Tag Archives: Christian

Challenge, 31

This past year has been exceptionally challenging, even to the point of questioning what exactly my faith is. I don’t doubt God’s presence, or even identity, but I’ve started to wonder what His motives might be. And I’m not interested in the prosperity-preacher “it is not for us to question,” “all is for the best” pulp. Even David questioned the veracity of those comments.

In Psalm 31, the psalmist makes a gorgeous plea – and even some challenges – that ring honest and true:

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eyes grow weak with sorrow,

my soul and my body with grief.

My life is consumed by anguish

and my years by groaning;

my strength fails because of my affliction,

and my bones grow weak.

Because of all of my enemies, 

I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;

I am a dread to my friends-

those who see me on the street flee from me.

I am forgotten by them as though I were dead;

I have become like broken pottery….

But I trust in you—

Let me not be put to shame, O Lord,

for I have cried out to you….

It continues, quite masterfully. In my easier days, I found David to be a little prone to exaggeration – but I stand corrected. I also used to think that psalms such as this were a bit contradictory. He complains, he moans, and then he cheerfully says, “But you’re the Big Guy and you’ll fix it.”

I don’t hear the happy-happy anymore — I hear a challenge. I hear David howling, “Come on, Mister, you big shot. You made all these promises to protect and care for me and look where I am now!! If you don’t help me, you and your name will be humiliated, not just mine, because I have publicly claimed you as my strength. So, for your own sake, help me out.”

I’m with him. 

Silence, a Lenten Contemplation

I began Lent with gusto on Wednesday. I thought up a series of interesting posts designed to inspire contemplation and ethical meditation and enlightenment, each post discussing an ethical attribute described in the New Testament – but not necessarily always practiced very well, especially by Christians. I wrote out a schedule, experienced profound inspiration — and then got the flu.

It is now Sunday afternoon (the 17th) as I write this, and I have been in bed asleep – no, catatonic – with fever approximately 18 hours a day since Ash Wednesday. When semi-conscious, I lay in my dark room listening to the blizzards outside and the gurgling humidifiers. I occasionally notice the condensation on my windows.

Oh, the disappointment!

I’ve fallen behind in everything. Everything. From cooking to writing to teaching to laundry to – everything. Even all this sleeping isn’t enough sleep. As expected, all my fire and passionate inspiration to save the world has withered and faded in the face of vertigo and pain.

Gathering up what steam I could for a full blown pity party, I quiet thought interrupted.

The *point* of Lent is not deprivation or self-flagellation. The purpose is mediation, with the act of abstaining from something (if one chooses to do this) as a reminder to, well, meditate, to be in the place where you are, and wonder if it is the place where you want to or ought to be.

This is not a practice unique to the Christian season of Lent. Every yoga practice ends in corpse pose, considered to be the most important pose of a practice, precisely to give one’s self a restful moment for contemplation and meditation. This reflective, emotional experience beyond wordy thoughts, is often the “it,” the reason or the joy we feel when we do something we love, leaving obsessive thought behind and just sensing ourselves – like during a run, or a swim, or when playing a piece if music we dissolve into, or reading a marvelous book – anything that brings us away from the business of being “me” and into the living of simply being.

Now, being feverish and only partly conscious isn’t comfy or fun – but being forced into stillness and quiet semi-darkness…. I found myself suspended in the act of meditation, the act of being. All my worries about writing and doing this big Lent Observance became less significant. I did. I do. I am in this moment. Granted, it’s taken a week-long fever and hallucinations to induce it, which I suspect says a great deal about why it’s so damn hard for me to just *stop* doing…. but it’s a start, a glimpse, a peek at the point of Lent.

I had made beautiful plans to *do* Lent (and, honestly, I’ve not given them up, which probably means I’m missing the point). This virus, though, has forced me to *practice,* to *be* in Lent – and that’s likely far more important than any theological or ethical debate. Less comfortable, sure, but probably much more honest.

I hope that you join me in these contemplations. I hope you share your ideas – especially if you disagree with me. I’d like to know why, if you do.

Whatever your personal philosophy or faith, I’m glad you are here.

Introduction to this Lenten Series, here: http://wp.me/p262AS-nF

Introduction, a Lenten Contemplation

I have mentioned previously that I have no intention of using this blog to convert people to my way of thinking. It’s true: I really don’t care too much whether or not someone agrees with me. I do care a great deal about whether a person considers questions normally found in the philosophical or ethical or even theological arenas, but we don’t have to agree. In fact, I often find conversations with people with whom I disagree to be extremely interesting, provided that no one feels compelled to *make* the other people think *just like they do.*

This disclaimer clearly stated, I do find questions of theology (not just Christianity, but theology in general) fascinating. I also love philosophy, sociology, and theory. I spent a lot of time – some have said too much, but I don’t see how that’s possible – considering the “why?” behind the things we do and say – and fail to do or say – to each other and ourselves. Personally, I’m Episcopalian. I think that the Judeo-Christian God is the closest we’ve come to an understanding of some of God’s attributes, and I love the fact that any honest Episcopalian will come right out and tell you that we question everything. Everything. And, so far, lightning has never come down from the sky and smote us.

