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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Today, my political theory class discussed Socrates and Crito. The Crito is a discussion between Socrates and one of his followers, Crito, where Crito tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Socrates to escape Athens after he has been convicted and sentenced to death.  The question our teacher ended up posing to us was “Is it possible to be loyal to the state while you disobey its laws?”  I answered in the affirmative.  I believe in the ideals of our country: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live our lives the way we want (assuming we don’t harm anyone else), social mobility, meritocracy, everyone is equal under the law.  But I also know that our country doesn’t, has never fully, lived out those ideals.  We are a country that shuts out its religious minorities, oppresses its racial minorities, degrades its women, and gives advantages based on birth from the second you begin to get medical care or education.

 

Many conservatives complain that liberals don’t love this country, that they only want to focus on America’s flaws and changing its awesomeness. Liberals, particularly many of my young friends, all but shout back, “But it is flawed!  This is wrong!  How can you praise your country when one out of six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and a black woman is much more likely to end up in jail or killed rather than college?”  They’re angry—and rightly so.  Anger in the face of injustice is understandable and perhaps, when channeled productively, is even the most rational, ethical response at times.

 

I understand. I share the frustration.  However, I also believe that a country is more than its individual politicians, its court decisions, its flawed laws.  I can still love this country because I love it at its best, at what I want it to become.  Whistleblowers, practitioners of civil disobedience, are all willing to take risks, take the consequences of their actions out of a desire to make our country better than it is.  Our class discussed the difference between laws and Laws.  Laws being the highest ideals, the underlying principles upon which we try to found everything else.  Patriotism doesn’t require obedience or lip service, in fact, an institution like a state should be strong enough to withstand criticism and discourse.  The fact that we have these ideals, often, I think, is what makes all of this so hard.  Something in our national consciousness cries out that this is not right, because this is not how it should be. This isn’t who we should be.

 

As I was thinking of all of this, I couldn’t help but suspect that part of this trend of disillusionment is why many millennials are opting for spiritual rather than religious, for personal development rather than a church. They look at hypocrisy among church leaders, abuse scandals, dogma that denies facts…a system that doesn’t live out its ideals, because it is made of flawed men and women who have not been able to live up to the promise of God’s true church.

 

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent. For me, Lent is a time where we try, in our own lives, to get closer to that idealized version of ourselves.  It’s a time where we have to face our own brokenness and how far we have to go, but commit to trying nevertheless.  I think our country could use some Lent.

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As promised, the second installment!

Some basic rules around choosing and giving up something for Lent:
1) Do not compare yourselves to others. You need to do what’s best for you. Something that others might find silly could be a real problem for you. It’s not a competition and you’re not trying to win. This also means that there are things that you might not be able to give up and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. If you have a medical condition, fasting is probably a really bad idea. You can find plenty of alternatives to celebrate Lent, you don’t need to rely on other people’s ideas.

2) Particularly if this is one of your first times celebrating Lent, start with concrete things. It’s a lot easier to modify behaviors than feelings. I know people who have given up things like condescension or procrastination for Lent…admirable, but many of us likely find that unrealistic for ourselves. Try to translate that goal into something tangible. Instead of thinking, “I’m not going to get angry with my kids during Lent” think, “I’m not going to yell at my kids during Lent”. Focus on what you can control.

3) Make clearly defined goals. Don’t leave it fuzzy in your brain. Write down what you what, draw lines and definitions.

4) Adding things in and giving things up are not either or, try to do both. Better yet, find things that complement each other (I’m giving up soda and I’m going to the gym three times a week…I’m giving up TV and I’m adding in board games with the family, etc.)

5) Don’t give up something you know is really easy. I could very easily say, “I’m giving up eating salmon.” Statistically, in the Lenten period I probably would have eaten salmon a maximum of three times. This isn’t something that’s going to be very fulfilling.

