior to have moved beyond such traditions. But like all fashions, things that go out eventually come back again. (And as it is with all fashions, once they’re in, eventually they go back out again.)

The Gospel Coalition partnered with a church in order to create The New City Catechism. Admittedly, I’ll have to mention that I’m slightly biased against anything and everything associated with the Gospel Coalition; I suspect that in some way, shape, or form, their material reflects their pre-existing beliefs even though others might have completely valid differing opinions.

At any rate, it asks questions like:

What is our only hope in life and death?

And it tells you the answers for you:

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Fifty-two questions. Fifty-two answers. A basic overview of the faith designed to be easily memorable call-and-response type teaching as an instruction for little children just learning the gospel and adults discovering it for the first time.

But what really bothers me is that I can’t come up with my own answers; that any answer other than the one they’ve chosen for me is – for lack of a better word – heresy.
For me, faith has been just as much about the journey as it is the destination; I like to continually learn things and to keep on searching. I don’t want my answers given to me on a silver platter and be told that’s that. It’s probably why I’m not keen on membership covenants – just being told to accept these things, sign here and you’re golden? I don’t think it’s supposed to be that easy.

That’s why I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in the Fourth Principle of Unitarian Universalism: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;” or more accurately,

“As responsible religious seekers, we recognize that we are privileged to be free, to have resources to pursue life beyond mere survival, to continually search for truth and meaning, to exist beyond bonds of dogma and oppression, and to wrestle freely with truth and meaning as they evolve.

“This privilege calls us not to be isolated and self-centered, believing that our single perspective trumps all others, but rather to be humble, to be open to the great mysteries of truth and meaning that life offers. And those mysteries may speak to us through our own intuition and experience—but also through tradition, community, conflict, nature, and relationships.

“As a faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism makes sacred the right and responsibility to engage in this free and responsible quest as an act of religious devotion. Institutionally, we have left open the questions of what truth and meaning are, acknowledging that mindful people will, in every age, discover new insights.”
Rev. Paige Getty, UU Congregation of Columbia, Maryland (read more from Paige in The Seven Principles in Word and Worship, ed. Ellen Brandenburg)”

I think God would be more pleased if when we’re asked to talk about our faith, our answers are organic and unique rather than formulaic and memorized. Besides – what about questions that the book doesn’t even think to ask? Fifty-two can’t possibly cover everything that somebody might want to know and it most certainly isn’t all there is to know about the faith; or rather, a faith as defined by a particular denomination in a specific branch of Christianity. It doesn’t give all the answers for all of Christianity’s other denominations whose teachings differ.

Seek and you shall find … I think I’ll just keep on looking to see what else is worth finding.

Rest in Pieces: The Obituary of a Church

Stormcard

Not long after we moved down south, we stumbled across a church that made us moderately happy – for a time. The sermons were decent and best of all, they had contemporary music. We had hoped that it was similar to the non-denominational church that had breathed life into us after a bad church experience up north.

It was a church in the middle of a vast field; but the church itself wasn’t particularly old. Inside, the sanctuary was large and open – it had rows of chairs that could be stacked against the wall to make room for fold-able tables for potlucks and other get-togethers. They also had all the typical offerings – men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups. For a time, it was a nice church home and a good church family.

But behind the scenes, things were a little different. The men in charge were the pastor, the elder, and the deacon. The pastor liked making everyone happy, so more often than not he’d end up siding with the elder unless the deacon could persuade him otherwise. The deacon was the only one who’d offer an alternative opinion to the elder; but he was often away on business, so the elder could get just about anything he wanted done when the deacon wasn’t around to challenge his opinions.

the elder laid the groundwork, slowly he introduced his favorite teachings. Then when the pastor left, the elder carefully chose a replacement, a younger guy, freshly graduated from a seminary, whose theology more closely resembled his own to frame up the structure as they remodeled the spiritual life of the church. He chose well. The new pastor has been preaching on Biblical manhood and Biblical church membership via resources from groups like The Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks among others; something the old pastor never did.

