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Yesterday, a video came out that showed the Pope suggesting that Donald Trump was not a Christian. He said that a person who did not speak of building bridges, but only of building walls, was not a Christian because that was not the Gospel.  He also noted that he was willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.

 

The timing of this was particularly interesting as it occurred only hours before a Republican town hall where Trump was scheduled to speak. To my surprise, neither Kasich nor Bush, both committed Catholic, took the opportunity when CNN gave it to them to throw Trump under the bus.  Trump also did not respond with the level of bluster or insults that one might have expected.  He did suggest that the Pope was likely misinformed and misled by the Mexican government and that he did not believe the quote was as bad as the media made it out to be.  Trump maintained that he is a Christian.

 

I struggled with the questions posed by this situation. It’s not a new scenario.  Both sides of the gay marriage debate have been hurling insults at each other and accusing the others of not being ‘real’ Christians for a decade or two.  It has always seemed to me to be a very dangerous practice.  Ultimately, a person’s relationship is with God, and only they can know their religious beliefs and the content of that relationship.  The fact that I believe marriage should be between two adults who love and respect one another, regardless of gender, as a manifestation of my Biblical and spiritual principles, does not mean that I think that those who disagree with me are not Christians.  But, I’ll have to admit, that when stories come up about assaults upon and murders of gay and transgendered individuals, in the name of the loving, forgiving God that I know, I question those people’s faith.  I can’t help it.  How can I not wonder how a Christian, who claims to believe in the God of the New Testament, justify committing acts of violence against someone, often fellow children/teenagers in schools, in his name?  Is this the same God who instructed us to turn our cheeks?  Who, when an adulteress was dragged forward, said, ‘Let he who is without sin throw the first stone’?

 

So, do we believe that a person is religious by their faith or by their actions? I choose to believe that, while I do not believe that Trump’s actions are in accordance with the Gospel, as Pope Francis has said, that doesn’t mean that he’s not Christian.  I do and say things that aren’t very Christian.  It doesn’t invalidate my faith.  Trump’s faith is ultimately between him and God.  But I won’t pretend that our actions don’t reflect our faith, that the actions and the goals that we strive for don’t say something about us.  The sad fact is, one can be a Christian and not live the Gospel.  We all do it, accidentally or not; and we all need to live the teachings of Jesus better in our lives.  Being a Christian isn’t meant to be the end goal, it’s meant to be the beginning.

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About four years ago I wrote my second sermon and I chose the topic of doubt.  My premise was that doubt was not a shameful failing, but a step on our faith journey.

 

Years later, it’s still a lesson I struggle to remember and I suspect that doubt is something that most of us share, often secretly, from time to time.  I’ve wondered where we got the notion that doubt is a spiritual sin.  I think that it’s not because we decided it was wrong, but because our religion views faith as a virtue.  It’s not wrong, the Bible and our own hearts confirm that faith—the ability to hold our belief in God, the ability to take that mental leap—is indeed a virtue.  In the Christian communities, it’s become increasingly defended over the past decades as many people have tried to equate faith and ignorance.  However, faith as a virtue doesn’t make doubt a vice. 

 

We’re asked to have faith.  We’re not asked to have blind faith.  Without those periods of doubt, we never question and go searching, without a search, we never find God.  The ability to allow for possibilities, to question one’s faith, one’s god, and one’s own self is a necessary one for spiritual growth.  It’s necessary to having a real relationship with our Lord.  It’s not belief if we don’t think about it, we don’t think about it if we don’t consider everything, and we don’t consider without doubting.

 

Acknowledging that it’s okay to doubt is the first step into moving beyond the doubt.  Sometimes we need to admit that we’re furious at God or that we’re not sure of his love.  Admitting those things is the only way to be honest, with ourselves and with God, and honesty is the only way to a dialogue.

 

Most Christians hold to the doctrine that Jesus, while being human, was also sinless.  That’s why we can take comfort that on this Good Friday, even Jesus, asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

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Modesty isn’t what I’d describe as a universal religious issue.  When modesty is being couched in religious terms, it almost always is from our more conservative members.  I think there’s the misperception by many in our culture, including in the Christian community, that calls for modesty are either a) attempts to inhibit freedom of expression b) sexism/patriarchalism c) both.