6) Be willing to be brave. Challenge your assumptions about what you can live without. Do you really need your cell phone on you all the time? Or do you think you could find a way to rely on e-mail and your home phone? You’ll find your brain will make all sorts of absurd excuses for why you need to keep playing tetris…it helps me relax, I talk to my husband while playing it, I get my best ideas while playing tetris…uh-huh…usually when your brain is making absurd excuses that means a) you are able to give it up and b) you should.

7) If you are giving up something really hard for you, like coffee or cigarettes, particularly if it’s part of socializing for you…try to get your friends and family on board and supportive.

8) You can’t make someone else give something up just because you are. While it is admirable to give up all desserts, you can’t either stop anyone around you from eating desserts or be resentful that they are eating them. This is between you and God, you shouldn’t expect anyone else to join you unless they want to. They have every right to eat that delicious chocolate cake.

9) Don’t half-way give up things if you can avoid it. Sometimes, this is worse than not giving up anything at all. Say, you want to give up facebook but that’s the way that your college sports team communicates. It is a bad idea to give something up except for weekends or “I’ll only do it once a day”. It means that not only are you not giving something up entirely, but you are then focused on it and trying to figure out when you can get it next. It ends up making you miserable because you are without…but it’s still dangling over your head with temptation. Try to find a way to give it up entirely, if you can’t, think seriously about whether this is something you can do. My worst Lents have always been when I tried to give myself these sorts of outs. It was incredibly frustrating.

10) Children can give up things for Lent. Some general guidelines around this. If your child is out of elementary school, they should be choosing what to give up. You can suggest, cajole, but Lent is only beneficial if it’s a willing choice. Also, if you have younger children in the house, it might be good to do something family-wide. It’s a lot easier for a child to grasp that this isn’t something bad if everyone isn’t watching TV instead of just them. Usually children are used to thinking that if something is taken away from them, they’re being punished, you want to make sure that they know that they’re not being punished but that everyone is doing it. It also can be a really good way of fostering a more communal sense in the family.

11) Experiment and do the things that you always feel you can’t commit too. Are thinking that you should read to your child before bed every night? Try it for Lent. If it works for the both of you, keep doing it, if it doesn’t, it’s only 40+ days.

12) Cut yourself some slack. While it’s good to be disciplined, you are not a failure if you forget or if you slip up. That also doesn’t mean Lent is ruined, you get up and you go back to your habits the next day. The most important part is to just keep going.

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It’s Lent!

I get very excited for Lent, it’s my favorite time of the year. I’m certain that a post shall ensue explaining in great detail why I think Lent, which most people associate with dark misery, is one of the best times in the Christian calendar. (I’m pretty sure whenever I giddily say, “I love Lent” my atheist friends think to themselves about how this is just proof of religion’s deep brainwashing because what rational person could like willingly going without?)

However, in the meantime, I’m just going to discuss a few reasons why you should consider observing Lent and some fun tips for doing it.

Why you should give up something for Lent:

1) Lent is not only for Catholics. Catholics have more specific traditions around it, but as Protestant, it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it was simply a Christian tradition. I’m sure that the atheist or a member of another religion could also benefit from certain aspects of Lent without feeling all of the theology around it.

2) Giving something up doesn’t just have to be something you desperately like (because you think you don’t deserve to be happy) or something you don’t care about (because you think you should do this but you really don’t want to put in effort). The point is not to just take something random out of your life, but take out an aspect of your life that you feel that you place too much value on or is unhealthy for you. Example: a cliché is giving up chocolate for Lent. I’ve done that once, but I didn’t do it because I liked it, but it was easy to cut out, I did it because I had this habit when I was little, of every time I was in the kitchen, of sneaking my hand into a chocolate chip jar. Obviously, this was a habit that it was good to break.

3) Lent is a wonderful time to give yourself extra motivation to achieve goals. Do you want to diet? Take out carbs. Do you want to cook more for yourself? Take out frozen dinners.

4) You don’t just need to take things out, you can add things in! Exercise, reading the Bible, cleaning your room on a regular basis, praying for a set amount of time every night. Get creative!

5) Most people agree that creating goals and breaking bad habits help if you are accountable to someone. Hence the benefit of Lent, you find yourself being accountable to God.

