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In this book, Chole writes about her journey from adamant atheist (she used to deliberately antagonize her Christian friends in high school) to ardent believer. It’s an interesting read. Chole keeps some suspense going throughout the book, leading up to the moment, the encounter that made her a believer (which I found anti-climactic, but sometimes real life is anti-climactic).

The book is also an apologetic, or an explanation of why the Christian faith is true.  A lot of this does make sense and matches my own experiences, but some of it irked me.

For instance, Chole says that she’s grateful for “the privilege of learning from Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Christian friends.”  However, she also implies that pluralism (the idea that other faiths are equally good roads to God) is wrong, and that Christianity is the only correct faith.  I wonder how her Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh friends feel about that?

Chole explains four filters she uses to determine whether a faith is a valid one:

  • Is it consistent at its core?
  • Is it livable and not just quotable?
  • Is it sustainable through life-size pain?
  • Is it transferable to others (will it work for people in other cultures, economic situations, etc.)?

She makes a good case that Christianity passes these filters, but I suspect that devout people of other religions could make a strong case for their faith passing as well.

I did like Chole’s statements that God is not bothered by questions about faith, and that it’s OK to question.

“Believing does not mean that you will no longer have questions.  Believing does not mean that you will turn off your brain.”

And another good quote:

“God neither dilutes discrepancy nor ignores complexity.  God does not conveniently edit out the uncomfortable.”

Although this book irked me at times, it was an interesting read. I’m not sure it’s the kind of book an atheist would be willing to read, but it will be interesting to believers, and maybe to people on the edge of faith.

Disclosure: I received this book free in exchange for a review via http://viralbloggers.com

I didn’t know until this morning, when I read an essay by Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek, that the Bible used in President Obama’s inauguration had additional significance.  Yes, it was the Bible used in President Lincoln’s inauguration.  But who was the other party involved in that inauguration ceremony (and did he get the words of the oath right)?

Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over Lincoln’s swearing in.  As far as I know, he got the oath right.  But one thing he didn’t get right was the Dred Scott decision.  Taney wrote the opinion on that historic decision, which said that Scott, a slave from Missouri, could not automatically become a free man by traveling to a free state.  In his opinion, Taney said that such African-Americans

had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
(Taney, Roger Brooke, C.J., “Opinion of the Court,” Scott v. Sandford)

Things have changed more than a bit since then. One might say that it’s justice, poetic or otherwise, to have an African-American man take the presidential oath of office on a Bible previously used by Justice Taney.

On my other blog, I asked and partially answered, “What is Justice?

Justice is related to the word justify.  If you work with type, or if you use word processing a lot, you might have heard the terms left-justified and right-justified before (or simply justified).  In this case, justified means the type lines up evenly on one or both sides of the text.  The text you’re reading here is left-justified; it all lines up on the left side.

So, justice can also refer to making things line up evenly, or making them line up correctly, the way they are supposed to be.  That’s the way I like to see it.

Justice does not just mean making people pay for what they’ve done, and it definitely does not mean taking revenge.

It’s about making things right.  So how do we do that?

Justice is also God’s business.  God is interested in making things right between us and God, and between all of us here on Earth.  And as I said above, this can’t involve revenge.  According to Jesus, it has to include forgiveness; continual forgiveness.  For instance, Matthew 18:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
(Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

It’s also essential to be reconciled with our brethren in order to be right with God:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5: 23-24, NIV)

Does President Obama’s inauguration Bible, perhaps, signal the beginning of an era of reconciliation and justice?

Our upstairs bathroom doesn’t have a shelf, vanity, or any kind of flat surface near the sink.  In fact, due to less than brilliant planning by the landlord, the entire wall from the bottom of the mirror to the floor is tile, so we can’t even attach a shelf to it.

So I have to use the downstairs bathroom to put in and take out my contact lenses.  And because my eyes are too bad for me to take a shower without glasses or contacts, this means that in the morning I gather up all of my clothes and take them downstairs with me, where I put in my contact lenses, take a shower and then get dressed in a tiny bathroom instead of in my bedroom.

The task is so daunting that often I just sit on my bed and stare at the floor instead.  Or, I decide to forget about showering and just get dressed and go downstairs.  It isn’t a good morning routine.  I’ve been letting this paralyze me so that I’m not doing things that I should be doing, or so that I end up rushed, harried, and constantly late.

There are a number of possible solutions:

  • Find a way to install a shelf in the upstairs bathroom.
  • Do a better job of picking out my clothes in the evening, so that all I have to do is grab and go.
  • Shower in the evenings instead of in the mornings.
  • Get Lasik surgery and forget the contact lenses
  • Tell myself to just suck it up and do it because it’s not that big a deal.

And I’ll be implementing one or more of those in the weeks to come.

But I’m wondering whether this is happening in other parts of my life as well.  Am I letting little things stop me from doing what I should be doing?

For instance, in my spiritual life.  We’ve basically left the institutional church at this point, and we’re not attending a church service on a regular basis.  We’re working out what it means to live our faith in the world.  But I do need to establish some routine of spiritual discipline for myself, to keep myself grounded in God.  I haven’t been doing that.  It’s too hard.  Mornings are awful, days are full, and by evening I’m often so tired I just crash into the recliner and stay there.

What are my options?  I’m not totally sure yet.  Perhaps:

  • Find some very short devotional or set of prayers for morning – something with which I don’t have to think too much, because I do not think well early in the morning.
  • Establish a family devotional time in the evening.
  • Start of program of reading spiritual books and writing about them (since I can obviously manage writing)
  • Work on being mindful of God and of what I’m doing throughout the day.

And again, I can probably use more than one of those in the weeks to come.

