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Faith vs. Fear January 24, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Change, Faith Journey, Fears, Promises, Trust.
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I’ve been listening to some old sermons from the church I used to go to (and still would if it weren’t much to long of a drive). It’s a nice way to start the day with my morning bike commute, and the pastor there is a truly gifted speaker. I haven’t been there in the past three years, so I have plenty of sermons to keep me occupied. The ones I’ve been listening to lately seem to have a very apt theme for my life (and no, I didn’t know what they were about when I downloaded them!) They all seem to be about change, upheaval, stepping out on faith, following God even when it seems crazy, depending on God even in our darkest and most frightening times.

We are now at the 15 week mark from our proposed departure and frankly, I am terrified. I question if this is the right thing to do, if we’re being stupid and reckless. I wonder if I’m being ungrateful by throwing away the good job and health benefits God has provided me with, by leaving all the friends and the support network he’s given us. I fret over how there always seems to be less money than I thought there would be, and worry about how will I ever get a job, or without one, how we will find an apartment with 3 cats and only so-so credit.

In fact, I am currently in a state of panic so acute that it drives out nearly every other thought in my head. It paralyzes me and tries to prevent me from doing nearly everything that I need to do in order to prepare for this transition, including write and look for a job. It’s hard to overcome, but the words I’ve been hearing on my ipod every morning have been a great help to me in combating it.

Three things I’ve learned from my recent sermon-listening that really came home to me in this time of fear and worry:

1) Fear and faith are two sides of the same coin. They both involve believing in things that haven’t happened yet. But fear means you’ve let your mind assume the worst will happen and that God won’t save, while stepping out on faith means that you are believing that God will come through just as he promised. So why do you think the fear option is more likely to come true than the faith option?

2: If you are facing opposition, either mental or physical, then you are probably on the right track. I think about stepping out on faith and I hear whispers telling me I’m being ungrateful, foolish, wasteful. I hear that no one will want to hire me, ever, and that I’m making a huge mistake. I should stay where I am and be grateful for what I have. Don’t rock the boat, make a fuss, or try to chase silly dreams. But I don’t think those whispers are from God.

You see, my fear and uncertainty has forced me to turn to God in a way that never would have happened if I were just continuing on with my life and my soul-crushing job. In fact, I probably would have continued to drift further away from him. The enemy knows this. The last thing he wants is for me to put my life on the line and to turn to God whenever I feel fear and uncertainty. He would much rather have me stay where I am.

3: He will be with me, wherever I go. Scripture records at least 46 references to God, Jesus, his Spirit, or his grace being with his people. I don’t think it matters as much where I go, but rather that I have God with me. He has always provided for me exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it, in such a way that I knew that it was credit to him and not through my own work. And the times when I have been closest to him have been the times when I was closest to the edge.

It’s hard to get past the fear, and even harder not to give credit to the whispers telling me I’ve misjudged everything. But I know in my heart that God is the one leading me. That may not end up looking like what I think it will look like, or even put me where I think I’m headed, but I know he’s leading me and the more fear I feel the closer it will drive me to him.

Psalm 103: A Song of Salvation January 17, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Compassion, Faith Journey, Grace, Growth, Healing, Heaven, Nature of God, Repentance, Salvation, Sin.
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David was a man who knew about God’s grace in an intensely real and personal way. What’s more astounding, is that he lived hundreds of years before Christ and yet possessed an understand of God’s salvation, grace, and redemption in a way that not only transcended the law-based religion of the time but also echoes through ages to speak relevantly to us today, almost 3,000 years later.

We like to think we have it all figured out, that as modern Christians we have a better perspective on Christ, on God, on salvation than previous generations, and certainly better than the primitive Jews of long ago. And yet we often reduce salvation down to a one-dimensional thing, a binary system. Are you in or out? Are you saved or not? Did you ask Jesus into your heart to forgive your sins? If yes, you get a check mark and get to go to heaven. If no, then a big red X and… well, you know.

Pray the prayer, get your free pass and you’re done. Sure, Christian growth is important, but salvation in our current terminology means just that moment when you say the magic words and receive your ticket for the bus to to the better place.

