Monday, June 18, 2012

I Think You Spilled... Nevermind

While I was planning to write about how Obama is the worst President ever, or finally get back to writing my post about how "religion" was a God given element of our relationship with him, I've decided to write about something far more serious. Zombie apocalypse serious. You guessed it: Tattoos.

I used to want a tattoo. I thought they were a healthy part of being an awesome guy. Not that I wanted to be part of the "cool crowd," but I wanted to know for myself that I was marked with awesomeness. Now, I've begun to see tattoos a bit differently. So, here are my current reasons why I wouldn't get a tattoo:

1) From far away most tattoos look like horrible birthmarks.

2) From close up most tattoos look like intentional horrible birthmarks.

3) I don't want any identifying marks if I ever have to flee half-naked from a crime scene.

4) People get weird diseases from tattoo parlors. Sure, most of them are pretty sterile these days, but I knew a guy who got a tattoo and a few days later he was a zombie! I tried to tell everyone, and I got responses like, "Carl's always been slack-jawed and glassy eyed," and, "Carl was biting everyone long before he got the tattoo." What?! This meant I had to take matters into my own hands. Luckily I had no identifying marks when I fled half-naked from the crime scene.

I won't go into any of the other stuff, like what the Church position on tattoos is (I think it's something like: They are permissible, but must be done for appropriate reasons... The human body is created by God, and is beautiful... You know, stuff like that). I think the reasons above should be good enough.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Impossibility of Choosing a Church

When you're Catholic, you generally go to the Catholic church closest to your home. It might not be a perfect church in every sense, and you might go to other Catholic churches in your area when it's convenient, but there isn't often a difficult process involved in choosing a church.

For a Protestant things are very different. Now, there are some people who will say, "Christian is Christian," and pick either the closest church, the church with the most inspiring speaker, the church with the comfiest seats, or the church with the best music. I have to say right out that this is wrong. There are very different things taught in different churches, but since illustrating that sounds like another topic to me, let's assume for now that I'm right: Different things are taught in different churches. You will get a different set of "do's" and a different set of "don't do's." You will be taught different things about who Jesus is, and different things about what he wants from us. You will be presented with different parts of the grace that God offers.

The point is that it matters what a church teaches, and not just how it teaches. If two churches teach equal amounts of truth, go ahead and choose one based on location or music style. Accordingly, from this point, when I say "church," I will generally mean either an independent non-denominational church or an entire collection of churches (or denomination) with a single authoritative body.

So the real problem is, how do I pick a church that teaches the right thing? Of course prayer plays a part, but prayer doesn't happen in a vacuum. We have internal and external influences of all kinds. Thus, I've known many people who have prayerfully considered which church to attend, yet they all ended up in churches that were quite different in their beliefs, from "non-denominational" (which I think of as micro-denominational), to Wesleyan denominational, to liberal Episcopalian, to Seventh Day Adventist.

To illustrate the crux of the problem: Someone I know changed churches because he felt his Pastor had been telling him he had to vote Republican. Just as easily, someone might leave a church for telling them to tithe 10%, or to avoid homosexual acts, or to give up wine and dancing. Some of these people might be right in disagreeing with their Pastor, and others might be wrong. The thing is that ultimately, the Pastor has no authority, and the individual church-goer has all authority. You see, every Pastor is voted into place by either a literal vote of the congregation or by a vote of attendance.

If we think about this it ultimately means that each person is a denomination unto themselves, and must serve as Biblical scholar, arbiter of conflicts, guardian of sacred tradition, etc.

Let's see how this matches up with the Bible. In Acts 15 we can see the Council of Jerusalem, where a binding decision is made by the Church leaders, and it is promulgated throughout the Church. This only works in an authoritative unified Church.

What happens if I looked around and finally found Last Church of Mesa, where everything seemed right, but then all of a sudden the Pastor tells us the church leaders have made a decision? Now we are no longer allowed to drink beer! I know the Bible doesn't tell me I can't have a cold one while enjoying my televised sports program, so I go across the street to Hip Fellows' Fellowship, where I'm pleased to find out about the Beer and Televised Sports Ministry.

