Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Hurting the faith"

YORK, ENGLAND - APRIL 07:  Archbishop of York ...
YORK, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu submerges into a water tank a local church goer as he baptises the new Christian during an Easter Saturday ceremony on April 7, 2012 in York, England. Baptism of adults by total immersion is a symbolic ritual signifying a believer's death to their old life and a re-birth in Christ. New Christians are baptised into the faith the day before Easter Sunday which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, three days after his execution on the cross. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
A CNN writer recently said, "People who call themselves Christians can hurt the faith the most." 

Really? I agree that they can cause warped perceptions or impressions.

Yet, "hurt the faith"? I think not.

Debatable human statements claiming to be "Christian" cannot help or "hurt the faith" any more than questionable statements claiming to be "scientific" can help or hurt gravity.  

Copyright (c)2012 Opinari Writers. Related resource: audio Bible.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Common problem of spiritual experience

Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old ...
Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old book. Category:Illuminated manuscript images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell. 

How do we learn to worship God? 

Well, we worship the One above all others when we realize who He is.  

It was an awesome time a long time ago when I entered into life-changing spiritual experience while reading Charles Spurgeon's The Mourner's Comforter and, soon after, Clive Staples Lewis's autobiography Surprised by Joy. CSL told about when he came to realize that Jesus is the Son of God--during a ride to a zoo.   

C. S. Lewis's "experience" as he described it there opened my eyes to the fact that I was, in fact, already there. Not at the zoo, of course, but already in Christ by faith, that tie or rope or link, whatever you want to call it, that goes from a soul to God and that is stronger than the heaviest, tightest, and thickest tension wire across a wide crevasse, and far more reliable. Timelessly reliable. 

I had already thought that I was "almost there," almost accepting all of "it," which is a word for "all of what has to do with God as revealed" by grace and divine revelation--for me, words of Isaiah, that honorable and reviled prophet--and the gospel reports of Jesus' birth, life, and resurrection.
     God's Spirit does witness to our spirits that Jesus is the Son of God. We open the mind and heart to see that what God has revealed is true.
     "Spiritual experience" is unique to each person, as unique as the same mother is to each child she has. Yet, it has the same end for all, which is God, He who created us to know, enjoy, trust, and love Him forever.Death is the enemy, but the enemy overcome in Christ.I don't claim to understand all of this. With God, all things are possible.
     Because of all of this and more, we go beyond spiritual experience. We do more than talk about God. We talk to Him as quickly and more honestly than to any other; and we listen to Him, from the pages of the Bible and from our hearts, where He confirms or changes our deepening understanding. We do more than to cry "God, help me!," although that can be a real part of relating to God.

Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up with My righteous right arm" --Isaiah 41:10

He is the One who says, "Come unto Me, all of you that are weak and heavy laden," and "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..."  And, "...cast all your burdens upon Him, for He cares for you."
     All that is left for us is to be willing to step from within that experience into the presence of God who knows us, as the Psalmist wrote, from our beginnings and all of our moments and days (ex., Psalm 139). We are our real selves before Him, by faith, and He He loves the honest of heart. He can bear, and does bear, all our sins and weaknesses.   

The spiritual experience of gaining understanding through the writings of C.H. Spurgeon (including You may not realize it now, but you are at this moment in the love of God) and CS Lewis...that God speaks to us during everyday times, like riding to the zoo...led me to the Center, which is Christ. He is the source and destination of authentic spiritual experience.    

Spiritual experience, whether knock-down dramatic or surprisingly quiet, leads us to the main discovery, God and His revelation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
So, then,where is the common problem?

The common problem comes at focusing on our or others' spiritual experience, how "we" or "that other person" came to know Christ, what He did for "us" or "them" in that experience.

The context, the spiritual experience, shows the truth...Jesus Christ. The Person of Christ calls forth, from us, joy and praise!

Without worship, awe, praise, and trusting relationship with God...we have a problem of being stuck in "spiritual experience." There is more to see more clearly and there is more praise, honor, and yes, trusting obedience ahead, with Him. 

...God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God--though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain.

God intends that we know Him beyond approximation and spares no love or pushing of us to get us there, as CSL wrote: to give us what we need, not what we now think we want.