All that change has come at a cost; the church I knew is no longer the same. The people are mostly the same, but the teaching is so different. I guess we left because we saw it coming; an environment with a “it’s my completely Biblical way or the highway” mentality. We knew that we would always be the project, the heretics in the bunch who just refuse to listen to God’s word as interpreted by God’s shepherds overseeing the stubborn and dumb sheep who just won’t listen. We knew that we didn’t really belong in that kind of a church.

Still, it’s sad to watch a church fall for another gospel, choosing legalism over the legacy that was handed down to them, becoming something else entirely. I know it’s probably advertised as being more biblically-minded, more true to the gospel message, more faithful and winsome to the sound biblical teaching of the gospel known as the doctrines of grace. It’s the same pain every Arminianian has felt when their southern baptist church choose to go whole hog into that new kind of Calvinism because the church that used to accept you and worship side-by-side with you now rejects everything you believe – and by extension – you and how your beliefs make you who you are. Now that the church is being spiritually remodeled; it’s out with the old and in with the new; the building itself will always look the same, but it’ll never feel like home again.

Living Another Life

The other night, I overheard an older man giving some advice to a young couple who were about to be married. Basically, it was to start having children right away because if they wait until they’re older, they won’t have as much energy or the ability to bounce back as quickly when they get older. Some of the other people around nodded, saying things like the fact that they had regretted waiting too long. But this is a different world from the way that things used to be, and so it doesn’t follow that their advice applies as the best advice. No two couples are the same and they shouldn’t be made to live one way as if it were a cure-all to prevent any ills or woes happening in the course of everyday life.

I was thinking about that – how it’s true that most people will prefer to have the best of both worlds, there are usually some instances where they wouldn’t want to give up some of the good things about the path that they travelled. The more experiences you’re willing to erase from your life, the more aspects of who you are you are willing to let go. Then you end up becoming somebody else with some other life altogether.

What makes each of us who we are is the sum of everything that we’ve gone through and everyone who has impacted our lives. So much of our identity comes from where we’re from, who are friends are, who we work with, who we call family, where we live, what things we like. And sure, we’ll always make mistakes or decisions that we might wish to do-over; but odds are we wouldn’t want to give up whole sectors of our lives.

I was thinking about how this worked in Its a Wonderful Life; we only got a glimpse of the terrible fate that befell Mary without having fallen in love with George. She would have had to further her education, get a job, establish her own friends, her own place in the community, set her own goals; who knows, perhaps if George never existed she might have fallen in love with somebody else and lived her life differently – no better and no worse, just not the same. Yep, that’s the worst thing that could have happened without George; but it’s not really so bad, is it?

For me and so many others, we’ve been told that good things come to those who wait. As patient and we’ve been, we know that there’s bound to be a whole lot of good things in store – in due time. Perhaps our lives would have been different had we lived them differently, but then we would be different people, too. You know what, I rather like the person that I am and I’m glad that I’m not somebody else. I might not have followed the beaten path, but I’ve enjoyed the scenic route’s charming view.

Quito

Dim Light

“As a scientist,” My friend the German wrote me, “I’m very worried about how far behind America has fallen. What do you think?”

I love questions like this because it really lets me connect the dots. So let’s start with “the beginning”.

As a Christian, I know very few kids who grew up in the church and got involved in the sciences; particularly the branches that do the heavy-lifting in the theoretical realms. I know that the German grew up as a Lutheran and that the Chemistry teacher at my old school was a Southern Baptist as he attended my church. We got to watch Kent Hovind’s Creation Science Evangelism Seminar (popular in the 1990s-2000s) where he explains that there are lies in school textbooks and sometimes the science that they teach is just plain wrong. So while students should do their best; when it comes to science they shouldn’t believe everything they’re taught particularly about the Theory of Evolution. But even though I had a weakness at the math involved, I loved the sciences and took just about every class I could. Always in the back of my mind was the idea that I should learn everything I could, but I didn’t have to believe anything that I didn’t want to believe.

Meanwhile, our politicians were lost in debate. The question was whether or not climate change was a hoax. They used science to support both positions, the facts and figures indicate that yes the climate is change, but no it’s not changing any more or any worse than it always has. This debate dragged on for years – each trying to use their own science to discredit the other sides’ science or call it out as flawed in some way.

