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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 31st August 31, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Compassion, Love, Quote of the Day.
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“And if there’s bad behaviour,” Mma Potokwane went on. “If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love. That always works, you know. People say we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself. And what’s the point of that?”

Alexander McCall Smith (The Good Husband of Zebra Drive)

Quote of the Day: August 4th August 4, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Love, Pain, Quote of the Day.
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Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.

C.S. Lewis

Quote of the Day: July 29th July 29, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Education, Gratitude, Love, Quote of the Day.
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To realize that you are safe and happy standing at God’s side, with His love encompassing you because you are forgiven; too happy to take offense any more; too much in love with life to want to be made miserable with an unforgiving heart, and knowing that now every conflict is a chance to learn more of the exceeding beauty of Love: that is worth living for, and surely worth dying to this misery-making self for. And let us be grateful beyond words for this: that God will not let us alone until we have learnt it and stand by His side. He troubles us, He brings His disturbing light back and back to us, showing us how coarse and heavy the dying self, seeking her own, is; how horrible it is that any feeling of unforgiveness, accepted and held on to, towards our brother, drives God from our side; how quickly we must do all we can to heal the separation, because we are out in the cold and the dark indeed, if divorced from that Love.

Florence Allshorn

Missing the Presence July 26, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Love, Marriage, Nature of God, Solitude.
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I’m on my own this week. Indy (my husband) is off on his own adventure and I’m home with the cats and the fish. In some ways, I quite enjoy this. We keep the same hours and work together, so neither of us has much time by ourselves and I think we all need a little solitude now and then. And I think it’s good for a marriage to have a chance to miss each other a bit now and then, to remember the things you might tend take for granted about each other so that you appreciate each other more when you’re back together.

We’re only apart for five days, and for the most part I’m fairly content. I’ve been spending time reading, praying, exercising, working on various household projects, and eating foods which Indy does not share my passion. Like sushi. And nutella with bananas. On the whole, I think it’s a healthy separation for both of us.

But then it gets to be a certain time of the evening. Maybe around 9 or 10 pm. It’s the time of the evening when we would normally start wrapping up our individual activities and come and be together. Maybe just to hang out, to talk, read together, make a late-night snack, or watch a movie until it’s time for bed. It doesn’t really matter what we do, it matters that we make time just to be in each other’s presence at the end of the day, every day. That we’re together when we go to sleep every night. No matter what else we do together or separately during the day this is as close to a constant as anything can be.

So when one of us is away, it’s difficult to know what to do with the end of the evening. I am used to his presence. I’m not sure what to do when it’s gone. There are lots of great things I could do, of course, but usually I feel a bit directionless and end up filling the time with Law and Order re-runs or trashy science fiction novels and music until I’m tired enough to fall asleep.

The consistent time together helps keep our marriage strong. It keeps us in tune with each other, focused on each other, and considerate of each other. A little time apart is fine, even beneficial. Too much time apart, though, and we would develop new habits of our own, focused on on our own needs and desires because there was no other around to worry about. It would become harder and harder to remember to think of each other as we should and easier to think of what we wanted to do ourselves. My husband makes me a better person, and spending time with him regularly helps make sure I put him first instead of myself. And he does the same for me, and thus our marriage works.

If the time spent or not spent in the presence of my spouse is so important to the health of my marriage, then what is the time spent in the presence of God to my whole life? It is vital. And yet so scarce. I don’t make time for God like that. Not regularly, not every day. In fact is often the last thing on my list, not the first. Maybe because I know he will always be there when I call, I don’t feel the need to set aside the time for him. He doesn’t need my time, right?

“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Psalm 16:11

Maybe not. But I need the time with him. Of course I can’t make him a priority in my life if I’m not spending time in his presence. I’m already making myself the priority by putting all the things I would rather be doing ahead of spending time with him. If I did that with my husband day after day our marriage would be in real trouble pretty quickly. But somehow I think I can do it with God and have our relationship go on autopilot.

It doesn’t matter if one of the participants in the relationship is the Creator of the Universe – if the other participant is not engaged the relationship will deteriorate. I cannot hope to have the kind of closeness and communication with him that I want and need in my life if I can’t even set aside time everyday to spend with him. When I act as if everything else is more important, it becomes more important.

And yet, I miss his presence in my life when I am not taking that time. I know something isn’t right without it, and I feel aimless and lost. I fill the time with meaningless activities and distractions, just to try to patch up the hole left by the lack of his active presence in my life. And it doesn’t work with God anymore than it does with Indy. The difference is, when Indy is gone there’s not much I can do about it – I’m not neglecting him. But God is right there, any time I want to turn around and make the choice to take the time and be with him. He’s never beyond my reach.