6) While I do go back to many of my less-than-ideal habits after Lent, I’ve found that they never have quite the same hold on me afterwards, and this is one of the most important things that you can get out of Lent.

7) Lent is a time when you can try to decrease the noise that fills your life, take out distractions or habits that you’re embarrassed about (Compulsive angry birds player, binge Netflix watcher, I’m talking to you…), and you find that you have more room in your life for God and for yourself! It also is a time when you can learn that the things you think you “need” are sometimes dispensable, and you are not bound to these habits that you don’t like.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow will be a post on choosing what to give up/add in and for actually living out the goals.

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When I first heard of Arizona’s bill against LGBTQ people, I didn’t pay much attention. Plenty of politicians announce bills that never get to the floor, but are introduced for publicity’s sake. Additionally, Arizona is a competitor with Florida for crazy governmental ideas.

The bill in question gives any business/business owner the right to deny service to any LGBTQ individual on the basis of their religious beliefs. This bill was not only introduced, but has passed and is being sent to the governor.

Before I go into the various ways that this is ethically wrong, can I just ask a practical question?

How are you even supposed to identify your customer as LGBTQ?

I mean, I don’t tend to discuss my sexual orientation while ordering dinner at Friendly’s or when I’m at a clothing store and the saleslady says, “Can I help you with that?” I don’t tend to respond with, “Sure, and by the way I’m _______”. Do two men in a store together now get stopped and questioned about whether they’re just friends? Contrary to the implicit notions in this bill, there isn’t some sort of caricature of an LGBT individual that is easy to spot…

But anyway, I digress.

Let’s start with the simple fact that I’m pretty sure that by any measure, this is unconstitutional. Legally, I really see no difference between this bill and Jim Crow laws in the South. It’s an eerie reminder of segregation and “whites only” restaurants.

Now, as a Christian… I’m a supporter of a level of religious flexibility within rules. I think it’s fine to have religious exemptions so that, for instance, a minister doesn’t have to marry a gay couple if he feels that it’s wrong. People should have the right to exercise those beliefs, however much, as I’ve stated previously on my blog, I disagree with them. However, this is entirely different. Businesses are for the purpose of serving whoever comes through the door and wants to buy your product, nowhere before have we recognized an inherent right to refuse service to someone who we happen to disagree with.

Further, the entire principle violates the Christian faith. Hospitality is a running theme throughout scripture. The Bible states, again and again, that Jesus allowed anyone to eat with him and to learn from him. He ate with prostitutes and lepers and all the people that the rest of society condemned as being unclean or sinful. As Christians, we are called to love everyone and to practice compassion for them, even when we don’t agree with their beliefs or their choices. It’s a cornerstone of our faith, that there is not a litmus test for those whom we treat with kindness and courtesy. There is nothing Christian in this bill. This bill does not defend faith, but bigotry, and most of us who consider ourselves religious see those as antithetical to one another.

For those living in Arizona, write your congressmen and congresswomen. If you are religious, don’t let the politicians legalize discrimination in your name. Open the doors of your businesses to any and all. It’s the Christian thing to do.

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As I’ve talked about in many posts, the outside view of devout Christians has become increasingly one-dimensional, with misconceptions that the loudest members of our very large community are somehow representative of the whole.  In light of the recent debate on creationism by Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham, I thought it was time to make an attempt to discuss faith and science.

 

One of the common misconceptions that non-Christians, particularly atheists, have is that somehow, people who believe in God universally do not believe in evolution and do not accept modern science.  Further, there is often an assumption that Christian or just generally religious scientists will be prejudiced in their research.  Neither of these are, as a rule, true.

 

The debate is not between atheists who believe in the Big Bang and Christians who believe that six thousand years ago God created the earth in six days.  There is a very wide range of opinions within that spectrum.  At this point, a very large percentage of Christians, particularly liberal Christians, see no contradiction between current scientific theories and religious faith. 