Ken Ham  of Answers in Genesis (1990s-now) became the next big Christian name to take up the banner of creationism. He built the Creation Museum and had Bill Nye come and debate him there. After that, Ham built the Ark Encounter. If Christians used to be hostile to science, then this was nothing more than a declaration of war. Museums, after all, are buildings of science – like the Kirpatrick Center I visited as a kid – where you could play and learn about science hands-on. Now that Creationism had it’s own museums, it became harder to know the line where faith and science were drawn; ultimately though, in the way that they were built, science was a after-thought and faith and evangelism was the primary goal of the building.

So Christianity taught me that science is dumb and wrong and faith is smart and right because God, who knows all true science from the false science, tells us everything we need to know in the pages of the Bible. Faith opted me out from any responsibility to science. But how can be otherwise when the institution that speaks on behalf of God has you watch videos telling you from a young age that science is wrong?

In the most recent election, Christians came out in full force behind the Republican candidate who spouted Christian ideals but also had the same animosity to science. Now that Christians are becoming increasingly powerful again, their anti-science stance is also gaining influence. Our politicians are still keen to use science to support their side and attack their opponent’s science. That’s why Christian kids don’t grow up to be scientists.

History tells us of a dark age when faith held back scientific progress with the full authority of God. We’re not that bad, but I’d say we’re in a dim age because we like the science that is the kind that agrees with God: “water will always boil at the boiling point and will always freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.” But we don’t like the science that tells us that the water came from Hydrogen and Oxygen combining and falling on the molten rocks of our extremely young earth and starting the water cycle.

So think about this, Christian kids in the 90s, 00s, 10s were taught that science and faith are incompatible. The eldest batch of them – if they’ve obeyed their Bible right, are parents who should have begun teaching their kids that science and faith are incompatible. We have yet to see what sort of damage this teaching will do generationally – at least, in this modern age. One thing is for sure, eventually religion will go too far and we will seek brighter lights; but things might have to get much darker.

Remember Me

“Hey, great news! I’m cancer-free!” A recent acquaintance of mine happily beamed. “I just wanted to thank you for being one of the ones who were there for me, praying for me, making sure my needs were heard up there.”

I was truly happy for her, beating cancer is the greatest of all victories. It’s just … I felt it wise to not mention that I had forgotten to actually pray for her. Don’t get me wrong, I wish her well, and hope that the blight that is cancer gets eradicated; I wouldn’t wish it to happen to anyone. But I haven’t really been on speaking terms with God lately.

I tend to be the sort of person that just falls through the cracks. I’m not that big of a troublemaker, so I attract very little attention. I’m really healthy, so I don’t need medical or divine intervention. I guess you could describe me as one of the random people you see in the background while somebody famous is giving a speech – I’m a nobody and if I weren’t there, you wouldn’t notice I was gone because you wouldn’t know to miss me. At least, that’s been the experience I’ve had from attending church for such a very long time.

Maybe God just likes being a miracle worker like Scottie; it’s not enough to do the job properly and without fanfare – maybe he just likes to estimate it’ll take twice as long so that he’ll be done in half the time. Perhaps he really shines in the big things – beating cancer, saving lives during natural disasters, and making sure the best team wins the game. It can be easy to feel that God doesn’t like to show up in the little things because then he would be something we could control and have him do our bidding.

It can be hard to find the faith when someone gets to celebrate their victory over cancer knowing that someone out there gets to mourn the loss of someone who lost that battle even though they prayed just as much. But its enough for me to know that I should celebrate with those who celebrate and morn with those who mourn. God’s going to do as he pleases with or without my input, no matter how much or how little I pray.

Every now and then, even King David would write: “Remember me” (Psalm 25:7, 106:4). Samson prayed: “Remember me” before his final act of strength (Judges 16:28). Hannah desperately prayed: “Remember me” because she just wanted a son (1 Samuel 1:11). Nehemiah also prayed: “Remember me” for all that he had done (Nehemiah 5:19, 13:14,22,31). Job also prayed: “Remember me” in frustration for all that he had been put through (Job 14:13). Jeremiah prayed: “Remember me” while asking God for vengeance (Jeremiah 15:15).