Similarly, let's remember what Matthew 18 tells us that Jesus said regarding church discipline. First the individual confronts the one in need of correction, then a small group, and if he still hasn't listened he is brought before the church. If he will not heed the church, he is to be shunned (or excommunicated). Once again, this only works in an authoritative unified Church.

So, what happens when I go back to the Last Church of Mesa (because they do have softer seats), and I start receiving negative remarks regarding my Beer & Sports t-shirt. If I get wind of them even thinking of bringing me before the church, I'll be back in the hard (yet hip) folding chairs at Hip Fellows' before they can even blink.

If we recognize this reality, it means that churches become clubs of like-minded people, and not places where we can go to really have our minds changed, and bring our hearts more in line with the ways of God.

This is why it is in fact impossible to choose a church. If we choose a church we are granting the church authority, and what we have given, we can take away, so the choice is by its nature impermanent. Also, we have no ground, no authority from which to really grant a church authority in the first place. And if we assume we do have authority to go so far as to choose a church, we have indeed become a church unto ourselves.

If we cannot choose a church, a church must be chosen for us. Who has authority to give us a church? Only God. Our choice would then be whether to accept what God has offered us. It must be a Church from God not from men. Certainly it will contain a lot of crazy people, but nonetheless, it did spring from a seed planted by Christ, and its roots still draw upon that source.

What would such a God-given Church look like? As I pointed out above, it should be unified and authoritative. Besides this, it must have history that can be traced to the time of Christ if it is the Church of the Apostles in Acts 15. It should show at least a little semblance of the temple-centered Jewish culture it separated from in the time of the Apostles. It would hopefully still have a strong presence in the Mediterranean, where the Apostles first spread the faith. It would probably be widely available around the world, so we could find it if we looked.

Now it would just be the icing on the cake if it were the largest unified Christian body in the world, if it had figurehead who personified its unity, if it were centered in a city mentioned in the Bible (and it would be ironic if this city was the seat of the fallen empire which once executed our Lord), if it had a Christian hall of fame and centuries of theological work to draw upon for guidance and inspiration, if it were responsible for the original evangelization of most of the Christian world, if it had decided upon the books of the Bible, and if it had painstakingly hand-copied the Scriptures for 1500 years before the printing press (and before all the little denominations which claim the Bible as their base).

If we recognized something incredible like this had happened, what right would we have to choose a church? We could only come to the conclusion that God had given us all a big shiny obvious Church as a gift, and all we could do is accept it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spiritual Fitness

I've been working out a bit more recently, and I thought I'd mention the following minor insight, while I continue work on a more scripture-centered post on "religion."
A person's internal health does not necessarily correspond with their current external behaviors. A fitness instructor who just switched to a sedentary lifestyle will still be in better shape than a couch potato who just started exercising. Also a man who appears in equal health to another might secretly be dying of cancer. But the externals do nonetheless have great impact on direction toward better health or toward degradation. So it is with religion.
I won't go into everything that this relates to, but I'll bring up a few points. One, there could obviously be someone who talks about eating healthy (or talks about church), but dines solely on Crisco (or doesn't even try to live a loving life). There could be someone who runs past your window, but then sits wheezing around the corner on his phone, ordering a pizza. Or someone might go to the gym just to drink protein shakes and take a nap in the sauna. But usually, someone making some effort to run or go to the gym is doing something good for their body, not just putting on a show. Similarly, the externals of religion are usually connected at least to some extent to a real desire for spiritual growth, and are a "part of a healthy spiritual lifestyle."

I do mean this to relate to charges of hypocrisy, complaints of  imperfect Christians, and maybe some things I can't remember, but my main point is that the internal relationship with Jesus does relate to externally visible religious practices, just as internal health relates to externally visible exercise and eating habits, and that in many cases a casual observer cannot gather enough information to really make any kind of judgements.

On the other hand, there are still many actions which can be judged themselves to be unhealthy. If you see someone smoking a pack a day, gaining a hundred pounds in the last year, or losing a limb, these tend to be signs of poor or declining health. Similarly, boasting of sexual exploits, treating everyone as an idiot, or sacrificing children to Moloch tend to be signs of poor or declining spiritual health.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jesus Hates Deep Fried Snickers

Photo from candyaddict.com
Apparently there's been a popular video on YouTube, saying Jesus hates religion. It's not hard to see this guy is reading what he wants into the Bible. It's really a common problem. People latch onto a small collection of verses, and harden themselves against the rest of the scriptures instead of openly listening to the entirety of what Jesus says, and what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles. I've done it myself. The link above also contains a rebuttal by a priest.