 

Let me start with some vocab.  I’d like to separate between the terms “intelligent design” and “creationism”.  Intelligent design tends to refer to the idea that yes, there was a big bang and evolution but all of it was guided by an intelligent creator.  Creationism tends to refer to the fundamentalist opinion that the world was created exactly as described in the first chapter of the book of Genesis and that the Bible represents all of human history.  Frankly, I think that’s a misnomer, because creationism seems to be a word that could be open to a much wider interpretation, but this is how it’s usually used so I’ll follow convention.  Contrary to popular belief, these two are very different theories and are far from interchangeable.  It is inappropriate and inaccurate to lump these two approaches together.

 

First of all, while I firmly believe that God is the creator of our universe, I will admit that I do not buy into the six, twenty-four hour day theory.   Even ignoring scientific evidence, scripture says that God didn’t create the sun until the fourth day.  Given that our concept of a day is defined as a revolution around the sun, it seems clear to me that God was not referring to a day as we know it.  I do not know whether God thinks of time differently, He was using flowery language, this was an analogy (an interesting theory that posits the creation story is an analogy for how we should observe the Sabbath, something that I’m sure I’ll discuss in another blogpost), or whether something got lost in translation, but I do not believe in the six days theory.  However, I do believe that God designed the universe, that He put into place all of the patterns and natural laws that we see around us.  I do not think that science will ever prove or disprove God but for me, and for many other Christians, science is in fact an expression of God.  It is our ability to view His masterpiece and the perfect order that He created.  It’s a chance to see His beauty.  I’ve known people whose faith in God is nourished and encouraged by their scientific studies and research.  The two are not mutually exclusive, but in fact are compatible.  To study science is to study God’s creation. 

 

However, just because these are my beliefs, does not mean that I support teaching them in school.  We believe in the separation between Church and State and therefore, we do not teach one religious theory over another.  What we teach in school is what we can express via facts and evidence.  It is not the place of public schools to debate theology.  A caveat, I do not, however, think this gives teachers’ license to talk about the validity or invalidity of religion, that’s not their place either.  For Christians who don’t agree with evolutionary theories, you have a right to your opinion, but our faith is something that should be communicated and expressed at home, and no one is denying you that right.

 

When I attended a Christian school, my scienc teacher said something that I’ve taken to heart and thought back often on, she said “I don’t know for sure whether the world was created in six days or in millions of years.  All that matters to me is that I know God created it.”

 

This debate, frankly, is one that people use to highlight differences and to stir up arguments.  At the end of the day, it matters a lot less of how we got here than that we are here and we are living together.  Evolution is not trying to destroy religion, intelligent design is not trying to destroy science.  It’s time for both sides to stop treating the other as if they were.

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I’m from Massachusetts. I’m from the state which is right after New York on the “most-likely-to-be-used-in-a-stump-speech-as-an-example-of-liberalness” list. My high school chorus had to change the words to a song to remove any mention of God. We were the first state to legalize gay marriage. I’ve attended a church where parishioners have complained about using phrases like “holy” and “Christ”. I don’t live in the most Christian-friendly state.

Now, I’m not going to be one of those people who is going to explain why Christians are a victimized minority that’s having their faith outlawed. I could write, and probably will at some point, about how being religious in general is becoming more and more uncomfortable for people, but that is not the subject of this post.

This post is about a word. It is a word that is used in many different ways by different groups of people.

Evangelical.

I started this blog because I was tired of being considered an oxymoron. Yes, I’m liberal, no I don’t want to get together and complain about how horrible religious people are limiting abortion and are all crazy. Yes, I’m evangelical, no I’m not going to sit you down and explain that if you don’t convert you’re going to hell. It’s really quite amazing how narrow people think these boxes are. I met a boy once who was unaware that it was possible to be a nerd and Christian (this apparently is not an unusual idea, for some reason, as this has come up multiple times as I’ve tried to explain things like “No, playing dungeon and dragons isn’t sinful”).

Yet, despite the fact that this blog is written around my identity as both a liberal and an evangelical, I haven’t explained much about how I define that, what I mean by that. It’s a word that can be used in multiple ways and which I think is very misunderstood.

