“…Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” – Hebrews 9:22
I have a theory that the real reason for Jesus being crucified was not that God demanded blood in order to forgive us of our sins, as I have always been told. It seems to me that a loving God would simply forgive us anyway (though he may still punish us lightly for our own good). I know that I have loved others like this, and I very much doubt that my love is greater than God’s. I think the cross was meant as a message. If God simply forgave us and then told us we were forgiven, we would not have believed him, but if God proved his love by sacrificing his own life, it makes his message much more believable. It also creates an example to be followed. We cannot become loving without first seeing an example of what true love is. When the bible suggests that repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, I suspect that “forgiveness of sins” actually means our forgiving ourselves (and each other) and accepting that God has already forgiven us. In other words, the life and death of Jesus was a “word” from God declaring his love.
“In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God.” – John 1:1
What do you think?
Please read this through and tell me what you think.
In the past couple decades teaching others to practice optimism has become extremely popular. There is a lot of good that comes from being optimistic. It can give people the energy to solve and overcome problems, whereas pessimism can cause one not to even make the attempt, thus ensuring failure. There are also rare cases when a pessimist may involuntarily self-sabotage out of fear even when they do make the attempt. Even while a problem remains unsolved, an optimist will feel better about the future than a pessimist, making the problem less of a problem. However, I see these days more often than not that optimism is misapplied and only makes situations worse.
It is fine to dream of the great, bright, fantastic future, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in your way you will never get there, and you can’t remove obstacles you won’t acknowledge the existence of.
I find that self-described optimists often refuse to even listen to the potential challenges to their plans. They tell those who bring attention to problems that they are simply being pessimistic. Optimists believe everything they think of is perfect. When they push through their plans without vetting them, they only make things much worse. They don’t worry about it; they just come up with even worse plans to fix the new problems they just caused. This is true in business, churches, and especially in government.
There has to be balance. Optimists see within every failure an even greater success, while pessimists see within every success an even greater failure. They are both right; time goes on and the string of successes and failures never ends. Too often optimists treat their plans as if they will permanently end our problems, while pessimists hold out for a perfect plan that will never come.
Positive thinking only takes one so far. You can choose to ignore your problems for only so long before they will make themselves undeniable. Eventually one has to have a genuine solution.
I once too fell victim to the illusion that my emotions could be controlled. Whenever confronted with an unpleasant stimulus, I quickly told myself that I was too strong to be bothered, that there are always ways to fix problems, and I reminded myself of everything good in my life to take my mind off it. I told myself that things would be better in the future. I was better than anyone I knew at “seeing the silver lining.” As the years passed and my problems remained unsolved, I found that my continual efforts to control my emotions were only serving to remind me of why I needed to control them in the first place. The more times my rosy predictions failed to pan out, the less I found myself believing my next predictions in spite of my best efforts. I simply couldn’t keep up anymore and I was completely worn out. I later learned that the path to healing is first not to deny reality and to allow myself to be upset sometimes. This is only healthy.
One can choose to avoid that which he dislikes, but one can never choose what it is he dislikes. One can never choose to be happy.
Optimists say, “You can’t control every situation, but you can control how you feel about the situation; you are in charge of your feelings.” There is a grain of truth to this. After all, you can pound a rock with a hammer all day long and the rock will never feel a thing. This is because a rock has no nerves. However, if you pound on a puppy with a hammer, the puppy will feel pain. It is not your actions alone that cause the pain, but the combination of your beatings with the way the puppy’s nervous system is designed. In other words, the puppy has only himself to blame. This is exactly how most optimists talk.
One need not be physically beaten to feel pain. Because humans are designed to connect with others, they inevitably feel lonely when they are unable to do this. It is a fundamental need. As often as not, I see positive thinking used as an excuse to bully others. I have known bullies to verbally abuse others only to turn around and blame the victims for their feelings, adding insult to injury.
Complaining is good. Complaining makes others aware of problems so that they can be fixed. Complaining allows us to vent so that we might better endure. Complaining about our common struggle is how people bond. Don’t complain about people complaining.