I did address the religion vs. relationship issue, and addressed how the marriage-like relationship we are meant to have with Christ is expressed in our religious beliefs and practices.

Let me just examine this topic briefly from another angle, and hopefully show just how off base any claim "Jesus hates Religion" must be. Now there is an extent to which "religion" is quite hard to define, and part of the problem here is probably that the man opposed to religion means something a little different when he says the word, and because of this, I might be defending something different from what is attacking. Let's try then to at least get a sense of the word, even if we cannot define it exactly. According to Peter Kreeft, in the Handbook of Christian Apologetics, religion is hard to define, but each religion has three characteristics: "creed, code and cult," or, "beliefs, morality, and liturgy," or "words, works, and worship." Does Jesus place himself against any of these three characteristics, the defining aspects of religion? Simply, no. In fact Jesus preaches all three (And to be clear, we're using the classical definition of "cult" not the modern definition, so don't freak out on me).

Jesus gave us the root of our beliefs, his identity as God become man. If we reject the beliefs of religion we must obviously reject the scriptures in which those beliefs are grounded. Imagine if Jesus did reject beliefs. How can we begin to have a relationship with Christ without being able to even form an element of an idea of him within our mind, since that would constitute a belief, and Jesus banned belief?

Jesus consistently taught morality. He did not attack the Pharisees for "religion" but for immorality and related hypocrisy. He consistently forgave sins of the outcasts, but he also consistently exhorted, "sin no more." And he clearly taught obedience to the Commandments. It is clear then that Jesus gave us both beliefs and a code.

Then is worship the one problem? Off the bat this sounds unlikely. Can our method of worship be so outlandishly cumbersome that it is somehow standing in opposition to relationship with Christ? But that hardly matters as to the point, since we should find that Jesus has an opposition to all forms of worship, or else it will turn out he is opposed to none of the three aspects of religion. But, we quickly see that Jesus in fact teaches methods of worship! He sets the example of baptism, and the Bible teaches us to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Jesus institutes Communion, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Jesus teaches how to pray with the Lord's Prayer.

We see Jesus building upon and establishing a set of beliefs, upholding and elaborating upon the code of the Ten Commandments, and giving the Church its sacraments as the fulfillment of Old Testament worship.

One final thing. Who gave Moses the Ten Commandments? Who gave us Leviticus, with its collection of code and cult? Who told Solomon to build a glorious temple full of marble and gold and beautiful imagery? Come on, who inspired the Scriptures in general, which are chock full of beliefs, morality, and liturgy? God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! I can't imagine Jesus hating something he himself inspired.

Get serious. Tell me Jesus wants a relationship. Tell me Jesus hates hypocrisy. Tell me Jesus hates sin. Tell me Jesus isn't happy if we give him an hour a week, but shut him out of the rest of our lives. I'll agree to all that. Heck, tell me Jesus hates deep fried snickers. But don't tell me Jesus hates religion.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Primary School

Obama the Builder
Well, with the Republican primaries upon us, everyone's asking, "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Pennsylvania Avenue?" So, it seems about time I gave a few suggestions about possible campaign slogans.

After my children reached preschool TV watching age, I realized that President Obama stole his campaign slogan, "Yes We Can!" from Bob the Builder. It seemed to work well for him, so I'm thinking the Republican candidates could use a similar strategy.

Let's try placing  catch phrases from children's TV shows with other candidates. Here are a few possibilities. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

"Hey, where's Rick Perry?"

"Go Gingrich, Go!"

"Your backyard friend, Jon Huntsman."

"Ni hao, Mitt Romney."

"Absorbent and yellow, and porous is he, Rick Santorum."

I also expect the winner of the Republican primaries to use, "Obama, no swiping! Obama, no swiping!" in his attack ads.

Oh, and I do recognize the irony of my posting in the past about the negative effects of television, while now letting my kids watch (too much) TV. As I always say, knowing vegetables are good for you, and eating enough vegetables are two different matters entirely.