Saturday 27 July 2019

So many gospels that aren't God-focused

(journaled October 16, 2018)

Maybe we've presented a gospel that is too easy and too "me-centred." On the other hand, it seems like religious groups that demand "good works" and utter consecration and dedication and FEAR of God are more likely to hold on to their adherents—and control them. Maybe that's why some churches really focus on good deeds and fear of hell and such.

But I'm wondering if we've gone too far the other way. Celebrating our "freedom" and "happiness" (which is sometimes joy, but not if it focuses on us and our own happy-clappy feelings) and "love" (but to whom? me-centred or God/Jesus/Holy Spirit centred and then reaching out to others?).

What about the cross and persecution and servanthood and humility (and rest in You in the midst of the storm?).

How can we see our culture, western ideas, politics (and their marriage to Christianity) as Godly? Is there any part of our lives — and "values" — that are truly God-focused and believing, following, trusting?

What about my life? I'm feeling more and more ashamed of the shallowness of my "belief" in You. And the depths of my attraction to the world's "values" and "philosophies" — even the ones that seem "Godly" or at least seem based on "godly principles." Maybe that's it. Maybe we've grasped our "reasoning" and rejected Your Spirit and guidance.

I have found it so hard the past few years to follow You. I just seem to be so distracted by everyday living. And the bewildering, rapid changes in morality and politics. And even in the church.

There was a time when I was younger and really didn't want to die. But now, while I don't have any urge to die, I am not afraid of it and sometimes I look forward to it, for I will get to see You face to face. (I will, won't I? So often I wonder if my lack of deep relationship with You is acceptable by You or not. I know You don't give up on us ... but are You disappointed in me? Do you sometimes want to cut me off from the vine? Sometimes I seem to cut myself almost off, and sometimes I do feel cut off.)

Friday 19 July 2019

Early conditioning and its life-long effects--art

(originally journaled Sept 30 2018)

"Many of our present-day losses are connected to our earlier conditioning..."

The following journal notes are a response to the prompt, "As a kid, my dad thought my art was..."

Did my dad (or mom, or church community, or even school...) think about my art at all? What art? We just didn't do much art, that I have any recollection of. Even at school, art class was a rare occasion.

Sadly, I don't really recall my dad having any interest in my childhood efforts that were not intellectual/academic, or Christian, or housewifely. I expect Mom probably said nice things about my occasional drawings or whatever. But to be honest, many arts (drawing, painting, creative writing) just were not encouraged. Our church walls and windows were relatively plain, and most "art" on our walls at home was landscape paintings--though photography was a favourite hobby of my dad's, focused on family, friends, events, historical locations, and some landscapes.

Some arts were definitely discouraged or not allowed at all: dance particularly. I never did understand how dancing, especially square dancing and folk dancing, even in PE class, could be so evil since there was plenty of it in the Bible ... used as worship! (David's wife got pretty severely punished for being annoyed at David dancing before the Lord, so you'd think that there must be something good about worshipful dance, at least).

Sculpture was another thing to be avoided. I suppose because it was considered "too Catholic" and besides, a lot of famous sculptures were of naked people (think the "David" statue...).

Drama and theatre were pretty much seen as evil, too. We were not allowed to go to the movies at all, and drama/theatre was almost nonexistent for us unless it was a "church youth group play" or something. We didn't have a TV until I was 15 or so when my dad inherited my grandparents' TV, and even then it was kept in the closet a lot of the time. All of which is kind of funny, come to think of it, because Dad was really happy to get to teach drama later on. Oh, we were allowed to do funny skits at church kids' camp, andof course, there were Christmas pageants.

Music was the "Christian" art (sculpture and paintings and architecture were "Catholic"), even for those of us who weren't particularly musical. My grade 7 band and art teacher (a Christian, by the way) encouraged my parents to have me take art instead of music in high school, but Mom definitely insisted on band/music because it was Christian (though I certainly wasn't encouraged to join Glee Club--I suppose their songs were too worldly, but they were mostly the cool kids so I wouldn't have fit in anyway, no doubt).

It really hurt my feelings, though, when the church youth group only allowed me to do reading parts in their "Christian musicals" because according to them I wasn't musical enough (though non-Christian or new Christian kids could sing even if they were totally tone-deaf, in order to "encourage" them to be Christians. Well.)

I wonder why a "Bible-believing church" could be so opposed to so many things found in the Bible, like dancing, clapping during singing, instruments other than piano and violin (which weren't even invented in Bible times), story-telling and creative writing, literature, poetry ("non-Christian" story-telling and writing, lit, poetry, that is)--in other words, creativity that is a gift from a Creative God? Why were we never encouraged to enjoy even classical music like the great operas, so many of which were Bible-based? (Except of course, Handel's Messiah? All the church ladies in town got together every year to put it on in concert at Christmas). Never mind jazz, R&B, and, horror of horrors, rock 'n roll. (Well, some old-timey folk songs were okay ... outside of church events).