This prayer doesn’t show up much in the New Testament; the most notable example is the thief on the cross next to Jesus: “Remember me” (Luke 23:42). Perhaps that’s because the veil, the separation between us and God was supposed to be torn. With the Holy Spirit inside us, we aren’t supposed to feel so alone; but sometimes we just do and we can’t help it. Perhaps that old prayer still has some mileage in it: “Remember me, O God …”

In Good Company

(It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since I had the honor of visiting The Church of the Company of Jesus in Quito, Ecuador. When I arrived, I was given a pamphlet about the church which I had never read – until today. The fact that it’s in Spanish isn’t a problem given that my Spanish has finally gotten usable and for the most part I understand what it’s saying. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, I’ve included the Google Translate version towards the end – with some minor corrections as there were some flaws.)

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús

Quito, Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Quito – Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, cumbre del barroco latinoamericano, construido por vario jesuitas entre 1605 y 1765, fue inspirada en dos emblemáticos templos jesuitas romanos: Il Gesú y San Ignacio.
El templo tiene planta de cruz latina, nave central, norte y sur, transepto, crucero, presbiterio, antesacristía, sacristía y capilla. La nave central cubiera por una bóveda de 26 m de altura, realiza con ladrillo y piedra pómez y finalmente decorada con yesería, policromía y pan de oro en estilo mudéjar, es un importante aporte a la arquitectura colonial quiteña del Hermano jesuita italiano Marcos Guerra, quen colaboró también con la construcción de las cúpulas ubicadas in las naves laterales y en la cúpula mayor del crucero.
El templo de la Compañía fue levantado con las manos de innumerables artistas de la Escuela Quiteña, quenes perpetuaron su habilidad y entrega para tallar y dorar con fina lámina de oro de 23 kilates cada centímetro de la iglesia.
Durante 160 años se edificó y decoró la iglesia con magníficas obras de arte; muestra de ello son los 16 Javier Goríbar, artista quiteño del siglo XVIII. Al pincel de Hernando de la Cruz se le atribuyen los dos grandes lienzos originales del Infierno y del Juicio FInal, obras Alejandro Salas en el siglo XIX hoy se ubican en los extremos norte y sur de la iglesia. Se admiran en las enjustas sobre los arcos de medio punto de la nave central las escenas bíblias de Sansón y Dalila, y de José, hijo de Jacob, obras anónimas del siglo SVIII. En las naves laterales se destacan 6 imponentes retablos atribidos a la afamada escuela de arte quiteño del siglo XVIII: el de San José, El Calvario, y San Luis Gonzaga en la nave norte y La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada y San Estanislao de Kostka en la nave sur. En los transeptos norte y sur sobresalen los retablos gemelos de San Francisco Javier y San Ignacio respectivamente, atribuidos también a Marcos Guerra, y en el presbiterio destaca el dorado del retablo mayer realizado por el tran imaginero colonial quiteño Bernardo de Legarda.
La fachada de la iglesia es una sobresaliente obra de estilo barroco, construida toda en piedra gris de origen volcánico. Tiene cada espacio cubierto con el más mínimo detalle finalmente labrado; así se admiran flores, ángeles, arcángeles, símbolos eclesiásticos y varias imágenes representativas entre las que se descubren: …
Dos hechos religiosos importantes están ligados a la Iglesia de la Compañía: uno de estos fue el fugaz paso de Mariana de Jesús, la primera santa ecuatoriana que se consagró en este templo y lo escogió para morar para siempre; Mariana murió en 1645 (siglo XVII) y es en el altar mayor donde ahora se veneran sus restos. El milagro de la imagen de la Virgen Dolorosa del Colegio, es también un hecho de fe profunda sucedido en el comedor del antiguo Colegio San Gabriel en el interior del edificio jesuita, el 20 de abril de 1906.
La torre de la iglesia, en época colonial reconocida como la más alta de la ciudad, sufrió dos embates telúricos: en 1859 el primero, luego de lo cual fe reconstruida, y en 1868 , año desde el que permanece tal como lo conecemos.
Durante los últimos diecinueve años, 1987-2005, la iglesia ha vivido un importante proceso de restauración integral, el mismo que ha sido reconocido por el profesionalismo con el que instituciones nacionales así como centenares de técnicos, arquitectos, restauradores, y obreros realizaron, con abnegado trabajo y mística personal para alcanzar la total restaución del templo.
La Residencia San Ignacio y la Fundación Iglesia de la Compañía encargadas de la conservación y mantenimiento del templo le invitan a admirar la iglesia y de esta forma apoyar en la promoción del compromiso que como ecuatorianos tenemos de preservar este legado cultural.


