Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Follow Me

"And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men"
Matthew 4:19

 These twelve Jesus sent forth and commanded them, saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely ye have received; freely give.
Matthew 10:5-8

This Past Sunday I had lunch with one of my favorite professors and his wife- how lucky am I to be welcomed into my professors home to discuss philosophy and travel and culture on a sunday afternoon almost two years after graduating. One of the questions I was asked was- "Why is the younger generation of America straying away from Christianity?" I actually didn't have a great answer- I stammered something to the effect of "Its Inconvenient, its laborious, it deviates strongly from American culture, it is outdated..." I then realize those didn't seem to be adequate or viable reasons- much less was really in touch with the religious feelings of my generation. I have plenty of athiest and agnostic friends, as well as many devout Christian friends and even friends from other religions: tho I don't know how representative my friends are of the national tendency.

I continued to ponder this question as the day went on, and the best answer I came up with was this: Maybe my generation has lost touch with the mission, the vision of Christianity. When people hear the word "Christianity", they jump to all the biases and stereotypes of the church- rigid, outdated, righteously, judgmental  domineering or maybe even slight confusing- "Christianity is that 'thing' where people go to church on holidays and get baptized and pray." When people hear the world "Christianity", are they even in touch with what that really means? Maybe they know the story, the cliche's, the tradition, but are they in touch with the inspiration behind it all?

My pastor today gave a wonderful sermon that sparked for me an idea about the 'big picture' of the church. Chad is a fantastic orator, if you want the full sermon (which covers a wide variety of themes mainly focused on child rearing) click here:

Chad at one point mentions how Jesus in the bible says to "follow me". I have heard this line before, but rarely considered it beyond its literal meaning in the bible. Jesus is asking men to become his disciples, to leave their jobs as fishermen and carpenters and rather come help him spread a message to people about a new way of relating to God and each other. I have historically heard conversations in the church about being called to "follow jesus". However this never really resonated, as I didn't find it communicated anything especially profound. This is just the way that Christians tell others to become Christians, right?

Chad also quotes this line: "We need 1% vision and 99% alignment". He uses this as what he thinks is required for a family to be united, successful and ultimately expanding together towards a vision. I think this statement can be taken a step further- this is what our communities, our religion, our world needs. A vision we can all get behind, and then from there we spend our time uniting and directing ourselves towards it. On an aside, I have seen this at work in my daily life. One of the things that Medtronic is famous for is having a mission that regularly inspires and unites the 43,000 Medtronic employees. I see how much this makes a difference for people who work here- to be in touch with the company's cause and ultimate purpose. Chad shared the mission of our church the Urban Refuge: Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly". He then shared the newly created vision of the evergreen churches (larger community of churches): "Building Compassion Filled Urban Churches for the next generation of believers". Really simple, really profound, and ultimately two missions I am inspired to be a part of.

What is the vision of Christianity for us? For the world? I do not pretend to fully know this answer, but I will take a stab at it.

A vision of a perfect, enchanting world fully embraced by and partnered with humanity. A world where everything is stripped away and all that remains is breathtaking joy and gentle, awesome beauty. A world where people prioritize their communities, each other and the spiritual before themselves. A world where love is law, and each person has the opportunity to express their most genuine selves through the living of it.

When Jesus said "Follow Me"- he did not just mean 'become a christian' or 'follow the rules'. In fact, when he said that line-follow me-Christianity didn't even exist yet. What I believe he was evoking was calling the disciples, and us- to become a part of a bigger picture, to live a life in service of not just ourselves and those immediately around us, but rather humanity as a whole. To behave in an unprecedented way towards each other, that involved personal responsibility, integrity, generosity and ultimately love and compassion.To set a totally new example for what it means to be in touch with and paying homage to the divine.

And the rules in the bible and the morals behind Christianity are just the lessons in place to break down every behavior and thought that gets in between us and that vision. The rules so to speak seem to be in place to ultimately dissolve selfishness, manipulation, apathy and bitterness.
Overall, this might be one of the most important questions we Christians should be answering, should be living out and communicating. "What is God's vision for us and for our world? What is the ultimate vision of a Christian world?" If we can begin to articulate this bigger picture clearly, in a grounded, jargon-free way- I believe people may become more interested. and, I believe we will each become better stewards of this lifestyle that is so important to so many of us.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Christian Sexuality and Purity?