Obviously there are some who complain too much, keeping the attention on themselves and away from the good news that might lift people up, but in my experience it is those that complain about other people complaining that complain the most by far. There has to be balance. I have met many who are so sensitive to hearing bad news that they hear it when it isn’t even said. It is impossible to have a normal conversation with these people for long before they start angrily lecturing about the dangers of negative thinking and making everyone else feel bad for having legitimate problems that they were already dealing with quite well. There is nobody more negative than a positive thinker.
Sympathy is a basic human need, but when people are attacked and their problems belittled it only makes them feel worse, which will only make them more desperate to get sympathy somewhere else. Sometimes those who seem to complain too much only do so because they were first attacked for only complaining a little bit. After years (or even decades) of abuse, they become very needy people that will not simply get better overnight. They need more help than even they know.
Sometimes people need to vent. When people feel they have been listened to, they are able to be much more patient. This is one of the reasons we have free speech in the United States. If people are prohibited from expressing frustration verbally, eventually it will be expressed physically. This is true in the workplace, family settings, school, and in politics. The only way to prevent the use of “second-amendment solutions” is by the tireless pursuit of first-amendment solutions.
There is nothing more discouraging than yet another word of encouragement when a hardship has persisted for too long.
When someone says, “I can’t do it,” they are rarely being pessimistic of the future; they are usually just expressing their frustration of the present. However, this is all it takes for the optimonsters to strike. So often I see people encouraging/bullying people into being more optimistic and less pessimistic. They act as if they think they are helping. Some people actually thank them for helping. I wonder, though, what if we actually helped to solve the problem? We may not be able to solve everything, but what if we at least listened and gave advice? What if we at least did something nice for someone or told them some good news to help make them feel better while they suffer? Getting after people for expressing themselves doesn’t help.
Points to ponder:
“Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well.,’ but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” – James 2:15-16
We are told if we want something to go out and make it happen, but for those things we want and need the most (love, respect, understanding) there is nothing we can do. Love is by definition that which is freely given. If it could be earned or compelled, it would not be love.
There are some things that one can never achieve, yet the optimists keep pressing us to try. They are incapable of understanding that some things should not be attempted and they never listen. Even of those things that can be earned, it does us no good to earn them if we are continually cheated. You can’t force customers to buy no matter how good your product. You can’t force an employer to hire you no matter how excellent your qualifications. You can’t force your crush to like you back no matter how true your love. Life is already too frustrating to also have to listen to the cheerleaders on the sidelines telling us to go out and make it happen, blaming us for our problems and doing nothing to help. Sometimes there is nothing more to do.
Optimism And Religion:
The optimonsters are even more dangerous when they use religion. In Christian circles, we are told that our prayers will not be answered if we ask with a doubting mind. We are told that God wants to grant us our desires and if he does not it must mean we didn’t have enough faith. In other words, the reason you have trouble is that it is your fault. What do you do if you need more faith? Pray for it, of course – this leading to an insidious feedback loop of despair when one realizes that they doubt whether they will ever have enough faith. What sort of a God who loves us enough to die for our sins would then demand faith from us in order to meet our needs?
Among those with new age tendencies, they speak of the law of attraction, of positive visualization, and of “vibrating on the same frequency” as that which you want to come in to your life. This is nonsense. I don’t blame anybody for falling for this; it takes years of testing and a very open mind to be sure it doesn’t work. I am sure it doesn’t work. The best things ever to happen to me and the worst things ever to happen to me both came as complete surprises; I neither visualized them nor prayed for them. At the same time, those things I have visualized and prayed about for decades have still failed to pass as of this writing. Positive visualization is complete nonsense.
These have been my experiences with the subject. Tell me about yours. Who do you know that uses optimism to cover for their lack of empathy?
Inconsistent standards have always confused me and there are many of them. When I grew up, I understood that there were those who were against promiscuity and pre-marital sex, and those who were all for it – or at least more tolerant of it. It was only much later in life when I learned that there were also those who looked down on promiscuous women while praising promiscuous men. Sexist double-standard aside, what really confuses me is the logical incoherence of the position. Who are the men supposed to have sex with if not women? To praise them is to praise the women, too. To put the women down is to put the men down as well. It takes two.