The Church of the Company of Jesus
Quito, Ecuador
The Church of the Company of Jesus, serves as a peak example of the Latin American baroque church, was built by several Jesuits between 1605 and 1765, and was inspired by two emblematic Roman Jesuit temples: Il Gesu and San Ignacio.
The temple has a Latin cross plant, central nave, north and south, transept, transept, presbytery, antechrist, sacristy and chapel. The central nave was covered by a vault of 26 m high, made with brick and pumice stone and finally decorated with plasterwork, polychrome and gold leaf in Mudejar style, is an important contribution to the colonial architecture of the Italian Jesuit Brother Marcos Guerra, Who also collaborated with the construction of the domes located in the lateral naves and in the greater dome of the transept.
The Temple of the Company was erected with the hands of countless artists of the Quito School, who perpetuated their ability and delivery to carve and gild with a fine 23-karat gold foil on every inch of the church.
For 160 years the church was built and decorated with magnificent works of art; 16 Javier Goríbar, an eighteenth-century artist from Quito. Hernando de la Cruz’s brush is attributed the two great original canvases of Hell and Final Judgment, the works of Alejandro Salas in the nineteenth century today are located at the north and south ends of the church. The bible scenes of Samson and Delilah, and Joseph, son of Jacob, as well as anonymous works of the SVIII century, are admired in the area over the arches of the central nave of the central nave. In the side aisles there are 6 imposing altarpieces attributed to the famous eighteenth-century Quito school of art: San José, El Calvario, and San Luis Gonzaga in the north nave and La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada and San Estanislao de Kostka in the southern nave. In the northern and southern transepts, the twin altarpieces of San Francisco Javier and San Ignacio, respectively, also attributed to Marcos Guerra, and in the presbytery stands out the gold of the greater altarpiece made by the visionary colonial of Quito, Bernardo de Legarda.
The facade of the church is an outstanding work of Baroque style, all built in gray stone of volcanic origin. It has each space covered with the finest detail exquisitely worked; Flowers, angels, archangels, ecclesiastical symbols and several representative images among which are discovered: …
Two important religious events are linked to the Church of the Company: one of these was the fleeting passage of Mariana de Jesus, the first Ecuadorian saint to be consecrated in this temple and chose to live forever; Mariana died in 1645 (seventeenth century) and it is on the main altar where her remains are now venerated. The miracle of the image of the Sorrowful Virgin of the College is also a fact of deep faith happened in the dining room of the old San Gabriel College inside the Jesuit building, on April 20, 1906.
The tower of the church, in colonial times was recognized as the highest of the city, suffered two earthquakes: in 1859 the first, after which was rebuilt faithfully, and in  the year 1868, from which it remains as we now know it.
During the last nineteen years, 1987-2005, the church has undergone an important process of integral restoration, which has been recognized by the professionalism with which national institutions as well as hundreds of technicians, architects, restorers and selfless workers and church ministers to achieve the total restoration of the temple.
The San Ignacio Residence and the Church Foundation of the Company in charge of the conservation and maintenance of the temple invite you to admire the church and in this way support in the promotion of the commitment that we as Ecuadorians have to preserve this cultural legacy.

Love is Obedience

Sometimes it’s so strange to listen to my co-workers freely talk about drinking alcoholic beverages. Half of our conversations seem to be which drinks I’ve never drunk or the fact that I’ve never been drunk. At most, I’ve been able to have a sip or two of various kids of drinks – but I could never bring myself to drink more than that. Even when an opportunity presented itself to go out drinking; I passed it up. I always do.