When I got married I made a covenant to make my husband and our relationship a priority. When I gave my life to Christ I was making a similar covenant. And the thing about covenants is that they stand whether or not one of the partners is faithful to it or not. In my marriage neither of us is perfect or completely honors all of our vows all the time, but we don’t just break our promise when the other person falters, because that’s not what it’s about. And yet any covenant between two humans can still fail – both parties can decide to give up and walk away, and we all know this can happen even with the most seemingly dedicated of couples. Humans fail.

“What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar.”
Romans 3:3-4a

But  God is not human. Covenants with him stand no matter what. No matter how many times I fail to show up for time with him, he still shows up. This doesn’t make my failure any less great. But it means that I am never cut off from him. Even when I don’t make him a priority, he still makes me a priority.

And remembering that makes me desire to put him first, makes me want to set aside that time to strengthen our relationship. Because I miss his presence when I don’t experience it, and I am a worse person for the lack of it. I can not hope to grow spiritually no matter how much I read or write or go to church if I am not spending time in the presence of God. And even the desire to spend time with him comes from him. The more time I spend with him, the more I want to spend time with him; the more I know him the more I want to know until I am like a hart, thirsting after him as after springs of water.

Quote of the Day: July 26th July 26, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Blessings, Loss, Love, Quote of the Day, Suffering.
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The earth will never be the same again
Rock, water, tree, iron, share this grief
As distant stars participate in the pain.
A candle snuffed, a falling star or leaf,
A dolphin death, O this particular loss
A Heaven-mourned; for if no angel cried
If this small one was tossed away as dross,
The very galaxies would have lied.
How shall we sing our love’s song now
In this strange land where all are born to die?
Each tree and leaf and star show how
The universe is part of this one cry,
Every life is noted and is cherished,
and nothing loved is ever lost or perished.

Madeleine L’Engle

Quote of the Day: July 22nd July 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Heart Condition, Love, Prayer, Seeking.
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O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know You. You fill us insatiably, because the soul, before the abyss which You are, is always famished; and hungering for You, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in Your light. As the thirsty hart pants after the fount of living water, so does my soul long to leave this gloomy body and see You as You are, in truth.

Catherine of Siena

Quote of the Day: July 21st July 21, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Love, Solitude.
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Silent solitude makes true speech possible and personal. If I am not in touch with my own belovedness, then I cannot touch the sacredness of others. If I am estranged from myself, I am likewise a stranger to others.

Brennan Manning

Quote of the Day: June 17th June 17, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Love, Quote of the Day, Truth.
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Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained

C. S. Lewis

Taking the Bible seriously – but not necessarily literally. June 15, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Education, Fears, Grace, Heresy, History, Love, Questions, The Bible, Truth.
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I have issues with the Bible. There, I said it. And not just little issues, but big, fat, hairy issues with warts, which sometimes leave me wondering where I actually fit within Christianity. The Bible is a dangerous book. It has the power to bring people to freedom and wholeness in Christ or to completely drive them away. Literal readings of the Bible have led to everything from labeling the idea that earth is not at the center of the universe and Newton’s basic laws of motion as heresy, to the justification for slavery/racism and the oppression of women, to the horrors of the Crusades and the persecution of the Jews. And while we’ve moved past much of that, the same type of literal interpretation is still used today in many mainstream churches to keep women out of pastoral leadership and to condemn homosexuality. I think there is nothing more perilous than a strict, literal, and un-informed reading of the Bible (in fact, while I’m no gnostic, a small part of me wishes sincerely that no one was allowed near the rest of the Bible until they had read all of the words of Christ and burned them into their hearts).

This kind of thinking is a particular problem when you were raised to believe not just that the Bible is the word of God, but that it is the inerrant, infallible Word of God meant to be taken 100% literally (even the stuff that seems to contradict the other stuff), handed down without change through the centuries and that the words mean the exact same thing to an American living in the 21st century as they did to an Israelite wandering in the desert in 1000 BC or a Greek convert in 70 AD. And of course nothing was ever mistranslated or misunderstood, at least not by us. Maybe by some of those other denominations. And well, okay, previous generations got it wrong about some things. But we have it totally right.

Unfortunately I don’t buy it. Even more unfortunately, since I was raised to believe if you didn’t buy it then you weren’t really a Christian and were probably going to hell, every time I start to think like that I feel really, really uncomfortable. As though if I dare whisper that thought to any Christian that I know I will be, if not summarily cast out of the church, then at least given a stern talking to and not allowed to be left alone with the children.

The problem is the Bible was compiled from many documents and sources, written and copied and re-written by many people, over a span of more than a thousand years. Many of the authors were writing about events which took place centuries before they were born, and were relying on oral histories and other records as their source material. The Bible was then compiled over many more decades (in fact is wasn’t until several hundred years after the birth of Christ that the Bible as a document existed in anything like its present form and Christian denominations today still disagree about which books should be included).

