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Figuring Out My Faith

April 27, 2015 3 comments

This post will probably be a stream-of-conscious rambling and full of typos because I’m typing this on my phone. Bear with me. I hope this is short because I haven’t adjusted to the size of the iPhone 6 so my fingers keep slipping. (Not plus size; just regular size.)

Anyway, for the past 2 weeks I’ve been attending a local Roman Catholic Church. In a lot of ways, it feels like a homecoming and in other ways it’s changed. I still remember the sign of the cross, many of the congregational responses (although some have changed and one deleted), and when to sit, stand, and kneel (for the most part). I enjoy the 20-minute homily (mainly for the brevity), the availability of hymnals, and the fact that I can (again, for the most part) enter and exit the church unnoticed.

But there’s so much I disagree with now that I’ve been away from Roman Catholicism. After having been Protestant for as many years as I was Catholic, the following are my gripes:

  • Transubstantiation. This is a big one for me. I don’t believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. I believe they are symbols that represent his body and blood.
  • The Catholic Church being considered the “true” church. I get the sense (from this Sunday’s homily) that anyone outside of the Catholic Church is “outside the fold.” I don’t know if that means lack of salvation but I bristle when I think that there’s only one “true church,” ie, denomination.
  • Mary. I’ve been hearing from Catholics lately that Mary is not worshipped but merely revered as the mother of God. Unless the position on Mary has changed within the past 16 years (and I don’t think so), I’m pretty sure Mary is worshipped to be almost if not practically on par with Jesus’ holiness. My entire schooling was in Catholic institutions and I firmly believe that Mary is held to a higher standard than a saint like, oh, John, Paul, Ringo, or George. (Whoops. Well, I got 2 out of 4.)
  • Kneeling before statues. I’m no longer comfortable with this. I’ve read through Genesis and Exodus a few times enough to know that God doesn’t seem to be a fan of “idols” or bowing down before man-made images.

I guess those are a few of the things that hold me back from Catholicism. (Although I must admit, it really pissed me off on Sunday to see how many people accepted the host and then bypassed the cup [er, chalice as they call it now]. Partake in the Eucharist in its entirety or don’t partake at all. Yes, I’ll admit: It’s gross to drink from the same cup as other people [backwash and all that] but if it’s holy, then it’s purified, right?)

Like I said before, I’ve been Protestant about as long as I was Catholic. (I was essentially a Protestant for 2 years while finishing up high school.) I gravitate toward Protestant beliefs. Much of it makes sense to me. I think Martin Luther (of the Reformation) was a badass. I’ve enjoyed the emphasis on worshipping Jesus alone. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective on salvation: grace by faith alone. (Catholics believe in grace plus good works—something I now battle with based on my interpretation of passages from the Book of James.) I’ve learned so much more about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in Protestant churches.

But I’ve become disenchanted with many Protestant churches. In an effort to try to shift away from Catholic traditions, some have abandoned liturgies from their services. Sure, the service tends to be somewhat structured, but it lacks that liturgical feel that the Catholic Church provides.

Call me old fashioned, but I am dismayed at the growing trend of using PowerPoints (or nothing at all) for worship music. I’ve never understood how anyone is supposed to know or be able to sing any of these new worship songs without sheet music. Unless you listen to Christian music religiously, which I suppose is the assumption, there’s no way to know the music being sung in church. In the Catholic Church, a cantor sings the chorus for the entire church then encourages everyone to sing the chorus with him or her, thus introducing the melody. The cantor usually sings the verses alone when the song is not in the hymnal.

Then there’s my biggest beef with Protestants: the hour-long sermons. Perhaps in the days of Jonathan Edwards when he preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” people were much more attentive and receptive to a lengthy sermon. These days, we in America have short attention spans. Long sermons bore us to tears even if you are an entertaining, charismatic speaker. There’s only so long you can hold your audience’s attention before it drops off. (Speaking of that, kudos to you if you’ve made it this far. And yes, I’m still typing on my phone. Ow.)

Protestant (excluding non-denominational churches) tend to be on the smaller side (unlike 200+ people in a Catholic Church) providing the opportunity for it to become a place where “everybody knows your name.” I’m at a point in my life where I want to be invisible. I want to go to church, worship God, and then leave with minimal to no interruption. I go to the Catholic Church in the same community where I worked at a local library so running into my former coworkers occasionally is to be expected. But for the most part, the church is so big, I can dodge them if needed.

Regarding childcare, Protestants win over Catholics in my estimation. Protestants usually have a nursery or some form or childcare or Sunday School for young children. Catholics tend to deal with their screaming babies during Mass. Some Catholic Churches have partitioned a room in the back of the church with speakers and a glass panel to accommodate people with special needs, such as moms with babies, the elderly, and the physically handicapped. But it’s hard for many Catholic Churches to retrofit this.

