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13 November 2019

The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard.

“And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.”

She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain.

There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce.

This dark Christian mindset makes ’em super paranoid. They call it being watchful or vigilant, but really it’s a lifestyle of fear. The sort of fear actual evil spirits can use to keep Christians far away from anything unfamiliar. Particularly new stuff the Holy Spirit himself is introducing into our lives to encourage growth and fruit. If it doesn’t look like the stuff their church does, or the popular Christian culture, or even just looks like something they don’t feel like doing, they presume that’ can’t be of God. Thus they follow their comforts instead of Jesus, and never doubt the two might not be the same thing at all.

So, meditation. As I said in the appropriate article, the middle eastern stuff is about filling our minds instead of blanking them, and the Christian stuff is about filling our minds with God. We think about him. We contemplate him. We go over what we read in the bible, what he’s shown or told us recently; anything God-related. Eliminate distractions as best you can, and do some deep thinking.

But if all you’ve known thus far are the pagan forms of meditation—if, really, you’re surrounded by it—you’re gonna think that’s the default. Maybe wrongly presume “Christian meditation” is an attempt to Christianize the pagan stuff. Except, as your paranoid dark Christian friends might warn you, some pagan practices can’t be Christianized. They’re just too inherently wrong.

Well, we’re not appropriating the eastern practices. If you know your ancient middle eastern or Christian history, you’ll know people have been practicing Christian-style meditation for at least as long as easterners and Hindus have. Our practices developed and evolved very differently. ’Tain’t the same thing. No matter what physical traits we might share—like sitting down, closing one’s eyes, controlled breathing, concentration. No matter what external accouterments we might also have in common—maybe soothing music, candles, privacy, whatever. If you’re worried the tchotchkes might lead you astray, go ahead and leave them out. But don’t believe the rubbish of fearful Christians who don’t meditate, and clearly lack the fruit of peace.

12 November 2019

Meditate.

MEDITATE 'mɛd.ə.teɪt verb. Think deeply or carefully about something.
2. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes.
[Meditation mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃən noun.]

Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless. ’Cause you’re trying to blank your mind.

And that’d be eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s grown in popularity because it’s a useful way to get rid of stress and relax. But it’s not middle eastern meditation, the sort we find among Christians.

Well, assuming we even meditate. Many don’t. Those who do, stumbled into the habit and don’t realize we’re actually meditating. Or we were given other names for it, like “contemplation” or “practicing God’s presence” or “Christian mysticism”—a term which tends to weird dark Christians out just as much as “meditation.” Many such Christians are terrified that if we practice any form of meditational exercise, we’re opening ourselves up to evil spirits, which’ll quickly rush in like shoppers on a Black Friday, and demonize us. (Assuming they even can demonize someone with the Holy Spirit in ’em. Dark Christians might officially teach it’s not possible… but always allow for the possibility. Yes it’s a paradox; they don’t care. Whatever keeps us fearful and cautious.)

I explain elsewhere why that sort of thinking is ridiculous. In proper Christian meditation, we open ourselves to nothing and no one but God. It’s not about blanking the mind, hoping insight will somehow fill the vacuum. Just the opposite. It’s about filling the mind. Namely with God.

We sit, stand, lie down, hang upside down—whatever position works for you—shove every other distraction out of the way, and think. Hard. Turn an idea over in our minds. Analyze it. Play with it. Repeat it till it’s memorized, or till we understand it better. And ask God questions about it: What can he reveal to us about this?

Yep, it’s a form of prayer. Which makes it all the crazier when dark Christians tell us, “Don’t do that! It’s demonic.”

Yep, this practice may sound mighty familiar, ’cause you’re already doing it. You just didn’t realize it was called meditation. People tend to call it “thinking really hard,” and when we talk to God about it, “lifting it up in prayer.” It may be a regular discipline; then again maybe not. But Christians stumble into meditation all the time, because it’s so useful. And it really oughta become a regular practice.

