Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Another Year Older ... And Hopefully a Wee Bit Wiser

Some thoughts from H's journal:

"This year I turn 32. I think of Jesus entering his final year of ministry--and of his life. God, please give me a sense of urgency. Please remind me there are no guarantees of any tomorrows. Please help me to live as if it's the last moment to offer a kindness, the last opportunity to reach out to someone in need, my last chance to tell someone about the difference you can make in their life." ...

"Many of my close friends experienced the loss of a loved one this last year. I know that could be my experience, too, at any time. Thank you, God, for an appreciation of how much the people you've put into my life mean to me. I'm thankful for each day of life you've given me with them." ...

"Thank you for your perfect gifts to me. Thank you for my good life with my good husband. Thank you for my supportive family. Thank you for close friendships. Thank you for a church where I can feel comfortable learning about you." ...

"Thank you, God, for the prospect of another year."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Casting Call for Seekers

From H:
Calling all soon-to-be converts. Producers at The Idea Factory have created a new cable series, Conversion, which will follow participants as they change religions or join one for the first time.

On their website, its producers have definitively defined their program: It's NOT a reality TV show, but rather a documentary series ... unscripted ... where participants are compensated for their appearance.

Um, right.

(BTW, The Idea Factory also is the brainchild behind God or the Girl, a reality series to air on A&E later this year, in which candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood are tempted by the opposite sex.)

I admit I'll probably be watching Conversion (while it hasn't been announced which network will carry it, all signs point to A&E). If I sound a bit miffed, it's just because I secretly wish the show had come along earlier. I could've given them at least 10 good years of seeker footage.

Friday, February 17, 2006

If Muhammad Cartoons Create a Stir, Why Don't Anti-Jesus Statements Move Us?

From H:
By now, you've probably heard much about the cartoon published in a Danish newspaper that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. It was among a series the newspaper ran which angered Muslims worldwide and has ignited violence in several countries.

Last week, my sister asked if I planned to address the issue on H-n-T. I told her, "I thought about writing on how Jesus and God get made fun of all the time. But decided it would probably come off as too 'angry Christian.'"

That was half of the truth.

The other half is, I was shocked by my own response: Why don't more Christians get more angry when God, our Creator, is mocked? Why don't we stand up for Jesus--the one who was tortured and killed for us so we could have a relationship with God--when he's caricatured, dissed, and dismissed as a phony?

OK, I better state right here I wasn't of a violent mindset. I certainly don't believe in killing or hurting in the name of God--God tells us straight up in the Bible that revenge belongs to him. But I did think about how Jesus drove merchants out of a temple because they were desecrating God's house. Jesus literally kicked their butts.

I also thought of Jesus' example of love and tolerance, how he instructed us to do good to our enemies, to be peacemakers, to "turn the other cheek." And I've read some commentaries interpreting this last phrase in a number of ways: 1) as not getting angry when someone verbally insults you, 2) as being nonresistant to any physical abuse (pacifism), 3) as doing this to symbolically represent a call for equality (within historical context of Jesus' time), 4) as Jesus' command to not seek revenge ... . In other words, scholars confused me even more.

But let me get to what was really bothering me: the lack of passion and conviction we Christians often have about our faith. Are we so desensitized by anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-Christian statements we don't bat an eyelash when we hear or see it? Are we so "tolerant" we let others tromp all over our faith, our God even, without a word in defense? Are we so afraid to speak about religion, one of those "taboo" subjects, we just clam up? Or is it that we're too lazy to get into a discussion in the first place because it requires thinking and patience?

Consider the last time you heard someone swear using God's name (it was probably today). Truthfully, I hardly notice anymore, and I hardly give it a second thought. And I can clearly remember a time when a co-worker was speaking venomously about "Jesus freaks." She and I were hanging out with a small group of co-workers, and they all laughed politely at her words. I stood there, silent, not wanting to aggravate this women because I liked her and we were becoming friends.

I still wonder, why didn't I speak up? If I truly wanted to be her friend, to know her and for her to know me, why didn't I simply say something like, "Yeah, I'm a Christian, and I can understand your frustration. Some Christians frustrate me, too."

Why are we so afraid to identify ourselves as Christians, to correct misconceptions about God and Christianity, to speak up when God and Jesus are insulted? All of these things can be done with love, tolerance, and diplomacy.
There's a photo of a Muslim protestor holding up a sign stating, "I sacrifice every thing for my prophet Mohammed." When I saw it, it hit me: I've sacrificed so very little for God and for Jesus. I've been unwilling to make unpopular statements. I've been unwilling to say things that are true because I didn't want to alienate friends. I've been unwilling to speak about subjects that might make me less likeable.

At the very least, I want to be willing to sacrifice my popularity, my personal comfort, and my ego. If I can't do these simple things, I might as well make my own sign that says, "I'm ashamed of Jesus. And please don't ask me about it."

Monday, February 13, 2006

I Spy with My Little Eye ... A Bible Brain-Teaser

From H:
A friend sent me this Bible brain-teaser, which apparently has made its way all over the Web.

Can you find thirty (30) books of the Bible in the paragraph below? Actually, there are thirty-one (31) if you can find the variant of one Old Testament prophet.

