Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I’ll Take This Religion – Do You Gift Wrap?

I came across a question a woman posted on a forum for moms the other day. She wrote “I'm in BIG trouble. Thanksgiving is over, and Christmas and Hanukkah are just weeks away. I'm freaking because I haven't picked my daughter's religion.” I’m not kidding. I had to read it twice, not believing that she would actually treat religion as if it was some quick purchase she had to pick up at Target. I scrolled down to read the responses fully expecting the first to be something to the effect of “Are you serious?” To my surprise not one of the twenty odd responses indicated the least bit of shock over her question.

Everyone was quite (helpful?), often suggesting she give Unitarian Universalism a whirl. UU, for those who may not know, is a cult that picks and chooses elements from world religions. UU follows a doctrine of relativism, or the idea that everyone can have their own personal truth, which as I mentioned in another of my postings is a total contradiction. Truth must be consistently true or else it isn’t truth.

Other advice included just not bringing religion into it at all, and I actually partly agree. Here's why. First, Christ was not born at Christmas. It is estimated that his birth was sometime in the spring. St. Nicholas, while obviously Christian, was famous for secretly giving gifts to the poor and while that was a very nice thing to do, and he should no doubt be honored for his generosity, the association with Christmas really has nothing to do with him. Lastly, Christmas trees have pagan roots, no pun intended. Christmas is a cultural holiday and I’m totally fine with that. It’s fun to decorate the tree and listen to Christmas carols, but I spend no more time with Jesus on Christmas than I do on any other day of the year. He should always be glorified.

Now what I do take issue with is her flippant approach to all this. My suggestion to her would be to educate herself so she can guide her daughter in the search for truth. If, as she stated in her post, she is an atheist I would hope she has all the facts that she claims support her beliefs. And she better be darn sure she can refute any argument for opposing views. I think children are owed the truth. And they should know that they can rely on their parents to provide them with it.

Devil Records, Inc.

Why does “bad” music have to sound so good? Since I became a Christian I always feel a little uncomfortable when I hear certain lyrics of my favorite songs. It puts quite a damper on singing along when I find myself belting out profanities and blatant sexual references. I tried to switch my repertoire, exploring contemporary Christian genres but, no matter what I tried – rap, rock or praise – it just didn’t take. In fact, I had a visceral reaction to it, but not in the way I should. In one particular worship service I nearly mutilated the program brochure I was holding, pained by the seemingly endless songs being performed. I know a lot of people like it and that’s great. I feel guilty that I don’t and even guiltier because what I do like is the bitter opposite of Christian music. Do I have to stop listening to mainstream music? Is it sinful to support it or worse yet, to enjoy it? Is popular music the devil’s domain?

Update: Well I did a little research to answer my own question and (unfortunately?) the Bible is pretty clear on this topic. Peter 2:18 says "For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error." (NIV) Not only does this imply that we as Christians should stay away from those who talk boastfully and glorify sinful nature but it appears that this message is targeted towards new Christians who are most susceptible to falling back into a worldly lifestyle.

I did, however, find another passage that says something that surprised me. 1 Corinthians 9:21 says "To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law." While I certainly don't think this means I should become a die-hard fan of T.I. and his songs about dropping obscene amounts of money and explicit sexual lyrics, it does sort of imply that I should be aware of him (and others like him) as a way to understand where he's coming from. Sort of like knowing what we Christians are up against. The fact that listening to these songs does make me uncomfortable and has increased my awareness of the lifestyle that many non-Christians aspire to, might actually be of some benefit. God laid it upon my heart a few months ago to find ways to help at-risk, inner-city teens get on the right path, and that was a direct influence of hearing the lyrics of mainstream rap songs. God does work in amazing ways, doesn't he?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor - My Literal Challenge

A few months after I became a Christian, God started testing me on this. Apparently He wanted to ensure that there was no way I’d miss it because he put it right in my front yard.

I live in a quiet, single-family neighborhood of mostly historic cottages. It’s the kind of place where all the neighbors are friends and take care of each other’s houses when they’re out of town. A couple years ago a developer decided that what our block needed was a 6,000 square foot, Italian renaissance McMansion. Not surprisingly it sat vacant for years until last winter when an extremist religious sect from Canada rented it out. Now the actual religion doesn’t matter but God decided to be ironic and our new neighbors began running a Hasidic synagogue out of the house. Almost overnight the streets were swarming with Jews (again, I’m only mentioning this because of the irony).