On the best and worst days of our experience, God, through His Son, remains. He is far, far more than "spiritual experience." He is the Hope of the world, the Light of a darkening world, the Love above all loves, and the Comforter of all who mourn. 

Evil is as present today within people and the world as on the day when the perfect Son of God was crucified. We who trust the living, resurrected Christ mourn with those who mourn, who suffer and pray for the souls of all who experienced horrifying events. This includes the departed ones and their families, caught unawares in the early hours of yesterday morning in a an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater; this includes all who helped in the minutes and hours, even up to now, to come to the aid of those affected, and the family of the shooter. 

[Is there anything you would like to write or say to your friends or loved ones about your life and faith? I would want my loved ones to know that if ever some such evil (as the recent Colorado event) should end my life or injure me, not to let their thoughts dwell on the event or on imaginings about me in it; but to look to God, the Giver of Life, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom I worship from a grateful heart. I will be with Him in due time, in timeless eternity. The end of life in God's care is a beginning, and therefore gives reason to rejoice in Christ, even if the cause of the end, even death itself, might be very hard.]

Copyright (c)2012 Opinari Writers- Quotes in italics, above, are from the book The Problem of Pain as they appear in 21 July reading, "Reflection of the Divine Life," in a book of selections called A Year with C.S. Lewis (HarperOne press).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Life too short not to speak of Jesus

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (M...
Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10) - 1879, Beijing, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe like me you hesitate to quote other writers or newshounds. Someone (and there will be at least one) will label you because you quote, read, agree with, or "like" someone they criticize, attach harsh labels to, or downright hate. 

Being in the marketplace of ideas means that others will notice you visiting or exploring ideas that they reject. Hence, by that one or brief association, you are labeled in a way that is so off-base that it is beyond correcting. Word gets around. Ignoring your interest in evaluating thoughts and beliefs for yourself, others will enjoy chomping at you or your name.

So let's go for it, if we are determined to evaluate information, sources, and ideas without following any guru. I'm not referring to anything as controversial as drugs or partying, but of other controversial matters, like "born again" referring to a real phenomenon and Israel and Palestine each having views to be heard, for example. 

We humans have the tendency to think we are analyzing correctly when we have not applied much digging into our topics. I know how easy it is to assume, something far easier than to commit to further inquiry, asking heaven's help, ready to risk understanding what we once rejected, and unfettered by the opinions or views of "experts."

I want to write about certain things that are already too much, perhaps, argued over, debated, and misunderstood. Yet,who am I, an everyday person, to tackle such things? What if I do write, but not clearly enough? What if I influence even more misinterpretation? 

As one put off by religious debates and conflicts over decades in the past, I understand the aversion to more religious talk or exposure to accusations that still fly across and between Christian groups. If you have been in any small group in a religious setting, you have likely heard other churches or denominations harshly criticized or made fun of in various ways, openly or subtly.

That is not at all what I want to write about, however. I wish to express, in a conciliatory or irenic way, ideas that can be shared as a point of view to be considered before applying quick, untested assumptions or knee-jerk reactions. 

I was thinking this a.m. about how vastly underrated is the meekness that Jesus taught about, the meekness that He calmly, wisely displayed when He chose to listen more than to speak. He did everything with purpose, and His meekness was toward God, not man. I am coming to believe, or think, as a Christian that it is more important than ever that we do two things: to know Jesus for ourselves, in personal relationship, and to get a vision of what His words about the kingdom of God, the church, and the world mean.

It is important to investigate with eyes open, from the written Source, this claim covering the world from the beginning, that Eden's serpent would be put under the feet of One from God. It is important to consider the magnitude of the fact that God beyond history and time sent Himself, through His Son, to dwell upon history, to redeem it beyond history, to live within the limitations of time...for a time. He gave His Son for the world (every nation, race, and culture) and for individuals (one by one, each known as they are, by Him). 

Can you read between my lines?
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Extreme labeling in politics, religion, or government... suspicious?

US Navy 070720-N-4954I-048 Dr. Dana Braner, pa...
US Navy 070720-N-4954I-048 Dr. Dana Braner, part of the non-governmental organization Project Hope...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The too-popular habit of extreme labeling signals frustration, desperation, or fear, or hatred. (The worst extreme labels could remind you of "fire off the mouth before loading the brain" syndrome; I've suffered this on occasion.)

My suspicious attention went recently to two news items.    