Don’t get me wrong, that moment when we turn to God for the first time and accept him into our hearts and ask him to forgive us is vital. But it’s not the end of salvation. It’s only the first step. This is what David knew that we forget. Salvation is a process. Once we allow God to work in us, we are continually being saved in a way which is never done, never finished or over or stagnant. Look:

Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s

Psalm 103:2-5

This psalm, from beginning to end, is a song of praise to God for his salvation, his forgiveness of sins in an all-encompassing way. It is one of the most beautiful and sweeping descriptions of complete forgiveness and grace in all of scripture. And yet, David wanted us to know that God’s forgiveness was only the beginning, not the end, of our salvation. Salvation, in his views, was a process with several steps.

It start with forgiveness, because without that we can’t have access to he who is holy. It always has to start there. But then we move on to healing. Sins leave scars, whether your own sin or someone else’s sin against you. God offers to heal those wounds, and all our other diseases of the heart, be they addictions, or bitternesses, or disappointments.

Then he redeems (or delivers) us from the pit. This is the act of rescuing us from situations that we cannot hope to escape on our own. A pit may be one you’ve dug yourself with your own actions and mistakes, or it may be a situation that has been imposed on you from the outside. It may be a web of lies you’ve spun to hide your mistakes that is now coming unraveled, or a sudden crisis such as a medical emergency or the loss of a job over which you have no control. It can be spiritual, metaphorical, or quite literal. But it is something that we cannot climb out of on our own. We need to be rescued.

Once we are rescued, he “crowns us with love and compassion”. Only when we have been forgiven, healed, and rescued can we truly begin to take on the traits that God himself possesses: love, compassion, forgiveness, and extend them to others. Finally, he satisfies our desires (which are no longer the petty, materialistic desires of a sinful heart but godly desires) with himself, and he makes us new again. He renews us, returns our hearts to a state of youth and innocence, as they were before sin entered the world.

It’s a beautiful progression, and it’s one we will all likely repeat over and over again. This is not Six Steps to a Secure Salvation Experience. This is an endless process for our whole lives until we are finally perfected in him. No matter how mature we are, we will sin again. We will acquire new wounds, fall into new pits. One moment we may think we’re in a state of being totally cleansed and soaring like an eagle, and then something will happen. We’ll slip up. Someone will betray us. And we will tumble back down again, needing more salvation, more healing, more grace. Sometimes we may feel great on some of the counts, no open wounds or blatant sin, but be frustrated and unsatisfied in our desires because we’re not wanting what God wants for us.

This is what I love about God, about salvation. Although it is so simple to come to Christ and accept his salvation, it’s not just one and done. If we allow him to go beyond simple forgiveness, into grace and redemption, salvation becomes a never-ending, constantly unfolding journey that continually takes us deeper and deeper into the heart of God. And we in turn overflow with this kind of saving grace and spill over on others, to become agents of salvation and healing in those around us.

Purple Loosestrife August 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Environmentalism, Faith Journey, Sin.
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On my favorite shortcut to Target, I drive past a small open wetland  full of cattails and dead trees. It spans both sides of the road and on spring evenings so many peepers call to each other that they can drown out the sound of my radio even with the car windows rolled up. In late summer more than half the plants in the habitat erupt in bloom: spikes of bright purple flowers. “So pretty!” a friend exclaims as we drive past. “I love purple flowers.”

But the beauty is lost on me. My botanical training lets me identify them without even slowing down, as they blur into a lavender haze on the roadside. It is purple loosestrife, a plant native to Asia but utterly and completely foreign to U.S. soil. In its home range it is indeed lovely. It evolved with the ecosystems there and plays its own role in the landscape – neither harmful or destructive. But here it is both.

Without its natural controls and predators, it runs wild in our waterways and wetlands. No animals can eat it. It out-competes the existing plants and eventually completely takes over until it is the only thing that grows. The wildlife leave for lack of food. It chokes the natural waterways and they dry up. Wetlands perish. Soon only a solid stand of the plant on dry(ish) land remains, where once a vibrant wetland ecosystem flourished. It’s flowers may look pretty but it is beyond deadly to the things that rightly grow in the system.