Approximately 30 people live in the house and at least another 50 rent nearby homes. The Grand Rebbe lives in the behemoth on my street so that’s where most all of the activity takes place. Apparently he’s world-famous and people from all around make pilgrimages to the house to be blessed by him (I think the going rate is $3,000 per blessing but I won’t even touch that aspect). Aside from the daily influx of people (and cars) from all over, the synagogue hosts huge parties with hundreds of guests about 3 times a week. The street becomes impassable to cars and our lawns and sprinkler systems were quickly torn up from the guests parking on our properties. 18-wheelers are not uncommon sights as they bring deliveries of beds, chairs, food and anything else necessary to accommodate the daily requirements of a such a facility (it stopped being a home a long time ago).

The worst part though, is that the neighborhood has become a campus. There are far too many people around for them to conduct business in the house and at all times of the day and night men are milling around, forever attached to their cell phones, in the middle of the street and on our properties. It seems our homes are a mere extension of their territory and they have no qualms about making use of them. On one occasion I found a woman plopped down on my front porch. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was waiting to see the Rebbe. She never offered an apology for using my porch as a waiting room. Another time a woman drove her car straight over the sidewalk and fully onto my front yard parking about 1 foot off my porch. She calmly got out of the car and walked over to the see the Rebbe as if she had done nothing wrong. Apparently I am here at her disposal. Cigarette butts litter the streets and the constant cell phone conversations make quiet evenings relaxing on our patios impossible. Spot lights on the house (kept on all night), headlights from cars (left on to provide more light for them), slamming car doors and hours of chanting (outside) keep us up through the night. This is the norm now.

Now you ask, how can this be legal? Well, thanks to a federal statute called RLUIPA, that I know far more about than I ever wanted to, groups are allowed to hold religious services at any home, in any zoning district that they want. Not to mention the fact that any other time this has happened (yes they’ve done this to many neighborhoods before) if residents put up a fuss, the group sued the city for millions – and won. Hence, our city doesn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. So we’re stuck with it.

As a Christian, it’s a daily struggle to love thy neighbor while they show such disrespect. My first method of dealing with it was to try to make friends. Despite the fact that they had never even returned my “hellos,” I agreed to help them on the Sabbath when they asked me to push two strollers up the street to another rental home. I figured this might be a good way to get to know them. It was quite a surprise when, during the walk, the men walked about 15 ahead of me and the women about 15 feet behind. Ignoring my attempts at conversation, I was astonished to be treated like hired help.

Now I try to look at it from a forgiveness perspective. Clearly their lack of respect is a violation of the command to love they neighbor since love and respect go hand in hand so I try to remember how much of a sinner I was (and still am) and how God has shown such grace in forgiving me. This one is easier though when you are dealing with people who have little understanding of, or feel a need to obey, God’s commands. What makes this situation different is that the very problem stems from their running an organization that's centered on the very concepts of following God’s commands. After all the Old Testament is what they’re all about. It’s hard not to see them as hypocrites especially with their apparent lack of repentance for their obvious violation of God’s command. They’ve made the comment that Gentiles are on the same order as dogs, thus warranting zero respect for us. It’s just so hard to forgive. How does God do it!?!?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Born-Again Stereotypes – Bores and Nut Jobs

As a follow-up to I’m a Born-Again Christian – It’s Not What You Think, I wanted to address the other stereotypes of Christians in general. As I mentioned before, I was guilty of having big-time prejudices and assumptions about Christians before I became one. So now that I’m on the other side, I wanted to take a look at these former thoughts and see if I fit the bill.

Stereotype #1: Born-again Christians are religious nut cases. The “Jesus-freaks,” the “Bible-thumpers,” the “Bible-bashers,” whatever you want to call them, these are the people warranting a big eye-roll and a shake of the head. From the flashy televangelists to the skater dude with a WWJD? shirt and a tattoo that says “Jesus Rocks!,” you want to steer clear of them. There’s usually a 5 minute window between starting a conversation with one of them to the time they bring up “The Man.” And another 5 minutes before they set out on their plan for saving your soul. They attribute everything from a good night’s sleep to getting a prime parking spot to Jesus.