First, I heard the report that some Russian officials would like for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to register as foreign lobbyists, although that is a far extreme from what NGOs usually are, being disaster relief, although some are human rights. NGOs include more disaster-relief organizations than I could name here, groups we tend to take for granted, such as Project Hope, pictured at work above. NGOs are involved in crises around the world.

Second, I read that at the U. S. Episcopal Church's meeting in Indianapolis the Diocese of New York proposed funding a committee to take a closer look at the Washington, DC-based Institute of Religion and Democracy (IRD) and other (unnamed?) organizations labeled extreme right wing or "right wing."
     Unlike NGOs, IRD is primarily a reporting and editorial organization, focusing on religious freedom violations and human trafficking, internationally. You or I might not always agree with IRD religion views, yet The Right Web seems to discredit the group -- by way of its association with other conservative-opinion groups (also labeled "right-wing") like the  Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and publications like Christianity Today and The Weekly Standard." Source

In the first example, one sincerely wonders why someone official in Russia wants to impose a burden on NGOs--unless only for those promoting democracy?

In the second example, one sincerely wonders why the New York diocese of the U. S.  Episcopal Church would propose that the church spend money ($2,500) in a free speech country like the U. S. to study/investigate conservative U.S. nonprofit organizations, meanwhile coming close to misrepresenting the ones they want to "study."
     If the concerns are based on infractions, why not deal with entities that regulate such groups' adherence to their mandates?

It's true that before now, I never expected that reputable NGOs or non-profits would be unwelcome as such in today's Russia, which I have visited and enjoyed, or a U. S. state like New York, which I've lived in and enjoyed. Perhaps the targeted segments can be nuisances at times. Yet, they are legally registered and with oversight. If not, then there is no extreme, I opine.   

Update on the first example, Russia: 7/14/12-Washington Post-Russia approves new curbs on NGOs by Kathy Lally, page A7--"The law, ...passed 374 to 3 by the State  Duma...requires the groups to register as foreign agents and submit to exhaustive audits. The upper house is expected to approve it.
     "...The bill also requires NGOs to label any materials or literature they distribute as the work of a foreign agent, a phrase tantamount to 'spy' to the Russian ear" (italics added here for labels).
     Jim, my husband says, "Even if they're wrong, they should be able to say it," speaking of the pro-democracy and human rights views and materials by certain NGOs.
     On the other hand, Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have their rights, under their views.
     The rub is that Russia is getting ready to apply foreign agent and, inherently spy, labels to Russian-registered groups from the U.S., while the U. S. contributes American dollars to Russia for these kinds of purposes. "Russia has received more than $2.6 billion from the U.S. Agency for International Development since 1992, allocated for social and economic development" (K. Lally report already cited).   End update 

These two cases demonstrate extreme labeling in politics, religion, and government. This kind of extreme can appear at first to be reasonable. We, however, need to suspect labels until we know more about what is behind them--including whatever bloggers like me write about. Would not the same apply to the Russian public, as well?

Given that words wield power and that word labels can diminish legitimate thought and work, applying labels can resemble bullying. Slapped on with the glue of feverish emotions, labels also can ricochet. "Back to the source!"

Like a law of communication physics, the process does not care what "side" extreme label-ers stand on.  

Other source for this commentary: Topix.com -Comprehensive Real-Time News Feed for Religion.
Interestingly, while updating this blog, I read that Topix.com is an "extreme right-wing" on-line presence. I researched this claim and find no evidence of that, only what some would label "conservative" views, or views different from "liberal."  

On a lighter note: Have you read yesterday's post? Waiting for Lucy--It's Personal

Copyright (c)2012 Opinari Writers
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Waiting for Lucy_It's Personal

Cute toy: Lucy (Photo credit: Wikipedia) "Our" Lucy has reindeer ears.
Where we are

We are waiting for a dog! After years without a pet of our own. When our children were growing up we had at one time or another and sometimes at the same time: a rabbit, two guinea pigs, two miniature turtles, a large turtle (Mr. Red Ears), two gold fish, four dogs (one adopted), four cats, three litters of kittens, and an Arabian horse

I have never thought of my husband or me as avid pet-lovers, except Rascal and Billy, family dogs that lived the longest; and other extended family pets come to mind, especially Whiskers and Brandy, both deceased, and now Copper, Neely, Bella, and Nello (the largest, being a horse), plus Ruby (if she stays where she is). They are all in the family. We enjoy them when they visit us (a nod to Neely) or we visit them. We enjoy other pets, too, 'cause they are part of our friends' lives...like cats Hyacinth, her brother Simba, and Sweet Pea--all adopted by people we see around here...and there.     

