jump to navigation

Spiritual Fitness December 13, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Fitness, Grace, Growth, Lessons, Pain, Struggles, Suffering.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

I recently started a new exercise regimen. After several years of trying, and mostly failing, to get fit on my own I finally gave in and bought some exercise DVDs that would tell me what to do. I hate exercise videos, but I have noticed that I tend to lose focus on my own and have trouble figuring out what the best strategy is, and DVDs are significantly less expensive than a personal trainer. Although the individual workouts are short, they are intense and brutal. By day three I could barely get up off the couch because I was (and still am) so sore. My aching muscles have got me thinking about what physical fitness can teach about spiritual fitness.

The Bible is not short on comparisons of spiritual and physical training, and I’m beginning to see why. It’s a powerful metaphor, and frankly if you are not able to be disciplined with your body it is going to be hard to be disciplined in your spiritual life (I have this problem!). Although we would like to think we are above such things, our bodies do have a huge influence on our emotions, actions, and attitudes. Here are the things I’ve been thinking about in regards to physical training and spiritual growth.

1: You can’t be your own trainer.

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
Psalm 105:4

This doesn’t mean that you can’t just go for a run, or pick up the Bible and read on your own and get some positive effects. But in both fitness and spiritual growth you can vastly benefit from the wisdom, guidance, and encouragement of others. I tend to approach Bible study and prayer the same way I approach exercise and many other areas of my life – haphazardly. I try things aimlessly. I page through Psalms. I do some arm exercises. I download a bunch of sermons to listen to and go for a long run one day, and then the next day I’m eating cheetoes and watching TV all evening.

In fitness, having a guide to help you find an effective routine that will get you where you want to go is invaluable – whether it’s a person, a guidebook, or a simple regimen. You can exercise all you want, but if you aren’t doing the right combination of things you may never reach your goal – or you may end up hurting yourself. In my case, having a clearly deranged woman with incredible abs telling me what to do each day and yelling encouragement helps me to stay on track because it removes the feeling of aimlessness that often prevents me from wanting to work out.

In your Christian walk, a mentor can help guide you in a similar way. But even Bible study guides and books can really get you to go deep into the Word and build those spiritual muscles, make you really think about things in a substantive way. That’s something all all the unfocused reading in the world will never achieve. A good preacher or teacher can also bring you God’s word in a way you have never thought about before, and help you to connect the dots on what he is trying to tell you.

However, the ultimate trainer is God himself. He is the one we need to surrender to, and he is the one with the plan for where he wants us to go and how we should be trained to get there. Bible studies and devotional plans are good things. But what will really make our faith muscles grow are the experiences and challenges that God puts us through to make us strong for the work that he has for us. Just like I show up and submit to the trainer on my DVD, doing what she says each day to build my strength and endurance, I need to “show up” with God and submit myself to his training, however difficult and painful it is at the time.

2: You can’t do it alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

This should be a no-brainer. Everyone needs partners to help them get in shape, to encourage them and build them up. We all need community on the spiritual journey too. People we can share our struggles with and open to, and who can keep us accountable in our lives. I’ve tried both fitness and the Christian walk without community and it does not work. Satan’s first tactic to prevent us from changing or from reaching our goals is to isolate us. Once that is accomplished it’s all to easy for us to succumb to thoughts like “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “why should I bother, it’s hopeless” and we practically implode in ourselves in very little time. God made us to live in community for a reason – we need each other. Not just in high, spiritual matters but in practical, everyday ways.

3: You have to do it every day.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Corinthians 9:24-27

Consistency. I’ve written any number of times about my struggles with this, and they haven’t gone away. But if you are going to train for a race, you have to do it every day. That doesn’t mean you have to (or even should) do the exact same thing every day. But you have to face each day – even rest days (because rest is a part of training) – as a day that you are preparing for the race, a day that is an important part of you reaching your fitness goal. What you do or don’t do, what you put in your body, the attitude you have – all of those things  are integral to how effectively you are able to train. You need to be thinking everyday “How is what I’m doing preparing me for this race, this goal?”