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
-Galatians 5:13-25
Other Bible verses on “Sexual Purity”http://www.openbible.info/topics/sexual_purity
1. The quality or condition of being pure.
2. A quantitative assessment of homogeneity or uniformity.
3. Freedom from sin or guilt; innocence; chastity: "Teach your children . . . the belief in purity of body, mind and soul" (Emmeline Pankhurst).
4. The absence in speech or writing of slang or other elements deemed inappropriate to good style.
5. The degree to which a color is free from being mixed with other colors.

I almost feel I need to add an ‘author’s note’ or word of caution when starting in on this topic to cushion me as I dance around this sensitive topic. I will say when I say “sexual intimacy” in this article; I mean all physical actions with another encouraging arousal and leading up to and including sexual intercourse. Also, note that “sexual purity” is a term in the bible and often used by certain groups of Christians to symbolize a Godly and often chaste relationship to sexual intimacy- though I struggled to find a literal definition of the term online.
I consider myself fairly conservative and maybe even prude, in my daily life I don’t talk about, make jokes about or really want much to with the topic of sex. I think it is in part of a conditioning thing- I remained blissfully naïve about sexual interaction for my early childhood, and then avoided the topic later in life as I grew up. I remember in 5th grade being on the playground and being laughed at by fellow students because I did not know what the word ‘sex’ meant.  
Therefore, if I had been asked if I would EVER write or voice opinions on Christian morality and perspectives around Sex I would have said NO WAY! Do I want to develop a voiced opinion on the issue publicly? Not at all. And unfortunately it has been a topic dominating my field of view around faith this week (Just as soon as I feel I am on the right path in life and being a 'Good Christian'- Bam! Something else comes up and I am challenged/humbled again). And I am committed in this blog to write about Christianity as I am experiencing it- so in the face of that here we go. I will do my best to be articulate and open.
The topic of sexual intimacy was first broached over a homework section John and I were doing for a class we are in at the Urban Refuge. Let’s just say I went in assuming we would agree on most of the talking points, and turns out we didn’t at all. We discovered we have very different relationships and perspectives on the ideal route to follow regarding physical intimacy. And man! Was that uncomfortable for me! As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself fairly sexually conservative, but I discovered John’s views make mine look like a strip club would if built next to a church.

