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I don’t debate creation vs. evolution, because I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t teach that they’re mutually exclusive, either (one of many things I’m thankful for from that church). When I received my first grown-up Catholic Bible, I devoured the introductions and additional material, which included information on literary genres and forms used in the Bible.

The Allegory: A figurative story with a veiled meaning. Read Genesis 2, 3; 4, 1-16; 6-8; 11, 1-9. For centuries, these chapters have been misunderstood as inspired lessons in science. The Bible does not teach science; it teaches religious values. It uses these folktales to teach a lesson.

So it kills me when people are upset about something really cool like the confirmation of the Higgs boson particle because it doesn’t line up with what they think the Bible tells them.

For instance, here’s a cool article I read about the Higgs boson and the concept from the Standard Model of physics that the visible universe only constitutes four percent of the actual universe (The Missing 96%” –Higgs Boson Will Help Unravel Mystery of the Invisible Universe). Whoa! I think it’s really cool that our universe is more complex than we are able to currently comprehend. But look down at the comments, where people start the God vs. science debate. Argh!

First, one without God:

It’s all made up. 96%, 99.9999%… It doesn’t matter because how can you say how much of UNDETECTABLE stuff is actually missing?

That’s just someone who doesn’t understand science, I think. And it’s answered by another commenter:

…we can detect dark matter [the missing 96%] through gravity, which is how we know it’s there.

Then we have

That’s an awfully big statement to be made if you don’t bring the word God into the calculation.

The origin of matter has been solved? Put all your theories together and then ask, where did that come from?

Good question. I think God is part of it. I think these theories can be valid AND God can be behind it all. Not everyone agrees, though. And this is a science article, not a religion article, so…no discussion of God! That doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

Then there’s  guy who posts a short BASIC program which I think is some kind of Bible fortuneteller program, and then he uses it to post Bible quotes. Parody, I think. And there are even a couple of people who appear to be actually discussing the science.

Oh,  here’s one I really like:

What if there never was a beginning at all, and things have always existed ? We make a huge assumption — a hidden one so big it is like the elephant in the room — when we ask how things “started.”

This is a great question to ponder, both in relation to science and to God. After all, Christian doctrine (I’m not sure about other religions) says that God at least has always existed. Is everything that exists a separate creation by God, or is it all a part of God and has therefore always existed? And if E=mc2 means that matter and energy are equivalent and neither can be created or destroyed, does that mean that everything has always existed, too?

ANYWAY, why can’t we all just get along? Why is science so threatening to some believers, and why is religion so threatening to some non-believers?

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We chose the Beatitudes as one of the readings at our wedding, because my husband felt it was a meaningful passage for him (although we really weren’t even churchgoers at the time). Today, we heard it once again at church.

These are all ideas from the pastor’s sermon — I didn’t come up with this myself! But it made a lot of sense to me, so I wanted to share it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12, THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I’ve seen the Beatitudes interpreted a couple of different ways. First, they are often seen as prescriptions for how we should live — we should be poor in spirit (humble), pure in heart, merciful, etc. We should be OK with being persecuted; it just proves that we’re doing all the right things!

Or, we think that Jesus is saying “It’s OK if you’re broken-hearted, or if people persecute you, because you’ll be rewarded later, so don’t worry about it!” Yay, pie in the sky!

Both of these are lacking something, I think.

So, in the sermon, Dustin suggested that perhaps the Beatitudes are an invitation, and a message of inclusiveness, instead! Jesus is saying that everyone is welcome in the kingdom — the broken-hearted, the meek, the mourners, those who are persecuted by society, as well as those who are already pure in heart, hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc.

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone from the kingdom — and neither can we.

Colors of God: Conversations about Being the Church was co-written by three authors/pastors: Quentin Steen, Dave Phillips, and Randall Peters. The three are or have been leaders of an emerging church called neXus in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada.

The book draws on their experiences working with an emerging congregation, but the three also come from an Evangelical background, which is reflected in their theology. In fact, the evangelical aspects were a little off-putting for me at first. I come from a Roman Catholic and United Methodist background, so I have a hard time with statements about “the finished work of Jesus Christ”, like “the gospel says that Christ has fully met all the expectations and requirements of God on my behalf.”