It’s the same with spiritual training. Not only should we be spending time in prayer, in praise, in the Word every day, but we should be looking at everything in our lives, all our experiences and challenges each day, for what they can teach us about God and how they can make us stronger spiritually and more like him. We should ask ourselves “What is God trying to teach me in this situation?”, “How can this experience grow me spiritually?”. and “What action here will bring me closer to being like Christ?”.

The spiritual walk is no more about church and devotions than fitness is about a 20-minute work out. It’s a constant, consistent, and pervasive practice that is required if you want to get results.

4: It’s going to hurt.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
Hebrews 12:11-12

To build muscles you have to tear them a little bit, let them heal, and tear them a little bit more so that they grow back bigger and stronger. To build endurance you have to push yourself past the point where you think you can’t go any farther, again and again, until you find you can go farther. It’s going to hurt at the time, and it’s going to hurt even more the next day.

You can’t grow in your faith and trust in God if that faith is never stretched to its very limit and beyond. It has to break a little bit and grow anew if it’s going to be stronger. Every roadblock, frustration, and disappointment, though painful, is a chance for us to put our trust in God again and for him to come through for us in ways we can’t imagine yet.

They will hurt at the time. The hurt may linger. But each time we experience heartbreak or hopelessness and yet still keep clinging to God, the stronger our faith will become and the more able to weather the future storms of life. The more times we see God come through in a seemingly impossible situation, the more we will trust him in the future.

And in the same way that a good trainer will never push you beyond what your body can really bear, to the point of true injury, so our good God will never give us more to handle than he is able to save us from.

5: It’s always going to get harder.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

It feel like every time I get to the point in my training where I’m starting to feel good about things, feel like I’m able to handle the workouts, they suddenly get harder. So too in my spiritual life. As soon as I feel like I’ve really learned some lessons, things are flying along and I’m just happy and praising God, with everything finally under control – boom, all of a sudden there’s a big hill and I am doing everything I can just to keep it together. A tragedy hits, something stressful comes up in my work or my marriage, there’s a problem with a friend, and all of a sudden my hard-earned smooth sailing has turned into very choppy waters.

The thing about fitness is that if a workout is easy, that means it’s no longer effective. At best you might be maintaining, but you certainly aren’t making gains. If it’s easy for your muscles to handle, then it’s not growing them and not challenging you. A few workouts like that are fine, but if that’s all you do for a long period of time at best you will stagnate. More likely, you will start slipping backwards and losing ground.

If everything is going well in your life, and with your faith, then you aren’t really needing to use those spiritual muscles to stay in touch with God and to handle difficult situations. You pray less, because you don’t need anything. You don’t wrestle with doubt because you have no reason to doubt – everything is fine. You don’t have to work to give grace, because no one is giving you hard a time.

These times are a welcome respite for all of us, but if they continue for too long we lose our spiritual fitness. If a problem comes and we’re spiritually complacent and stagnated, we will have lost the resources to deal with it. Like a sucker punch coming out of nowhere, we will be totally incapacitated.

Just like a trainer keeps upping the difficulty and intensity of the workouts, so God keeps new challenges coming at us just as soon as we feel like we’ve mastered the old ones. He doesn’t want us to be satisfied with an imperfect relationship with him – we can always get better, always get closer to him and trust him more. Unlike physical fitness, to which there is a limit, our God is infinite and limitless. There is always more to learn, more to train for in the process of becoming like Christ.

6: It will change the rest of your life.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20-21

I’ve already talked about training not just being about the actual workout time but about a lifestyle of training and preparing and growing. But just as your whole live impacts your training, your training can impact the rest of your life. When I am not fit and not trying to be fit, my baseline health and attitude is not great.

But once I really start to get in shape, if I can get over the initial hump where I’m just tired and sore all of the time, my whole life starts to change. I have more energy, I sleep better, my moods are generally more positive. I start to crave better, healthier food because my body knows it can’t run on junk. I’m more productive at work and more relaxed at home. Thousands of little benefits that reinforce each other.