We were given free will and intellect; I suspect we are expected to put them to good use.

So, yesterday the season of Lent began. Most of the world notes it by events like Mardis Gras and Ash Wednesday, where you can indulge in any debauchery you can think of, and then be wiped clean the next day at church.

Bullshit. (Yes, I’m a Christian, and I swear like a sailor. Ask my 8 year old. I have faith, not perfection.)

I think the whole notion of doing stupid, destructive, “sinful” things and then running to confession to be “sanctified” defiles the very notion of “repentance” (an oft-misused word, by the way; that alone is probably worth discussing. It means to change course, not to wail and self-flagellate and start handing out tracts with John 3:16 printed on them and judging others with sanctimonious pride. Hmph.)

Last year, I observed Lent for the first time. Being raised Baptist (I’ll save that particular soapbox for later – but, let me just say, anyone who blasts legalism and self-righteousness doesn’t represent God. That’s human fear and brainwashing, disguised in false faith. It ought to give you the willies, if it doesn’t already.), I never understood the function or season of Lent. Having wandered around a bit theologically and philosophically, I arrived at the Episcopal Church, and noticed Lent, not as a Catholic mass cleansing, but as a time of meditation and contemplation.

Why do we do the things we do?

Why do we say we believe in Christian principles?

Do we even understand what they mean in real, gritty, daily life?

After thinking about that, do we actually believe it, or are we just too scared to say we don’t?

And, if we do believe it, shouldn’t we be living it? Shouldn’t the values of kindness to *everyone* – not just the people we like, love for everyone, charity and protection for everyone – shouldn’t we be putting these to action?

Christianity taken seriously isn’t comforting or easy. I think that is why so many hide behind legalism and condemnation. If you take the teachings to heart, you will find yourself in the muck, up to your hips in the alligators of human suffering, in the trenches of theological conflict.

As CS Lewis said, “I didn’t become a Christian to find comfort. I always knew I could find that in a bottle of brandy.” (I am paraphrasing here.)

Last Lent, I gave up Facebook. And, it was mind-blowing. I had not realized how much time I wasted online with people I don’t really know, blathering about nonsense to anyone who would listen. I had not realized how much I was missing. Away from Facebook, I began to learn to play the guitar. I started dancing again. I began to write more. I became less numb.

My life now is pretty minimalist, to be euphemistic  I don’t actually have much from which I can abstain. So, this year, I’ve decided to focus on the contemplative calling which is the season of Lent. And I’ll be sharing some of that here, in the form of posts devoted to values or attributes that Christians say they follow and uphold – but do we really understand what they mean? What does charity look like in everyday life? It’s a lot more than an annual tax-deduction, that’s for sure. What does real love of everyone do? What does it mean to not take an eye for an eye – but not allow one’s self to be wantonly victimized, either?

I hope that you join me in these contemplations. I hope you share your ideas – especially if you disagree with me. I’d like to know why, if you do.

Whatever your personal philosophy or faith, I’m glad you are here.

Critical Thinking about Christianity

I have made a pretty deliberate decision to try to keep religion out of my blog, or my “published” writings, for that matter. I think that what a person believes in is very personal. I know that I don’t appreciate it when someone tries to persuade me that I am wrong and s/he is right. I figure I ought to show other people the same respect.

It’s part of the “treat others as I want to be treated” philosophy I try to live by.

Something that troubles me about conversations about religious beliefs, or moral codes, or ethics, or even philosophy and science, is that there usually is not a reasonable conversation happening. Most of the time, you get two or more parties yelling at each other irrationally with no substance to the vitriol. And people wonder why churches and organized religions and atheists, for that matter, are lampooned and mocked. Dude, if you want to be taken seriously, take yourself seriously first.

It’s part of the “remove the plank from your eye first, and then consider whether or not you’re qualified to throw stones” bit. None of us are qualified to throw things at each other. We just aren’t. Eventually, faith can’t be proven – it’s the nature of faith. And, if you believe one thing and I believe another, well, hey, we’re working on faith here. Of course we can’t “prove” it. And yelling at each other certainly doesn’t help. As long as we’re both trying to figure out how to live honestly and with goodness, I offer up a high five.

Now, for the skanky immoral folks who don’t consider ethics in decision-making and opt instead for immediate base gratification…. well, my tolerance doesn’t extend that far. That’s a failure on my part to completely live up to treating others the way I want to be treated. I admit it; I can’t stand people who don’t try to be bigger than base animals. You have to at least try. I mean, then, even if we disagree, we can have an interesting conversation about why we disagree. We might both learn something, too.