I attended a Christian school for three years.  There was a dress code for boys and for girls.  I still remember one of my male teachers telling me and the other girls in my class how we had a “responsibility” to dress modestly so as “not to cause [our] Christian brothers to sin”.  All us girls also were held back one day after an assembly and were reminded about our need to dress modestly and how it distracted the boys while they were in class.  Overall, the message about modesty was that we girls needed to dress modestly because of the boys.  That is, so often, the message about modesty that seems to come through.  Very rarely do Christians focus on the benefits of modest dress for girls and feminists seem to oppose modesty on the very basis that it so often seems to be about the boys and therefore must be something we should get over.

I prefer to dress modestly and to cover myself and I do this for several reasons.  How we dress is part of how others form perceptions, whether we prefer it or not.  It comforts me to know that I’ve mitigated, as much as I can, someone looking at me in an uncomfortable or inappropriate way.  I like to know that I portray an image of maturity and moderation.  While it’s sad that people are judged based on their dress, it is a fact.  I find that when I’m dressed modestly, it’s not simply that others take me seriously, I take myself more seriously. 

I find that in modest dress I am more comfortable with myself.  I have more confidence and am more self-assured than I would be otherwise.  Living as a girl in modern America, we are constantly assaulted by advertisements and marketers.  One cannot even walk in the mall near my town without televisions showing more advertisements.  Everyone, it seems, is telling girls who they should be, what they should wear, what they should look like.  Everyone wants a piece of who girls are.  Dressing modestly is my way of owning myself.  In this advertisement-saturated society, it is my reminder that there is something in this world that belongs solely to me and cannot be taken away.  It reminds me that I have a self, I am in control of that self, and that it is no one’s but mine. 

While women in America often look at women in the Middle East who wear burqas and hijab as oppressed and unfortunate, many women look at American women and see the same thing.  In the book Half the Sky (an excellent book, by the way) it says, “When Nick quizzed a group of female Saudi doctors and nurses in Riyadh about women’s rights they bristled.  ‘Why do foreigners always ask about clothing?’ one woman doctor asked.  ‘Why does it matter so much what we wear?  Of all the issues in the world, is that really so important?’  Another said: ‘You think we’re victims, because we cover our hair and wear modest clothing.  But we think that it’s Western women who are repressed, because they have to show their bodies—even go through surgery to change their bodies—to please men.’”  In another excellent book called Nine Parts of Desire a veiled woman said: “She felt easier dealing with men.  ‘They have to deal with my mind, not my body.’” 

While I agree that in an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter what we wore and we would be free to choose our clothes simply by self-expression, we live in a world that is more complex in that.  I am not trying to say that there is anything wrong with dressing less modestly, or that it is ever condonable when women are forced to dress modestly against their will, but I feel in America, feminists currently view modesty as selling out.  I believe that it is an option that should be respected just as much as any other choice of dress, and should be seen not as a symbol of oppression but a reclaimed tool of self-empowerment.

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The Muslim practice of women wearing headscarves to cover their hair and neck has become a symbol in the United States for Islamic women.  Some see it as a symbol of their refusal to integrate into American society, some see it as the exercise of their religious beliefs, some see it as a sign of their oppression by men.  For most of these young women their choice of clothing is something that is reflective of their personal faith and they hold to that even in the face of ridicule or judgment by people around them.

Let’s just start with some terminology.   There are many different types of coverings, the four major ones being the hijab, the chador, the burqa, and the niqab.  The hijab is a headscarf that covers women’s hair and necks.  The chador is a full-body wear that is similar to a cloak and it leaves her face exposed.  The niqab is a full-body covering that covers everything except the eyes.  The burqa covers the eyes as well, leaving only a mesh covering to see through.  As a sidenote, the now-infamous headscarf ban in France bans only the burqa and the niqab and not the hijab and chador (though these things are not allowed in places like French schools where wearing pieces of religious symbolism is forbidden).  Hijab is also, at times, used to refer to the overall practice of modest dress.  Modest dress is interpreted several ways, most believe that it should not be form-fitting and many believe it should cover everything except face and hands (and some believe those too should be covered).

Women and girls wearing some form of the headscarf is becoming increasingly common.  While some are resistant to our country changing, I believe that it is America’s versatility and ability to change that is part of what makes this a great nation.  Just as with civil rights, an African-American girl also started to become a face of America, along with her blonde hair, blue-eyed counterpart, or as Asian-American girls also became common to see in the media, so I think that these Muslim girls are also becoming another face of America, something that bothers a great number of people.  This girl—a young woman with a hijab covering her hair, a loose-fitting shirt with long sleeves, and slacks—she is also America.