I remember listening to a young believer talk about the Bible’s prohibition against the evils of drinking; she could quote any negative verse on the subject. But she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the verses that were neutral or mentioned that people should drink under specific circumstances; it was almost as if she didn’t even know that they were there. Indeed; in the era of the Bible, not drinking was not an option – the water wasn’t always the safest thing to drink and that’s why Paul advised Timothy drink a little wine to help him feel better. Drinking was okay and even necessary; drinking to excess and drunkenness was to be avoided.

Even though that I know that much of the rules against alcohol is a result of a human tendency to make rules out of everything; I still find it a hard one to break. For many, drinking is just a good time – letting loose and hanging out with trusted friends. But I don’t know what sort of drunk I’d be and truthfully, I don’t have people I’d trust when I’m in a drunken state and lack self-control or any sense of inhibition. So for me, I’m afraid that I’d say or do something that would ruin a perfectly decent relationship or at the very least be awkward.

Jesus had this reputation of being a drunken party-goer yet he has this entire denomination of followers that’s anything but. That same young believer who was against drinking talked about how she couldn’t stand parties as they were too loud and the music was so unchristian. She was so uncomfortable – as if she knew that if God caught her there, he might send her to Hell for being somewhere sin was so prevalent. Being raised in that mindset is extremely hard to overcome.

These rules may not be in God’s word, but they are made from God’s word. Disobeying God’s word is a sure-fire ticket to an eternity in an extremely hot environment. Your salvation is at stake. What did Pastor Sproul say? “Sometimes, after we have studied the background of a text thoroughly, we are still not sure whether it is giving us a principle or a custom. But it is better to treat a custom as a principle than a principle as a custom. If we think a custom is a principle, we are only guilty of being overtly scrupulous. However, in disregarding what is really a principle because we say it is a custom, we disobey God. When faced with unclarity, treat the biblical teaching as if it is a principle. “ Erring on the side of caution in an attempt to be better safe than sorry seems to have made rules that go beyond what is written; adding to the word extra commandments.

It’s something we have done of old, it’s something we still do even now, and will continue to do as the future stretches before us – until the very end of the last second of all the time that there will ever be. A concept like modesty is a prime example: we have varying and conflicting rules about what is modest and what isn’t. Now the Bible doesn’t say in so many words that a particular item is immodest; but so long as something causes a weaker brother to stumble by inciting lust – that breaks the rule and is added to the list of forbidden items and by now we have a pretty big list.

Those are just those “thou shalt not” rules – don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t curse, don’t dance, don’t be immodest; but there are also “thou shalt” rules as well; ways of living that are according to a biblically-informed way of life. It’s that erring on the side of caution thing I mentioned; because if it’s bad to do something the Bible says not to do; it’s even worse not doing something the Bible says ought to be done. But I can’t help but wonder, is it really the Bible that says this is how I ought to live; or some interpretation or teaching based on the word of a person who is fearful and overly scrupulous who has made commandments where none are to be found and who is trying to bind my conscious to something that was never meant to be? Does God only want me to pass the test of being obedient to unwritten rules?

Everyone talks about how if God really wanted obedience, he could have made Adam and Eve as robots and hard-wired them to obey him. But that’s not what he was after. He gave them free will – a choice. Does he want us to choose to obey? Is having free will a means to an end? Why bother giving people free will if the test of Christianity is to give it up and just obey? And yet – how is it today that obedience and submission seem to be the end-all and be-all of Christianity? Are we misreading God’s Word?

It seems to be a darned if you don’t and a darned if you do situation; somebody reads the Bible and makes a teaching that’s accepted enough to become a custom or at least a principle. At which point it must be obeyed because it’s from God’s Word. It gets added to as people flesh it out in the day-to-day living. If you don’t, then you’re being disobedient and that proves you don’t believe in God and aren’t saved. If you do, then at worst you might be overly scrupulous, but you’re certain to go to heaven – and you must obey everything without exception or question because it’s in the Bible somehow or other. Because that’s how you prove you love God and are saved.

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. – Jesus, John 14:23-24