Another example of this phenomenon is the set of cultural attitudes surrounding nudity. Though most of us wear clothes most of the time, nudism is not really a minority position. Many people are already partial nudists and do not realize it. They carve out various exceptions to the rules, but still balk at going all the way. When I was very young, these inconsistencies confused me. Some of them still do.
Lockers: People not only bathe, shower, and sleep naked in private, but do so in front of others. In locker rooms and elsewhere, they change in front of members of the same sex – in public! A locker room is public, isn’t it? Some locker rooms have curtains and some do not. Why the inconsistency? I remember going to summer camp when I was eleven and being absolutely shocked that the guy right next to me changed his underwear in full view of everyone in the dorm. He was soon copied by others and nobody but me thought anything unusual about it. I had been taught that this was illegal! Later in life, I was told the story of how at a different a summer camp one night was so hot that every boy slept undressed and uncovered, neither they nor the counselors thinking anything weird of it. If it is okay for another male to see my body, why not a female? If it is okay for me to see another male nude, why not a female? This was never explained to me.
Family: I have heard that many will change in front of family members of either sex. In many families, the father will shower with the sons and the mother with the daughters. I have even heard of a family wherein the boys were allowed to be naked around the house, but the girls had to cover up. They just thought that was normal! I didn’t understand how they ever got away with it. If I can be naked with family, why not my friends? My casual acquaintances? Complete strangers? What difference does it make?
Blurry People: I discovered later that some homes have translucent shower doors. Yes, they often blur out tiny details, but only just barely. If nudity is such a bad thing, isn’t it still bad to be seen naked through a shower door? It’s not as if we can’t tell. Since these doors are considered acceptable, is it okay to wear see-through clothing that distorts details? Is it okay to walk around naked in the dark at night? Is it okay to be naked in front of someone who needs glasses but doesn’t have them on at the time? Is it okay to be naked in public so long as we cover ourselves with our hands if someone else comes within forty feet of us? Is it okay to walk around in nothing but body paint? Why is it okay for people on television to be naked in front of the production crew so long as specific body parts are shown blurred to the viewers at home? It’s not like we don’t know what’s there. If nudity is so bad, why do we even allow the plot to call for a nude scene at all?
Three Percent: Swimmers often wear the bare minimum required by law. Some cover more than this (Males are much more likely to wear trunks than speedos), while some cover slightly less (Thongs fail to cover the buttocks, the thin back strap covering only that which is naturally hidden anyways). How is it that anyone confident enough to strut around in a tiny bikini – covering a mere three percent of the body and tightly fitting the form so as to leave nothing to imagination – can possibly have any shyness or shame at exposing the final three percent? Based on what I have seen some women wear, I can only conclude that they want to be seen. Why not just get it over with and go all the way? I am still to this day confused about how it is that swimsuits are okay in public, but not underwear (practically the same thing) and how dresses are okay in public, but not slips (practically the same thing).
Only as old as you feel: Those under a certain, ill-defined age are somehow immune to expectations to cover up. Children as old as two years can be seen naked everywhere without trouble. I have even seen topless girls as old as ten, though this is very rare. If children can be naked, why not slightly older children? Why not teenagers? What exactly is the cut-off age? If children can be naked, and by extension are allowed to see other children naked, why are they not allowed to see naked adults? It’s not like they will know anything is wrong. We aren’t born with knowledge of clothes. There is no child in history that has ever been harmed by nudity that wasn’t first taught they were supposed to be harmed. Who teaches them stuff like that? This is child abuse!
Milk does a body good: Breastfeeding mothers are also somewhat more accepted, it being legal in many states. It begs the question: If it is okay to view/display a breast so long as feeding begins in a few seconds, what is so wrong if no feeding occurs for a longer time? One cannot unsee what has already been seen. Would it then be okay to change clothing in public, so long as one hurries? Okay to be naked on the beach, so long as one runs into the water quickly? Okay to jog naked, so long as one doesn’t stay in one place for too long? I have also heard that in one city, nudity in the context of political protest was legalized (first-amendment protected speech). Who defines what is and isn’t political protest? Can’t anything be said to be making a statement of some kind? If an exception can be carved out for protest and for breastfeeding, how about while standing around at the laundromat waiting for our clothes to dry? Why not? If it can be okay to change in public locker rooms, why not the laundromat? How about instead of changing for gym class, we hold nude gym classes? The question of which locker room transsexuals should use becomes moot if we all change together. What about “dressing” as a nude for Halloween? The rules of fashion are already relaxed on that day. Why not relax them just a tiny bit more?
