Monday, March 31, 2008

Hindu Leaders Take Issue with Christianized Yoga

"It’s hypocrisy of the highest order. I don’t understand how anyone can teach yoga from a Christian background. It is an indisputable fact that yoga has its origins in the East and in Hinduism."

--Ashwin Trikamjee, head of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, criticizing Winnie Young, a Catholic spiritual teacher and long-time yoga instructor who says yoga is a way to find God, in an article in The Times (South Africa). Young, who is the author of a book Yoga for the Christian, acknowledges there are Hindu beliefs in yoga which Christians cannot accept. Several Hindu leaders have taken issue with Young's yoga practices, emphasizing yoga should be practiced with its complete, original philosophy and should not be altered.

Full Story:
Hindu leaders slam yoga for Christians (The Times, South Africa)

Holly says: Recently found out I was cited in the yoga section of the 2007 Updated and Expanded edition of Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook (Zondervan) by Dónal O'Mathúna and Walt Larimore, M.D. (Excerpt from the book.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

R U Down? Getting Our Groove On for Sudan

My church, Marina Christian Fellowship, began supporting an orphanage in Sudan two years ago. Now, we're partnering with world-renown DJs, who will donate their services and hold raves in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami to support the Sudan project. This partnership has been dubbed "SuDance."

My pastor, Kevin Robertson, is the driving force behind this. But this is beyond the boldness of one man--I believe this is a God-thing. Let me give you some background from the church's website:

"In late 2005, Empowering Lives International was granted 50 acres of land in Southern Sudan. Marina Christian Fellowship raised and donated $30,000 to begin construction of a school center in the town of Kolmerek. After visiting Sudan in February of 2006, Pastor Kevin Robertson made a commitment to the people of Sudan to raise support for the school and orphanage. As a result we now have 180 children receiving education and hot meals. Fifteen orphans have been identified and are receiving daily meals and personal care."

Let me explain: My church has about 120 in attendance on any given Sunday. I clearly remember the Sunday when Kevin said he believed God wanted our church to build a school for the orphanage. This wasn't ambitious-sounding--it was, well, ludicrous and impossible by most estimations. We're a tiny church. How could we take on such a huge project?

Somehow, the money came in, largely from a few anonymous donors. Then Kevin announced he was going to Sudan to visit the orphanage. We're talking a white American in war-torn Sudan here. Kevin was scared, to say the least. I also clearly remember the church staff putting together a plan for how they'd carry on if Kevin died. When he hugged his wife at the airport, it was a very real consideration he might not come back.

He returned, totally pumped up. More donations came in, including some large ones from other churches. The following year, Kevin and his wife, Jennifer, headed back to Sudan. They came back even more enthusiastic about the orphanage.

Earlier this year, Kevin was approached by two DJs: AJ Mora, who was a resident DJ at L.A.'s DOME in the mid-90s, was a regular on Groove Radio, and continues to DJ on Powertools (KPWR 105.9 in Los Angeles); and Scott Blackwell, who started the Saturday Night Dance Party on Hot 103 (now Hot 97) in New York. AJ and Scott wanted to help raise money for the Sudan orphanage, and proposed getting their DJ buddies together for this effort: SuDance.

SuDance is supported by our church superintendent and our denomination's leaders. But it should be understood Kevin is putting his reputation as a minister on the line in this partnership, since the raves will be for a mainstream audience (these aren't "Christian" or "church" events) that will be held in clubs that serve alcohol.

I personally support Kevin and SuDance and stand by the partnership. I believe God is the motivator behind Kevin, AJ, Scott, and all who will contribute to benefit Sudanese orphans.

I'll post more about the project and the events as this develops. A website is currently under construction, If you're interested in reading more about the Sudan orphanage, or to donate to it, check out Empowering Lives International (the photo above is of children from Empowering Lives Children's Home in Kolmerek, Sudan).

A Partnership Made in Heaven?

Holly's latest blog entry on Today's Christian Woman magazine's website is now up:

A Partnership Made in Heaven
Should churches team up with secular groups for a cause they both value?

To ponder:
1) Do you think churches should or shouldn't team up with non-church groups? What evidence do you have for your opinion?

2) How would you respond to the hypothetical situations listed in the first paragraph of the blog? Why would you accept--or refuse--the donation in each case?

3) What are some issues that are debated in your church? (These might be anything from what flavor of ice cream to serve at church socials, to whether to remodel the sanctuary, to how much your pastors get paid.) How does your church reach a compromise, or at least, keep the peace?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What's Your Evidence for the Existence of God?

