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Showing posts with the label #Expectations

Skipping the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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I had most of this piece published in the September 2014 issue of Oremus Press. So to my Catholic sisters and brothers who followed the link here: Hi there! God bless.Another essay I’ve been asked to repost is my bit on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And no, I’m not gonna spell it Sepulchre, like the British and Canadians do. I’m an American. Our spelling makes more sense. Well, slightly more.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher: The massive church building which contains both Golgatha and Jesus’s tomb. WikimediaWhat prompted my original post in 2010 was my brother and sister-in-law going to Israel. It was with some folks in their church, and was the basic pilgrim’s package: You get Jerusalem of course, and a few of the more popular sites from the bible. Provided there’s no open warfare in those areas; the last thing either Israelis or Palestinians want are shot-up tourists. Both sides profit from tourism.When I went to Israel in 1998, I wanted to see Hebron, ’cause Abraham is buried t…

Twelve days of Christmas.

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Today’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!And there are 11 more days of it. Tomorrow, which is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day, tends to get called “the day after Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s the second day of Christmas.The Sunday after Christmas (and in many years, including 2020, two Sundays after Christmas) is still Christmas. So I go to church and wish people a happy Christmas. And they look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.”Ah, the song. They sing it, but it never clicks what they’re singing about.On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to meA partridge in a pear tree.On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to meTwo turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to meThree french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to meFour calling birds, three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge i…

Abortion and conservative Christians.

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Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.Infanticide does. Strangling or smothering the babies after birth, Ex 1.16 or if you really wanna terrorize people, as the Egyptians did, toss ’em in the Nile. Ex 1.22 The scriptures don’t specifically condemn it as murder, but neither do they treat it as if it’s not murder. And most Americans agree… although not all humans have. In some cultures—partly justified by high infant mortality rates—infant death is kinda okay, and causing infant death is also kinda okay. It’s famously known in ancient Rome, if a patriarch didn’t want a baby, he could order it be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure. Although a 1988 archeological discovery in Askelon, Israel, revealed a number of Romans were okay with just drowning ’em in the local bathhouse.Miscarriage also comes up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, an…

Easter.

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Or “Resurrection Sunday,” for those who are paranoid about what “Easter” might mean.On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed only two days before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.Jesus died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew פֶּסַח/Pesákh, “Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter.Because of the pagan origins of the word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” (Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians.)Easter is our most …

The Daniel fast.

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Every January, the people in my church go on a diet. Most years for three weeks; this year we’re formally doing it for one, but some folks may choose to go longer. We cut back on the carbohydrates, sugar, meat, and oils; lots of fruits and vegetables. Considering all the binging we did between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it makes sense to practice a little more moderation, doesn’t it?What on earth does this practice have to do with prayer? Well y’see, the people don’t call it a diet. They call it a “Daniel fast.”It’s an Evangelical practice which has taken off in the past 20 years. It’s loosely based on a few lines from Daniel 10. At the beginning of the year, Daniel went three weeks—that’d be 21 days—depriving himself.Daniel 10.2-3 KWL2 In those days I, Daniel, went into mourning three weeks. 3 I ate none of the bread I coveted.Meat and wine didn’t enter my mouth. I didn’t oil my hair for all of three weeks.So that’s how the Daniel fast works. At the beginning of the year, we likewis…

Alcohol and Christians.

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On an internet debate club discussion group, I got into it with some fella who was insistent Jesus didn’t drink wine. He’d read my piece, “Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party,” and was outraged, outraged, that I dare suggest Jesus drank wine. ’Cause no he didn’t.It was a clear case of the guy projecting his beliefs about alcohol upon Jesus. And he’s got lots of support for his beliefs. Ever since the United States’s temperance movement began in the early 1800s—the movement which got us to ban alcohol in our Constitution (seriously!), Christians in that movement have invented and spread serious distortions of the bible’s historical background so that the folks in the bible didn’t really drink wine: Either they drank unfermented grape juice, or they watered down the wine so greatly, the alcohol content by volume was similar to that of non-alcoholic beer.These false stories have been published for so long, anti-alcohol Christians simply accept ’em as truth. They’ve heard them all…

Tradition: Customs which (should) help us follow Jesus.

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TRADITION /trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Beliefs and customs passed down from generation to generation.[Traditional /trə'dɪ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]CHRISTIAN TRADITION /'krɪs.ʃcən trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Someone other than the Holy Spirit, or something other than the bible, which taught you Christianity.The first time we were introduced to Jesus, for most of us it wasn’t a personal introduction. He didn’t appear to us personally, like he did Stephen or Paul or Ananias.Nope. We learned of him secondhand, through other Christians—parents, relatives, friends, evangelists, preachers, writers, and so on. We interacted with those other Christians, heard their stories, heard of their own God-experiences, put our faith in these people, and followed the Jesus they shared with us till we eventually had our own experiences of him. (You have had your own experiences, right? I would hope so.)But despite those personal experiences we’ve had of Jesus, most of the things we still think, believe, and practice as Christi…

Tattoos require commitment.