Art: In some places, art nudes are completely unavoidable. They are everywhere! I even see them at the public library in book cover illustrations – in sight of children! If it is legal for a book to be naked in public, why not an actual person? If it is legal for a park statue to be naked in public, why not an actual person? With so many bare stone bodies already around, how can we justify making real people cover up at all? That’s discrimination!
Puzzling Parts: When I was a kid, I understood that my pants had to remain on at all times, but I was allowed to go shirtless, while girls had to keep their shirts on. I believed that they were required to cover both breasts and belly button, though I did not understand why. The swimsuits I saw most often were one-piece. When I did become aware of two-piece suits, I was always under the impression that they were somewhat controversial. I was surprised that they were legal. Later in life, I read that men were not always allowed to go topless. In the nineteenth century, they had to cover far more. If it is possible to change the standards once, is it possible to change them again? Doesn’t the fact that change is possible show the standards to be totally arbitrary?
As the years went by, I noticed swimsuit tops of many styles. Some left the tops of the breasts uncovered, some left the bottoms of the breasts uncovered, and some tiny tops covered nothing but the nipples. I was surprised that these were legal as well. Since there is clearly no requirement to cover the breasts themselves, why cover the nipples? Men don’t cover theirs. Since there is no requirement to cover male nipples, why cover female nipples? What is the difference? If men can go topless, why can’t women go topless? If women in other countries can go topless, why not here?
I have also seen view of the butt (both male and female) gradually become more acceptable in my lifetime – okay in the newspaper and on television (including in cartoons supposedly for kids), but not in person. If my bottom can now be uncovered (even if it is still slightly controversial), does that mean the rest of me can? What is the difference? Is there a hierarchy of shame I am unaware of? It would be very easy for an impulsive person to misinterpret the allowance of one form of nudity for the allowance of other forms and unwittingly get themselves in trouble. And aren’t the buttocks just extensions of the thighs anyways? That’s where the legs start.
Can women go bottomless? Unlike a penis, a vagina is not a part of the body, but rather the lack of a part – a hole – literally nothing. Why cover literally nothing? They are far less conspicuous than either belly buttons or nipples. They can’t be seen from the side. They can be covered by subtly crossing the legs or vanish inside a patch of pubic hair – no cloth needed. Why cover that which is naturally hidden? Since visible breast cleavage and butt cleavage are tolerated (not to mention the cleavage from love handles and double chins), why cover what from the front appears to be nothing more than just another fold in the skin where the legs come together? Women have nothing down there to hide. If men can go topless, why can’t women go bottomless? What is the difference? I’m not the first person to make this point. I remember reading of a judge who ruled that women are incapable of indecent exposure (as defined by the law in that state) because their genitalia are internal and naturally out-of-sight. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which state this was.
Note: Over the years, two women have told me they would be more comfortable going bottomless than topless. Zero have told me they would be more comfortable going topless than bottomless. I don’t understand the hierarchy in either case.
If men can go topless, can women go topless? If men can go topless, can women go bottomless? If women can go either topless or bottomless, can they go both topless and bottomless at the same time? If women can go fully nude, can men go fully nude? When one exception is made, it unravels everything. It is only a matter of time before somebody other than me connects the dots and full nudity for everyone is fully legalized everywhere.
Fetishists And Fetishes: In recent years I have even learned of the existence of fetishes. Apparently, some guys are very attracted to feet, but women don’t cover their feet on the beach. Other guys very much like breasts, and women do cover those. Why the difference? Also, why not cover faces? Aren’t faces attractive too? Some women like bearded men. Others don’t. Some people prefer thin partners, others prefer those who remind them of squishy teddy bears. If we can’t even agree on which parts are most attractive, what justifies the law choosing sides and enforcing the will of one faction on everybody else?