This is a most remarkable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket, on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, keeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much, he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his john boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banjo. Elaine Taylor, a columnist friend, was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving, she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves. There will be some names that are really easy to spot. That's a fact. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam, especially since the book names are not necessarily capitalized. Truthfully, from answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a minister or a scholar to see some of them at the worst. Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the books in this paragraph. During a recent fund raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi lemonade booth set a new record. The local paper, The Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen. As Daniel Humana humbly puts it, "The books are all right here in plain view hidden from sight." Those able to find all of them will hear great lamentations from those who have to be shown. One revelation that may help is that books like Timothy and Samuel may occur without their numbers. Also, keep in mind, that punctuation and spaces in the middle are normal. A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember, there is no need for a mad exodus; there really are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in this paragraph waiting to be found. God Bless.

To ponder:

1) How many did you find on the first read? How did your method change as you progressed?

2) Did you "cheat"? How? Why did you consider it cheating?

3) Did you feel competitive? Whom did you feel you were competing against?

4) How did you attempt to solve this? Did you try to do it really quickly? Were you slow and methodical? Was it more important to get done fast, or to find all the books, or were both about equal priorities? Did you keep track of the books as you found them? When you got stuck, did you go back and review the ones you'd already found?

5) Think about the method you used to solve this puzzle. Is it similar to the way you try to solve daily challenges in your life?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Better Off Dead Than Unwanted?

From H:
Quote from Feb. 10 editorial in the L.A. Times by Anne Lamott, on the subject of abortion:

"It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society."

I'm still trying to get over the shock of reading her piece. So I'll just offer this brief comment from ChristianityToday.com:

"Being against 'inflicting life' is creepy in itself, but extrapolate that line of thinking—that death is better than resentment, that society must not be burdened by the unwanted—and you'll probably need to go lie down."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Greatest Power

A Quotation to Ponder

"Truth is power, but only when one has patience and requires of it no immediate effect. And one must have no specific aims. Somehow, lack of an agenda is the greatest power. Sometimes it is better not to think in terms of plans; here months may mean nothing, and also years. Truth must be sought for its own sake, its holy, divine greatness."

--Romano Guardini
via The Daily Dig

Do you agree? Disagree? How does this quote make you rethink your assumptions about truth and power? (I'll weigh in later this week.)


Friday, February 03, 2006

Just Like Me: Are Affinity Groups Hurting the Church?

From H:
Some years back, I tried to join a small group at a mega church. The church had been making every effort to connect people with similar interests in small groups, I suppose because it's easy to feel disconnected when you attend Sunday service in a massive auditorium with an admission ticket and an assigned seat number. (On an unrelated note, the story of the loaves and fish does come to life when you're in a room with, literally, 5,000 other worshippers.)

I did feel disconnected, so I called the local small group coordinator, hoping to find friendship and a sense of belonging. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I'd like to join a women's small group.

The Lady: Do you have children? We have groups for new mothers, working moms, moms with teens, teenage moms, mothers with children in prison ...

Me: I don't have any children. I'd be happy to be in a women's group with mothers of every age.

The Lady: Are you married? We have couples groups for newlyweds, seniors, interracial couples, May/December relationships ...

Me: I'm married, but my husband doesn't attend church. I'd just like to join a women's group.

The Lady: So you'd like to be in a singles group? How old are you? We have several great programs where you can meet eligible Christian men ...

Me (irritated): No! I'm not eligible ... I'm married ... happily ... I just want to connect with other women ... women of all ages, all backgrounds, all phases of life ...

The Lady: Oh, we don't have any groups like that. I'll put you down for a couples group. I'm sure your husband will love it ...

Me: Never mind. (Hangs up, never to contact the small groups coordinator again.)

OK, I'm exaggerating. But, truthfully, only a little bit. And lest we assign the affinity problem to only huge churches, I gotta tell you it can happen in tiny ones, too. My current church boasts about 150 in attendance over two services. (That includes everyone from infants and nursery workers to the worship team and the sound guy.) It is the picture of diversity, ethnically and socio-economically, with folks from every walk of life. But every week, I find myself navigating toward women who are my age, who have my general temperament (outgoing), and, if possible, who are my height (so I can make eye contact).

I never would have seen my homogeneous social pattern on my own. This week, I was reading an editorial about this subject in Light & Life magazine. A sample:

The narrow me-ism of our self-absorbed culture has created a new inalienable right to happiness by affinity. A philosophical rationale supports this: Everyone is best served when in relationship with people of similar age, gender, background, life experience and/or interests. ...

In contrast, the Bible urges unity through diversity ... The fact that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female" (Galatians 3:28) is a great witness to the reality of the Source of supernatural love. ...

Also, the affinity model undercuts obedience to Scripture’s many cross-cultural and trans-generational admonitions, such as having the older women teach the younger.

Most startling to me is the fact I was ready to reach out in the past--to anyone and everyone--when I was a new fish in a very big pond. And today, now that I'm in the comfy confines of a small church, I'm prone toward relationships with others who are just like me.

We've been called to move out of our comfort zones, to be like Jesus who held company with every age, every race, every social status. That doesn't mean we should disregard friendships with those who are like us, either. Looking in a mirror does offer some perspective. But it takes a whole lot of eyes, with a whole lot of viewpoints, to get closer to the real picture.

To ponder:
1) Think of your closest friends. In what ways are they just like you? In what ways are they different?

2) On any given Sunday, think about the time you spend interacting with people at church. Do you spend the majority of the time talking to visitors or long-time members? Are the people you converse with a lot like you?

3) Share some ideas for meeting new people. How do you approach someone you've never met? What do you say to them?