Is Your Church as Good as a Dollar Store?

I made a quick stop in a Family Dollar store on my way to work this morning. I have had a hard time finding things in dollar stores in the past, so I asked the first employee I saw for help.

She told me they didn’t have what I was looking for, but that I should try the Dollar General across the street. For a second I thought I was on Miracle on 34th Street.  I thanked her and moved on.

Sure enough, the Dollar General had what I was looking for (maybe Bono should try there). I told the clerk at Dollar General who helped me find it the story of Family Dollar referring me over there.  She replied that they do this for each other.

I walked to my car thinking what a good business practice that was; that I would gladly stop at either of these stores again.  I might, in fact, pass up some other store to bring my business to one of these.

Then God, I believe, invited me to consider the implications for my own line of work.

Would I be willing to recommend another church to someone who couldn’t find what they were looking for at mine?

Would you?

Belief in God overblown?

Today’s post is a follow-up from yesterday’s.  In that post, I argued that perhaps a decrease in the percentage of Americans who claim to believe in God could be a good thing – if it means greater honesty with oneself and others.

In today’s America, more than ever before, no particular religious background or pedigree can be assumed.  Therefore, there is less peer pressure than there used to be to claim belief in God when one’s life really shows no evidence of such belief.

Today, though, I’d like to take this a step further.  Today, I want to suggest that it might be a good thing not only that fewer people claim to believe in God, but even that fewer do believe in God.

How could this be a good thing?

A couple of months ago, I visited the Sikh place of worship here in Euless.  This was a couple of weeks after the massacre in Wisconsin, and I felt it important to connect in some way to this particular group of my neighbors.  I had not heard of religion being the motivation of that shooting.

I was greeted very warmly; I was even invited to address the congregation.  In many ways, I was reminded of my own congregation; people of all ages gathered for common purpose.  smaller children move back and forth between parents or other significant adults.  I was blessed to have been able to share the experience.

Their road sign proclaims in bold letters, and larger letters than any other words on the sign, that “God is one.”  We Christians believe, too, that God is one (though other ‘monotheistic’ groups doubt our resolve as soon as we try to explain the Trinity).  There are quite a few religious groups that claim that God is one.

Does this mean that we are all talking about, worshiping, the same God?

I’m not sure.

And I say I am not sure intentionally as a middle way.  In some cases, I am rather sure we are not talking about the same God.  On the other hand, I understand, interact with, and relate to God differently now than I did 20 years ago.  I expect, no, I hope, that my understanding of and relationship with God will continue to grow in the future.

Because my understanding and knowledge of God are not all-encompassing, I am slow to say EITHER we all mean the same thing when we refer to “God,” OR that we don’t.

How are we to know?

This is where, actually, it gets easy. We Christians go biblical.  Not in the sense of shooting other people down with claims about God that are based in the bible but by sharing the stories from the bible by which we know who our God is.

As we (increasingly) cross paths and build relationships with people of other faiths, religions, or none-of-the-above, we then can share stories with one another that help each understand what we mean by the word “god.”

If the stories we tell about the god or God we know overlap or correspond, perhaps we do refer to the same god.

So, for starters, if you believe in god, what god is it you believe in?  Does the way you live your life conform to this God in whom you claim to believe?

I believe these things can make for great conversation and relationship. Especially now that we don’t all expect everyone else believes in the same god as we do.

When belief in God isn’t necessarily a good thing

I began watching Chris Yaw’s interview with Diana Butler Bass on ChurchNext.tv last week. I found it intriguing (though I still have not listened to the conclusion).

Early in the conversation, Dr. Bass noted that the percentage of Americans who claim a belief in God is down and dropping further.  She cited a study that reported this amazing (to me) point: the percentage of Americans under 40 who claim a belief in God is below 50%.

My first response was that this could be a good thing.

In polls past, belief in God always rated north of 99%, according to my memory.  For the 30 years I have been attempting to follow Jesus, this has always struck me as misleading.  It turns my attention to James, who wrote that “even the demons believe.” (James 2:19)

In other words, belief that there is a God and $3 will get you a cup of coffee.

How many of the 99% who claimed (in the past) to believe in God would have claimed that such belief made any difference in their lives?  Of those who did, would their friends and neighbors have concurred?

For years, claiming belief in God has been, in the US, a cultural thing to do.  Whether or not said God was worshiped, sought after prayed to, or otherwise taken notice of was irrelevant to the questions – or at least to the answerer.

If less people are (now) claiming to believe in God, perhaps they are, at least in this way, being more honest with themselves and with us.

I happen to believe that people being honest with themselves is a good thing, across the board.

Could a decrease in belief in God be a good thing for reasons other than increased honesty with oneself?  I think so, and will tackle that tomorrow.