The Conformity Trap: Toddlers often find nudity preferable to clothing and have to be scolded into covering up. Then they grow into adults that scold their own children. What changes? Maybe not as much as it appears on the surface. Maybe they just want to make sure the rules are known, even if they don’t agree with them. I know I’m not the only one who thinks of these issues. Many offhand comments from children, teenagers, and young adults over the years prove otherwise, even if none of these people would dare call themselves nudists. Two different guys told me that they slept naked. One girl told me that she wished she didn’t have to wear a swimsuit. Another girl told me that if she ever started her own country, that nudity for both sexes would be mandatory. One guy in the neighborhood mooned me, proving he wasn’t shy about being seen. When I was older, a woman told me that when she was in high school, she had gone nighttime skinny dipping with friends on several occasions. I suspect that many others are the same but are too afraid of what people will think. The thing is, many of those people we are so worried about probably think like us and are worried about what we will think. We cover up for them and they cover up for us, but none of us actually care!
Is Nudity Sexual? Sex is a private activity between two people not to be shared with the entire community. This is the argument against polygamy, promiscuity, and prostitution. To that extent I think I agree, but the same argument is used to argue against visibility of the human body even when not sexually active. Is nudity sexual? Yes and no; it’s complicated.
Growing up, I never used to think of nudity as sexual. I didn’t even know anything about sex yet. Nudity was the logical default. It wasn’t the opposite of clothing, it was simply the lack of it. Unlike clothing, nudity needs no explanation or justification. It just is. Newborns are born nude and no one suggests that the baby is being sexual. When one is caught engaging in sexual behavior, one can stop behaving, but one cannot simply stop being nude. We can’t just take our bodies off to reveal the clothes underneath. When one’s clothes are stolen by others, the victim isn’t being sexual. Since we all are naked under our clothes everywhere we go, bringing our bodies with us at all times, are we always sexual? What difference does the presence of cloth make? Besides, if it was really only about sex, why cover the breasts? Breasts aren’t sex organs.
It was only when I turned twenty-seven and discovered nude art (quite by accident) that I learned a few things: Women are inherently artistic. They are true art. This is exactly what I like about them. That women can use nudity to express both confidence and vulnerability in ways not directly sexual only makes them even more interesting, and interesting women who have entire lives and personalities not built solely around sex are exactly the type of women I like to pursue.
Since humans are sexual beings, we all have a mental program running in the background evaluating potential mates. Every situation (while clothed or otherwise) is somewhat sexual so long as we are a part of it. This includes situations in which we or others are naked, but clothing somewhat disrupts this natural process by getting in the way. This means nudity is sexual after all, but in a healthy way as God ordained it, and when we cover up we artificially lower the sexuality level (but still not to zero). So even admitting nudity is slightly sexual in this way still doesn’t justify making people cover up.
Men are supposed to be attracted to women. God designed them this way. The less clothing there is, the more woman visible, and therefore the more there is to be attracted to. Erections of the viewer do not mean that the pictures viewed are pornography or even that those viewing them are making them into pornography in their minds. Men are supposed to get erections around beautiful women, even more so around unclad women. It’s the first step towards propagating the species. Anyone who is intolerant of erections is intolerant of men. This is sexism at its worst.
So, is nudity sexual? No, but we are – and this is actually a good thing.
Conclusion: Clearly there is no common agreement that nudity is inherently bad. Instead, people struggle to uphold inconsistent standards that they don’t really believe in. We are all nudists; we just don’t all realize it yet. Who will be the first to step out and change things?
Sin, Sex, And The Human Body
The Conformity Trap
“I and the father are one.” – John 10:30
There are religions that stress the importance of striving to do great things for God, trying to earn his favor and following the rules in order not to anger him. It puts all the credit (or blame) on the individual. This worldview leads to despair when we cannot measure up and haughty pride when we do.
Then there are religions that stress the importance of “letting go and letting God” take care of things, remaining humble, and continually trusting the almighty to protect and provide. This worldview leads to laziness and ignoring the call to do good deeds, to take risks to be part of God’s work, and to bear spiritual fruit in order to display God’s glory. It allows God to perform showy miracles, but prevents him from showing the most important (and in some ways the most spectacular) miracle of changing the human heart.