11 November 2019

What do people think Jesus is?

Mark 8.27-30, Matthew 16.13-20, Luke 9.18-21.

Provincial leaders in the Roman Empire liked to suck up to their emperors, which is why there were cities named Καισάρεια/Kesáreia, “Cæsarea,” dotting the empire. Ancient Israel had two. The usual city referred to in the New Testament as Cæsarea is also called Cæsarea Maritima; it’s on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel. The other is in Philip Herod’s province, so it got called Cæsarea Philippi. Today it’s called Banias.

Banias is actually an Arabic distortion of its original name, Πανειάς/Paneiás. It was named for the pagan god Pan. Likely Pan was originally Baal-Gad, one of the many Baals in the middle east, and when Alexander and the Greeks attached Greek names to everything, they referred to this Baal as Pan. The Greeks depicted Pan as a goat-man with a flute, but Pan comes from πάντως/pántos, “everything”: It’s a nature god, and therefore the god of everything. It’s considered a minor god because it didn’t have a large following, but Pan-worshipers thought their god was a big, big deal. They built a big ol’ shrine to Pan there, and it’s still there for tourists to gawk at.

Overt paganism tends to creep out certain religious Christians, who stay far away from any “wicked” city which practices such things. Of course Jesus knows all about the covert paganism going on in our supposedly “righteous” cities, which is why Caesarea didn’t bug him any more than Kfar Nahum… or Jerusalem. People are messed up no matter where you go, and our “righteous” avoidance of the appearance of evil doesn’t make us any more holy, or score us more karma points with God, like we imagine it does. On the contrary: We can’t minister to the lost when we’re “too good for them,” and we’re not all that good when we refuse to obey God and love our neighbors, pagan or not. Jesus doesn’t discriminate in that way, so of course he took his students to such cities.

In a city named for Caesar, you’d naturally see monuments dedicated to Caesar-worship. Herod 1 had deliberately built a temple there for the purpose. (Yeah, he also rebuilt the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, but don’t think for a minute he did it for anything other than political reasons.) Technically they weren’t worshiping him, but his genius (pronounced 'ɡɛ.ni.us, not as our English word 'dʒin.jəs), his guardian spirit. Our word genie comes from the Latin word… and the Greek word for it would be δαίμων/démon.

But over time, Romans stopped worshiping the guardian spirit and simply worshiped the Caesars directly. After each Caesar died, the Roman senate voted to declare them to be gods. They believed whenever you worshiped ancestors as gods, they actually became gods; the Olympians would actually have to include ’em in their pantheon. Some pagan Romans didn’t even wait for ’em to die, but worshiped the living emperor as a god. Same as the ancient Egyptians worshiped their pharaohs.

So that’s what people said the Caesars were… so naturally Jesus wanted to talk about what people said he was.

Mark 8.27 KWL
Jesus and his students went into the villages of Caesarea in Philip Herod’s province.
On the road he was questioning his students, telling them, “What do people say I am?”
Matthew 16.13 KWL
Jesus went into the Caesarea area in Philip Herod’s province,
and questioned his students, saying, “What do people say about the Son of Man?”
Luke 9.18 KWL
It happened while Jesus was praying alone, though with the students around him,
he asked them, saying, “What do the crowds say I am?”

As you know, plenty of pagans nowadays admit Jesus is a wise man and great moral teacher… and little more. Muslims, and some Jews, say he’s a prophet… and again, little more. People of other religions, plus nontheists and skeptics, say much the same as the pagans, although they’re more honest in their disregard: Wise or not, they have no interest at all in following him.

So what do we Christians think he is?

07 November 2019

Christians who lack faith.

Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away.

But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most: Doubting him.

So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus.