I guess that’s my 2 cents on my faith. I’m stuck in limbo. I probably won’t return to the Catholic Church as a member (technically I’m still a member of a church on Long Island, NY) but I don’t know if I can handle one more 7-11 praise song at a Protestant church. (Sing 7 words 11 times.) I recognize no church is perfect, but at this point, which church’s shortcomings am I able to tolerate?

We’ll see.

A Religious Manifesto of Sorts

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment

CrossI’m having a crisis of faith right now. I believe in God and I believe in Jesus. I just… don’t believe in all the stuff that comes with Christianity. I don’t want to do the stuff that comes with Christianity, such as:

  • Attending church
  • Praying regularly
  • Reading the Bible

Church often feels like a social gathering—a way to meet new people. I love my church. If I could pick any church to attend, it’d be the church I’m a member of. So why do I choose sleep over worshiping God on Sunday mornings?

Read more…

Are You There, God? I’d Really Like An Answer.

June 30, 2011 8 comments

I’ve been going through an incredibly difficult time on a personal level and have been really struggling in my faith. I often function based on feelings (yeah, yeah, I know, feelings aren’t reliable) and lately I’ve had the need to feel that God loves me. And I’m constantly met with… silence. Read more…

Catholicism Isn’t Evil (to Me Anymore)

May 31, 2011 3 comments

My friend’s father died on Friday, prompting a whirlwind weekend of funeral services and grieving during the Memorial Day weekend. The family is Catholic and my friend’s father partook of his last sacraments before he became too incapacitated.

I sat through two mini-Catholic services, the first a brief eulogy for my friend’s father who we’ll refer to as Mr. W, and the second a shortened version of a Mass with an emphasis on praying for Mr. W’s soul.

Had this happened 10 or even 5 years ago, I would have been indignant at the Catholic church, ranting and raving at all the things they do wrong as indoctrinated by my years of Christian Baptist fundamentalism. I would have rolled my eyes at the pointless sign of the cross and the dumb responses to the priest after a statement. My heart would have been angry at the Whore of Babylon for leading people astray and I would have not been able to grieve the loss of a dear father and husband who was beloved by many.

But no, this weekend, my heart was quiet before the Lord in reverence to my friend, her family, and the passing of her father. I actually rather enjoyed the first Catholic eulogy and Father T who performed it did an excellent job. I thought to myself, Wow. What a difference a decade makes. I don’t hate Catholicism anymore.

I had no opposition to performing the sign of the cross to open and close the service. (Scripture doesn’t expressly forbid such actions so I no longer take issue with it.) I was surprised at how easily the congregational responses came back to me after years of not attending a Mass or Catholic school. Glimmers of lyrics from many of the spiritual songs shimmered in my mind from my childhood as we sang. We recited the “Our Father” without that ending that I’ve become accustomed to since leaving Catholicism (“For Thine is the kingdom…”). The Catholic Church has changed slightly but not too much. (They’ll be changing the congregational response from “also with you” to “with your spirit.” Ghastly! /sarcasm)

At the second service, I realized while I’m no longer angry or opposed to the Catholic Church, it will never be the church for me again. I do not agree with praying for the souls of the dead as I can’t find Biblical justification for it. I can’t in good Biblical conscience recite the “Hail Mary” any longer. However, instead of ranting and raving against the Catholic Church for unbiblical practices (as I would have in the past), I took the time to still my heart before God and prayed for the family grieving the loss of Mr. W. I prayed for the light of the gospel to shine in their lives, hoping that even through the Catholic Church, they could find salvation and trust in Jesus Christ.

The father at the second service encouraged everyone present to pray for Mr. W’s soul every time they thought of him or his family. I will not begrudge my friend and her mother their novena, but I will continue to lift them up in prayer to the glory of God the Father.

“Enjoying God” Series on Hiatus; Focus on Christian Atheism Begins

January 29, 2011 4 comments

Image from http://www.livingbueno.com

For at least a week.

During the week, I intend to live as (demi-)atheistically as I can. I’ll probably fail since some knowledge of God has always been a part of my life, and intensive knowledge of God has been a habit for 12 years. What will change?

Unfortunately, not that much.

  • I won’t be going to church this Sunday. I am not planning on oversleeping to miss it; I just will make a purposeful decision not to go.
  • I will still be reading the devotional plans on my iPhone, courteously provided for free through YouVersion. But since I’m spiritually struggling, they’ve been nothing but words on a page.
  • Not actively praying. My prayer life is minimal at best (maybe a formal prayer once a week?) so it looks like I’m not changing my habits much. Besides, I’ve been praying for various things (and for various people) for a while now and none of those prayers have been answered. Why bother?

Why?