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If you’re gonna have something permanently etched into your skin, maybe think about it a bit, okay? Got into a discussion with Mathilda (name changed to protect the feelin’-guilty) and I found it interesting enough to rant about. Even though my views may get me into trouble with both legalists and libertines.Mathilda has a tattoo. I do not. Never got one. Not that I disapprove of them per se. I simply haven’t found anything I’d like to permanently decorate myself with.I know; the older folks are gonna quote bible at me about how you’re never, ever supposed to tattoo yourself.Leviticus 19.28 NIV“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”The word the NIV renders “tattoo” is qaháqa. In modern Hebrew it means “tattoo,” and it only appears this one time in the bible. Unless you count the apocryphal book of Jesus ben Sirach, which I don’t. (Long story as short as I can make it: Sirach was written in Hebrew, translated into Greek; the Hebrew got lo…

God can’t abide sin?

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If true, it means God has a boogeyman.“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure.Well, self-righteous.You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have those prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? T…

Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

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If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em)…

“Be careful, little eyes…”

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Nobody’s temptation-proof. But not everyone’s tempted by the same stuff. Some years ago when I finally got round to reading the unabridged edition of The Stand (which, I remind you, is my favorite End Times novel, and not just ’cause it’s way better written than those stupid, stupid Left Behind novels), I casually mentioned to a fellow Christian (let’s call her Asha) I was doing so.Wrong Christian to mention such things to. Asha was horrified. I think she was afraid I’d lose my salvation over it. You think I’m being facetious, but some Christians actually do believe there are such things as mortal, unpardonable sins. To Asha, Stephen King novels are apparently one of ’em.Y’see, King is known as a horror writer. So he’ll write about evil spirits, vampires, werewolves, devilish magic creatures, and so forth. He’ll also write about non-supernatural things, like sex and violence. He’ll use the F-word, and take the Lord’s name in vain. Pagan stuff like that.Therefore Asha insisted I was a …

Saying grace.

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You know: Praying for your food. The most common type of prayer—the one we see most often, and probably the type taken the least seriously—is the prayer before meals. We call it “grace.” Not to be confused with God’s generous, forgiving attitude.Why don’t people take it seriously? Because it’s dead religion. Christians might pray it as a living act of religion, one of the acts we do to further our relationship with God. But Christians and pagans alike say grace before meals as the dead kind of religion: We do it ’cause it’s just what people do in our culture. It’s custom. It’s tradition. It’s habit. But it doesn’t mean anything.Nope, not said out of gratitude. Nor love. Nor devotion. Nor even as a reminder of these things. We say grace because if we didn’t say grace, Grandma would slap the food out of our hands and say, “You didn’t say grace!” We say grace because Dad would take his seat at the table, fold his hands like you do for prayer, and give us kids dirty looks until we stopped…

Perfect love—without conditions.

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Which we Christians shouldn’t have.Matthew 5.43-48 • Luke 6.27-36Sometimes I joke the two commands Jesus said were most important Mk 12.29-31 —love God Dt 6.5 and love your neighbor Lv 19.18 —are respectively the easiest and hardest commands. Really easy to love God. But the neighbors are a pain.Some respond with a laugh. Others disagree: They struggle to love God, but people are relatively easy for them. ’Cause people are visible and God is not.And, they figure, the neighbors are easy to love. Of course by “neighbor” they mean “people who are friendly,” kinda like in Jesus’s story of the kind Samaritan. Lk 10.29-37Kind people are easy to love. Unkind people not so much. And yeah, it’s not hard to love people who are always nice to you, but I find when you really know and spend time with people, they’re not always gonna be nice. Gotta give ’em credit for trying, but everybody slips. I sure do. That’s why we Christians gotta be gracious.Since God obligated the Hebrews to love their nei…

Christians, “adult content,” prudery, and self-control.

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Couple years ago an acquaintance of mine was casually recommending some movies to a group of us. Stuff he’d recently seen; stuff he’d seen, but we hadn’t, so he thought we might be interested.It just so happened one of the movies is what we’d call “adult content.” Lots of swearing. Little violent. Some sexual activity; not buck-naked thrashing around, but even so, it’d be stuff you might not want your kids to see. Although maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t care what your kids see. I’ve had a few fourth-grade students whose parents were far from discriminating. Far.Most of this group were Christian, and the inevitable question came up: “Do you think it’s appropriate for you, as a Christian, to watch such a movie?”Not “to recommend such a movie.” Watch such a movie. The implied question wasn’t, “Is it okay to recommend such movies, ’cause certain people might be led into temptation?” but “Won’t everyone be led into temptation by this movie? Are you sure you’re not fully corrup…

Are we living in the last days?