Yep him—not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them, you do doubt Jesus, ’cause they’re totally channeling Jesus. Nope. ’Tain’t the same thing. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People will fail us, and Jesus is the only exception. Trust him without exception. Trust them as long as they remain trustworthy… and forgive ’em when they screw up, ’cause they will, ’cause we all do.

Now these not-as-trustworthy Christians have largely been successful at muddling who we’re to trust: A lot of Christians do trust their churches and preachers and Christian institutions. And trust ’em more than Jesus. That’s why they believe so much Christianist rubbish, and when we try to correct ’em with what Jesus actually teaches, they won’t believe us. Which is predictably typical human behavior: The more we’re around certain people, the more we grow to trust them, whether they deserve it or not. Spend all your time around Christianists, spend none with Jesus, and of course you’ll trust them more than him.

And too often Christians passively trust Jesus—by which I mean they believe things about him, and believe he’ll be there for us at the End, but following him now is a whole other deal. They’re more likely to follow the people they can see, and since they’ve not yet seen Jesus they treat him as hypothetical or imaginary.

This passive trust certainly resembles faith, but really it’s just procrastination: People who expect they’ll trust Jesus later. Not now. They don’t now. Not enough to do as he says, go where he goes, take the risks he tells us, nor heed the Holy Spirit’s course corrections. Where we are is more comfortable than where he wants us. We trust circumstances, not Jesus. That’s unfaith.

06 November 2019

When faith gets shaken. (Not if. When.)

Part of normal, healthy Christian growth is discovering we’re wrong. ’Cause we are.

I’m wrong, you’re wrong; every Christian is wrong. We all have incorrect beliefs about the universe, God, Christ, the bible, salvation, how Christians oughta behave, everything. We learned them from other messed-up Christians. Or we learned them from our messed-up world, but assume they’re still correct, ’cause our fellow Christians believe ’em too. Or even despite what our fellow Christians insist.

Fr’instance when a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up all her porn. (Or any other frowned-upon activity.) She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in porn, so she shouldn’t either. But of course she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn, so she’s so relieved—hey, it’s no problem!—and that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against porn, won’t matter; she’ll keep her own opinion. And keep it to herself, same as all the other inconsistent Christians.

Thing is, porn is a problem—and ithe Holy Spirit in us working on us, pulling us towards truth. But that’s gonna take time. Sometimes we’re resistant. (Or we’re too busy with all the porn.) He has things to teach us, and we’re not gonna grow any further as Christians till we learned them. Because they’re just that important.

The problem is when this new information or revelation is just too much for us.

It’s actually not. The Spirit knows what he’s doing, and knows precisely how far to push us or stretch us. But we haven’t learned to trust him. We lack faith. So we hit a crisis. We either have to accept what the Spirit’s teaching us and keep moving forward, or we have to stop.

And by stop, I mean stop.

Which takes a few different forms. The most common one is not, as you’d suspect, leaving Christianity altogether, and embracing another religion, or nontheism, or nothing at all. Much easier to embrace Christianism. We stop following the Holy Spirit and start following a system. Might be the system we’re already dabbling in: We decide to get knee-deep in Christian apologetics, or Calvinism, dispensationalism, Fundamentalism, Methodism—pick any -ism. Might get heavily involved in the Christian Left or the Christian Right: Christianity becomes all about abolishing the death penalty, or same-sex marriage. Might quit church and try the go-it-alone route. Or might find a like-minded church which preaches about how the world needs to change… but us? Doin’ just fine.

We take the ideas we’ve embraced thus far, enshrine them and establish them as our system or denomination… and live in its rotting carcass, and pretend it doesn’t stink. Because once you’ve stopped growing, you’re dead.

Or, ideally, we don’t stop. We accept where the Spirit’s taking us, tough it out, and keep growing.

This is the crisis of faith. It’s a point every Christian reaches. No exceptions. You will hit the crisis at some point in your Christian life. We all do. And not just once either: Many, many times. We have a lot of wrong beliefs in us. The Spirit wants to root out every single one of them.