spiritual

Observing Memorial Day, Down By the Riverside

Image via /Shutterstock.com

“Down by the Riverside” comes out of the same time in the history of our nation that the lingering divisions of Civil War did, and it’s a reminder to us that our hope and calling as children of God is to leave off studying war.

I believe that a Christian can nonetheless honor those who have fallen in war. They are casualties not only of the arms of a foe, but also of the failure of humanity to build a better peace. Those who hold arms take on not only the burden of risking their lives, but are also made to bear those first poisoned fruits whenever nations or radical groups turn to the sword instead of the plowshare.

Spiritual But Still a Bit Religious: The U2 Church

"It is rock 'n roll, but it is also deeply and overtly spiritual." Photo via Steve Mann/shutterstock.

If you’ve been reading our blog or have checked your iTunes last week you’ve noticed the power couple of Steve Jobs’ ghost and Bono working together again. (Anyone rememberthe U2 iPod?) I’ll leave it up to music critics to debate the musical quality of the album and the potential violation of the now infamous iCloud downloading music for each Apple user. But there is one other issue to discuss regarding the U2’s recent release: God.

In a recent article published by The New Yorker, author Joshua Rothman takes an in-depth look into the spirituality of what some would call the world’s most popular rock band. Throughout the years, Bono’s religious roots have not been a secret.  Books such as Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog and We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 have been published within the last decade. The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed Bono in lectures and Bono has preached at the National Prayer Breakfast

One of the most interesting aspects of Rothman’s article was the citing of “churches around the world celebrating U2charists.” Churches as far as the Netherlands, Austria, Mexico, and as close as Iowa, Baltimore, and Maine have celebrated U2charists, a communion service accompanied by U2 songs in lieu of traditional hymns. Rev. Paige Blair, of St. George’s Episcopal Church of Maine, was one of the first religious leaders to host such a service. According to Rev. Blair:

“the liturgy itself is pretty traditional — it has all the usual required elements: a Gospel reading, prayers, and communion from an authorized prayer book. The music is really what is different. And yet, not so different. It is rock 'n roll, but it is also deeply and overtly spiritual.”

To Serve, We Must First Nourish Our Own Souls

Teenage girl enjoy with sunshine in wheat field. Via oksik/Shutterstock.

When you truly experience the love of God, there is nothing you won’t do for God. When you are truly thankful for salvation, no place is off limits to share the gospel. When you read Matthew 25, you are willing to dwell in any environment to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Our compassion compels us to love without conditions and work beyond the hours of Sunday morning.

We see the necessities of the people, so we respond with passion and purpose. However, we often push ourselves beyond measure and forget to allow God to nurture and nourish our own souls, so that we are able to pour out into others.

I Hope We Never Become a 'Christian Nation' Again

Jiri Hera/Shutterstock
Jiri Hera/Shutterstock

It’s become a disturbing trend among Christians to lament the downfall of our nation’s “Christian identity” — to judge and criticize the spiritual downfall of the current generation. They boast about the glorious past and predict an apocalyptic demise for the future — brought on by the secularization and ethical demise of our society.

This attitude is based around a sense of fear, judgment, cynicism, fatalism, and hopelessness.

Many Christians today use the term “post-Christian” to describe the United States in conjunction with their assumptions that our nation is falling deeper and deeper into a moral decline, but this word presupposes that we were Christian to begin with. We weren’t. 

AUDIO: Keeping the Faith?

Illustration by Ken Davis

Many people of faith experience periods of doubt in their spiritual journey. Some wrestle with questions about God, while others lose faith altogether. That’s what happened to Theresa MacBain. As a pastor, MacBain could not reconcile her doubts and eventually left the ministry.

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But, as J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

In "Help Thou My Unbelief" (Sojourners, November 2013), Mennonite pastor Ryan Ahlgrim shares his struggles about believing in God. He empathizes with MacBain, but is learning to embrace his doubts. Follow Ahlgrim’s journey here.

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Christianity for Non-Christians

"Belief," Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com
"Belief," Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

There are lots of biases and assumptions about Christians out there, many of which are founded in real-life experience. And yes, we Christians have done our share of damage when it comes to tarnishing our so-called “brand.” But there also seems to be this tendency to understand Christianity and its adherents as one generally monolithic group that can be described in simple (often negative) terms that they would never be acceptable to apply to any other group.