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
--C.S. Lewis, from "Is Theology Poetry?" in The Weight of Glory.

This week, I asked a student from my church, "What evidence do you have for the existence of God?" Honestly, I was hoping he'd mention something he'd learned in our youth group. (He didn't.) But I was still pretty pleased to hear his answer: prophecy. He went on to tell me some stuff he'd learned on The History Channel. Apparently, The History Channel is a better teacher than I am.

After I got over the initial blow to my ego, I started to wonder: Could I answer that question myself? What evidence would I give? This week I also read an interview with Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine. Shermer had become a Christian in high school, then turned away from his faith in graduate school because atheism (or "skepticism," as he dubs it) seemed intellectually superior.

This is partly why I challenged my teenage friend. He is extremely bright, and while I hardly want to be the one to provoke him to a "crisis of faith," I know he'll encounter doubt sooner or later. As soon as I'd asked him the question, I knew I'd better be prepared to offer an answer myself.

It was--to my delightful surprise--very easy for me to outline my reasons for belief in God. My evidence was collected essentially in this sequence, following my own crisis of faith as a teen:

1) Logic of a higher power. It seems rational and logical to think there is something greater than humanity--a higher power. If there were no higher power--nothing greater than ourselves to seek--life would be meaningless and absurd. What's the point in living to die without any purpose beyond living itself?

2) Nature, including the way I perceive it. The world around me appears designed. When I look at nature--really stop to contemplatively look--I'm always awed.

3) A transparent, authentic Christian. I met Penny during my crisis of faith. I admired her and wanted to understand what motivated her natural and total trust in God, and her complete surrender to him. In particular, I wanted her joy: She had a positive attitude despite negative circumstances.

4) A sense of God's presence and direction. There were too many "coincidental" exchanges and interactions in my life to be mere dumb luck.

5) Statements made about God's presence by people I trust. Why would God's presence feel real for so many people if it wasn't really real? The idea of "mass delusion" seems as plausible to me as the idea no one truly exists (ie. we only perceive we are here interacting with one another.) There are many things children stop believing as they age, yet the concept of a higher power persists among the vast majority.

6) The influence of Jesus Christ. He's recognized historically. He's recognized philosophically. He's recognized spiritually by all major world religions.

7) Jesus as deity: His own statements as recorded in the Gospels.

8) C.S. Lewis' rationale for Jesus as true deity: his Lord/liar/lunatic argument.

9) Biblical prophecy regarding the Messiah and fulfillment in the person and life of Jesus Christ.

10) Physical evidence. Seeing artifacts (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) and learning about the historical and cultural background of biblical times reinforces biblical events as factual.

11) Christian martyrs. The willingness of members of the early church--and of those in the persecuted church today--to die for their faith in Christ.

I love the evidence--physical, intellectual, and relational--God has provided in my life. I love that he allowed me to weigh the evidence and come to my own conclusion. And I particularly love the way he continues to provide exactly what I need, when I need it. After reading a little more about Michael Shermer (it always makes me feel crummy when atheists/agnostics/humanists suggest Christians are naive folk who can't think for themselves), I came across another article by atheist-turned-Christian Alister McGrath:

Breaking the Science-Atheism Bond
As an atheist turned Christian, I know atheism is not the only conceivable worldview for a thinking person.

I'm thankful God has stuck me in seminary right now, so I have access to great resources for my teen-age friend. I figure he'll be out-thinking me soon enough. Who knows--maybe I've got the next Alister McGrath or C.S. Lewis under my wing--and maybe he'll soon be writing stuff that helps me grow spiritually.

To ponder:
Do you believe it's possible to be an "intellectual" and a Christian? How would you respond if someone suggested Christians are brainwashed, naive, ignorant or just plain dumb?

2) What evidence do you have for the existence of God?

3) How can you use your evidence to help others?

(Holly says: "I wouldn't just hand someone my list then expect them to say, "Wow, now that I've read this, I believe!" However, I can use my experiences as suggestions others might consider during a crisis of faith. And I can reflect on the people who have influenced my own faith, and try to offer to others what friends like Penny gave me: honest reflections on my own struggles, doubts, and fears, and real-life stories of how God has supported and sustained me.")

Friday, March 14, 2008

Real-Life Bible Lesson Reveals Real Treasure

I just experienced a couple real-life illustrations of Bible verses. Unfortunately.

Last night, I opened my jewelry box to grab my favorite bracelet. It wasn't there. I'm one of those compulsively organized people who has "a place for everything, and everything in its place," so I was puzzled the bracelet wasn't in its designated spot.