 

Call this politics if you want, but It’s all Theology to Me

I admit I’m a couple days behind.  I’ve been working. Rick Perry’s video “Strong” has gone viral on YouTube.

(I was tempted to blog today about how Gingrich calls the anti-climate-change ad he did with Nancy Pelosi the “dumbest thing he’s done in a long time.” This seems a stretch when it is common knowledge now that WHILE pursuing Clinton’s impeachment Gingrich was in an extra-marital affair of his own.)

Alas, that might have been construed as partisan.  My concern with Perry’s video is purely theological.

Gov. Perry, with all due respect, allowing gays to serve openly in the military is not a “war on religion.”  It is about citizens who are interested being willing to serve their country in the military. As Stanley Hauerwas pointed out almost 20 years ago, Mr. Perry, Christians ought to be more concerned with whether Christians should serve in the military than whether or not gays should.

While you are here, Gov. Perry, I’d also like to let you know that kids can pray any time they like, even in public schools.  There never has been a law or a Supreme Court decision opposing this.

 

Thing(s) I don’t really want to remember

At a wedding recetpion over the weekend, I heard Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy wit’ it” for the first time in several years.  my older daughter, who was 9 when the song came out (in 1998) owned the cd. We heard it plenty.

I had not heard it in a long time, yet I found myself singing along immediately.

I don’t want to rememebr the words to this song!  I don’t even care if I remember the song.  I don’t know if Will Smith cares if he remembers the song.

I have nothing against Will Smith; either now or back when he was a singer/musician.  It’s just that an awful lot of the music I have heard over the years isn’t particularly interesting to me NOW.

And yet, I remember it.

I suppose I could let this bother me.  I suppose you might suggest I have let it bother me if I am writing about it today, almost 40 hours after it happened.  I promsie I am not bothered.

It does give me pause to reflect, though, on how stuff gets inside us and finds a resting place.  If I was sitting down to a test today, and was asked – required- for the test to be able to cite “Gettin’ Jiggy wit’ it,” I am pretty sure that, had I not heard it Saturday, I would draw a blank today.

Jesus said it is not what you and I take into our body as food that defiles, but what is in our hearts.  I don’t know if  “Gettin’ Jiggy wit’ it” is, in fact, in my heart, but it is obviously in me in a deeper sense than Saturday’s lunch is. (I had a turkey sandwich, if you must know).

So: what is in you?  Song lyrics from 13 years ago?  Lyrics from 30 years ago? Don’t beat yourself up over what’s in there that you no longer want.  Condsider, on the other hand, putting stuff in there now that you will be thankful for in 13 years.

 

Truth and Freedom

30 While Jesus was saying these things, many people came to believe in him.

 31 Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:30-32)

 

“YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.”  Almost every college campus in the US has this phrase carved in stone on at least one building.  Knowing the truth sounds good, right?  Education is about knowing, so education, knowing stuff, will bring you to the truth, which will make you free, right?

That’s not exactly what Jesus is saying.  In fact, I don’t think Jesus the more you know the more free you will be.

Read the scripture above again.  According to Jesus, truth and freedom both depend on following Him.  IF one follows Jesus, then one begins to know the truth, and then one can begin to become free.

It is good news that doing well in school is not what makes one free.  Not everyone has the native intelligence, work habits, or learning style to do well in school.  Thank you, Jesus, for saying I don’t have to do well in school!

It is also good news that pursuing some abstract concept like “truth” isn’t what gives one freedom.  Searching for “truth” or “the truth” may sell books and movies, but still won’t provide freedom.

Rather, Jesus says, following Him, being faithful to his teachings, will lead us to both truth and freedom.

Follow Jesus and find truth.  Keep following Jesus and find freedom.

JUST “the way it was…”

This morning’s Waco Trib has an interesting piece about a local project in “church swapping.” (I would share the link, but online access is by subscription only)  The idea is to get people to try a church that is predominantly a different race than their own.

This post isn’t about race or church-swapping, however.  In the opening paragraph one of the participants in the swap gives an example of the difference between the African American church he is visiting and his home church. He says

It’s more praiseful. For example, if they sing ‘Amazing Grace’ they put a different emphasis on the song,” Province said. “The words are the same, but the hints are different, whereas when I sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ I just sing it the way it was written.

Welcome to Postmodernism 101.  Mr. Province’s belief that he sings a song “the way it was written” is presumptuous and fallacious.  Unless, that is, he wrote the song or is good friends with whoever did.

This principle is important to keep in mind not just with songs, but with scripture as well.  Many if us assume that we read scripture the way it should be read, to find the plain or obvious meaning.  When we hear someone interpret it differently, then, we may too quickly assume that they (rather than we) are reading something into it, whereas we are just reading it “the way it was written.”

You don’t read something “the way it was written” just because you have always read it that way.  The assumption that others are interpreting where you are simply reading is unfair to them and to yourself.