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Sure. When people ask, “Are we living in the last days?” what they nearly always mean by it is, “These awful things happening in the present day: Are they signs Jesus is returning soon? Like in the next few years? Is it the time-before-the-End-Times?”Why they’re asking is ’cause they already suspect the answer is yes.Because awful things are happening in the present day. Cops shooting innocent citizens; citizens shooting innocent cops. Wars and terrorists, rumors of wars and terrorists, people who could shoot up a room with no advance warning, drones which could smite you from the heavens above like Zeus himself. Scary new diseases. Unfamiliar “social norms” which were neither “normal” nor “moral” just a decade ago; who expected marijuana to be legalized? Unfamiliar technology which, given its power, may very well be dangerous. Racism coming out of the closet. Immoral people running for president, and so-called Christians not just holding their noses and voting for the lesser evil, bu…

The “Wild at Heart” kind of guy.

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Nine years ago a friend, who should’ve known better, gave me a copy of John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart as a Christmas gift. The book was all the rage among Christian men five years before. At the time (’cause I tried to get rid of it on Amazon) it was going for 20 cents. Betcha she found it on sale.People buy books like Wild at Heart to inspire the men in their lives. That’d include men who don’t read. Consequently there are a lot of men who own a dusty copy of Wild at Heart, and mine’s pretty dusty too, ’cause I refuse to read it again.I’d read it years before. It wasn’t my copy, which is the only reason I didn’t throw it across the room in disgust. Nope, I don’t care for it. Here’s why.Eldredge’s profoundly misguided thesis is constructed around certain Happy Premises. (I stole this term from Bowfinger, which I watched again recently. Loony self-help ideas tend to gravitate together in my mind, whether fictional or not.)HAPPY PREMISE #1. Man needs to be wild, free, and undomesticated;…

Profanity, and why Christians get freaked out by it.

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People mean three things by “swearing”: Oaths, curses, and profanity. Today I’m writing about profanity, meaning stuff that’s obscene, or stuff people consider irreverent towards God. Either various words or practices which are considered forbidden in polite company, or forms of “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” as popularly (and incorrectly) defined.Since the beginning of human history, different cultures have had certain taboos. Stuff that’s forbidden. Or forbidden to children. Or forbidden to one gender and not the other: Men can go shirtless in public and women can’t; women can wear dresses in public but men can’t; that sort of thing.Some of these taboos are for very good reason. Forbidding sex with children: Obviously it discourages people from exploiting children. Forbidding people to poop just anywhere: If it weren’t taboo, people would poop just anywhere, and this keeps their elimination practices in private. Where we prefer it. ’Cause ewww.Because of the taboos against the pr…

“Call me Pastor.”

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Three years ago I got into a conversation with some guy at a Starbucks. It’s usually in coffeehouses such conversations take place; I’m in them so often. (I’m in one now as I write this.) He asked my name. I gave it. He gave his name as “Pastor Todd”—although Todd isn’t actually his first name, ’cause I changed it for this story, ’cause he’s not gonna look good.Todd struck up a conversation with me, quickly found out I’m Christian, and we got to talking about our common beliefs. Like most people, he assumed since I’m not clergy, I must know nothing about theology. Which is a really naïve assumption, ’cause there are a lot of dangerously overeducated laymen like me around. Something I learned back in my journalism days: Never underestimate people. But never overestimate ’em either. Find out who they really are.There are a lot of dangerously undereducated clergy around too. It just so happened Todd is among them. He tried to instruct me in certain areas he clearly knew little about. I e…

Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

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My hometown has one bookstore—only one—which specializes in new books. [Update, 2018: Not anyore.] Although specialize isn’t the proper word. That’d be Family Christian Stores, which isn’t so much a bookstore as your one-stop shop for all things Christian. It sells tchotchkes about as much as books: CDs, shirts, toys, art for the walls… you know, “Jesus junk.”’Twasn’t always thus. We used to have a Borders. It closed when Borders went bankrupt in 2001. In the ’90s we had a Crown Books, and that closed too. All that’s left are the used-book stores which sometimes carry a new book or two. And the book sections of Walmart, Costco, Target, and other department stores. And the local library’s monthly book sale. There’s the odd church bookshop, but they’re not open unless the church is, and not even then.Why can’t a town of 90,000 sustain a new-books bookstore? Because those stores, for the most part, don’t know what they’re doing. They didn’t realize, till it was too late, their primary co…

Getting Christian capitalization right.

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Y’know, we Christians have invented a lot of little (and stupid) ways to gauge how devout our fellow Christians are—how closely we follow Jesus, how much we respect and honor God, how saved we are. How many Christianese words and terms can we slip into our conversation? How likely are we to pray at the slightest provocation? Are we willing to mar the bumpers of our cars with Jesus fish and pro-God stickers? Can we quote bible verses casually, and post ’em on Twitter?One of those little litmus tests is how we do on Christian capitalization. Do we capitalize all the appropriate titles and names and holy things and their pronouns when we’re writing about God and Christianity?Fr’instance when we’re writing about God, we’d better darned well have capitalized the title “God.” I know; some Christians call it the name of God, but YHWH’s his name; God’s his title. Technically his species. Still: Capitalize it! It’s not lowercase-G “god,” like we use for other religions’ gods, especially religi…