What both of these worldviews have in common is the assumption that God and the believer are distinct individuals. When you understand what it means for God to live through us and in us, you understand that we will never be forsaken, but that results still require action.
Points to ponder:
“I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” – Galatians 2:20
“…I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:40
It is a noble thing to want to do good and avoid evil. It is a noble thing to want to stop sinning. The problem is that most of us build up our fear of being bad (or fear of the consequences) or our pride of being good to motivate us. The problem is that pride and fear are also sins. Fear means we don’t trust God to protect us and pride means we don’t trust that God is the source of all good in us. Building up these sins can only lead to more sin (and its outward manifestations) in the long run.
God is greater even than your drive to sin. Every sin you commit he allowed you to commit. He will take care of it if you let him – and if you sin by not letting him work, he allowed you to commit that sin as well. It is hard to wait for measurable results, but sometimes the only way to stop sinning is to feel the resulting pain first. I know this from direct experience. Believe me, God is going as fast as he can and working harder than you ever could or would. Just be patient and have hope – and if you cannot be patient any longer and have run out of hope, this too God is working to fix.
There is nothing wrong with listening to a theology lecture, but one of the things that annoys me most about church is how hard it is to connect with others and listen how God has moved in their lives. I once went to a church wherein each member was able to bring a story, a verse, or a song that meant something to them. I think there is a need for that sort of thing, yet I’ve never found anything like it since. Instead, one guy stands up front and tediously drones on about something I already know. If examples of God’s activities are ever given at all, they are from thousands of years ago. What is God doing today?
Many churches have programs to feed or clothe the homeless, but do nothing to serve the lonely or the discouraged. Don’t people want to encourage each other, celebrate good news together, and mourn bad news together? Isn’t that what church is really supposed to be?
Handshakes: At many of the churches I visit, the service is stopped partway through and the congregants encouraged to shake hands. I don’t understand the point. It’s certainly not to socialize. The music plays too loud for us to hear each other, the event is over too quickly, and before I can even exchange names with anyone they are either moving on to the next person or else the next person has interrupted us first. Do they have to make quota? There is no meaningful social interaction whatsoever. It’s just an awkward way to spread germs. There is a lot of forced, false intimacy in churches in general. In some places, they hold hands during prayer and the pastors have gigantic, creepy smiles all the time. Why not be genuine?
Close Your Eyes: At many of the churches I visit, during the closing prayer the pastor tells us to close our eyes. This is of course the last thing I want to do when being told to do it – especially when surrounded by strange people. I don’t consider it any of his business what I do with my own body. Then he invites those who have made a commitment to Jesus to raise their hands, reminding them that no one is going to see them. If the point of closing eyes is not to put anyone on the spot, why make them raise their hands at all? If the point of raising hands is to take a public stand, don’t they want to be seen?
Loud Music: At many churches the music is far too loud to be healthy. The bass vibrates my insides and makes me feel sick. It reflects off the walls in cacophony and makes me feel trapped. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t even like any of the music they play anyways. I am told that singing along expresses gratitude to God, but how can that be? You can’t tell me that over a hundred people just happened to start singing the same song at the same time out of genuine gratitude by chance! Clearly it has more to do with conformity. I’ve always thought of such things as a little creepy.
Stand Up: I can hike all day, but standing in one place is extremely uncomfortable and tiring. We are expected to stand during scripture recitation and during the music portion – sometimes for fifteen minutes or longer. What is the purpose of standing?
Bad Hours: What sane person wants to be out of bed Sunday morning? This doesn’t work for a lot of people. Some churches also have services Saturday or Sunday night, but why not on weekday afternoons? There are a lot of people that work late Saturday night and sleep in Sunday morning. When can they go? Why don’t churches hold services on different days from each other so people can visit multiple churches and make friends in all of them?
Simple Sermons: Sermons are almost always very simple. The same basic point is dragged out and repeated in different ways, but the larger context is left out, its importance is never explained, evidence is never given, and the exceptions go unmentioned. What is taught is very basic and I’m sure is old news for most of the people in the room. I have always been incredibly bored.