Stereotype #2: Born-again Christians are lame. To quote that 80’s crooner Adam Ant, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” These are the types of people who rave about their wild Friday nights playing Boggle with church friends. They dig coffee shops over happy hours and generally stay away from what us “normal” people consider fun. If their goal is to convert others, their lifestyle isn’t exactly making people rush to sign-up.

Unlike my total objection to born-agains being weak/gullible/stupid that I addressed in my former post, I have to admit that there might be some truth to the two stereotypes I listed in the above paragraphs. Bear with me now. I wouldn’t go so far as to label us Christians as lame nut-jobs but the perception that we are rather zealous in our expression of faith and we do appreciate a different sort of fun is not entirely untrue.

When I had my White Funeral, everything changed (except my taste in music, unfortunately – see Devil Records, Inc.). It didn’t happen all at once, after all the reason a White Funeral is in fact a funeral of sorts is because there is a sort of mourning for your old life. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do…for fun I mean. My social life had centered around parties and long nights flirting with boys at bars. Would I have to trade all that in for Saturday nights at home reading the Bible? What I didn’t realize right away was that my personality had changed. I had this new emotion – joy - and I discovered that all those nights spent in the bar scene had actually been a search for that joy. If I got a little drunk, I had fun. The closest thing to joy I knew. And if I attracted the attention of guys, I felt fulfilled and wanted, or so I thought. At last that search was over. Spending time with God fulfilled me.

That’s not to say I never go out anymore. I do enjoy a nice little happy hour (without drinking) but quite honestly I prefer a quiet dinner with one or two good friends or even a game night with my church friends. I laugh. I appreciate being around people who like me because of me and who don’t want something from me. So, is that lame? If you think so, I just wish you could experience the kind of joy that that brings me. Which leads me to my next point…are Christians nut-jobs because we’re enthusiastic about our faith and want to share it?

Because I understand that many people think like I did before I became a Christian, I try hard not to push my faith on others. I know that coming on strong (or sometimes at all) will only make them run. It’s a touchy subject if someone is not “there” yet. No one could have sold me on Christianity. God had to put it in my heart to seek him. However it’s hard to stifle the bliss of being a Christian. We can’t help but want to share it. I see my former self in many people –brimming with underlying rage, confusion, chaos, desperation, searching. And I want so badly to make all that end for them. I want them to have peace like I have now. I know it’s not my place to fix it but I want them to know it’s possible. There is another way. So if we appear a little over-zealous, that’s why.

“Lord, I pray that You put the desire to seek You in the hearts of all those who need the peace that comes with Your gift of salvation. Please Lord, make them see that there is another way to live and help them realize that giving their lives to You does not mean limitations but freedom from all the hurt in this life.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

I’m a Born-Again Christian – But It’s Not What You Think!

I didn’t want to start using that phrase “born-again” and it still makes me cringe a little when I do. The problem is, that’s exactly what I am. I was, in fact, re-born into the body of Christ so how else can I accurately refer to myself (without going into a lengthy explanation)?

Over the past year I’ve at least come to terms with using the phrase, but I feel I must at least attempt to break down the stigma of being one of those people. First off, let’s start with the big stereotype conjured up when most people hear the term. At least this is what I thought of before I became one myself. (I was going to address other stereotypes like “Born-again Christians are nut cases” and “Born-again Christians are lame,” but decided to tackle those in another post.)

Stereotype: Born-again Christians are weak/gullible/stupid. The intellectual elite they are not. How could they be, believing so unquestioningly in such an antiquated, provincial religion as Christianity? For Pete's sake, they actually refer to themselves as sheep! They are perfectly OK with being part of a collective, evidently too weak to break free and expand their horizons. They know nothing, nor do they care to learn, about the modern philosophical thought and enlightened open-mindedness that we intellectuals so self-assuredly subscribe too.

Now that I’m on the flip-side, let me venture a little rebuttal, starting with the fundamental problem. Essentially you have a set of so-called intellectuals taking the position that born-agains are narrow-minded in their beliefs because of their assumption that Christianity is the only way so it is their job to convert everyone else. What fails to be seen is that non-believers condemn us while steadfastly holding to their own beliefs of enlightened tolerance and subjectivism (i.e. whatever floats your boat). Well how open-minded is that? So right off the bat they’ve proven themselves hypocrites thus weakening any case they might have for criticizing Christians.