I think behind the language we probably do agree more than disagree, though. I do agree that we should not be worrying so much about whether we are pleasing God with our holiness. God is already pleased with us and loves us, and nothing can come between us and the love of God! And I do think we need to acknowledge our brokenness and our need for God’s grace. I just don’t necessarily believe in the theology of atonement that goes along with that.

Anyway. The book is divided into four sections. Blue represents Gospel Faith, Green is Healthy Living, Red is Inclusive Community, and Yellow is Cultural Engagement. These are the tenets that neXus is based on. In each section, the three authors carry out a three-party conversation, which is apparently to the sermons/teaching they do at neXus. This is followed by a chapter of question and answer with questions frequently asked by other people, and a chapter of additional notes on the topic, again in a conversational style.

I really enjoyed the conversational style and humor of the authors. In one of my favorite exchanges, Randall references Karl Barth on whether everyone goes to heaven (Barth says no, because some will choose not to), and Dave and Quentin respond.

Dave: By the way, let me say, I believe you just quoted a German theologian. I kind of think that makes you a dangerous liberal, but I’ll leave it at that.

Randall: He’s actually Swiss, by the way, not German.

Quentin: Nicely played.

The authors also refer constantly to scripture, and specifically to Jesus’ parables. They do look at Scripture a little differently. I thought their take on the Good Samaritan was a little odd (the injured man represents Jesus?), but I thought their look at Matthew 18 was interesting. Matthew 18 begins with the disciples asking “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It then moves quickly from “unless you become like little children” to “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” and on to the parable about leaving the 99 sheep to look for the one lost one. This is followed by the instructions for what to do if your “brother” sins against you:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (NIV)

And then we get Peter asking how many times we must forgive someone (seventy times seven, says Jesus) and the parable of the unmerciful servant.

The interesting part to me is the authors’ interpretation of treating someone like a pagan or a tax collector. They point out that many churches use this passage as instructions for (or justification for) kicking someone out of the church. However, how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? Levi/Matthew WAS a tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple. And Jesus was well-known for treating outcasts with love.

I think this book is great for anyone with a fairly orthodox theology who’s interested in the emerging church, or the future of the church in the 21st century and beyond. I found it easy to read, but also thought-provoking and spirit-stirring. I definitely recommend it.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review as part of The Ooze Viral Bloggers program.

It’s Friday. I’m worn out. But tomorrow is September 11, and I promised I’d do a post.

September 11 is the anniversary of a horrific event. I don’t generally take special notice of the date. I don’t have a loved one to remember, and it doesn’t rouse any feelings of patriotism in me.

I am still sad about it. Sad that so many people died. Sad that other people could hate our country so much. And sad that over the years, many people have used this event to justify hating and even killing others.

I’m sad because I believe wholeheartedly that this is not the way to live.

I’m a follower of Jesus, and Jesus is very clear on this.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

“But I tell you, anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

(all quotes from Matthew 5, New International Version)

So I’m sad when others who claim the name of Christ instead follow the way of hate, fear and anger. I believe there is another way: the Way of Love. And I believe that there is an abundance of love among God’s people; enough to overcome the fear and hatred!

For example:

Carl Medearis practices the Way of Love by meeting with and befriending leaders of Hezbollah, an Islamist group regarded by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

Christian Peacemaker Teams have been living and working in Iraq since before the U.S.-led invasion. They are currently working with displaced people in the Kurdish region.

Christian Peacemakers also live and work in Israel/Palestine, walking Palestinian children safely to school, monitoring treatment of Palestinians at security checkpoints, replanting olive groves, and more.

Also:

People responded so strongly to the gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California last night that within 24 hours enough food, clothing and supplies had been donated. They didn’t need any more. No, I have no idea how many of the donors were Christians! Does it matter? I think it still counts.

And there are many others, Christian and non-Christian, who practice this Way of Love.

