The Presence of God
Perhaps you have read Rachel Held Evans' post titled, "15 Reasons I Left Church." With over 800 comments, it has clearly struck a chord with some people. Similarly, Christian Piatt's post on God's Politics, Four Reasons Why I Came Back To Church, has been making the rounds on Facebook. Well, I posted it, at least. They are both about the authors' experiences of being a young adult in relationship with institutional Christianity. It's a difficult topic to write about ... there are trends, of course, but in general the journey is so particular that one cannot really generalize. I think both authors do a good job simply offering up their testimonies, affording the readers an opportunity to make whatever connections we find.
So, in the spirit of connecting the dots, I offer this song and a wee bit of testimony.
Howling wind whipped my long, unruly hair in penitent lashes across my face as I stood in the rain, staring at the churning sea at the northernmost point of Ireland. This place, Malin Head in County Donegal, for some mysterious or mystical reason — perhaps because it is such a broody, dramatic place, or maybe it’s got something to do with ancestry, or both — is the spot I love most in the world.
It is a wild land, the kind of place where myths are born, where giants and saints might come bounding over the next hillock followed by a troupe of little people or a herd of magical sheep.
Whatever the reason, I feel at home here and have returned time and again over the last 15 years, drawn to stand on its rocky cliffs like water to the shore.
THIMPHU, Bhutan — In a country that prides itself on measuring quality of life in terms of "Gross National Happiness," this small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas seems to have a problem: at least half its citizens aren't happy, according to its own measurements.
While more than 90 percent of the 7,142 respondents said they were "happy" in a recent government survey, only 49 percent of people fit the official definition of total happiness by meeting at least six of the survey's nine criteria.
Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase GNH in 1972 on the belief that people's happiness did not depend on the nation's economic wealth alone.
GNH indicators -- as opposed to more traditional measures like a nation's gross domestic product based on economic activity -- recognize nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.
All the major world religions have an element of self-denial at their core. Jews have Yom Kippur.Muslims have Ramadan.Christians have Lent.
In a world filled with clutter, noise, and hustle, Lent is a good excuse to step back and rethink how we think and live.In a world of instant gratification, it’s a chance to practice delayed gratification – to fast -- so that we can truly appreciate the blessings we have.In a world where virtual friends are replacing real ones, it is an invitation to turn off TV and computer screens so we can spend time with real people again.
It’s an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again.
In fact, President Obama, himself, had a puzzled look as he said, “Hello Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself to him and explained to him that I was a pastor here in Seattle and involved with some other work. We chit-chatted briefly about stuff but there is something I very specifically remember and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this portion of our conversation.
I shared with President Obama that I occasionally but regularly prayed for him and this is how he responded:
“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”
His demeanor changed. Perhaps, this is just me. Perhaps, I’m reading and analyzing too much into all the non-verbal cues but then again, I’m a pastor and after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense” and I genuinely sensed his gratitude for prayer and his request for prayer for his family.
The big red barn on my family’s farm was built in the 1880’s.
The wood beams (almost nine feet off the ground), were wide enough for my mom, her siblings and a few other kids from nearby homes to run along. One of their favorite games was a modified sort of dodge ball with one person standing on the barn floor taking aim at the others running on the beams.
It was not safe. But...it was a lot of fun.
As kids ourselves, my brother and I tried to imitate this game in the barn and my mother soon got upset with whichever one of our uncles had told us about it.
My brother and I climbed trees much higher than reasonably advisable and spent hours wandering in the woods unsupervised. During the winter we built “jumps” for sledding runs that were dangerous enough that they routinely spilt blood.
Minor injuries were a regular part of our play. And, it was fun.
Are you a Christian who spends a lot of time online? Then perhaps you've heard of Jeff Bethke. Bethke, aka bball1989, is a spoken word poet whose rhymes and videos are capturing the attention of thousands of Christians across the web.
His latest video is going viral among online Christian communities. Provocatively titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” the poem is a unique fusion of prophetic criticism, personal testimony, and a call to action.
Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being "Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President." In the wide-ranging interview that follows on the blog, the Huffington Post's Senior Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice. This post originally appeared on HuffPo.
It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.
Don’t get me wrong — there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.
But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.
Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.