Common misperception: only immigrant women and girls still wear the headscarf and wearing it is a sign that they have not integrated into American culture.  This is false.  A large percentage of the women who wear the headscarf were born and raised in America, just like the rest of us.

Common misperception: most girls only wear the headscarf because they are forced to by their families or husbands.  This is also false.  While there are cases where women are forced by their families to wear the headscarf (particularly abroad) the majority of women make this choice freely. For the record though, in a way, isn’t a family encouraging a girl to wear a headscarf or cover herself not that different from when our parents refused to buy us a piece of clothing or leave the house in an outfit because we were wearing a short skirt or a low top?  Or when we’ve done that to our daughter?  Standards of appropriate dress are different in every family, we know this.  While this does not excuse someone forcing their daughter or wife to wear something against their will, perhaps looking at it from this perspective we might understand better why some families strongly wish their daughters to dress in a way that they think is appropriate.

Most women who cover themselves do so out of a personal choice.  They do it because they feel it is something that is mandated by their religion.  Or some do it because it is part of their faith and spirituality, it helps them to connect with God.  Some do it because they feel that, similarly while many Christians believe in saving aspects of physicality (like sex) for marriage and in only giving that to one person, they also believe in only showing themselves to their family and husband.  And there are some who do it because they prefer to dress modestly as a way of respecting themselves and their body.  Instead of feeling commoditized or insecure about body image, they cover themselves as a way of taking focus away from their body and back to where they believe it truly belongs: their heart and mind.  Many would prefer the stares from their modest dress and headscarf than the stares of boys on a street corner.  Whatever motivates Muslim women to wear their headscarves and modest dress, for many of them it is a deeply personal choice that they make because they feel that this best reflects their faith and beliefs.  Christians should understand this since so many Christians also believe in dressing modestly.  This is just a different aspect and a different way of reflecting a similar belief and practice across our religions.

However, instead many Muslim women feel isolated or ostracized.  They feel pressure from peers and get disrespectful questions about their choices.  At times they have been shouted at, had people try to pull their headscarves off, and there are even a few cases where women wearing hijab have been attacked.  In spite of public disapproval, they have continued to express their faith and they should be admired for that.  We should be supporting these women’s choice instead of condemning them or judging them.

There is a lawsuit going forward by a young Muslim woman against Abercrombie and Fitch after she was allegedly fired because they said her headscarf did not conform with their company dress code.  She had been working without a problem for a number of months and had been sure to wear her hijab in company-approved colors until a district manager saw her.  When she refused to take off her hijab while at work she was fired from her job.  (It is worth noting that this is not the first time since Abercrombie and Fitch have been sued for discrimination).

Abercrombie and Fitch has a specific dress code that they require all their employees to wear, the idea being that the dress code is supposed to reflect their “All-American Style”.  Apparently they do not believe that a hijab is an American style, that it is not All-American.  Aside from the fact that by extension this is implying that they don’t see people who wear the hijab as truly American and the indignity of this, they are wrong.  We are entitled, under the bill of rights, to freedom of expression and that there shall be nothing to prohibit the free exercise of religion.  It is this freedom that entitles us to express our Christian faith, such as wearing a cross.  And all who value their religious freedom should do their utmost to defend it for others.   But further, that these women are free to wear their hijab and express their faith in this way is not un-American.  In fact, having this freedom and right of religion and expression (and to be able to live in a society that accepts their choice) is quintessentially American.

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We’ve heard it after all sorts of speeches, it’s one of politicians’ favorite lines.  Is it, though, in fact disrespectful to God?  There are several issues in play.  First, is that it implies that God should bless America over other countries or Americans over other people.  If we believe that all of us are God’s children and that He loves us all equally, shouldn’t we be asking God for his blessing on the whole world and everyone who lives in it instead of some exclusionary blessing for just America?  The second, and the thing that I think is really the problem with this statement is that it’s phrased as an order.  God bless America.  It’s an order, telling God what he should do.  Wouldn’t it be better to say “May God bless America”?  Shouldn’t it be phrased as a request or as a hope, rather than a command.   God, as the king of heaven and earth, shouldn’t be treated with such arrogance as to be told what to do.