Reading The Dark Is Rising is a holiday tradition for me. This is when the book takes place. It begins on Midwinter’s Eve. For us, the winter solstice is considered the official beginning of winter, but in the pagan tradition, it’s Midwinter. So, the book begins on the night before the solstice, and ends on Twelfth Night (January 6).

The Dark is Rising is a fantasy-type story, like the Narnia books, Harry Potter books, and the currently controversial Golden Compass. It is a Newbery Honor Book, and one of its sequels, The Grey King, won the 1976 Newbery Award.

Like The Golden Compass, and unlike Narnia, The Dark is Rising is not intended to be a Christian book. It focuses on a conflict between Light and Dark, or good and evil. It recognizes these two sides, plus a High Magic that is above both. God is not in the picture. The book doesn’t criticize the organized church, like The Golden Compass does, but the author doesn’t seem to think the church is particularly important, either.

Some Christians have a problem with the Cooper books (there are five of them in The Dark is Rising series) because they think they promote paganism and magic. I think they are stories. Good ones. I don’t think they’re intended to promote anything.

Like Philip Pullman, Cooper based her stories on older texts — the Welsh Mabinogion and other sources of Arthurian material. Pullman drew on Milton’s Paradise Lost in his stories.

The Dark Is Rising focuses on the story of Will, an ordinary boy who finds out on his eleventh birthday (Midwinter’s Day) that he’s actually one of the Old Ones, those who fight for the Light, and who have special powers they can use in that fight. His task, in this book, is to find six signs, made long ago for the Light, which must be joined together to help in the fight against the Dark.

Yes, the Old Ones can do things that we might term “magic.” And yes, there is pagan imagery, of Celtic origin — most obviously in the case of Herne the Hunter, who has an appearance like the “horned god” in Celtic traditions:

“The head from which the branching antlers sprang was shaped like the head of a stag, but the ears beside the horns were those of a dog or a wolf. And the face beneath the horns was a human face — but with the round feather-edged eyes of a bird.”

Cooper herself says that she turned away from Christianity at age sixteen, but does not criticize Christianity as openly or flamboyantly as Pullman has been known to. She does say, in an interview for Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children, that she tried to stay away from “the Christian story of the leader who dies for salvation.” Instead of returning to save the world, her King Arthur (who does eventually appear) helps win the final battle of the series, but then sails away, and “saving the world is up to the people in it.” Those who live on the earth have the responsibility to choose good or evil for themselves.

This is actually pretty close to my own theology as a Christian. Yes, Jesus came to “save” us. He shows us that God’s love is infinitely strong and never-ending — even dying to make that point. He also told us, and showed us, how to live a life in the Kingdom of God — a Kingdom where we love one another, and take care of one another, with mercy and justice. He told us that we have the Kingdom of God within us, and it is our responsibility to help create that Kingdom, here on earth — not just to wait for Jesus to come back to take all the believers to heaven.

I like The Dark Is Rising, and its companion books, better than The Golden Compass (part of the His Dark Materials trilogy), but that’s just because I think it’s a better story, not because of any theology (or lack thereof).

If you read The Dark Is Rising series, be sure to begin with Over Sea, Under Stone. That is actually the first book in the series. It introduces a different set of children, and does not include Will, but eventually the whole thing comes together.

I also enjoyed Susan Cooper’s book Seaward. It doesn’t take place in the world of The Dark Is Rising, but is an enjoyable fantasy.

As for the movie version of The Dark Is Rising — yes, it was released this year, although you might not have noticed it. At first, it was promoted as The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, but by its release date it was simply titled The Seeker, and apparently it is quite different from the book. I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to, but word is that Arthurian and pre-Christian references were stripped out, and Cooper doesn’t sound happy about it.

I will, however, be continuing to read the book in snatches during these hectic, pre-Christmas days.

I dreamed last night about my church.  They were holding an event, and I happened to be in the building at the same time, but didn’t know about the event.

When I saw so many people I knew gathering around decorated tables, I asked, “What’s going on?”

Someone gave me the name of the event (I’ve forgotten what it was in the dream).  “I didn’t know about that!” I exclaimed, “Why wasn’t I told?  That’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t know about it!”

Someone showed me the flyer that had gone out, and then I remembered.  I had seen the flyer — and had ignored it, thinking it wasn’t worth my attention because it came from the more traditional service.

I could have joined in at that point, but I looked around the room, and saw it was full of the usual people — all older than me, and set in their ways.   I complained to one person, “There’s never a group for people like me.  I want to have a group of people who are more like me.”  I didn’t get a response to that, however.

Now for the reality:  Yes, in my church, there is a traditional service and an alternative service.   Yes, there is a large percentage of older people who are fairly set in their ways.  No, they are not awful people.  They are loving and caring people, some of whom happen to dislike change, at least in some situations.

I have, on several occasions recently, complained about not knowing what’s going on.  I didn’t know about the plans for an alternative gift-giving table for Christmas; I didn’t know about the new banners that were ordered; I didn’t know that someone was already bringing dinner for the Wednesday night group (I thought I was in charge of organizing that).

My dream tells me that maybe it’s at least partially my fault.  Maybe I’m not listening, or communicating with others like I should.  Maybe I’m isolating myself.

I also read a devotional this morning which talked about accepting people as they are and living in cooperation, not competition, with them.   That’s another thing that makes me go, “Hmmm…..”  And, “I can do better.”

I still wish there were some people more like me around, though.  I’ve tried to start a small group for women closer to my age a couple of times, but it didn’t pan out.  Both times, we started with three people, and both times it just fizzled out.

Where are the people like me?  I know some of you are here, on the internet, but where are the ones in my neighborhood?

Now my conscience is telling me, “You have to go out and find them, and find out what is filling their lives, duh.  Don’t worry about trying to get them into the church.  Just try to get to know some people.”

Duh.