Sin Management: Rather than focus on the greatness of God and his current activities, churches seem to be focused on what I and my father call sin management. They give advice on how we can trick our darker selves to avoid sinning and build up our self-control. They constantly lecture on the dangers of sin and how to tell right from wrong. Knowing that I am dead to the law and that there is no good thing in me, I let God take care of my sin problem and instead focus on the good news. This is hard to do when I am continually reminded of the bad.
What I Love About Church: Some churches have coffee, donuts, and little libraries – and some have quite interesting architecture. They usually have ministries to join, if they fit you. Sometimes I can also find people to talk about God-stuff with, so church isn’t all bad. I’m just not sure that donuts are a good enough reason to get out of bed.
What do you love/hate about church?
In addition to fiction and non-fiction books featuring the natural world, Hal Borland once wrote columns for newspapers and magazines. Then in 1967, he compiled many of his old columns into a book, Hill Country Harvest. In it are 136 anecdotes about life on his small farm. He covers science, childhood memories, holiday traditions, etymology, farming, weather, differences in cultural attitudes of the city and the country, and most of all his encounters with the plants and animals of north-western Connecticut. He observes the interactions of birds and squirrels at his feeder, the behavior of swallows nesting in his garage, and the trends in plant life from year to year. His stories remind me of those found in Country Magazine.
I can’t quite pin down why I like the book. Hal is not particularly eloquent. His descriptions are not especially vivid, nor do they capture a slice of life that inspires my nostalgia. He has no detectible sense of humor. His anecdotes are not particularly insightful, unusual, or exciting. They are so simple as to be almost boring, but something keeps them just above that line.
I think what caught my imagination was the idea that if he can be successful with such a venture, so can I. Hal reminds me a lot of myself. He has taken a relatively normal life and picked out the best parts, ordering them like a sequence of adventures. Thinking about my time in Rhode Island so far, I realize I definitely have enough material to start a similar book. I am going to start keeping a journal. I might have a relatively normal life, but it is real, and nothing about me can ever be boring. I’m my own favorite subject.
There’s a lot that happens to me that doesn’t quite rise to the level of what I normally put on the blog, such as the time I saw the rabbits in the yard, the rainbow at sunset, the hummingbird, the deer, the woodchuck, the Baltimore oriole in the lilac tree, or my take on all the local coffee shops around here. These will go in a book.
There is an idea out there that the morality of an action is based less on the action’s results than it is on the motives of the actor. We do not blame people for accidents. In Christian circles, it is often said that sin isn’t what you’ve done; it’s the state of your heart. It is also said that God wants a “cheerful giver” and we should not donate or tithe out of guilt or to try to earn God’s favor. When we pray, we are told that praying with the wrong motives will leave our prayers unanswered.
The problem with this thinking is that it opens us up to accusation from others and ourselves. No matter how noble one’s cause, if they become aware of any potential benefit to themselves whatsoever, that benefit immediately becomes one of their motives. It is impossible for it to be otherwise. Then that little nagging voice inside says, “You know the real reason you did that good deed; you aren’t selfless at all.”
Since there is virtually always a way for an action to benefit us in some small way (even if for no other reason than to make us feel good about ourselves), we will always beat ourselves up and live in guilt. I don’t think this is what God wants.
Just because you may do the right things for the wrong reasons, it is no reason to stop doing the right things. It isn’t just about us. Just because you may pray for something with the wrong motives, it is no reason to stop praying. Just do it.
Is it wrong to punish those truly guilty just because we might be doing it in revenge? Is it wrong to enjoy art and support the artists just because it has elements in it we find erotic? Is it wrong to give to the poor just because we make a show out of it to glorify ourselves?
There is no way to control our motives anyways; only God can change the heart. Trust him to take care of it. In the meantime, never tire of doing right. God can use even our impure motives to accomplish his will.
I was recently asked “when” I became a Christian and if I had a specific date my new life began. I did not and neither do many people, yet there are those that seem to doubt whether one is a true Christian if they cannot point to a conversion moment in their lives. The way I see it, there are a series of stages of ongoing growth that people enter. At every point, one might assume they are finished, but there always seems to be more to learn.