Purple loosestrife, and other invasive plants, invariably make me think of sin. An invasive plant, like a sin, starts with just a few seeds. In plants they may get their chance when a gardener brings a new specimen into the country without thinking about how it might escape, or by hitching a ride in packing material, produce crates, or on the cuff of a hiker’s pants.

With sin, it may be something we allow in intentionally without considering the long-term consequences – just one lie, a little gossip, a quick look. Or it can hitch a ride in on other thoughts or actions, seemingly harmless but opening the door for later sins. Hanging around with people who do wrong, without checking yourself to make sure you are not picking up their attitudes about morality, for example.

Either way, sins and invasive plants take root with the same speed and efficiency. Once established, they reproduce and spread and become nearly impossible to get rid of. As the plants choke the waterway and kill the native plants, the sin begins to take over every area of our lives and it starts to destroy the good things we have.

It begins to fill every aspect, every moment. It takes away from relationships, time with God, happiness, even hobbies and work. Soon all that’s left is the sin; it fills us and our lives become about the sin. Fighting it, hiding it, managing it, indulging it, regretting it. That’s all that remains of a once-vibrant and health life. All from a few seeds, spread carelessly.

Like purple loosestrife, most sin is damaging mainly because it is misplaced. I strongly believe that there is almost nothing that is inherently sinful at it root. Sexual desire is not sinful by nature, and in it’s correct habitat is a beautiful, healthy part of a functioning life. But when it turns to addiction or violence (rape) it can completely destroy oneself and others. Anger is not always bad; but let anger turn to bitterness and it will consume you. Sin is something God created for good that has been twisted into something destructive, harmful, and obsessive.

Finally, the last thing about purple loosestrife and many other invasive plants, is that even if you manage to remove them, the ecosystem will never be quite the same. Some plants literally poison the soil in such a way that it will be years before other things can grow. Purple loosestrife builds up the soil and dries out the land, restricting water flow. Even if it is killed and native plants return, it will not be the same kind of habit it was before. Not quite.

Just like these plants, sin changes us forever. We may be able, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to eventually rid it from our lives but the scars that it leaves will always remain. God may restore us fully, may make us better than before in many ways, but we will never be the same after we have let sin take over our lives so completely. We may be able to rejoice in a new life with God, free from that sin, but we will never be able to go back to that old life before the sin, no matter how much we might want to.

Often, to get rid of an invasive plant, the entire area must be laid to waste completely – uprooted and burned, and then replanted with the right kinds of native plants so that there will be no chance for the invader to gain a foothold again. And sometimes, once sin has gotten too deeply into our lives, God must devastate our lives entirely and start again, planting his seeds in to us to grow a new life so filled with him that there is no room for anything else to take root.

Around the Internet: Links 7/20/10 July 20, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Gay rights, Human rights, Interfaith, Links, Music, Religious Freedom, Women's Rights.
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Encouraging: Paul tells us that the Spirit will give us discernment in matters of sin and purity, rather than giving us too many specific directions. Part of a longer series of posts on discernment, all inspiring and challenging. (Jesus, the Radical Pastor)

Polarizing: Amy Courts digs into the Christian phenomenon of attempting to keep people accountable whom you don’t even know, and how the internet has facilitated this false sense of intimacy. Is it ever called for for a Christian to attempt to rebuke or “convict” a stranger in any context? (Amy Courts)

Fun: Jars of Clay has a new single and you can download it for free! “Out of My Hands” is the first single off of their forthcoming new album. I’m so excited! (Jars of Clay)

Convicting: Steven Furtick on trusting God with the future instead of clinging to the future that might have been. (Steven Furtick)

Controversial: Syria joins many European nations in banning certain kinds of Islamic dress for women, in this case banning burkas and niqabs in universities. Is telling a woman she can’t dress a certain way because that way oppresses women any better than telling her she has to dress a certain way because anything else is immodest? (Daily Mail).

On Consistency and Change July 19, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Fears, Heart Condition, Lies, Lifescripts, Peace, Struggles.
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Consistency. As evidenced by the fact that this blog has not been updated in more than a month, I am not a terribly consistent person. Oh, I know a lot of people have trouble keeping up blogs. But my inconsistency extends to every area of my life. I seem incapable of being on a regular schedule for more than four days a row of anything. Eating well, exercising, keeping the house clean, going to bed at a certain time, reading the Bible, keeping up with friends, staying on top of work. I can’t even manage to drink my cup of tea every morning.

Trying harder doesn’t work. Resolutions seem to have the opposite effect on me – as soon as I’ve made one my mind instantly starts looking for reasons to break it. I’ve tried schedules, promises, accountability, even just letting go and seeing if things will happen naturally. They don’t, I just waste my time with frivolous things that don’t even entertain much. And on the days when I manage to get it together to actually do things the way I have hoped, something invariably throws a wrench in the process. This morning I managed to haul myself out of bed early, pack a lunch and clothes, put on my workout gear, and hop on the bike to head to work – only to discover a flat front tire. And of course then my mind goes, “Well, I guess I’m not biking this week either.”

I am a self-sabotaging machine. My powers of procrastination and rationalization know no bounds. Not to mention my amazing ability to second-guess myself. Worries about what I should have done in a particular scenario often derail any plans I have to be productive for the rest of the day. My fear of failure often prevents me from trying to do things I want in the first place, and my insecurity takes care of the rest if I do manage to start on something.

I write this not in an attempt to make anyone feel sorry for me, but because I need to be realistic about who I am, and who I have been. I have bought deeply into the lie that if I can just get on a schedule, if I can just complete the to-do list, follow the plan, keep the resolutions, or eat a balanced breakfast then my life will suddenly be okay. If I have the right workout clothes then I will run five miles everyday (never mind that 2 miles is my limit on a good day). If I lose some weight then I will not be depressed and have the energy to look for a better job. If I find a better job I can move away from here and everything will be better and none of my problems will follow me – I’ll be a new person.

And of course these lies are so effective because they are partially true. I will have more energy and feel healthier with exercise, sleep, and a good diet. New Jersey is not a very nice place to live and I probably would feel better elsewhere. Completing the to-do list is pretty satisfying, and losing weight is a total ego boost.

But despite the miraculous power of a good night’s sleep and a balanced breakfast, none of this will truly make me different or better or even fundamentally happier. I will still be the same person with many of the same problems, even if their outward manifestations change or go underground for awhile. And the harder I try to change before my ultimate failure the worse I feel about myself when it inevitably happens. This all combines in a perfect storm to paralyze me in all possible ways. No spiritual growth because I’m too busy striving on my own. None of the personal or household projects I start get completed. I skate by at work due mainly to the facts that there are a lot of people lazier than I am and that I know what my boss likes to to hear. Looking for a new job falls by the wayside. I become ineffective in nearly every way, and even the days where I manage to feel productive, it usually is more of working just to not fall further behind as opposed to any real progress.

Of course I know I cannot change myself. Only God can change me. I would never dare to say that I am in control of my life, that I can save myself from this hole I am in. And yet my actions say differently. My true beliefs are evident in the way I live my life. I strive and plan and hope and try and fail. I give lip-service to God, but I don’t let him into my life in a way that would let him do any actual damage. In fact, outward appearances indicate that I neither trust God with my life nor have any real desire to leave my cozy little rut.

Two things have happened recently that have made me think about this. One is that my growing dissatisfaction with life is reaching a breaking point where I am so desperate for a change that I am willing to try anything, even letting go of my control. And the other is recently witnessing the consequences in a life when too much control is held on to and not enough room is left for God to speak or move. If we don’t give him room to work in our lives, he will make the room himself and that may be much a more difficult way to learn the lesson for all concerned.

So what I can do? I can swear to read 5 chapters of the Bible a day. Buy several Christian books on having a closer relationship with God. Institute a series of rules for myself to keep me from trying to run my life too closely. Set a firm 1 hour quiet time and journal at least 8 pages a night. Of course, that is exactly what I always do. Not only is that counter to what I am trying to accomplish (the idea that I can control my spiritual growth through willpower is laughable), but it won’t work. I’ll do it for a day or two, I’ll have a bad day and decide I don’t feel like it, and then it won’t happen again. And then I’ll feel like a failure again.

I think the real answer has been spoken to me three times this week – once I even said it myself. I have been dealing with some of my issues with being part of the evangelical church and debating whether to get involved in a particular ministry. I told the leader that I need to wait and “be still” for awhile. I said it almost flippantly, as a way to avoid voicing my real concerns. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true. A dear friend who knows my struggles asked me if I could put aside all my fears and worries and disagreements with the church and just come and be still in the presence of God. And then the pastor, when addressing the serving teams before the service said, apropos of nothing else in the sermon, that the verse he had for us today was “Be still and know that He is God”. I did an actual double-take when he said that.

I am remarkably bad at being still. Oh, I can laze around with the best of them but I am rarely “still”. Stillness is a frame of mind which I do not possess very often. I read, put on TV or music, talk to a friend online. Anything to distract myself from the thoughts in my own head. If I am praying it is for something specific and I don’t leave any time to listen to the answers or anything else that might be said to me. I am the queen of distraction. Thanks to the internet, my own ADD nature, and a habit of avoidance, I have developed an attention span of approximately 12 seconds at the best of times.

So if there is one thing I need to do, it is that. Just to be still. To be quiet. To pray for the ability to be still and quiet because I cannot even do that on my own. Because I don’t have any more ideas on how to make my life better. I cannot resolve my own questions about the church and my place in it. I cannot figure out on my own what God wants from me. There is not a single thing I can I do to change myself other than to stop all of the trying and be still. And I know I don’t even have the power to do that on my own right now.

The deep and ineffable love of God June 15, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Grace, Heart Condition, Love, Nature of God.
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The more I experience personally the love of Christ, the more I am changed by it. And the more I change, the more I open myself up to His love. Despite the evidences of this blog, this leaves me without adequate words to express what is going in my heart and in my head. I long for a deeper understanding of His love, of what it truly means to be a Christ-follower as opposed to what other people have told me that it means.

And the more I am filled with this incredible, humbling love, the less room I have in my heart for judgment or hate or hypocrisy or oppression. The more I experience this deep, abiding grace the less I am able to stand condemnation or unforgiveness.  All I want is to know more of God, to draw closer to him, and to invite others to draw near to Him so that they can also experience this love, this grace that defies description.

These changes are not what I would call a crisis of faith, but something far more profound, something completely transformative which leads me to question everything except the absolute love and tenderness of Christ. It is truly what was meant by being born again – I am like a baby, knowing nothing of the world but the love of my creator and having to learn everything anew in light of this wild and indescribable grace I have been given.

I beg the reader’s indulgence on this journey as I try to figure out what this means for my life, for the Good News I preach, and for my interactions with the world around me. I may stumble and fall, I may express myself poorly and inelegantly. I may get things completely wrong. All I know is that I am compelled to pursue my God wherever His love leads me, as well as I know how.

I am sure that I will err. But when I err, I pray that it will be on the side of love. Because that is the only thing that I am sure of.

Finding a sustainable pace June 10, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Struggles, Sustainability.
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I used to be in shape. I mean really, really good shape. My family would spend all summer camping and hiking –  an easy day was 8 miles (although long hikes would go as far as 20 miles in a day, mainly uphill).  Fast forward through college, marriage, full-time office job, and several years of no vacation time and living at sea level. I find myself very much no longer in shape. However, I still think that I should be able to climb 14,000 foot mountains with ease and I find it very frustrating when I discover that I cannot, and in fact can barely hike a few miles at altitude until I have had a lot of time to acclimate.

On our recent trip we were staying at around 8,000 ft elevation and taking hikes down into the canyon (the bottom of which was maybe 6000 ft). I hate canyon hiking because you have to do the hard part in the afternoon, when you’re already tired. Mountains you get the hardest part out of the way first and then after lunch it’s all down hill (although the advantage of the canyon hike is that unless you want to live in the canyon, you cannot wimp out and turn around when the climb gets too rough!)

In any case, on our first hike of the trip, as soon as we started climbing back up I thought I was going to die. The path was so steep, the air felt so thin, and my legs just wanted to leap up and strangle me for putting them through this. About half way up, panting and gasping, I realized something profound. Part of the reason I was having so much trouble was that I was attempting to go at the pace I thought I should be able to go – ie, the pace I could go when I was 15 and doing this everyday. And there were other people around me hiking fast, I was ashamed to go slower than them to let them see how weak and flabby I was. I was trying to prove to myself and to them (not that these strangers cared at all) that I could still handle it, that I was still fit. And as a result I was in serious pain and had to stop frequently to catch my breath.

So I slowed down. I slowed down until I a found pace where I could put one foot in front of the other without having to stop. It was mentally agonizing. I felt like I was so terribly behind everyone else, that no one in the history of time had ever needed to hike so slowly. But it was sustainable. It was still a difficult climb, but I found a pace where I was able to keep going, however gradually. And ultimately I got where I was going and I wasn’t completely destroyed at the end of it.

This was a revelation to me, not just in terms of hiking but personally and spiritually. First, I realized how ridiculously competitive I can be (although that’s not exactly news). Second, I realized I do this same thing all the time in so many areas of my life I get excited, I race ahead, I burn out quickly. I do it in work, in hobbies, in relationships, and in my spiritual walk. I get up early one day and exercise and read 27 chapters of the Bible, pray, journal, worship, exercise some more – and then the next day I can barely drag myself to work and all I want to do is lay on the couch and watch reruns of 30 Rock.

The author of Hebrews tells us to run the race with endurance. Which is impossible to do if you spend all your energy in the first five minutes. There will be nothing left for the end and you will mostly likely give up. This is something I am working on. Finding my sustainable pace not just in exercising but in my spiritual life, in my level of involvement in ministry. And like anything else, when one has not been exercising muscles, whether real or figurative ones, they simply cannot do as much as they could when you were consistently training. But if you can find the point where you are able to keep plugging along, however slowly, they will start getting stronger.

It was a relatively short trip, but we hiked everyday, consistently. By the hike on the last day I found that I was able to hike significantly farther and faster than at the beginning, and to feel less drained when I was done. In fact, I felt totally energized. This is a place I need to get to in my walk with God. A place where I am consistently devoting time and energy to my relationship with Him, and growing in my faith. The growth may be slow, it may frustrate me that I am not an instant spiritual master or immediately 100% plugged in and useful at church, but it will get me where I need to go. God is not put out by my plodding pace, even when I often am.

Fear and Judgment: Why do we have a problem learning about other religions? June 9, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Education, Faith Journey, Interfaith, Love, Nature of God.
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(Disclaimer: My mother is a wonderful woman and I love her very much. However many of my issues with Christianity come from the way she expresses her faith and the church she raised me in, and thus she is going to take a lot of heat on this blog. This is one of the many reasons I have elected to blog pseudonymously.)

When my parents were visiting us recently, somehow the conversation in the car turned to polytheism. I am not sure how we got there, but my mom, a long-time conservative Christian, commented on how terrible it must be to not believe in a real God. You know, to just worship one you knew was fake. Now my mother is an intelligent woman, and very educated. Does she really believe that people in other religions just sit around thinking: “Wow, I really hate praying to this shitty fake god I made up. I wish I had a real God to pray to. Oh well. What say we sacrifice a cow, just for the hell of it?”

Of course she doesn’t actually think that. But clearly she hasn’t thought about it all much. And neither have most Christians I know. Most are vastly uninformed about any religion other than Christianity and maybe some Judaism if you went to one of those churches that likes to hold a Seder in the basement around Easter time. Not only that, but many only know about their particular denomination or branch. Evangelicals have a decent grip on most of mainstream Protestantism and sometimes Catholicism (since a lot of them used to be Catholics), but ask them about Russian Orthodoxy, Quakers, or Coptic Christianity and you will get blank stares (as well as an intimation that none of that is “real” Christianity). And forget having any kind of accurate concept of the teachings of Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, or Hinduism. Those get lumped together as “pagan”.

I find this ridiculous. It is important to understand the beliefs of others instead of ignorantly judging them. Not only in order to grow personally and to broaden our own horizons and knowledge, but so that we can learn to love and respect their adherents, and connect with them on a deeper level. In fact, the Dalai Lama recently wrote a piece talking about how you can remain completely devoted to your own faith while still learning from the faiths of others, without sacrificing your integrity. It’s not moral relativism – it’s simply recognizing that even if you possess the most important truth there may still be things of value to learn in other places, as well as people of value to meet and grow to know.

Not only is there judgment on these kinds of investigations, there is fear there too. What I would call an ungodly fear. Because if you trust in Jesus and you know that His word is truth, what is there to fear? There should be no reason to balk at knowledge of any kind: scientific, religious, or historical. If Jesus is your compass then you should be able to study anything carefully, critically, and objectively through the lens of your faith and grow in knowledge and wisdom.

I do not ascribe the argument that all faiths are the same, or equal, or lead to the same place, or even are inherently good. But neither do I accept that Christianity is the only place where teachings of any value at all are to be found. And frankly, although the teachings of Christ are perfect, the way Christianity is practiced is often more destructive than many of the other prominent religions in the world. Thomas Merton, the great Trappist monk and author was a student of comparative religion, and studied Buddhism particularly intensively. He used this study to deepen his practice and understanding of Christianity as well as to reach out to many Buddhist monks in China and Tibet. And yet he was passionately in love with Christ and devoted to his vows to the church.

And yet when I mention studying other faiths, the responses I get range from the dismissive to the downright hysterical. My question is, what is the nature of the fear that surrounds this issue? Is it simply that we might be seduced away to other viewpoints, other religions? If so then we are not really sure of our own faith and we need to do some very serious thinking about why we are Christians at all. Is it pure fear of the unknown? Then we are not trusting God or believing His promises. Is it a fear that if we learn too much about other faiths and the people who hold them that we will not be able to as easily dismiss them to damnation if they don’t turn to Christ? Then we need to do even more serious thinking about our own faith and the nature of the God we serve. And what if we are just not interested, just don’t care? Then we are lacking of love and desire to empathize and know our fellow human beings, which may be the worst thing of all.

That’s right, what I am saying is learning about other faiths is a moral imperative. And I don’t mean learning about them just to find out the best way to convert someone from them to Christianity. I mean learning about them without an agenda, because they are part of the world we live in, because they have some value in and of themselves, and, most importantly, because they form the core of the lives of the people around us – people that God loves no matter what they believe, and people that we are supposed to be loving unconditionally. And you cannot love someone if you make no effort to understand them or to honor what is important to them.

I have been blessed to have had a relatively liberal education, and I do know more about various other religions than many other Christians my age. But there is a lot I have not studied, and probably a lot I am misinformed about. In that vein I intend to work harder to learn more about the other faiths that are around me, starting (but not ending!) by reading “God Is Not One” by Stephen Prothero, an overview of how the eight major world religions interact today and the differences in belief and practice between them. When I am done reading it, I will write up a review/summary of what I have learned. I hope other people will also take the time and effort to educate themselves, and to make their faith in God and their love for others bigger, not smaller.

Lifescripts June 9, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Lies, Lifescripts, Struggles.
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I was recently re-reading one of my favorite books (from which this blog gets much of its inspiration), “Till We Have Faces” by the incomparable C.S. Lewis. The book is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche,  told from the point of view of Orual, the ugly older sister. It is written out as her complaint against the gods (particular the mountain-god, to whom Psyche was wed), blaming them for Psyche’s destruction and for stealing her love away, as well as for various other troubles that had befallen Orual.

When she finally is able to go to the gods and directly make her case she finds herself reciting a script of bitterness, hatred, and possessiveness instead. She realizes that she had been telling herself these things in her heart over and over again for years without fully realizing it. Terrible things, like that it would have been better for Psyche to be dead than to love the mountain-god, that no one had truly ever loved Orual, that the gods were unfair and to be hated and that they had destroyed all her hope for happiness. When she is confronted with this truth about the life script she has been living, in contrast with the terrible beauty and love of the gods, she comes completely undone.

Part of the reason I chose Orual’s name as my blog name and handle is because I identify strongly with several things about her. Partially because I have a tendency to love in a jealous and possessive way. And because I, like most people have a lifescript that I find myself repeating as things occur in my life. Patterns of hurt or failure reinforce these views and I find myself thinking the same destructive thoughts over and over again. Selfish, bitter, and self-loathing thoughts that if I let them could easily leave me as wasted and shriveled in my soul as our protagonist.

I tell myself things like that the people I love will never love me as much as I love them, that I will never be as important to them as they are to me, that I will never be the best friend but always just a fallback. That no one thinks about me when I am not around. That I am unnoticed. That people never think I need help because I appear so competent most of the time. That all my other friends have more issues and get more attention than me and that I am the one who always has to suck it up and make a sacrifice or let someone else have something.

These are ugly words, full of self-pity and pride. I know they are not true. I have wonderful, amazing, loving friends and family. I know I am valued, even often favored. And yet when something bad happens, when I feel slighted by something or ignored by someone, when there’s a crisis and I don’t get the attention I think I should, I fall back on them. Not consciously, but I can feel them running just under the surface, building resentment and bad feelings about people who truly care about me, driving me to towards isolation and even deeper delusions of ill-treatment.

We all have these scripts. They often come from things that were done or said to us when we were very young, and reinforced just enough by other incidents that they gain momentum. They can end up ruining our lives if we don’t derail them in time. When we realize we are telling ourselves these kinds of terrible things, we have to stop at once. Take it to God in prayer, right then, and ask Him to show us the truth and to change our mindsets. As with Orual in the story, the only thing that can silence and redeem these destructive impulses is God Himself. Only He can replace the lies we will tell ourselves with truth. Everything else falls short.

When Everything Feels Like a Struggle June 8, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Personal, Struggles.
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Last week I took a trip to the American southwest and spent some time in the desert. More on that later. The  trip itself was extremely complicated. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare, and in order for us to do the things we wanted to do in the time allotted many factors had to align properly. Some were within my control, but most weren’t (timing of flights, quality of directions to where we needed to get, driveability of roads to name a few). But everything went perfectly. There was barely a hiccup. Flights got in on time, connections were made, reservations were honored, campsites were even obtained in popular parks on Memorial Day Weekend. I couldn’t believe it.

I felt like the hand of God was on our trip. Like He was personally shepherding us on our way. And indeed it was a break that was sorely needed. While Christians tend to use “the desert” as a metaphor for a place of spiritual trial or torment, I found the actual desert to be refreshing physically, mentally, and spiritually. I hiked, I unwound from my stressful day job, and I spent a lot of time praying and talking to God and I felt like He taught me some important things on the trip. The vacation also renewed my bond with my husband and strengthened my marriage. Although it was difficult to come back to my life here I felt relaxed and at peace and grateful when I returned.

This week has been different. Even though its only Tuesday, it feels like the week should be over already. Everything feels like a struggle. Everything is difficult. When I speak, nothing comes out right. My actions are misinterpreted. The simplest task, whether at work or at home or in my relationships, becomes a monumental assignment with more problems and complications than I could ever have imagined. I send a simple work email and get an angry rant back. I open the fridge to get a drink and six things fall out. I sit down to read my Bible and suddenly there are 10 things the need my attention . A simple conversation begun in love turns into mutual hurt, guilt, and shame with no quick resolution.

On our trip everything made sense, everything was easy. I could put my life in perspective and feel like God was leading me somewhere I was supposed to be. This week I feel like I can’t find meaning, or joy,  in anything. I try to lift myself out of the 2-D world that I inhabit, where everything looks like lines and dots, into the third dimension so I can see the shapes and colors of the bigger picture but I just can’t manage it. It is frustrating, and in my frustration I make things even harder than they need to be.

My question then becomes: Is God with me any less this week than last week? Does the struggle of this spiritual desert negate the joy and closeness I felt when I was in the physical desert? Does the despair I feel today invalidate the hopefulness of last Tuesday? It sure feels like it sometimes. But in my heart I know that it is not true. There are many reasons to have a week like this – sheer coincidence, regular old emotional instability, attack from the enemy, lessons God wants me to learn. Or a combination thereof. But God promised not to leave me or forsake me, which means that no matter the cause or the reasons, He is at the center of it all. Instead of getting frustrated or allowing myself to feel ill-used, I need to find the place in all this where He is, and try to understand what I can learn from it, why I am reacting the way that I am, how I can move forward.