It’s the same in my spiritual life. When I am consistently spending time with God, turning to him when I am in trouble, being faithful in the areas of my life that I know I have trouble with, and seeking out good fellowship and teaching, my whole life completely changes. I am more loving and forgiving of others. Less judgmental. I work harder, even when I don’t really like what I’m doing. I am more compassionate and less self-centers. My attitude is better. I am grateful and often more cheerful. I am more able to be present to others and more open to what God is trying to teach to me. And all these benefits make me want to spend more time in spiritual training.

Coda

I find more and more as I work to change myself physically that I see spiritual parallels with all of my struggles and successes. And with my weaknesses. My physical  and spiritual failings mirror each other: My lack of consistency, self-control, and endurance are the same in both the physical and spiritual arenas. The main difference is that the consequences of these failings are literally visible in my physical body, while they can sometimes be easier to hide in my spiritual walk – at least to hide from other people.

While I certainly don’t think that someone who is not fit cannot have an awesome relationship with God, or that someone who is in peak physical condition automatically has an olympian’s spiritual walk (exercise, like anything else, can become an idol, obsession, or escape from God), I am definitely starting to believe that physical training can help me spiritually. Both in the ways that it can help me develop attributes for my faith which I am lacking, and how it can keep me in mind of the spiritual lessons God wants me to learn along the way.

But when all is said and done, it is important to keep sight of which kind of training is the more important one. Spiritual and physical training are not mutually exclusive, and are in fact often very complementary. But it’s important not to let my fitness goals overshadow my growth as a Christ-follower, for it is clear which of the two is of greater importance:

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.  That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
1 Timothy 4:8-10

Advertisements

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me. December 9, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Pain, Salvation, Trust, Worry, Worship.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

I can’t believe we’re already into December and nearly done with 2010. I am not sure where the time went, but I am pretty sure it mostly did not go where I wanted it to. This year flew by more quickly than any other I can remember, and despite some exciting things happening I feel like I’m nearly the exact same place at the end of the year as I was at the beginning of it. But I also feel like big changes are just around the corner, which is both thrilling and frightening.

The high school girls that I do Bible Study with recently chose a book on praying the Psalms as our newest study guide. I wasn’t sure about it at first – it’s one of those thin little Bible study guides, almost a pamphlet, with few frills. Just two pages of stark, uninspiring questions and little guidance or personal insight. But it’s proven to be quite an interesting and thought provoking journey through psalms I had largely ignored. This week was Psalm 3 “Praying your trouble”.

O LORD, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.”

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!

For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be upon Your people!

Psalm 3

There’s a lot to unpack in this little song, but I just want to write about the one thing that struck me for what I needed to hear this week.

David is being pursued by the army of Absalom, his own son, who is trying to overthrow him and looks like he actually has a decent shot at doing so. As David does so many other times in his life, he cries out to God – first in despair and then later in praise. This psalm follows a familiar progression for David in many of the songs he wrote in times of strife.

He starts off by voicing his complaint, fear, or problem. He does this loudly, without restraint (in other psalms he even accuses God of deserting him or being the cause of his distress). Then he remembers aloud the things God has done for him in the past, surrenders himself to the Lord, and then praises God for what he is going do in total assurance that God will save him. This is an excellent way to pray when we are under attack, but it is the middle part of the process (verse 5 in this psalm) that really struck me.

Not only does he express his trust and surrender to God, but at the very time where he should be fleeing or fighting or doing something to stop Absalom’s onslaught, David lies down and goes to sleep! He reminds himself that God has done great things for him before and then goes to bed – helpless, defenseless, protected only by God’s will.

I am pretty good at voicing my problems to God. And I am good at asking for his help. I’m not always great at remembering his past faithfulness without some prompting, or remembering to praise him for what he has yet to do, but I usually manage to get there. The one thing I am terrible at, though, is surrendering in such a vulnerable and complete way in the midst of crisis.