And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.
It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!
And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!
Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.
One of my most vivid childhood memories of Halloween 1977, the year my family moved to a new town in Connecticut right after the school year had begun. I don't recall what my costume was, but I do remember going door-to-door with my father, meeting new neighbors and collecting a heavy bag of candy, as the suburban warren of Cape Cods and manicured lawns morphed into an other-worldly fairyland.
I was 7 years old and the new kid on the block, so when the cover of darkness fell at sunset, I hadn't a clue where I was. As my father deftly navigated our way home in the crisp autumn night, it felt like he had performed a magic trick. When the morning came, I couldn't believe that our adventure the night before had been on these same streets. To my young imagination (and heart) it felt as if we had been walking through Narnia or Rivendell rather than a sleepy New England suburb.
A few years after that, my family stopped celebrating Halloween. We had become born-again Christians and our Southern Baptist church frowned on the practice. Halloween, I was taught, was an occult holiday (or maybe even Satanic!) and good Christians should have nothing to do with it.
Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?
Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?
Of course not.
The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.
I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.
It took us a solid hour to travel six miles down New York Avenue, then another thirty minutes to get through the 3rd Street tunnel. The children were thirsty. More than once I considered turning around and heading home, though by that point it would have taken just as long to get home as to get where we were going.
And all along the way I rehearsed to myself the arguments of the Free Range Kids / Last Child in the Woods crowd. My husband and I like to think we have a mellow style of child rearing, more focused on moral development and kindness than in developing the "Super People" described in James Atlas' essay in the October 2 New York Times.
I was becoming the stereotype I decried -- schlepping children to lessons at the great cost of time and calm. Couldn't they just run around outside the house?
As I lay on the kitchen floor -- my body rocking with sobs, my mouth telling my husband, "I hate my life" -- it never occurred to me to pick up the phone and call a friend.
To tell someone about the life I was living, in which over the last few years rug after rug kept getting pulled out from under me -- my parents divorced, my husband's business tanked, our debt rose, health issues loomed, and our marriage sagged under the weight of it all -- was not something I was wired to do.
In fact, I was mortified when my husband rounded the bend and saw me there, sprawled out on the tile, weeping. Crying and hurting is something I do best alone.
Naseem Rakha, author of the 2009 novel The Crying Tree sees justice differently. Rakha, an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on National Public Radio and elsewhere, has covered two death penalty cases in Oregon -- the only two in that state's history -- and has spent considerable time exploring the deeper story behind capital punishment, retributive justice and forgiveness.
"What I learned from talking to these victims is that there is a place, not called closure, not called moving on, but there is a place of empowerment," Rakha said in a recent interview with God's Politics. "Crime strips people of power, and there's nothing that the justice system or really even churches can give to you to replace that power. It is an act of wanting to sit down and meet with the person who strips that power from you that has transformed people's lives and gotten them to a point where they can forgive the act, because they see the perpetrator no longer as a monster, but as a human that has made a terrible mistake."
Autumn mornings -- when the cool rain is hitting the tin roof and the breezes blow with enough swagger to make the trees bow in admiration -- remind me of when my second daughter was born and after we had held her in our arms for some time we knew exactly what her name would be. Jorah (meaning "autumn rain" in Hebrew.)
I cannot help but reminisce about those summer sunsets (pictured above) when the sweaty warmth stretched late into the day. Those days were full of bold, luminous life. A bountiful garden. Happy hens sauntering. Silly children splashing and running and laughing.
During the summer season, my wife's delicate hands turned, with soil under her nails and calluses here and there from hours of loving toil in the garden -- always walking towards me with a bowl full of color and a mouth cracked open by a proud grin. She mothers the vegetables in her with almost as much attentiveness and love as her own babes.
Now autumn's crisp air awakens us as we feel the seasons shifting. The trees cast all their energy into turning shades of green into glorious reds, yellows, oranges and golds, a celebratory finale before bowing out for a season of slumber.
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Indie music darling, Jeff Mangum, who rarely plays in public, surprised #OccupyWallStreet protesters in New York City earlier this week with an impromptu concert. A New Jersey singer-songwriter pens two songs for revolutions. And an order of Catholic nuns offer free mp3 downloads of a protest song inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.