It's worked out great that way for many, many years. 

What we are doing

Now we are about to adopt Lucy as our own. She is a six-year-old chihuahua (wawa?), fully-documented, well-trained, and "fixed." She weighs about six pounds and has never had puppies. Lucy won our hearts when we heard about her personality and charm, and that she needed a new home. Lucy's owner decided that Lucy needs to be around people during the day. Her loving owner has a new schedule that takes her away every day, except weekends. She sees that Lucy is a bit depressed about being alone so much now; that's why Lucy was allowed to come to us, to be with people during the day, to run around a large back garden, and to take long daily walks to burn off extra energy.

I am excited about meeting and giving loving animal care to Lucy. I'm thinking a lot these days about Bill Cosby and "Froofie the Dog." (Cosby parenting humor got many of us through child-raising years.) Like Bill, we will not be watching Gunsmoke. We will not be watching NCIS, or even Inspector Lewis, but "Froofie the Dog" cartoons, with Lucy. No scary Roadrunner, either. (You know I'm kidding, right?)

How and when

Many little moments during these waiting days are spent thinking about where to train little Lucy to leave her little poops. The large back yard, a sloping side yard, or under the giant-height Norwegian evergreen with its long pine-feathery skirt?  

Lucy is expected to make the 10-hour trip to us by car in a week or so. She will bring her documents (her passport, I guess), including medical records, and her crate, food dish, and other stuff, including some of her favorite food. I hear she eats about 10 little doggie bites per meal. 

We've been told that Lucy loves to ride in the car, which should make her a good fit for our on-the-go ways. I think she will definitely be making coffee and bagel runs with us, to Einstein Brothers on Route 40 West.

I respect the fact that Lucy is being allowed to leave the land of Red Sox/Patriots/Bruins, while keeping them in her heart. We will give her a loving home.

In the now, waiting

I've already nicknamed her Lucie Gracie and Lucie Goosie (for really goofy times--mine). Her color photo, sent as text-attachment, was printed on our Epson. Her upper body image fills an entire regular-size paper and is taped to the side of a cabinet that faces me when I walk from bedroom end of the house to the kitchen.

"Waiting for Lucie Gracie" says the handwritten sign taped above her pretty head. 

For someone not excited about having another pet, I still have lots to do. I'm on the trail of a little Ravens cap for Lucy, and a Nats collar, Redskins leash, and O's halter. And maybe a Bruins doggie toy, to honor her roots. My dear husband seems okay with all of this, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate hearing that Lucy likes guys, which shouts to me that she has been very well-treated in her present home.

Soon, in addition to a potted orchid and outside plants and flowers, there will be Lucy to care for, right after family, every day, morning to night. We are almost ready. Lucy will not sleep with us. I'm preparing a place on a soft bench at the end of our bed, and just need to find the right 'doggie bed' to put there. (Add to shopping list.) 

Copyright (c)2012 Opinari Writers
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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Willing Suspension of Disbelief... for the Moment

English: Reproduced signature of poet Samuel T...
English: Reproduced signature of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. ...Photo credit: Wikipedia
I've always been an avid reader, and being able to escape into a great book is often the most satisfying, rewarding part of a day stuck at home with chronic migraine disease.--Diana Lee-Somebody Heal Me.com

If you or someone you care about suffers with a chronic illness, then you know that whatever can bring escape for even a moment is a blessing. A well-told story can enrich a moment and, perhaps, many moments and days ahead. Many of us like what might be called "the escapist genre" of writing, which includes mysteries, adventures, and more.

While my husband and I were dating in college, he introduced me to the phrase, "the willing suspension of disbelief for the moment," coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The willing suspension of disbelief is what we do when watching something out of our world on TV or getting caught up in science or fantasy fiction. We suspend our sense of disbelief or suspicion about the reasonableness of what is happening in the story. We do this when a tale catches us up in the lives and events we never thought possible. 