I am certain there is a great deal of value in discussing moral and ethical principles, completely outside of the context in which they are usually presented. In fact, once we begin examining what the source material really says, we usually find that most of its “followers” are, um, *not* practicing what they preach.

As a Christian, as an Episcopalian, I find this embarrassing. I freely admit to being horrified by most of the things “Christians” do in “God’s name.” I envision God (wherever he or she or it is, and however that looks, I’m not sure) shaking his head and saying, “I got nothin’ to do with that! That’s all you and your hate and stupidity! You wanna be an ass, do it in your own name!”

I suspect that lots of Muslims feel the same way about the jihadists, and so on, [insert your higher calling here].

People hide behind the blanket of religion to avoid being responsible for their own actions and words – or their failure to act. If you are a coward, that’s on you, buddy. That’s not God (or the absence of God, or whatever you believe). That’s all you. If you are a bigot or a racist or a dogmatic fear-driven fool, that’s all on you.

I read a book a few months ago that was fascinating. It’s called “Provocative Grace,” by Robert Corin Morris, and it’s pretty challenging to the establishment. Morris is an Episcopalian leader, but he writes this book not as a religious tract, but as an exercise in removing “religion” and looking one by one at the lessons in Christ’s teachings. Not what the church has said. Not even what the disciples said. Certainly not what masses do during their crusades. As bits of ethical ideas, he looks one by one at the tenets of what has become Christianity as it was written, fully acknowledging the limitations of translation and history.

It is brilliant. It is subversive and challenging and completely “in your face.” It turns conventional easy legalism on its head, and then kicks it out the door.

For anyone interested in ethics, I strongly recommend it. Morris comes right out and says that it is not the intention of this book to “convert” anyone. He wants to look at what it is that we say we believe in – and how closely our popular interpretations line up with what’s really said.

Punchline: conventional Christianity doesn’t line up well with Christ’s actions at all.

The basic “rules” of Christianity are 1) be kind to everyone – and it means everyone, even the people who hate you and whom you hate, be KIND, and 2) don’t judge people, period. You don’t know what they’re up against and you’re not qualified. So, take your sanctimonious self-satisfaction and shove it. You be *kind.* Feed anyone who is hungry. Protect anyone who needs safety – of any kind. Be gentle to all. Period.

It’s actually a pretty straight-forward set of instructions.

It’s really too bad they aren’t followed more closely.

So, when you meet someone who claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t live and act according to those two basic ideas – I implore you, blame (if you must) the human. God isn’t in those actions. He’s no where around. That’s all mankind, right there, building our own hell here on earth.


Social Networking…

As mentioned in earlier posts, I bought my first guitar last month.  Yesterday, after my lesson, I added a pair of drumsticks and a practice pad, plus an improved guitar case, to my collection.  I expected that none of the employees in the music shop would be surprised, but I did think that my husband would find it startling. Of course, I ought to have known better. Upon unwrapping them, he merely commented, “Hmm, yes, I had wondered when you would be bringing those home.” (By the way, have you guys checked out the classes on the drumchannel.com? So cool!)

Yeah, yeah.

Does coveting Mark Knophler’s guitar make me a bad Christian?

Does it change if I add that I would be satisfied with a replica, and not the original itself?


Anyway, I deleted my Facebook account. It’s not enough to “deactivate” it; one must go through and individually delete each photo, unfriend each person, leave every group and uncheck each liked item. It takes hours. While I hide nothing, and have no secrets, I do prefer to select the context of my audience. It bothers me that Facebook changes its privacy settings without notifying you, and that there are work-arounds for people to find you, even people you try to ban. Then again, Facebook isn’t really a social network; it’s a data collection company, and its users are its commodity.

I thought about it for awhile before deleting it. Facebook is a useful publicity tool – good for expanding the audience of a blog. Of course, that usefulness is compromised when one sets privacy preferences to anything other than “public.” I considered that while I don’t object to “Shannon Christensen, blog writer” as a public person, I do mind my daughter being plastered all over the internet for God-Knows-Whoever to watch and observe. After acknowledging that… well, it was easy (albeit tedious) to delete the account.

All this thinking was prompted by another upcoming event I had planned on attending. I find that there are some people I specifically do not want to be near, and some of them will be at that event. I can’t prevent them coming, and although I should not be the one who has to leave, I am paying their tab, so to speak. That happens often, don’t you agree? We end up paying for the mistakes of others, while they appear to be free to move about as they wish. Moral high-ground isn’t always a very warm place to live. Yet, despite its chilly temperature, I remain convinced that there isn’t any other place where the air is clean. You’re just faking it, if you don’t really stand for something.

Back to practicing….

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