Let’s start with the basics. No matter what random “experts” on CNN seem to imply, Evangelism and the Religious Right are two utterly different things. Evangelism is a theological concept. The Religious Right is a political movement. Using them synonymously is just annoying.

Secondly, I’m not going to pretend that being an “evangelical” is purely spiritual, and doesn’t have accompanying social mores and culture. Being evangelical in the United States these days, particularly in subgroups such as non-denominational Protestantism, is cultural. We have music artists that we listen to, we have specific vocabulary, we have social practices. However, this is not what evangelism is. Like any culture, there are as many different values, interpretations, and beliefs (political, religious, or otherwise) as there are people. We are not all the same. Forget that, we’re not all even alike. It is possible, in fact, to be part of that culture and not be evangelical.

That’s because evangelical isn’t a culture or a political sub-group, it’s a spiritual choice. It’s also one that manifests itself in different ways. Evangelism doesn’t require you to hand out pamphlets on the subway or to try to convince your non-Christian friends that their religions have no meaning. It doesn’t even require you, in my mind, to be convinced that the only way to heaven is through conscious belief in Jesus as the Messiah (I’m sure many would disagree with that).

To be evangelical, generally, is to want to and to try to share the ‘message’ of Christianity. Note, I said “share”, I did not say “force down someone’s throat”. Let us not confuse those two terms.

Evangelicals, in whatever intensity, do believe that Christianity is “the best”. It is something that they believe is true and is a good thing. It is a very delicate line, and some of us are more concerned about where we cross it, between believing we are right and insulting other faiths. To evangelize is to share your faith, your beliefs, your values. It means to explain why you believe in them, to explain what they give you. Some people choose (and while I’m not among them, I respect their right to do so) to evangelize by buying billboards or passing out literature. Some people will stop you in the grocery market and ask if they can talk to you about Jesus. Some people will simply say, “You know, my church meets at ten every Sunday, you’re perfectly welcome if you ever want to stop by”. There are lots of different ways to share one’s faith or to invite another person into it.

Here up in the liberal Northeast, evangelicals are not very popular. The polite people just think they’re kind of crazy and ignore them. The rude people go on lots of rants. Even many Christians are very quick to say, “Oh, I’m not one of those Christians”. Evangelism is seen as offensive. Frankly, though, I don’t understand why.

It’s not that I dismiss the fact that no one likes to be told they’re wrong or that everyone deserves to have their own views taken into consideration. However, when you think about it, evangelism, religious or not, is all around them.

“You need to try acupuncture. It changed my life. I’m serious, you have to go.”

“The thing that I hate about teachers’ unions is…”

And so on.

Friends, families, even mild acquaintances, don’t feel at all hesitant about giving their opinions on your lifestyle or of trying to convince you of the veracity of their opinion. Until it gets a bit overzealous, no one finds it offensive if someone is trying to convince you that you shouldn’t vote for _______ or that your view on _________ is illogical. It’s perfectly acceptable these days. I frankly don’t see any difference between political canvassing and Jehovah’s witnesses, or between making a passionate defense of your faith versus a passionate defense of abortion. To make a separate case is to hold to some sort of double standard that we have freedom of expression and freedom to share our beliefs publicly on everything, except for religion.

It’s about dialogue. It’s about sharing and learning from one another. It’s explaining why you think something, what are the benefits of it from your perspective. There is nothing inherently disrespectful about the principle. I further don’t believe it is offensive to evangelize because 99% of the time it is non-coercive, and as long as people have free choice, I simply don’t see the problem.

One of my first posts was about this, I believe. I wrote about how at my Christian school, when I was young, they had us debate whether or not we should read a book that had anti-Christian themes. There were a few classmates of mine who said that we shouldn’t, that it might cause us to question our faith. However, I believe that if a faith or an opinion cannot hold up if it’s exposed to a conflicting idea, it’s not worth having. I don’t believe that it is an affront to human dignity to have someone share with you an idea that you disagree with. That’s why God…or evolutionary processes…or both…gave you a brain, so that you could listen to ideas, critique them, evaluate them, and think for yourself.