What I like about these kinds of stories is that coincidence is vindicated. Strange coincidences do happen. Some people call them God-instances, if they have the quality of divine intervention. Even some true stores, then, require us to suspend disbelief and, thereby, suspicion. We accept what is true.

My husband's work with refugee and human migration issues took us to Geneva, Switzerland for ten years, and I found disbelief impossible, as we witnessed many amazing people and events in the face of world crises. On one of our first Sundays there, we heard a new arrival tell about her experience going from Somalia to relative safety in Sudan. During terrifying and frantic moments, she and her husband became separated and were apart for days when a truck saved her and others by taking them into Sudan.   

She could find no one on the truck or in the camp where she was dropped who knew what had happened to her husband. No one had seen or been with him. She began to fear that he was dead.

Somehow, in the middle of a transfer at an area far from home, as she was getting out of the back of a truck, she heard a voice that she recognized. It was her husband's voice. She called out. He followed her voice. They found each other. 

This woman still marveled that among the thousands of people in the same situation as they were, with so many comings and goings over the long time of separation, by different routes, they had found each other not only in the same over-crowded place but within sound of the other's voice.

Like the refugees who could not escape the wars or persecutions that drove them out, there are certain troubles we cannot escape, Yet, God is patient. He wants us to call upon His name. Hard times hit everyone, yet many come through those valleys much different from others who refused to hope, trust, or even care about God. What's more, what we cannot bear, the Lord lifts onto Himself, as we trust willingly. He shares our load.
Copyright (c)2012 Opinari Writers
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Monday, July 02, 2012

We Want Proof for Egyptians

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo Univers...
President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University. Public domain photo. Photo credit: Wikipedia


Daniel Halper reported (Jun 24, 2012) the White House statement given by Press Secretary Jay Carney to convey President Obama's formal congratulations on the victory of the new president of Egypt, Dr. Mohamed Morsi. 

These words appear in the statement's  middle paragraph:

...We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens – including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians. --Jay Carney/The Weekly Standard

President Obama did well to address legitimate concerns for the welfare and safety of women and minorities and to name the largest Christian group specifically. One looks to see if the new Egyptian leaders include all, evangelical and reformed Christians, in their promise of protections and rights. All of this will reassure nervous minorities and women otherwise likely to be persecuted.

In the past, Egyptian Christians have been persecuted in random acts, but protected, in general, by the Mubarak regime. Clearly, all Egyptian minorities--Christians and other non-Muslims, including former Muslims, and other minorities--should have full legal rights and protections in the new Egyptian form of democracy. That is especially basic for Egypt as it begins its own way in what it claims to be determined to do.

One of the largest groups of Coptic Christians lives in Fairfax, Virginia, about an hour's drive from my home in Maryland. I learned this from The Washington Post (July 2, 2012, Metro section B, 'Disaster is coming very soon,' by Pamela Constable). Christians in Fairfax are fearful for their friends and relatives in Egypt, many of whom hope to leave Egypt as soon as possible, due to fears of more persecution.

The Washington Post article reported that after the election a Christian woman was harassed in her town in Egypt when making an Internet payment. A clerk on duty said, "Next time come back with your head covered. Your time is over" (page B1, Wash. Post).

Claims of democracy set down constructive challenges and change for all leaders in Egypt, especially those of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their Muslim brothers in the U. S., as it turns out, have religious freedoms under law in the U. S., where they are a minority religious group.  

Clearly, the new president of Egypt will need to put to shame attitudes of aggressively intolerant and extremist groups. He is expected to lead and insist on radical changes for the better of all people of Egypt. Many believe that many Muslims want this too and should not fear speaking out and living their beliefs on basic rights of safety for all citizens.  

The U. S. President and State Department, as well as the U. S. Congress, should follow events carefully, using every intelligence means possible, and letting no time go by when or if strong response might be needed. Determined statements by U. S. spokespersons must be followed by necessary actions.

Similarly, UN statements, if not already forthcoming, should make clear that the issue of protected minority and religious freedoms are at the top of democratic agenda. 

The U. S. and the UN need to prepare "what if" scenarios and be ready to cut off aid swiftly, the millions the taxpayers of the U. S. give to Egypt. Any "good works" done through U. S. aid are negated whenever the U. S. is weak on religious rights.

Copyright (c)2012 Opinari Writers
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