These various documents that make up the book we call the Bible all have different purposes and functions. Some are oral histories passed down from time immemorial (and often bear a striking resemblance to the mythology of other nearby cultures) until they were eventually written down and some are basic histories of the Jewish nation. Some are laws given to a specific people at a specific time and some are over-arching principles for God’s people. There are letters, there is parable, there is prophecy, there is allegory, there is poetry, and there is advice.

And frankly there are things that are just downright disturbing. There is a lot of violence, rape, murder, revenge, theft, and worse – many times not condemned in the way that we would condemn those actions today. Some are even apparently ordered by God (with a seeming complete disregard for any people other than His chosen ones), a God who at times seems frighteningly different than Christ in the gospels or the God in the New Testament that Paul and John write of so tenderly.

And yet we tend to treat the Bible as all the same – all equally factual, equally applicable, equally relevant to everything in our modern world. Even though there is no evidence at all that this is how God meant for the Bible to be read. We pick and choose verses from history and poem, from prophecy and epistle helter-skelter and apply them to our lives and to others, often without regard to even the context of the rest of the chapter, much less the cultural and historical context, the type of book it is found in, or who the words were originally addressing. And yet parts of the Bible are so vastly different from each other it is sometimes hard to believe they could possibly belong in the same volume.

In fact the only thread that seems to truly connect all the disparate elements of the Bible is Christ. Whatever else the purpose, every part of it serves a function to point to Him. The Old Testament recounts the history of the human race as a whole, the origin and history the Jewish nation Christ came from, the stories of the members of His genealogy, the reasons His coming was needed, the ways in which this coming was prefigured, and the relationship of man with God before He came. The Gospels recount His time on Earth, what He said and did. And the rest of the New Testament is our attempt to figure out how we should live in light of his coming and what will happen when He comes again.

Christ is at the center of it. Without Christ the Bible has no purpose and no meaning, and there is no way to make sense of it  without Him. The Bible as a whole may contain the words of God, but Jesus is the Word of God. That is made very clear; He is the Word of God made flesh and made whole. And Jesus says that if we know Him, then we know the Father. Therefore any teaching in the Bible that does not make sense in light of Christ, His actions and his words, is not something we should be following – either it is not meant for us to take as a rule, or it has been mistranslated/misinterpreted, or we do not have the tools to fully understand the original meaning.

But then how to we know what is what? This is where study comes in. Now I am not saying at all that one can’t sit down and read the Bible in English in the present day and get the basic message of God’s love and salvation out of it. I am simply saying that in order to fully grasp the significance and proper meaning of many parts of it, knowledge of the prevailing culture, the history of the people it is addressed to, the original language, and the intent of the writer is vital.

For those just beginning, start with the words, actions, and attitudes of Christ and be aware that anything that seems to contradict these may require further investigation. Because the danger comes when a person reads a verse that may or may not be meant to apply to us after the coming of Christ or may or may not be translated in a way that preserves the original meaning and uses it as a basis for action or legalism while disregarding completely whether this literalistic interpretation makes sense in light of Jesus’ ministry or commands. That has happened all too often in the past and continues to happen today, many times with tragic results.

Many people do not like this idea, they feel that we should be able to crack open our NIVs, read straight through, and understand everything. I get that. The idea that some knowledge is reserved for special people is something that goes against the very fabric of Christianity and has been rejected since its inception. And in fact, the essential Gospel itself is easy to understand, applicable and relevant to anyone, anywhere, at any time. But the Bible as a whole is a deeply complex and varied book. Different parts are directed to different people groups at different times, and thus have different bearings upon us today.

I am also not saying only certain people are privileged to have this knowledge and I certainly don’t think that proficiency in ancient Jewish culture or the Hebrew language is required either for salvation, acceptance, or communion with God. But if you want to understand and properly apply the rest of Bible and the context of Christ’s coming more fully then study is required.

Asserting that you can read an English translation of a document written in a different culture, using several different languages and immediately understand all the implications is like someone from ancient Israel learning English, with no knowledge of American culture or history, and thinking they would be able to understand all the jokes in the Simpsons. They might be able to grasp the basic plot line, but it wouldn’t be funny and probably would end up leading to a lot of very serious misunderstandings.

I am just starting to fully grasp this myself, and truly beginning to study the Bible and its history and context. I am only now really starting to look critically at the interpretations that others have given me over the years and that I, too often, have just accepted without any kind of deep thought or research. When I come to something that doesn’t seem to make sense to me with what I know about the nature of God, I tend to just kind of push it aside and move on,  instead of trying to learn more about why it is there and what it is supposed to mean to me.

For example: although many of the offenses listed for the people of Israel in the book of Leviticus are referred to as “abominations”, we do not consider them to be wrong for us as Christians or things we have to worry about (particularly the ones regarding food and wearing certain clothes). But why? I have been told Leviticus is considered to be a Holiness Code, something which is given to a certain group of people at a certain time and applicable only to them, for the purposes of setting them apart from others around them. Okay, but how do we know this? Abomination sounds pretty bad. Like the worst thing I can think of, will land you in hell kind of bad. We think of that word as interchangeable with words like “sin”, “wickedness”, and “evil”.