Part of this is because of the historic dominance of the Christian culture in the modern Western world. It’s the same reason that stereotypes of men on network sitcoms are pervasively unflattering, while the same stereotypes would cause a firestorm of negative publicity if applied to the female counterparts. Some of this is entirely warranted and necessary in tearing down false or damaging constructs of power. But sometimes, if we’re being honest, they’re just wrong. And stupid.

Waiting on God

WHEN I FIRST started attending the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Va., we had no church building and met in the cafeteria of an elementary school. There were about 50 of us and a brand new priest, Rev. H. Lawrence Scott (“Call me Renny”). It was an Episcopal church in Fairfax County in the 1970s. Really, how much trouble could I get into?

What I didn’t know was that it was a charismatic, Bible-believing, tongues-speaking church. The praise band led us in worship. We sang and raised our hands. There was speaking in tongues and interpretation.

When I committed my life to Jesus in October 1977, I was sitting in the living room with Renny and his wife, Margaret. We had lunch. We talked. I disagreed with them about this Jesus stuff. We talked some more, and I was shocked to find myself saying “yes” when Renny asked if I was ready to commit my life to Jesus. I just said sure—then Renny made me pray. I remember walking to the car and having a brief conversation with God, the culmination of which was that I said I would never be a missionary to Africa. It’s funny what I thought were the key questions then.

Because I am an all-or-nothing person, I threw myself entirely into this new life. Within a few weeks I was baptized in the Spirit. I went to a Bible study every week. When I heard you were supposed to have a quiet time, I did that religiously. Every morning I sat and waited on God: Bible reading and prayer, other spiritual reading, and index cards to help me remember. Every morning for years I got up very early and met with Jesus in the quiet before dawn. Between my study and the praise songs we sang at church, I learned hundreds of scriptures by heart.

For 20 years I sat in the quiet and waited on God.

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With Piercing Wit and Deep Affection

THERE IS STILL a political definition of “Christian” out there that is depressingly familiar: the right-wing voting, Fox News-sourced agitprop spewer who uses Jesus to shoehorn others into something the actual Lord of the universe could care less about. Lillian Daniel is not going to take this definition anymore, but she’s not mad as hell. She’s winsome as heaven. Her humor clears the way for her preaching to hit home, and her love for the church, both her congregation and universal, anchors this work. Give it out to your friends and to strangers on the street.

First, Daniel’s humor: It is hard to give examples of her humor without them falling flat. She’s at her droll best when the reader’s defenses aren’t up. This isn’t the humor of the warm-up act before the preacher gets on to something serious—she often drives her meatiest points home with her funniest stuff. For example, a running motif in the book is the airplane companion who thinks he’s being edgy when he says to the pastor beside him that he sees God in rainbows and sunsets. This “spiritual but not religious” mindset is now the bland norm in America, not some spectacular new revelation: “They are far too busy being original to discover that they are not.”

Some of Daniel’s most withering observations are reserved for the mainline church she loves: the sneering religious critic is told “all those questions actually make him a very good mainline Protestant.” The self-congratulatory short-term missionary who comes home convinced how “lucky” she is to live in America receives this barb: “When generosity begets stupidity it wasn’t really generosity to begin with.”

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What Jesus Didn't Say

photo by Lawrence OP / Flickr.com
Jesus and a woman at the well, painting in museum of the Dominican priory of Santa Sabina in Rome, photo by Lawrence OP / Flickr

In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus speaks with a woman when they find themselves alone at a well at midday. We can learn a lot from what he says to her, and from what he chooses not to say.

Jesus tells the woman, “Go, get your husband, and bring him here.” She replies, “I have no husband.” Jesus tells her “That’s right. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re now with isn’t your husband.”

These could have been shaming words. In her culture, to be without a husband is to risk economic ruin, and to have been divorced by your husband is to be shamed.   

Had he wanted to, Jesus could have scored some serious points here: I’m a prophet, and you’re a sinner. I’m celibate, and you’re promiscuous. You are living in sin by living with a man who is not your husband.

Evidently, he didn’t want to say those things.

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