As I began searching for it, I gleefully thought, I'm like the woman in the parable of the lost coin. What a great, illustrative experience! I figured I'd quickly find the bracelet, rejoice that it had been recovered, and I'd call my friends to happily share how I'd lived out the parable. But after searching in all the logical places, and then some illogical ones, I became concerned. Alarmed. Upset. Two hours passed. Just before I went to bed, I sadly told my husband that I'd lost the bracelet he bought me.

He'd been elated when he purchased it. But I'd been upset after seeing the receipt. It had cost a pretty penny, and it didn't seem wise to spend so much on a silly little accessory. As he wrapped it around my wrist and fastened the clasp, all I could think about were the dollars that thing had drained from our checking account. Later, I complained about the expenditure to a single girlfriend. "Wow, it must be tough to have a husband who surprises you with expensive jewelry," she said with an obvious roll of her eyes. (That rightly made me feel like a jerk.)

So I started wearing the bracelet. Every time I put it on, I thought about how my husband valued me. Extravagantly. That made me feel good, and I gotta admit, the bracelet looked gorgeous on me. I began to love my special treasure. Still, I didn't wear it often, since I was terrified of scratching it or losing it.

Reality is setting in today: My bracelet is gone. I wish I'd worn it every day. I wished I'd expressed more gratitude when my husband gave it to me. I wish I could find it, if only to recognize its non-monetary value. I think about my husband, who never goes shopping and doesn't even buy his own clothes, selflessly walking into the mall. Joyfully picking out the piece he knew would look so perfectly delicate and elegant on my wrist. Gleefully presenting it to me on Christmas morning, with the box covered in crumpled, uneven gift wrap. ("I wrapped it myself," he'd proclaimed. That made me smile.)

Hubby squeezed me tight today, reminding me that his love hasn't gotten lost. And the words of Matthew 6:19-21 comforted me: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Admittedly, it drives me nuts to lose something so valuable. I hope this teaches me to take care of what I own. But more importantly, I hope I'll recognize my stuff isn't my real treasure.

To ponder:
1) Think about your stuff. Is there something that would make you sad if it was lost, broken, or stolen?

2) Think about how you take care of your stuff (i.e. detailing your car, keeping your clothes perfectly pressed, organizing your music collection). How much time do you spend caring for your stuff? In comparison, how much time do you spend caring for people?

3) Is there someone in your life who has done something valuable for you, and you haven't expressed gratitude?

4) Think about the gratitude you've expressed (or haven't expressed) recently to God. Are there things you need to say to him right now?

Friday, March 07, 2008

What's Your Favorite Easter Candy?

This blog is so serious all the time! The last person to comment made a joke about the Easter bunny, which got me thinking about candy. Thank you, Anonymous poster, for causing me to lighten up on this blog for a moment. So here's a question for H-n-T readers:

What's your favorite Easter candy?

I LOVE Peeps. Love them. I don't eat them year-round, though it seems they're available almost every season these days. Which is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. They are solely my special Easter treat. And yes, I do eat all 15 by myself. My mom still makes Easter baskets for me and my husband, and I tend to eat my husband's Peeps, too. I. Love. Peeps.

There's a Peeps-making machine, which I'm somewhat tempted to buy, except that "homemade" Peeps surely can't compare to those store-bought, cellophane-wrapped delights. And the machine costs $14.99. I could buy a whole lotta Peeps for 15 bucks.

(If I have a kid, they are getting this costume. In fact, I think some of my friends' kids will be getting this from Auntie Holly ... )

Please don't give me Peeps. Or Peeps-making machines. After eating close to 30 every Easter, I fall down, roll around on the ground, and beg for death. If I had access to more than two packages of Peeps, I surely would keel over. Peeps probably aren't very good for me. That's why they will remain solely my Easter treat.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Your First (and Last) Chance for an Early Easter

From "You'll never live to see another Easter this early" by Bill Ellis of ASSIST News Service:

Easter cannot be any earlier than March 22 or any later than April 25. The last time Easter was as early as March 23 was in 1913. I have read that the next time it will be on March 23 will be 2160. Enjoy it this year because you will not live long enough to celebrate another Easter this early in the year.

The last time it was observed on March 22, the earliest possible date, was in 1818 and it will not happen again until 2285. Nobody is alive who was living the last time or will be alive when it happens again. The last time the latest possible Easter fell on April 25 was in 1943. It will happen again in 2038.