But the Hebrew (and later the Greek) word that is translated as “abomination” and used for many of the laws in Leviticus actually is closer to meaning a religious taboo. It is not something that no one ever should do because it is inherently wrong; it is something that these people at this time should not do – culturally unacceptable, in a similar way to a woman wearing trousers in the 18th century. There is another Hebrew word (and a correlating one in Greek) that translates as sin or wickedness which refers to something which is always bad no matter who is doing it when, and this word is consciously not used in this part of the law, although it is used for other things. But reading the Bible without knowing this – well, abomination and sinful and wicked all sound like the same things to me!

Just this little bit of knowledge, of two words of Hebrew and two words of Greek, completely transformed how I understand large sections of the Old Testament that I previously didn’t know what to do with and honestly preferred to avoid. And building on this knowledge with more knowledge of words and culture and history, I will be able to better understand sections of the New Testament that refer to similar things, and thus better understand how I am to live and act, what is important and what is not. Our understanding can only be as good as the words we have to describe it with. If the words aren’t adequate, then the understanding will be lacking.

And of course, if we are really honest then we know that hardly anyone, even the most conservative American Christian, reads the Bible 100% literally. Only a few people cling to the idea that the Earth is physically only 6000 years old. Most realize the laws about religious purity given to the ancient Jews are not needful for us today (although that is made pretty clear in the New Testament anyway). It’s a very fringe belief to preach biblical support for racism or slavery, and only a tiny percentage of Christians would make a fuss about women wearing pants or cutting their hair. We all pick and choose, to some extent are all realists about what Jesus said was important and what is not. But we also all get hung up on issues where we have picked a specific verse which seems to forbid or require something, and then try to apply it to the whole of our lives and everyone else’s without perhaps putting it in proper perspective.

I cannot believe that every bit of the Bible (and which version of the Bible?) was literally dictated word for word by God as something we should follow to the letter, believe literally and absolutely without room for interpretation or change. The authors of the Bible were human. They had prejudices, they had limitations, they were only able to understand things within the limits of their cultural background and only able to express them within the limits of their language. We are no different ourselves. This doesn’t mean God wasn’t able to use them, to allow them to express and record deeper truths than they themselves may have realized. But at the same time we need to remember that they were also writing very human histories and records and prayers and rules for themselves and for the people of the time.

I do believe the Bible as a whole is a holy book and that every part of it is useful for teaching and instruction, and that God has given it to us for a reason. We can learn something from every part of it – the only question is what God wants us to learn as opposed to what we think we are to learn or what we might think other people need to learn. Some people try to use the Bible as all things, the only book anyone ever needs – religious scripture, law, textbook, sex manual, prophetic verse, inspiration, and financial guide. But I believe it is something greater: it is the story of His love affair with the human race and His redemptive plan for all of creation. And while the Bible may have a lot (some brilliantly applicable, maybe some not) to say on those other topics, that story is the only thing that cannot be found in any other book.

I am a scientist. I do not believe in a literal 6-day creation, or the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis, or even that we were literally hand-molded out of dust into the physical image of God. But I love and treasure the creation account in the Bible because it teaches me the greater truth. That God made the world, that He made us, that He made all things and is the Creator-God. That He created the universe and the world with an order to it. That He created us to be like Him and to be one with Him, and that we fell into sin and will never be able to reach a perfect state of union with Him without His grace. And that He loves us enough to continue to relentlessly pursue us across the centuries, despite all the horrible things we’ve done and ways we’ve rejected His love, as a species and individually. This is the story of our creation and salvation plan, however you read the actual timeline.

Science can give me answers about the physical processes involved, the timespan, the laws of nature. But nothing else can give me the core truth of His creation of us and love for us. And that truth is so much more precious to me this way than if I were forced to deny all my God-given senses and intelligence, and all the historical and physical evidence that exists in order to align my brain with the word-for-word account. For me that way lies only fear and resentment, and a small, rigid faith that can be easily broken by the discovery of anything that goes against the most literal of readings.

We should revere the Bible, but we should also work to understand what it is and what it isn’t. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with my point of view on this. If so, I do hope that there are at least a few things we can agree on: That God is Love. That the blood of Jesus offers redemption to us all. That, as Jesus said, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” is the whole of of the law and the prophets and everything else is just details. That the good news of God’s love and Christ’s death and resurrection is equally available and understandable to everyone no matter their education or age or intelligence or background. And that the words, actions, and attitudes of Christ should be our ultimate test of what we should follow and how we should live. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re a liberal scholar or a Biblical literalist, that is all that matters.