However, we all fall short, too. I do it all the time. I become angry, snap at others, and often feel justified in my anger. I mean, it’s OK to be angry with people want to burn the Q’uran, or who hate on cyclists, or who are otherwise small-minded, right?

Oops. That’s not the Way of Love, either. But God’s grace lets us start over and try again, whether our transgressions are big or small. Which means two things: that I get a second chance, and that I have to be willing to give others a second chance. That I have to love them.

This post is part of a 9/11 Campaign of Goodwill organized by author Sarah Cunningham. If you’d like to take part, write a blog post, tweet, or Facebook status communicating your own message of goodwill.

I wrote this devotion two years ago, and it’s very much with me today:

“All human beings come from the ground, and humankind was created out of the dust.  In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them and appointed their different ways.” –Sirach 33:10-11

When I picture myself in contact with God, I see myself in nature – sitting on the ground, cross-legged, eyes closed, holding my hands out to God’s presence.  I can hear leaves rustling in the breeze, and the birds and squirrels chattering, and know that what God has created is good.

Theologian Paul Tillich spoke of God as the “ground of all being,” and that is how I relate to God – as the ground under me, from which we all spring.  God supports us and steadies us, and if we feel shaky, we can actually sit down and feel God there beneath us.  We can reach out to the Creator’s presence for sustenance and strength, and see it all around us in the natural world.

Today is a shaky day for me. I suspect it’s because the summer is ending. I go back to work next week, and as usual, I haven’t accomplished all that I planned to do during my time off. I’ve grown some food, but I’m hardly a farmer. I’ve done some writing, but not that much. My soon-to-be kindergartner isn’t reading at a first-grade level (yes, I’m crazy like that), and the other kids haven’t read all of the good books I wanted them to read. I lost 10 lbs-ish, but got stuck after that.

Okay, if I’m being honest there is a lot that I have accomplished, too (including spending quality time with my family), and I should be glad of that. But these transition times are hard for me and always have been.

I didn’t really recognize it as transition anxiety this morning. I just knew that I was feeling depressed and anxious and having a hard time doing anything.

But I’ve been holding on to God as the ground of my being today. When I feel anxious, I acknowledge it, and return to that connection with God. It doesn’t make the anxiety go away, but it does keep me going.

In Newsweek’s recent Interview Issue, comedian and talk show host Bill Maher commented that the focus of Christianity is “saving your own ass.”

Newsweek reader Tom Brady then wrote in to refute this, saying that “Christianity’s focus includes feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming the despised, and sometimes risking one’s life to speak truth to power.”  Brady also says that Maher’s statement shows “an appalling ignorance of authentic faith.”

Yes. But I’d also say it shows that there are appallingly few Christians publicly demonstrating this authentic faith. Maher, and many others, have only seen the Christians whose first concern is “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”

So which Christianity do you think is likely to attract more disciples?

The conservative Family Research Council has sent a letter to supporters claiming that President Obama wants to pass a law that would “impose homosexuality and silence Christianity in workplaces.” The law in question is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

First of all, Family Research Council, “impose homosexuality”? You make it sound like the President is planning to force people to be gay.  Secondly, the law doesn’t force employers to hire gay people. It just means you can’t fire or choose not to hire someone solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. If they’re not qualified, by all means, don’t hire them. The law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, etc.  You haven’t been forced to hire anyone on the basis of those characteristics recently, have you?  And religious organizations are exempt, so your religious organization is free to continue its bigotry if it wishes to do so.

As for silencing Christianity…ummm…reading…that’s not even in there.  Whether public displays of faith are allowed in the workplace probably depends on where you live and work. Some employers have no problem with it; others might. An Oregon state law going into effect January 1, 2010 says that employers must allow employees to wear religious items at work, except for teachers in public schools (effectively barring some religious groups from teaching in public schools, but that’s another story).

In any case, the Christianity espoused by the Family Research Council does not represent me.  In fact, I think I’m perfectly capable of living out my Christianity in the workplace without being obnoxious about it.  And I’m thinking the Jesus I know would have no problem working side by side with gay people.