I will cry out to him, but it is nearly always as I am making my own plans to extricate myself from the situation. I might ask him to show me what to do, or to help me do what I need to – but I’m always doing. Or at least planning to do. I might leave him room to change what I do, but I need to have something in mind. It literally never occurs to me in those moments of trouble to actually stop. Stop for a significant period of time (longer than it takes to count to ten!) and allow him to take over.

This is not to say that action is always wrong and inaction is always right. Taking a nap when things get rough can just as easily be an avoidance mechanism as a sign of faith. And sometimes real, decisive action is called for. But it is also important to recognize the times when all the striving and plotting in the world will not be able to save you or change your situation one bit, and no amount of worrying or raging will do anything to help you. When outside forces you cannot control converge upon you, that is the very time you need to remember God’s miracles in the past, lay down your arms, and let him be the one to save you.

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

Posted by orualundone in Love, Pain, Quote of the Day.
Tags: ,
add a comment

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

The Wounded Christian July 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Compassion, Death, Pain, Struggles, Suffering, The Bible.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the way that in certain Christian circles admitting sadness, mourning, doubt, or deep emotional pain is almost taboo. Sharing struggles is, of course, encouraged but if you don’t end your story with something on the order of “…but I know God is in control” or “…but  I’m still just really praising God for all He’s done for me” you will get some deeply concerned looks and probably some aggressive encouragement which may or may not be welcome at the moment. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said something, in real life or online that indicated I was going through a bit of a dark patch or having a bad day only to have a well-meaning Christian friend jump in instantly to tell me not to be sad, that God had a plan to work it for good, or that we should just keep thanking God.

And it’s true. God has done so much for us and we should always praise him. He will work it all together for the ultimate good. He is in control. And of course there’s always someone who has it worse than me and I should be thankful for what I have.  The problem is, I may not be there yet. And I don’t think God needs me to be. I’m afraid I am a bit suspicious of relentlessly cheerful Christians – either they really are that unaffected by life’s woes and thus cannot understand what I”m dealing with, or they are in deep denial about their lives. God does not require us to be happy all the time, or instantly be okay when tragedy and pain strikes us. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about sorrow and grief, and almost none of it is that we shouldn’t let ourselves experience it.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

This is not Jesus telling us to “get over it”. For we cannot experience God’s comfort unless we have a need of it. Over and over again, the Bible shows us that God honors our grief, our pain, our suffering. He promises to heal us of it, but we have to admit the pain first, before there can be healing. This is not say that we should seek out pain and hurt, or tell other people how awesome it is that they are suffering. There is enough pain in this world already and plenty of things will wound us without us having to go look for them. And we should do our best to be God’s hands and ease the wounds of others. But we can’t do that by pretending they don’t exist and that they don’t need to time to be felt before they can begin to mend. God never tells us is it wrong to feel a certain way. In fact, he has infinite compassion on those who suffer. He never discounts our experience of pain, whether our problems are objectively large or small, or whether it seems like there are others who are suffering more.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18

There are several books in the Bible that are devoted almost entirely to pain, suffering, loss, and grief and they do not shy away from the raw ugliness of human emotions, nor do they provide total answers to the questions we cry out in our difficult times, other than telling us that God IS. That’s all the answer Job really got, in the end. Yes he got back everything he lost and more but that doesn’t negate what he went through. Lamentations is nothing but grief and sorrow, and the author is just as desolate at the end of the book as at the beginning. Ecclesiastes has an author that is overwhelmed by the wickedness of the world and practically suicidal, and although he realizes we receive many good things from God he is still left with more questions than answers.

None of these books tell us we shouldn’t grieve, we shouldn’t hurt, we shouldn’t question. And yet, even in the darkest times the authors still managed to praise God. And I think today, a lot of people confuse praise with happiness. They think that you cannot praise God if you are sad or hurting or even angry at him. But some of the deepest times of praise spring from our deepest wounds, not just after they are healed but while they are still bleeding.

I can go in my darkest hour to God and say through my tears, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” It doesn’t mean I’m over whatever has happened, or that I’m going to be instantly happy and fine from there on in. It just means I am making a choice to worship him in spite of everything else, in spite of the questions or doubts or fears. It’s the first step toward healing, not the last.