Insight into this decision can probably be gleaned from my last post, “Day 32 of Enjoying God: Faith (or lack thereof).” But I do have a few more reasons as to why I’m making a conscious decision to (kind of) stray away from my faith for a week. Read more…

The Armor of Pretentious Spirituality & the Shield of Piousness

October 4, 2010 3 comments

A friend said this to me on Twitter today:

I do think people are dishonest in general about their ‘spirituality.’

I have to agree with him. And I can’t help wonder why that is.

This statement forced me to look at my own spirituality. I like to think that I’m rather “real” when it comes to my Christian life. Too often I’m frustrated by people who try to act like they have it all together just because they have Jesus in their lives and I’m always comparing myself mercilessly to people who seem particularly pious and pray and read their Bibles all the time.

On the contrary, I also look at the people who practice yoga religiously or listen to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and wonder if they’ve discovered some inner peace that I still find myself seeking.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that we all put on a front to some extent. There are days (perhaps sometimes weeks!) when I’ve got this spiritual connection going, some amazing mountaintop relationship with God and I really am a prayer warrior and in touch with a power greater than myself.

Then there are days (and weeks!) that go by when I don’t pray, get angry with God, feel lost as though I’m stumbling through life just trying to life in the physical, and going through the motion of attending church because it’s what I do and not necessarily because I want to. (Is that right to do? No.)

So it’s time for me to strip off the armor of pretentious spirituality and put down the shield of piousness:

  • I do not go to church every Sunday. Catholic guilt plagues me afterward but it’s true. I like my sleep more than I like fellowshipping or worshipping with the saints.
  • I do not formally pray every day. If I pray at all, it might be a quick “Lord, please make this migraine go away” but I don’t get down on my knees every night regularly and pray for my family, your family, everyone’s needs, and world peace. I sometimes formally pray but more often than not, I don’t. And more often than not, I forget. And even more often than that, I just don’t want to.
  • I take the Lord’s name in vain occasionally. (Sorry for the following, God.) I’ve caught myself saying a “Lord have mercy” or “Oh my, God” when it’s not necessary or directed to God. It doesn’t happen often and I try to get around it by saying “Heaven, have mercy” but that just sounds silly afterward.
  • I do not like to fellowship with other believers on most days. Some Christians love nothing more than good Christian fellowship all the time. Great for them. I prefer to be alone or around unbelievers. For some reason, I feel the need to pretend like everything’s fine around other Christians. Going to Bible study this summer was heart-wrenching for me as I spent month after month discovering I was not pregnant and not feeling like I could really share that with a group of women who were pregnant or already had kids (for the most part). I always left Bible study feeling worse off than when I arrived so I stopped going or helped with childcare.
  • Reading tons of theological books does not make me a theological maven. I’m reading three books on theology, God’s love, and the Bible and I feel more filled with head knowledge and no closer to any heart knowledge. I wonder if a return to the basics of Jesus Christ and the removal of deep reformed theology from my brain would help but I don’t know how to go back.
  • I wonder if non-Christians have it better than I do. Hate on Deepak Chopra all you want but the man doesn’t complain about unhappiness. And Oprah seems to be doing all right…
  • I question my own beliefs:
    • Jesus ascended into heaven bodily? Um, wouldn’t he explode once he reached a certain altitude?
    • Jesus is returning and after that, no more sin and world peace? When? Will it ever happen? Is that just a fairy tale?
    • It’s wrong to romantically love someone who is of the same gender?
    • God created Ryan Seacrest? (Just kidding.)
  • I question God’s purpose for me. Constantly. Why am I here? I mean, me specifically. You have a different purpose than I do. What am I supposed to accomplish before I die? Is the afterlife really peaceful?
  • And the most basic question of all: Am I a person who really, truly loves Jesus and would sacrifice ALL to follow him?

The answer to that last question is no. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably answering similarly if you’re honest with yourself. By the way, if you still think you’d sacrifice all to follow Jesus then let me challenge you do to this right now:

Sell your house,
Sell your SUV,
Sell your stock,
Sell your security,
And give it to the poor.¹

Won’t do/haven’t done that? Yeah, your answer’s the same as mine.

Perhaps the way back to genuinely following Christ is to strip off the facades we wear. Maybe if I showed up at church and asked someone how he was doing and he responded honestly, “A tough week but I’m hanging in there” rather than the standard “Just fine,” perhaps we’d exhibit a bit more Christ-likeness.

I love Mark Driscoll’s ministry and I think he’s done a lot to reach others for Christ in the 21st century, but the machismo thing bothers me. Sorry, I can’t quite picture Jesus going to Monday Night RAW or cheering on guys beating each other senseless in the UFC. On the contrary (which is probably Driscoll’s real point), I don’t think Jesus would’ve been a pansy flower child flashing the peace sign and getting high in the middle of a muddy field.

Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe. During his time on earth, he exhibited emotion and didn’t pretend to be something he was not. When Lazarus died, the Lamb of God felt the real sting of death and wept for his friend (before resurrecting him!). When money changers were desecrating the temple of God, Jesus displayed righteous anger in preserving a sanctuary that was supposed to be kept holy. And right before Jesus faced the cruelest death anyone could face, fear flowed through his body as he pleaded three times with his heavenly Father to take the task at hand away from him (before submitting himself to God’s will).

Wow. Sadness, anger, and fear. All from the one whom Christians call their Savior. Jesus didn’t pretend to be okay. Jesus wasn’t all macho like, “Yo, dudes, I got this. No sweat.” Not even with the apostles, his closest friends, who he asked to stay up with him before Judas betrayed him. Jesus was real.

And if Jesus was real, why do believers in him keep acting so damn fake?

¹Quoted from Derek Webb’s “Rich Young Ruler”

Anne Rice and association with Christianity

August 4, 2010 8 comments

On July 28, famed author Anne Rice posted the following on her Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. [source]

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen. [source]

After quoting a number of verses from Matthew, I Corinthians, and John, she concludes her rejection of Christianity with this:

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become. [source]

I’m not a fan of Rice mainly because I’ve never read her books but I’ve followed her developments and statements with minimal interest since she shifted from atheism to Catholicism. Such extreme pendulum swings in faith never fail to intrigue me. With Rice’s most recent statement, I’m forced to evaluate what it is about Christianity that’s so abhorrent that she’s chosen to renounce Christ?

Before her public repudiation, it’s clear that she was struggling with many unfortunate issues Christianity is associated with. A few Facebook posts from last Tuesday:

Gandhi famously said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” When does a word (Christian)become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy? [source]

Since some of you mentioned the Westboro Baptist Church in comments below, I thought I’d publish this recent news story about them. This is chilling. I wish I could say this is inexplicable. But it’s not. That’s the horror. Given the history of Christianity, this is not inexplicable at all. —Link to “How Young Is Too Young to Learn Hate?” an article about Westboro Baptist Church [source]

This shocking link was provided by a poster below. No wonder people despise us, Christians, and think we are an ignorant and violent lot. I don’t blame them. This kind of thing makes me weep. Maybe commitment to Christ means not being a Christian. —Link to “GOP-linked punk rock ministry says executing gays is ‘moral’” an article about an anti-gay Christian nonprofit [source]

These things associated with Christianity in America are unfortunate not to mention the personal travails Ms. Rice has encountered (losing a daughter to leukemia, losing her husband of 41 years, and watching her other son — a gay rights activist — endure hate-filled rants and threats in the name of Christ). I’ve never experienced any of the things she’s experienced but it makes me understand why she would choose to “quit being a Christian… in the name of Christ.”

I’ve read a lot of posts by Christians questioning whether a person can tell Christ that she loves him but doesn’t want to be part of his Bride (that is, the universal body of Christ—commonly known as the Church). The common conclusion is that no, you can’t love Christ and not be part of his Bride.

But let’s look at this example: let’s say my husband had a close friend and this close friend of his saw me spewing bigoted remarks at other people and talking about killing people who I didn’t believe lived up to my husband’s ideal of how people ought to be. I think my husband’s friend would have every right to say, “Man, I like hanging out with you but I can’t be around when your wife is around. She acts so terrible, it reflects badly on who I am.”

Christians think that the Bride is above criticism because Christ instituted the Church. Jesus loves the Church, yes, but he sees our warts and flaws and knows it is comprised of sinners. And because Christians can be so pompous about what the Bible teaches (right or not), we sometimes drive those within our body away.

Do I agree with Rice’s decision? No, I don’t, but I respect it. I’ve read some other people argue that she should have stayed in the Church (in her instance, the Roman Catholic Church) and tried to effect change from within.

Another personal example, if you’ll allow me: After Obama’s historical election to the presidency in 2008, I chose to leave the Democratic Party. I am a staunchly pro-life (that is, anti-abortion, anti-death penalty) citizen and discovered that the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion had become so relaxed (with President Obama having the most relaxed abortion policies I’ve ever heard of) that there was no way staying in the party would allow me to effect change from within. Even though I am mostly a Democrat in other respects, to continue to be a part of an institution that I had such a fundamental disagreement with would have caused me more harm than good.

However, I’m still a Christian because I believe Jesus has called me to be a part of his Church no matter how many gripes I have with my fellow believers. I believe in the cause of Christ more than I believe in his followers. And I believe that Christ’s message of love and repentance is not just for a certain group of sinners but for all people. Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. He came for those who are sick, not those who are well.

Like I said, I don’t agree with Ms. Rice’s decision but I respect it. They are too many Christians who think that they’re righteous and well just because they claim the name of Christ. Ms. Rice will only return to the Church once she sees more Christians admitting that they’re sickly sinners.

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