Monday, April 17, 2006

Get your inflatable nativity set here!

--The following was written in October 2005--

An inflatable nativity set--just what I need!
In today's mail was a catalogue that advertised on the front cover an inflatable, 9 foot, light up nativity scene. The slogan next to it? "Over 220 new items to inspire faith!"

Hmmmm. How, exactly, is this supposed to inspire my faith? Maybe, as I am blowing it up, I am supposed to thank God for the breath He gave me, for the air to breathe. Oh, wait, no, that can't be it--the nativity scene comes "with built-in electric air blower for quick and easy inflation." I'll have to think some more. In the meantime, I wonder what other items are in here that could inspire my faith.

As I peruse the catalogue, I come across some foam footballs with a reindeer on them that say "Jesus is deer to me". Deer to me? I thought he was the Lamb of God.

Oh, here's what everyone needs: a "worry stone" to carry in your pocket that says "God Rocks" on it. God rocks? I thought God was the rock. Maybe I'll have better luck on another page.

Colors of faith candy jewelry? Gingerbread church kit? "Smile! Jesus Loves You! Kick Balls" (hacky sacks)? I'm supposed to kick around something that tells me Jesus loves me? That seems a little odd.

So I guess there isn't anything inspiring about this cataloge. Oh wait, there is...I'm inspired to read where Jesus got angry at the moneychangers in the Temple for possibly taking advantage of people who needed to buy blemish-free animals for sacrifice. It's a story many Christians love, isn't it? Oh, those bad moneychangers--using God's house as a marketplace.

So tell me how this catalogue is any different.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Seek and you shall find?

I'm currently re-reading The Callby Os Guinness. Since I decided that seminary was not going to work out at this point in time, I need to re-evaluate some things. But one thing that caught my attention is Guinness' discussion on seekers in Chaper 2. In Christianity the term commonly describes someone with no religious background who is attracted to "seeker services" where Christianity is made relevant through entertaining music and dramas and exciting preaching. Guinness writes that these people are described as "conversion prone". They are somewhat aimless when it comes to spiritual or religious direction. They are the ones who will go to that service and emotionally respond to the altar call.

Guinness has a different definition of a seeker. He believes that a true seeker is different from this, that they have purpose, energy, idealism. They have questions and want answers. He writes that "they have become seekers because something has spured their quest for meaning, and they have to find an answer. True seekers are looking for something" (10).

It is this kind of a seeker with which I identify. While I do not at all discount the "conversion prone" type of seeker, because I am sure that with their conversion new life is forthcoming, that kind of experience does not really resonate with me. I know that many people are happy to have a conversion experience and feel that they now know what life is all about. Their faith has come alive and that is a wonderful thing.

I, however, need more than that. Singing hymns or praise songs and listening to a sermon each week really does not do that much for me. I love to delve deep into the Bible and ask the questions that the majority of Christians would probably never think about. Things like why is there a specific way to wear clothing in Exodus 12:11? Or how did "choose life" in Deuteronomy 30, which originally meant to follow God's commands, get co-opted as the pro-life slogan? Or why do the synoptic gospels have different lists of the 12 disciples?

These are some of the things I wonder about, and many people would think I am probably too particular or nitpicky in wanting to know these details. But to me, pondering these things and getting into the details is like opening a gift or finding a hidden treasure. It forces me to think, to question, to doubt, to have faith. And in all of this, I grow. Sometimes it is a great struggle; sometimes nothing makes sense at all. But the less it makes sense, I think the more I have to depend on trusting God.

Sometimes my thoughts have to be radically revised. Sometimes I question some of the very tenets of Christianity and it's origins. But it is exciting too, because I learn more and more. And I think that the more I read the Bible and seek to understand it's history, it's context, it's culture, it's worldview, the more amazing I find what is contained within.

I'm also reading another book (yeah, I'm reading two--okay, three or four, actually--books at once. It's complicated.) called The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren, which was just released this month. At the end of Chapter 4, he writes the following:

"Is it possible that the message ofJesus was less like an advertising slogan--obvious and loud--and more like a poem whose meaning only comes subtly and quietly to those who read slowly, think long and deeply, and refuse to give up?" (34).

As I read that, I thought, "hey, that's me!" With the more and more questions that I have had as time has gone by, I think many people would have given up by now. But I continue my quest, my search, and I seek to find the different messages God has for me.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Where would Jesus go... church?

When I think about the myriad of denominations and houses of worship there are, I wonder if Jesus would feel at home in them. When we read the stories of Jesus' life, although we know he went to synagogue, it's not a main point. It's more of an aside. He spent time with people in their homes, on a hillside, in boats, etc. He went to where people were; he didn't bring them to where he was. It seems we maybe have it backwards today. We try to figure out ways to draw people in so we can convince them that they need Jesus. We want them to think church is not some weird place; that it is culturally relevant. So we have powerpoint presentations with the lyrics to songs, we build gymnasiums, we even have Starbucks and ATMs. We want everything to go perfectly, so that people will come back again and again.

Would Jesus feel comfortable there?

Did Jesus care about making people say "wow!"? On the contrary, he told people not to talk about the miracles he did. Did Jesus care about everything going perfectly? Probably not, since he had a group of more than 5000 and there was not enough food. That's not good planning, now, is it?

But these are the things we have to deal with and think about in Christianity today. And I wonder if maybe we're missing the point.