Even Jesus felt emotional pain, and felt it deeply. And he knew for a fact how it would work out in the end. He didn’t have some wavering belief or faint hope – He had certain knowledge. But still, he wept for Lazarus even though he knew he could and would raise him from the dead. He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, grieving more deeply than probably anyone ever has, even though he knew in three days he would rise again and become the salvation of the whole world.

“Then he said to them,
‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death.’ ”
Matthew 26:38

Just because we know things are ultimately going to be all right, just because we are saved and redeemed and know we have a place in heaven, and that one day the whole earth will be made new, doesn’t mean everything is all right now. It doesn’t mean we have to pretend not to feel the wounds that life brings our way. Julian of Norwich said:

“And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well!”

It is a joyful statement, indeed. And a true one. But she is also implicitly recognizing that even though God shall make all things well, they all not well now. This world is fallen, and full of broken people – ourselves especially included. There is cause for grief. There are situations where someone is going to be hurt no matter what choice is made. There is great evil, atrocities, genocides. And there is no escaping the sin in our own lives and the pain it will cause us and others. If we are to love God and love others as he loves them, then we must be willing to accept this and feel it and be changed and purified by it before we can come out the other side.

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.”
James 4:9-10

For it is in our pain and mourning that God brings us comfort, it is how he draws us to him. And it is how he transforms us. Without it there is no need of him, and he can give us joy even in our greatest darkness. Joy is not the opposite of sadness, but something that shines through despite it and can exist simultaneously with it . And it is also in our suffering that we can minister to others. Someone who has never known real pain can not touch someone who is going through real pain. And in fact, it may take someone who has been deeply hurt to even recognize suffering in another. God uses our wounds to heal each other, to draw others to him. Someone who is truly suffering cannot abide to hear “Don’t worry, it will be okay, God loves you!” from someone who has not experienced (or acknowledged) pain in their own lives. They need to hear “It hurts. I hurt with you. And our Father hurts with both of us.”

These are the gifts that God gives us in our pain: The gift of himself, and the gift being able to reach out to others who are in the same place and help draw them to him. There is healing, there is joy, there is restoration. That comes differently to different people and we cannot expect everyone to experience it in the same way at the same time. There are times for rejoicing and times for grieving – one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to allow others to experience the season of life they are in and not to try tell them they shouldn’t be where they are. Telling people they shouldn’t be sad, shouldn’t be hurting, shouldn’t doubt only isolates them further from the community and from God, adding extra guilt for not believing hard enough to whatever they are already going through.

“For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.”
Psalm 22:24

Until Christ returns, until the world is fully redeemed and fully healed there will always be new pains and fresh griefs. To deny that would be foolish. To accept it allows us to experience healing and to be agents of healing in others.

Around the Internet: Links 7/22/10 July 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Blessings, Evangelism, Pain, Suffering, Transgender Issues.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Heart-Wrenching: An incredibly touching essay about responding to suffering and pain when we are in the Valley of the Shadow of Death – and Christ is there with us. From the late Michael Spencer’s blog. (Internet Monk)

Ridiculous: Brother Maynard on receiving an EvangeCube as a present during a hospital stay. Because sometimes the Bible just isn’t good enough for the Gospel. (Subversive Influence)

Possibly Prophetic: Op-Ed on Mel Gibson’s spectacular public self-destruct as a symptom of the slow but immanent death of the hardcore Christian conservatism that has ruled the culture wars for the past couple decades. (New York Times)

Humbling: Learning how to accept words of blessing from others gracefully, and how to bless others with our words. (Paradoxology)

Divisive: Embracing and accepting transgendered people, both within and outside the church. Just because someone’s gender doesn’t fit with our black and white ideas of sex, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a place for them (Canyonwalker Connections)

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

Posted by orualundone in Art, Emergent Church, Grace, Heaven, Nature of God, Pain, Poverty, Universalism.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

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?

Quote of the Day: July 20th July 20, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Compassion, Pain.
add a comment

Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.

Frederick Buechner