While I, like many others, have grown to have respect and appreciation for the new Pope, there is a part of me that has been saddened by the reaction of the world. So many secularists or members of other faiths who talk about how unusual his openness and compassion is. For me, those things are what my religion is about, and the fact that people see Pope Francis as an anomaly, rather than as the norm, is a sign that we Christians are failing in the way that we share our faith with the world. Serving the disenfranchised with compassion, saying “I do this because of what I believe about God” that is the Christian evangelism that I believe in.

I am a Christian and I strive to live my life according to principles. I share my faith with those who ask, by be open and willing to explain and to engage in a dialogue. I share my faith by living it out and letting it be known that I make my choices because of my faith. Evangelism, to me, is simply openness.

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It’s always nice when we can put to language those phenomena which we’ve experienced for days, perhaps years, without a way to explain.  I have what the disabled community calls an “invisible disability”, meaning that when you look at me, it’s not immediate to anyone that something’s wrong.  I mean if it’s one of my bad days and there are electrodes sticking out from under my clothes, there’s a hint, but usually I look pretty average.

 

It’s something that those of us with invisible disabilities sometimes get frustrated by, because no one knows that we’re different.  Not that we want to be different of course, but since we are, we want some measure of understanding.  The other day, my mother and I were at the post office, trying to get me a new passport.  I felt like I was going to throw up, pass out, or both.  People kind of walked around me, trying not to stare rudely, as I sat hunched over, using a sales rack as a seat.  I was holding onto the counter when it was our turn.  My mom finally asked the clerk, “Do you need her for anything else?  Can she go outside?  She’s about to pass out.”  The clerk kind of looked at me with a bit of skepticism and derision, “Do you need a drink of water?” Annoyed, I said what I’ve found can often be magic words, “I have a medical condition”.  The clerk, like most of America, is uncomfortable with that and no longer feels qualified to judge me…which he did five minutes ago when he thought I was just a sullen, whiny, teenager.

 

I’ve complained about how the subway signs say “give up your seats to the elderly and those with disabilities”, but I know when I’m not feeling well that I can’t ask for someone’s seat, I look like a hardy, teenage girl…and we all know how entitled and selfish we young people are.  A friend who has a disability says that she’s always grateful when her face gets covered with a rash…because then people can see that something’s wrong and they believe her when she tries to explain her limitations.

 

The experience has made me think.  If I look perfectly normal to everyone else…then how do I know that someone that I think is part of the “everyone else” isn’t suffering from an invisible disability as well?

 

We judge people without full information.  We make assumptions.  We tend to forget that we don’t have all the puzzle pieces of everyone’s life, even those of strangers’ lives.  It’s something that as Christians, we’re called to think about, however.  The Bible and Jesus repeatedly tell us not to judge.  We usually assume that to mean we shouldn’t judge what other people do.  But what about judging what we don’t know?  What about the judgment we make when we don’t give someone money on the street because we think they might use it for drugs?  What about when we think about how our friend has been hard to reach lately, and we assume that they’re just being unreliable and careless towards us…instead of thinking that maybe there is something going on that is taking their attention and worry elsewhere?

 

The fact is…we all have our invisible disabilities.  We all have those things in our life, in our past, that make it harder for us to function, harder for us to connect, harder for us to do whatever it is.  We all have our faults and our baggage…and so does everyone you come into contact with.  Maybe that clerk who was snippy to you at the grocery store just found out that her daughter’s sick.  Maybe your brother’s working too much to visit because he’s concerned about losing his job.  Maybe they don’t.  Maybe they’re just having a bad day.  Or maybe they’re just not quite-so-pleasant-or-considerate people.  The point is that you can’t know.  God knows you can’t know.  Only he knows.  And he doesn’t expect or want you to treat people like you do know…like you’re him.  Take into consideration when you’re dealing with people the amount that you are unaware of in their lives…and then see if you can’t find some patience, cut them some slack, and try to follow Jesus’ example in not judging those around you.  We are not omniscient, that is solely the purview of God…we should not act otherwise.

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