Now for the specifics. Are born-again Christians weak/gullible/stupid? I have to assume that the train of thought is this: one becomes born-again because s/he is emotionally incapable of successfully living in the world (since oftentimes there is an apparent catalyst rooted in desperation that prompts a sudden conversion); because of that weakness, the born-again Christian is gullible enough to cling to the first thing that comes along promising to “save” him/her from the desperate state; and the born-again Christian is too stupid to realize a) what just happened, and b) that this new-found religion is just a crutch to help them get through life.

The truth is we are ALL too weak to live in a world without, well, truth. The constant search for the meaning of life through the study of different philosophical worldviews, while necessary, can be pretty depressing. I kept thinking on many occasions that I was right on the cusp of figuring it all out, but the best I could come up with were just theories and subjective reasoning asserting “well this is what I believe for my life – what’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.” Well, guess what? “True” does have to be true for both of us or else it ain’t true! Basing one’s life on such an irrational concept will always lead to a disappointment. Period.

Because of all this, I say the born-again Christian is not gullible but is, on the contrary, extremely critical because his/her search for meaning (thus far) never led to anything substantial. The born-again Christian is not weak himself but is smart enough to realize that it is the existing worldviews that are weak. Everything changes when s/he realizes that Christianity is the only thing that offers truth. (And that comes through the intense study of Christian apologetics and scripture - see Resources at the White Funeral main site)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The "Religion" of AA/NA*

I must preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging that I was extremely blessed to #1 have such an immediate and powerful conversion to Christianity and #2 to have it coincide with the week I stopped drinking. I do realize that my situation is not the norm so I will try to be objective in my criticism.

Having miraculously survived that last suicide attempt, I was at a place of complete desperation and thus began the AA program with a completely open mind and full confidence in its philosophy and methods.

As I grew in my Christian faith I began to see the similarities of the AA Steps and the stages in development as a Christian (but this was NEVER talked about at any meeting). It was quite clear to me that the program had roots in Christianity. The first edition of the AA handbook, usually referred to as the “Big Book,” was written way back in 1939 and was acclaimed by clergyman and officially endorsed by the Catholic Church. The Episcopal magazine, The Living Church, wrote “The basis of the technique of AA is the truly Christian principle that a man cannot help himself except by helping others.”

But AA has become fundamentally warped over time. God is no longer a necessary element of recovery but, like so many modern religions (take Unitarian Universalism for example), has been replaced by a more generic, spiritual reference, presumably to cast a wider appeal in today’s individualistic society. God is out, “Higher Power” is in.

It became down-right frightening to hear how people relied on such a subjective “Higher Power” to comfort and guide them in recovery. Not only was it not God, but it was oftentimes an inanimate object or something in nature. Others skipped it entirely and sought merely to find ways of coping with the urges to drink, sometimes using quite peculiar methods like counting to ten repeatedly until it passed.

There was another, perhaps more frightening, group of AAers that took a different approach. Often referred to as the “old-timers,” these were the people that had been going to meetings for life. I attended one meeting held by an 80 year-old, former alcoholic who had been coming every week for 60 years (that’s 3,120 meetings!). AA itself was his religion. The Steps were the doctrine and the meetings were weekly Mass. He listened to the confessions of the congregation and closed each meeting with the Serenity Prayer. (Yes, the Serenity Prayer does begin “God grant me…” but I think that’s the only aspect in AA where God is still mentioned – and I’m pretty sure He’s considered open to interpretation.)

It all comes down to this. With God taken out of AA and replaced by the “Higher Power” can we really expect it to work? I mean long-term, really work? God is not just some random thing that gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling. Nor is he a method to help us stay focused on the Big Picture. He is real. Through Jesus He speaks to us. And through the Holy Spirit He gives us strength and comfort. And through accepting salvation, going through the White Funeral and becoming part of the body of Christ, He gives our lives real hope and joy.

A prayer for those who are struggling:
“Lord, please work on changing the hearts of struggling addicts. Help them to seek You and give them comfort in times of despair and tribulation. Please help them to see that only through giving their lives to You and accepting your graceful gift of salvation will they truly become renewed and recovered. Amen”

*A great organization exists that follows the principles and methods of AA/NA without denying God and the Christian foundation. It’s called Celebrate Recovery and I highly recommend it. Not only does it bring scripture back in, but it also broadens the spectrum of recovery to include all matters of sin and personal and spiritual weakness. Check them out here: