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Quote of the Day – February 8th, 2011 February 8, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Environmentalism, Heart Condition, Heaven, Lies, Quote of the Day.
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Once the Creator was removed from the creation, divinity became only a remote abstraction, a social weapon in the hands of the religious institutions. This split in public values produced or was accompanied by, as it was bound to be, an equally artificial and ugly division in people’s lives, so that a man, while pursuing Heaven with the sublime appetite he thought of as his soul, could turn his heart against his neighbors and his hands against the world.

Wendell Berry

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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.

Quote of the Day: September 1st September 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Heaven, Love, Quote of the Day.
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Love, which absolves no beloved one from loving,
seized me so strongly with his charm
that, as thou seest, it does not leave me yet.

Dante Alighieri

Quote of the Day: August 23rd August 23, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Death, Heaven, Quote of the Day.
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All mankind is of one author, and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out
of the book, but translated into a better language.

John Donne

Speculations on the Afterlife August 3, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Church, Heaven, Marriage, Peace, Questions, Trust, Uncategorized.
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I know things have been a bit intense around here lately, and given where I’m at spiritually they will probably continue to be intense for some time to come. So I thought I’d take a break from the heavy introspection and talk about something a little cheerier: Heaven. Okay, who am I kidding? This involves heavy introspection too.

I don’t really know what to think about heaven. As a young child my mother told me it would be like an endless church service, which was not remotely appealing (particular since our highly-unstructured Pentecostal church services already seemed endless to me). In middle school an overly-cool youth pastor said heaven would just be this awesome place full of extreme sports where we could go “snowboarding with Jesus”. Somewhat more appealing, but seemed rather unlikely. The culture presented a notion of clouds, angels, and white robes which I found silly and insipid. And some people are apparently really attached to the idea of heaven having literal streets paved in literal gold, which just feels like missing the point.

A lot of the things I hear about heaven from mainstream churches seem to indicate many Evangelicals think of it as like earth; only nicer, cleaner, and Jesus lives in your town. But that vision of heaven isn’t really about God, it’s about us and our “reward”. It doesn’t really involve a change; just an upgrade. Derek Webb satirizes this idea of the white, suburban, middle-class heaven in a song imagining what it would be like if a homeless person made it into that version of heaven:

Paradise is a parking lot
A spot up front is your reward
And all the rest walk down streets of gold
To the house they could afford
I got lost in the swelling crowd
I could not afford to eat
You only have what you came in with
So I’m living on the street

Oh I have been to heaven
And I found no relief
‘Cause I couldn’t find a hand to hold
To keep me on my feet

I heard Jesus Christ was there
He had a car that’s bulletproof
That way everyone is safe
From the man who tells the truth

Christians can’t even seem to agree on whether we go straight to heaven when we die, or just wake up at the Resurrection to the “new earth”. Frankly I’m not sure that’s something we can answer and I don’t know that I care – I’ll find out when I get there, I suppose. Although since I don’t believe in the Rapture and am a little sketchy on the whole “new earth”/bodily resurrection thing altogether, I definitely lean towards the “going straight to heaven” camp.

In short, heaven was never a “hook” for me to be a Christian. I’m a Christian because I really don’t know any other way to live my life in the face of an omnipotent God and the sacrifice of Christ that could possibly work out for me. And I’ve never liked the mentality the this whole world is just some kind of test, or that we’re just waiting out our time here until we can leave. I feel like that leads to a really bad attitude about this life and how we should act and treat other people and the planet, a kind of irresponsibility about the world. It matters what we do here. It may not be all we’ve got, but it’s all we’ve got right now. Yes, there’s more to life beyond beyond this world, probably more than we can ever imagine. But we’re here now, and God put us here for a reason, so obviously we’re not meant to just sit back and wait for it to be over.

And as a scientist, when I think about heaven too long I get overly-analytical about things. Where is it? What is it? A physical place? An alternate dimension? How does it work? What are the physics involved? Does heaven have mass and location? Not particularly helpful questions, nor ones likely to get an answer any time soon.

Although the Bible talks a fair amount about heaven, it is notoriously short on details. And unfortunately the book that mentions what appears to be heaven/the afterlife in the most detail is the one that I trust our modern interpretation of the least – Revelation. So in terms of what I feel we can be certain of about heaven, it pretty much comes down to: we will be with God, we will be with other believers, and it will be “paradise”. We can argue for ages about the return of Christ, the resurrection, the rapture, whether there is anything beyond heaven, what it will look like, etc. But it wouldn’t be productive because we just can’t know.

And I feel like we aren’t meant to. Not that it doesn’t matter at all, but that God doesn’t give us details on purpose. Perhaps for several reasons. I think one of them is that, by definition, we couldn’t really understand what heaven is like while we’re still here on earth now matte how much description we had. Words are not adequate, our human language fails. If we could really imagine it, really comprehend it, then it wouldn’t be anything we couldn’t create ourselves. The more that was said, the more misinterpretation and confusion there would be. True understanding of heaven is just not attainable for us right now.

I think another reason God keeps the exact nature of the afterlife kind of vague is that it is not the story we are living in now. We humans have a hard enough time focusing on what we should be doing now, instead of living in the past or trying to create a particularly future. The more we know about the afterlife, the more likely we are to fixate on it to the detriment of our purpose here, now, on earth. We still have things to do and lessons to learn.

Finally, I think we don’t get a lot of details about heaven because God wants us to trust him. He has promised us a place. He has promised he will dwell there with us. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t he enough for us? Now, I personally don’t think that after we die we spend all eternity sitting around with God doing literally nothing else. But I think he wants us to be able to believe that whatever he has planned for us, it will be perfect because he will be with us there.

And yet, when things down here get so hard and so complicated, and when our problems seems so big and insurmountable, I feel like it does help to be able to think of the promise of an eternal life with God and remember “This isn’t all there is. No matter how bad it gets, there’s still something more coming.” I don’t want to use that as a way of avoiding dealing with things in life, but just as an encouragement that one day it will be okay, one day we will understand all of things that happened to us and all our wounds will be healed. It’s a reason to keep on going, not a reason to give up on life.

Of all the authors who have tried to capture the idea of heaven, for me at least, C.S. Lewis has done the best job. Through his Narnia books and other writings he talks of our longing for heaven, our lack of ability to truly understand it, and a little bit about what he thinks it will be like. In “The Last Battle” one of the characters, upon reaching the afterlife and finding it be a world realer and more wonderful than the one they had come from, remarks that all of the things they had loved about the old Narnia they must have loved because they reminded them, a little, of how it was in this place. Lewis describes worlds within worlds, each more real and more beautiful than the last, calling them perpetually further up and further in (presumably to more closeness and joy and knowledge of God).

That is how I like to think of it. That heaven isn’t just a place you get to and then is always the same, but that it’s the beginning of a never-ending journey leading to ever-increasing knowledge and love and closeness to our Creator and more and more understanding of him and the universe and each other. And when I feel a sense of longing for something, or when I have to leave a place or person that I truly love, I try to remember that the reason I feel that way is because that place or person or thing reminds me of something about heaven. Not necessarily that I love the mountains because there’s a physical, Platonic ideal of mountains in heaven that I’m longing for, but that all the good things here are echos of something better yet to come there.

Even if I never live in that place or see that person again, I will someday receive that something better, which is so much more that I cannot even comprehend it except through my longing for the shadow of it on earth. And even if I do get to live in my favorite place on earth and have a perfect, close relationship with that person I love, I will still be longing for something more after that. Because what God has given us here is good, but there is still something more excellent.

I think my biggest stumbling block about the afterlife though, is the verse in Mark about marriage:

When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Mark 12:25

This has always bothered me. Will I not get to be with my husband in the afterlife? Of course being with God is more important, but why should it have to be a choice? That just seems cruel.

But I think (and all this is just my own personal speculation) that what Jesus is trying to say is not that marriage will be abolished, but that marriage will be obsolete. The kind of deep connection and emotional intimacy and knowledge that we can right now really only have with our spouse, we will be able to have with God in person and with all other people. Marriage now, on earth, is a promise of that kind of deep and universal intimacy to come, only more so because there will be none of the walls we put up or unhealed hurts that exist in even the best of marriages. The kind of deep and (ideally) unconditional love we have with our spouse here, as a reminder of how God loves us and how we are all to love one another, will be perfected and put into practice in heaven.

And whatever else is there, I view heaven as a place of joy and of laughter. I think we will be able to at last see everything in perspective, and look at all the things we’ve done, and the ways we tried to control our own lives, or tried to make God love us more, and see how foolish we were and laugh at them. In the same way that we can now look back on things we said or did or believed as very small children and are able to see how funny it all was and how silly we were at the time. We will realize so many of the things we put great importance on now were not really important at all, but we will not feel guilt or shame because we will know how completely loved and accepted we are and we’ll just be able to laugh at ourselves.

The same for when we meet each other in heaven. I think we will be able to look at each other and for the first time, really and truly understand each other. We’ll be able to see past all the hurts, the misunderstandings and miscommunications, the broken relationships, and be able to finally see each other as we really are and love each other as we really are. And we will laugh together at how ridiculous we were to take offense at such small things, or to not be able to say what was really on our hearts, or that we let anything at all get in the way of loving each other. We won’t condemn each other for the things that happened or the ways we wounded each other, but we will at last be able to have perfect joy in being together in the presence of God.

That’s just how I imagine it. And if it’s nothing like that then it will so much better the difference will be, as Lewis (again) said, like a child making mud-pies in the gutter who cannot understand the offer of a holiday at the shore. But I know we will be together, we will be with God, and it will be paradise.

Books I’m Coveting: July Edition July 21, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Emergent Church, Grace, Heaven, Nature of God, Pain, Poverty, Universalism.
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So many books, so little time! I probably will not get a chance to read the majority of these anytime soon, but I thought I would make a little list of what’s piqued my interest lately and why.

First up is “If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person” by Phillip Gulley and James Mullholland. I have long been kind of an informal, closet Universalist. I have never truly believed that the loving God I know would actually condemn anyone to eternal punishment. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in hell of any kind, but I’ve always felt everyone would be redeemed in the end. But I’ve never explored this private belief in a theological vein, and I’m very interested to see what evidence they come up with to support universalism, as well as what kind of universalism they are promoting.

“Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” by Kenda Creasy Dean argues that the faith that we are passing along to our young people is neither durable or sustainable. That we are teaching them a shallow, feel-good Christianity that does not hold up under the pressures and pain of the real worlds and does not provide a real hope for the future. I am interested in this both because I work with youth, and because I grew up in the church and my faith – just barely- held. I’ve love see what is the difference between those of us who stick with it and those who falter, and what we can do to change it.

“Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Right Questions” by Rachael Held Evans. A memoir of faith by a woman who grew up Dayton, TN, famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial regarding whether evolution can be taught in schools. Having a degree in Ecology and Evolution, I find anything to do with this fascinating (even if the trial itself was largely staged) and I’m interested to see what conclusions Evans comes to about faith in a “post-modern” world.

“Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business” by Gary Rivlin is a journey in to the world of the American poor and the industry that feeds on them. Pawnshops, payday loans, check cashers, and rental centers all cater to those living paycheck to paycheck, ostensibly there to help when they fall behind but in reality just driving them further into debt and poverty and making it impossible to ever escape the cycle. One of Christ’s greatest commandments is to help the poor, but its hard to help without an understanding of the obstacles they are facing in our modern economy.

“Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife” by Lisa Miller is a history of the changing beliefs about the Judeo-Christian concept of heaven, from the earliest days of Judaism to the New Testament to popular culture. I really want to read this because I struggle with imagining heaven and am totally unsatisfied with any of the modern interpretations I’ve been given, from “endless church service” (boring) to “snowboarding with Jesus” (shallow). I’m curious about how our vision of heaven has changed through the centuries and what things besides Scripture have influenced it.

“American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon” by Stephen Prothero addresses the way various groups have co-opted and remade the image of Jesus to suit their own purposes over the years. This is something that has always been done to Jesus, but I think America is particularly and uniquely adept at it. And I have always wondered how we managed to get from poor, Middle-Eastern itinerant rabbi with a definite communist streak to a white middle class Republican.

“A New Kind Of Christianity: Ten Questions that Are Transforming the Faith” by Brian McLaren, is the closest thing one is likely to get to a manifesto for the Emergent Church. Part of the problem is the beliefs of the Emergent Church are difficult to codify because that’s what makes them Emergent, and if they have a leader (or more like founding father) at all, it’s McLaren. I’ve long felt like I identified with the Emergent Church in many areas of the faith, but haven’t really spent much time investigating it. I want to read this book to try and understand the basic of what they are preaching and whether it has merit to it.

In the same vein, “Why We’re Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be)” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck attempt to deconstruct the Emergent movement, despite being its target demographic (generally young, hip, postmodern and engaged in social justice issues like poverty and descrimination). They argue that the Emergent movement is about more than it seems on the surface and is actual a dangerous form of heresy. While I do have reservations about some of the fundamentals of the Emergent church, I’m not sure I trust the guy who wrote this book to tell me them. Still, both sides of the issue deserve attention, so its worth a read.

“Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering” by Rob Bell, author of “Velvet Elvis” (and yes, another Emergent Church superstar). This book didn’t get as much positive attention as his previous ones, but I find the relationship between pain and art intriguing and would like to see how he handles it. I should probably have put “Velvet Elvis” or “Sex God” up instead, as I have not actually read either one, but the title of this one draws me more so I would prefer to start here if I can.

Sadly I am in no position to order nine books this afternoon and spend a week reading them all without stopping! Some of these I may never get to. But right now I can start with one off the list and see where that takes me. Which one of these titles would you choose?