This movie- The new Pride and Prejiduce,
captures romance in a nutshell for me

I discovered one of the things that made physical intimacy a hard thing for me to talk about was all the emotions and assumptions I have it collapsed with. Physical intimacy is the reassurance of someone loving me, appreciating me, needing me, expressing I am beautiful. Furthermore, I must admit I am also a product of my culture, and have discovered I have sexual expression symbolizing love, romance, and/or an exciting relationship. A relationship without physical intimacy is boring, loveless, loses its spice… Right?
I have done some reading and research on the topic to do my best to mature and broaden my relationship to the topic (had to be very careful with my word searches, let me tell you!) The stuff you find online about “sexual purity or chastity” I found mostly very unhelpful. I have found several veins of strong Evangelical/Baptist articles condemning sex and throwing in the devil for emphasis. Some I found particularly uncomfortable given the jargon they used or the practices they sited. One which made me uncomfortable was a father talking about how he wouldn’t let any of his daughters out of the house until their date had been given a chastity lecture. There were some helpful resources however after some sifting. I discovered that although articulated with different levels of vehemence and with different language, most Christian denominations agree on the place for sex in a relationship. Here is one article I found that is convincingly articulate and compelling regarding maintaining Christian Chastity and gaming for sexual relations only in a marriage:
I always have resented Christian conversations about sex as they struck me as particularly naïve. Door open and no dancing policies drive me crazy at stricter Christian colleges. When I think of the Christian relationship to sex, my mind immediately goes to some of the 1700 English literature I read in my English major glorifying young females for dying young as virgins. Or the 1980s Footloose movie- where the pastor in the town will not allow for loud music or dancing for fear of the sin it would inspire in high school students. Compare that to the American culture of glorified sex- pretty big discrepancy.
I do think that Christianity in some ways struggles with the topic of physical intimacy because they have not articulated their views in a way that enrolls the public and helps people see the value they represent through their beliefs. The Christian teaching I have often heard on sex and sexuality seems to be legalistic, limiting and unwilling to admit to the natural human draw towards physical interaction. Furthermore, the bible verses used to support Christian chastity are often filled with terms like "sexual immorality" or "sexual impurity" or "temple for christ" which do not have clear definitions/meanings for the unfamiliar bible reader.
However I also do think Christianity has gotten a bit of an unfair wrap from modern critics, and the more I read about what is at the core of the Christian belief set and commitments about marital and pre-marital sex the more respect I have for their stance. Furthermore, the bad stereotypes around Christian chastity are widespread, and not totally accurate. As humans we sometimes jump at the opportunity to point out hypocrisy within institutions- whether big private businesses or the catholic church. And although just as humans large entities often go against their missions, they also are often not recognized for all they do to act on their beliefs.
Christians do generally cherish and value sexual relations and intimacy. The common Christian cliché is to cite how Sex is God’s creation, and therefore should be saved for marriage as recognition of that (easy to say when you are married…). Or I have heard this line in the church often: “The devil tries to get you to have as much sex as possible before marriage and as little as possible during marriage.” And there are several books in the bible, including the most stereotypical songs of Solomon, with raunchy and provocative language sharing about the divine aspects of sexual interactions between spouses.
Where does this leave me? Well I will be the first to say I do not have total resolution on what I should think and believe. Overall, I do think there is something to be said for the Christian approach to the topic of sexual intimacy. To refresh/enhance that perspective, here is a quote I especially appreciate from a blog post I was reading on the topic of chastity from a Catholic point of view:
“The main point I am trying to make in this entire article is that being a good Catholic does not mean that we do not enjoy life. God gifts us with great sex, the pleasure of good wine, and the thrill of a good beat. We do not need to live in constant fear wondering if the devil is lurking under every cultural rock.”
This quote ties into Martin Luther’s stance- “If you are going to sin, sin boldly” :). Yet I also believe being sexually smart- and exercising sexual control seems to be something that holds a lot of value. Even within a serious, dating relationship. Now does that mean I believe Sex and physical intimacy is a bad and sinful thing? No. I see physical desire as powerful and amoral- similar to money. Can be used for extreme good and leveraged for extreme evil- and then all other things in between. And I am the first to admit those lines are blurry to me. The important thing as a Christian I believe is that God is the first priority, not sex and romance.
Overall, I believe the conversation about sexual intimacy and behaviors needs to continue. Christianity and Cultures' currently have so much disparity on their approach to sexual intimacy- and I look forward to more ways where the relationship isn't so vastly disjointed. For the sake of our culture, for the sake of the next generation- an understanding and practice needs to be reached that empowers individuals to cultivate love, partnership and self-respect in the physical aspects of their romantic relationships. I do know that I am lucky to be with a boyfriend who not only respects and loves me greatly, but physically conducts himself in a way that reflects his commitment to me and to his faith. I wish that caliber of mate for all others too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Intentional Rest

"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whoever does work therein shall be put to death" -exodus 35:2

"Rest is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all ages. It rejuvenates your body and mind, regulates your mood, and is linked to learning and memory function. On the other hand, not getting enough rest can negatively affect your mood, immune system, memory, and stress level." -APS Healthcare
Easter this year was not only a wonderful holiday with Florida and family, but it was unique in that I forced myself to use the day as I should be using most sundays- as a intentional day of rest. Sunday for me and I expect many other Americans has become "catch up day". I remember in my household it was often when we cleaned the garage or did house projects, later on in school it was my primary Homework day. Now it is when I gear up for the week, clean my apartment, do laundry and catch up on other things.
Which often means I have no scheduled days of rest. I rest when I need to: when I get sick or when I am just too tired to keep up my daily pace. Sometimes I go to bed early on a friday night. But really my rest is reactional, not intentional.
I thrive on being busy and working hard. But I am realizing it is not a pace I can keep up all the time, and working on things, no matter how much I enjoy them or need to do them, is not meant to be done every day of the week. So I am challenging myself to intentionally schedule more days of rest. Where I cannot work on my to-do list (or add to it), where I am not catching up for the week to come. Where I am just focusing on being present, enjoying others company, rejuvinating by resting, eating well and perhaps spending time with those I love.
I threw in the bible verse at the top because I know it is where Sunday as a day of rest originates. Interesting how the verse threatens death if we do not use this day for rest. I don't know how literally I take this, but I do see death as the obvious consequence if we as humans choose not to rest. Not only does lack of rest make you suffer physically, but also mentally, emotionally etc.
Anyone who knows me well will know this is a fairly significant perspective shift for me. My intention is to start recognizing this simple commandment from the bible and start using it to enhance the quality of my daily life. We shall see how it goes :).