We went to church this evening, because an online friend invited us, and because my husband wanted to find out more about this particular church.

I’m not going to critique or review the church, because I think I have no business doing that! However, if it’s 95 degress outside and you’re meeting in a non-airconditioned gym with no outside doors or windows, for the love of God and his people, please set up a couple of fans!

Despite that, it was a pretty good service — good music and a lively message that used clips from movies and tv shows as illustrations.  And being in a church again, after a long absence, made me think.

You see, there are certain beliefs sometimes taught in churches that are dealbreakers for me. If these things are being taught in a particular church, I know I’m not interested in being part of it.

For me, those things are literal creationism (the earth was created 6005 years ago in six days) and the belief that homosexuality is evil. (Quick note — I’m not saying that these are necessarily the beliefs of the church we attended. I don’t know enough about that church and its beliefs to assume anything.)

I know that for some people, my non-belief in those items would be dealbreakers. And some people have completely different dealbreaker issues.

Throughout the history of Christianity, when people have dealbreaker issues with each other, they split into separate groups.  That’s why we have Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches. And that’s why we have so many Protestant denominations.

But is that really how it should be? You go your way, and I’ll go mine? That doesn’t really fit well with what Jesus taught (Love one another as I have loved you?).

So what are the alternatives?

Some churches choose to avoid the divisive issues and focus on the more important beliefs that draw us together. After all, the Nicene Creed doesn’t require us to believe in literal creationism and says nothing about homosexuality. Jesus also had nothing to say about those issues.

But this isn’t done universally. So I, at least, continue to avoid churches teaching those things. And I feel guilty about it, because I’m not loving the people in those churches, and because I know that we are not in accord with each other.

Another option might be to openly acknowledge and discuss our differences, lovingly recognizing that we do hold different points of view.

Some people can handle this, but some are absolutely certain that they are right and can’t tolerate another point of view. And I’m pretty close to that myself. I’m pretty darned certain that science shows the earth wasn’t created 6005 years ago in six days, and I don’t understand why anyone insists on arguing that position.  And to me, painting homosexuality as evil is bigotry.  But I’m mostly willing to let people believe what they believe as long as they don’t insist that others follow their beliefs, too.

So where does this leave us? As usual, with much imperfection. I don’t know how to reconcile my strongly held beliefs with the strongly held beliefs of other Christians.

I do know that with God, we can do all things. So I can call on God for love and patience when interacting with people from different viewpoints.

On May 21 this year, a tweet or a blog post (I don’t remember which) reminded me that it was Ascension Day, the traditional celebration of the day that Jesus, following his crucifixion and resurrection, returned to heaven.  The most detailed of the biblical accounts (Acts 1:1-12) says that “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9, NIV)

Naturally, many scholars (and average believers) now question whether this is what literally happened. For me, the reminder about Ascension day led me to ask what Ascension Day means to me, regardless of its factual status.

I had trouble with this idea at first. I read over the various accounts of the Ascension, along with traditional Christian teachings and creedal statements, and discovered that most of it meant nothing to me!  The Incarnation is important to me; that Jesus lived as a human among humans.  His death is meaningful to me (see previous post).  The Resurrection tells me that Jesus is still with us; that he defeated death, and it did not separate him from us.

In contrast, the Ascension does seem to separate Jesus from us.  “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right and of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” (The Nicene Creed)  He left us, returned to heaven, and someday he’ll be back.  He’s not with us any more.

But wait!  Jesus also said “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)  And that’s been my experience — that he is with us and accessible, not separated from us until some future glorious event.

So how can a believing follower of Jesus reconcile this with the Ascension?

Strangely enough, there is a traditional belief that helps.  It’s more common in the Eastern Orthodox church, according to Wikipedia (although sadly I can’t find a source that clearly verifies this).  Jesus’ ascension “consummated the union of God and man.”  Or, as Grace of Kingdom Grace puts it, “Because of the bodily ascension of Christ, we are now lifted into and included in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.”

Rather than a separation, the Ascension represents a joining of God and humans.  Once again, it says that God is with us, now and always, Emanuel.