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Budgets.

 

Who just had a mental twitch?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Some sort of instinctual reaction of disgust after hearing the words?  Let’s admit it.  We all know that they’re important and that they are a necessary point of discussion on all levels of government and business and even personal lives.  But we’re all really sick of them at this point.   What with all the shouting and the name-calling and the endless arguments over the budgets that fill our newspapers, our news broadcasts, our Insert Your News Outlet of Choice web browsers, and even our personal conversations…most of us, I think, are fairly drained with all of this bickering (and probably secretly—or not so secretly—wish the issue would just disappear), I just thought that we should all admit that before we went any further.

 

We’ve all heard pundits talking about “values issues”.  “Values issues” tend to be the issues of the infamous “values voters”.  Some examples of what people see as values issues: gay marriage, abortion, condoms in schools, stem-cell research, et cetera.  However, one thing that people don’t often see as a values issues is one of our largest issues in the political debate: budgets.

 

It was several months ago, while reading an article on economics, that this idea was first put in my mind, that a budget is a set of values.  Where we put our money is our way of expressing what is important to us as a nation, as a family, as an individual, as a town, as a state, or as a company.  If someone took our budget and looked at it, what would that reveal about us?  And more importantly, what do we want our budgets to reveal about us?

 

The entire budget discussion is looked at in different terms when it’s seen as a declaration of values.  What does it say about our country if the first thing that we cut from our budget is aid to people who are struggling to feed their families?  What does it say about our priorities when subsidies are put in for oil companies and money for environmental clean-up and regulation is taken out?  What is important to us as a nation?  What is it that we care about?  And what is important to us individually or as families?  What would someone think if they knew your budget?  What would that tell them about you?  What do you want your budget to tell them about you?  And what do we want our budget to say as Americans?  In a way, our budget says more about our American values than any opinion poll or statistic.  I’m not going to argue what should or shouldn’t be in someone’s budget, or in government budgets, because the entire point is that it should represent your values and we all have different ideas about what that should be.  Looking at our budgets as statements of values can often help us make decisions about what we want to cut back on, what do we want to add in, and it starts to transform the way we look at budgets.  Such as, well yes we have money allocated for insert issue of choice in our budget, but in relation to the overall budget do we think that’s representative of how important that issue is to us?  What we spend our money on, and how much money we spend on each thing, is inherently as much a values issue as anything else.

 

So as we sit down to our personal checkbooks or as our lawmakers continue to debate where our money should be spent, we should think about what we want our budgets to say about us, about our values, and factor that into our decisions.

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Ahh…the momentous first blog post.  What shall I start with?  Perhaps with a statement of what this blog is about.  Somehow, over the years, the word “Christian” has become synonymous with the word “conservative”.  Christians are a diverse people, from every imaginable background and with a huge spectrum of beliefs and wildly differing views.  Somehow though, many people seem to now think they know who we are, simply because of the label Christian, or they think because of some other aspect of our life, (we support gay marriage *gasp* or believe in evolution *another gasp*) that we can’t be Christian.  Christian does not mean conservative, Christian does not mean prejudiced, Christian doesn’t mean biased, Christian doesn’t mean ill-informed.  Many of us who call ourselves Christian, are increasingly struggling with our faith and the role it plays in our lives.  Not only do we go through the struggles, which people of all faiths have gone through for centuries, of trying to reconcile our faith, our beliefs, and our religion’s teachings with the world we live in and how we live our lives, but increasingly, we are finding ourselves out of place in the world we are living in.  Some of us feel that we don’t belong in the evangelical camp because of our political or personal beliefs (or are tired of people making assumptions about our faith or our ideas based on the other).  And some of us feel that maybe we don’t quite fit in a fully secular world, where religion is now often seen as a fundamentalist force, where faith is now associated with bigotry.  So, to this end, there will now be this blog.  This blog might look at news articles and comment on them, it might talk about relevant books, it might reference personal experiences or observations about faith’s role in life in America in this era, it might talk about Bible passages and how they relate to our personal struggles, it might comment on political dialogue and how we can look at the issues through a Christian lens.  And I will say now, that as this is a blog, it will be my opinion on these matters.  This is not to say that it is the right view, or that other views are wrong, it is simply my own.  So cheers!
Here we go

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