Stage One: In elementary school I was an atheist. My Sunday School teachers were nice people, but terribly uneducated in science. Over the years in spite of them, I learned enough science to gradually accept that miracles were possible and that the existence of God was probable. My change of mind was gradual and I wavered back and forth for a while, so I have no specific date to point to when I converted. Finally, by junior high school I came to think of myself as “saved” because I believed God existed. I had no idea there was anything more to Christianity than that. This was the first stage.
Stage Two: For a long time, religion remained purely an academic exercise. I didn’t see how it related to my everyday life. It was only after I graduated high school that I became interested in actively seeking out God’s will. I believed I finally understood what God wants from us. This was the second stage.
Stage Three: Even then, I was seeking out God’s will as a means to an end. I was using him as a tool to get my needs met. I assumed that was all he wanted from me. Only in my late twenties did I form the attachment such that I knew I could never be satisfied without him. This was the third stage.
Stage Four: Even then, I still believed that there were other things I could never be satisfied without in addition to God – certain unfulfilled dreams and unmet needs I had. Over the next two years, I let go of these things and discovered that God alone is sufficient. I even let go of my personality. This was the fourth stage.
I’m still learning just how to apply my knowledge in novel circumstances, but I haven’t reached a fifth stage yet, assuming one even exists. In looking back over my growth, I can see now that there has always been a guiding drive present that I have come to associate with the idea of God living inside me. This force existed in me even when I was an atheist, pushing me to learn more truth. There is no specific event in which God came to live in me after I had chosen him. He was already there. Because of this, I have trouble separating people into “believers” and “unbelievers.” We are all partial believers at different stages along our common walk. Having so recently been at lower stages myself, I understand that those still at these lower stages are unaware that there is more to learn. I want to guide them, not judge them.
Faith: Since having faith is central to every religion, having a proper understanding of the definition of faith should also be important to define “when” one joins a new religion. When I first accepted Jesus, I still thought of faith as nothing more than a belief driven by the evidence and easily lost by new evidence or clever arguments. Was I not yet a Christian? Others accepted me as such.
Later, I understood faith to be a choice to trust and not falter in belief every time some new challenge arose, but to stay the course unless it became clear I had been wrong. Was I a Christian then?
Even then, I still tried to measure my faith to ensure it was growing. Now I understand that faith grows on its own anyway and cannot be hurried. Since tiny amounts of faith will eventually grow into mountains worth, all levels of faith are equal in their final outcomes. Measuring faith is counter-productive.
Sin: Sin, too, has stages of knowledge. The Jews believed that one had to keep the Mosaic Law to keep on God’s good side. As 21st century gentiles, we know this isn’t true, but many of us still try to follow the dictates of our respective denominations. Even those that understand it isn’t the role of our clergy to make rules for us still try to live up to the standards of our culture and feel bad when we fail. In my case, I rejected being ruled by anyone but myself – but I failed even at following my own rules! Even when “by faith alone” is the only standard, we all fall short of perfection even in faith! It was only recently that I understood what Jesus meant when he said he came to fulfill the law.
Don’t worry about messing up; you (or God) can always fix things later! I wonder just how much God plans ahead and how much he makes it up as he goes. Of course, this is assuming linear time; there might not be a difference in reality. If it is true that God makes a lot up as he goes, it is misguided to try to seek out God’s will for our lives. We’ll find out soon enough. All we need to know is that he loves us and is working to make things better. If there is no plan, it cannot be a sin to violate the plan!
Religion: Even the way I eliminated other religions was gradual, and in a sense I never fully eliminated all of them. My belief is based more on my personal experience and reason rather than ancient text I can never be absolutely sure the source of. Christianity is mostly just the “language” I use to explain my spiritual state to others, since it is the religion I am most familiar with. I have every reason to think that God can reach anybody through whatever belief system they happen to have, and when this happens their beliefs change. None of us know everything, and all the major world religions have some wisdom in them. I’m not saying all religions are true – quite the opposite. I’m saying all religions (including Christianity) are incomplete without a connection to God, but we all have this connection already – and God is working in everyone to strengthen this connection without myself even having to do anything to convert all these people!
In conclusion, I suppose maybe I was “saved” when I was conceived (sometime in 1981). When did you become a Christian?
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.