By the way, I loved taking English Literature in grade 12. Discovering all those amazing poets and writers--so many of whom, as it turned out, were Christians and based so much of their writing on their Christian beliefs. Surprise!

Maybe there was a fear of anything that might distract or tempt people away from being a "serious Christian," I guess. Christianity in my childhood was a very serious business. (Come to think of it, school was a pretty serious business, too. So little of the arts [or PE] in elementary school--and our parents got to choose which arts we could take in secondary. So it was academics for me, and playing clarinet in high school band, which I never got very good at).

I wonder ... would my life (choices, decisions, directions) have been different if I'd been able to enjoy a wider variety of the arts, and develop my creativity more? And would it have had any differing effect on my spiritual development? Hmmm?

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Look up - Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

(originally journaled Sept 30, 2018)

This morning at the Anglican Church I was thinking about how I have felt so "apart" from God. I was looking at the big stained glass window, the picture of Jesus on the cross - and I suddenly realized I was looking at the bottom half, the people around the cross, but that I didn't lift up my eyes. It was like I heard Your voice, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus." And I realized that's a real problem for me. My eyes are too much on people and on "the church" and on prayers and devotions and even on "Father God" and perhaps the Holy Spirit ... but I haven't truly been looking at Jesus' face.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace."

As Hebrews 12:1 says, "Looking unto Jesus."

Monday 1 July 2019

As A Kid I Missed Out On ... or Not?

(originally journaled Sept 23, 2018)

1. As a kid, I missed the chance to ... dance! and pursue competitive stuff ... and join "non-Christian" groups like Girl Guides and sports

2. As a kid, I lacked freedom to ... make more personal choices

3. As a kid, I dreamed of ... being a Girl Guide, a meteorologist, a biologist, a journalist, a star or winner at something

4. As a kid, I wanted ... a pair of those shiny plastic toy high heel dress-up shoes

5. In my house, we never had ... enough encouragement to be ourselves (but maybe that was just the time, culture, religion, etc...)

6. As a kid, I needed more encouragement and freedom to .... try out things I was really interested in ... and permission to excel for myself in things I was passionate about rather than be expected to fulfill other people's plans for me

7. For years, I have missed and wondered about what would have happened if ... I did go on to get my Doctorate, or even get to continue in Major Work Class (gifted program at school), or take art instead of band, or have the chance to do Creative Writing in school instead of always serious writing

Would I be so conflicted and resentful (as I "should not be") about Christianity and church and all if I hadn't been so restricted in childhood? (No dancing, Guides, makeup, all those little "thou shalt not" rules...)?

The thing is, I never really felt like I was missing out on "things." I was loved and protected (maybe a bit too much of the latter) which was always wrapped in the limits imposed by church - or at least some people's interpretation of it - and - yes, I feel guilty to say it again, but my dad's ideas of what was good, interesting, etc. (And other people's ideas of what they wanted for/from me, which wasn't the adventure I craved...)

Saturday 29 June 2019

Questions and doubts

(originally journaled Sept 12 2018)

Reasons I sometimes have had doubts about Christianity, or at least the religion of it:

1. I can't imagine why so many people are condemned to hell because they don't even know about Jesus' salvation.

2. I'm confused about the Kingdom of God - yes, it is within us, I get that. But what about heaven? Where is it, really? When? And is there really hell, and if so, is it really like it is so often presented? And is it bad of me not to be so sure about things other people seem to be so sure about?

3. If You know the future (okay, if You're outside of time and see it all at once ... or however that works) and You were able to see how rebellious we'd be, why would You want to "save" us (or even create us)? Has it been worth it?

4. Did you mean for Christians to have so many different opinions/ interpretations--and to be so sure they are right and everyone else (including other Christians, of course) are wrong? Or is that perhaps a hint that You are so much more immense and incomprehensible than our little minds would like to box You into?

5. Was the Bible ever (like in its very original writings) more or less infallible or whatever? Just because it's "inspired," does that mean it's perfect (seeing as how it was written down by dozens of obviously imperfect humans, and tells the stories of so many other imperfect humans)? 

What questions do you readers have?

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Feeling Sad About Not Feeling Properly Sad

(originally journaled Sept 10 2018)

Is it bad not to get sad easily? I do get sad sometimes, but I'm not often very good at shedding a lot of tears or feeling great despair, especially related to "spiritual" things.

One thing I do get sad about sometimes is that I haven't felt "properly sad" about the deaths of my parents ... never mind about all the other people whose deaths (and poor living conditions and so on) I "should" feel sad about. Instead, I just tend to feel kind of numb about it all - death especially - because it seems to me that it is inevitable, one way or another, and who but God knows when our time should come and how it will happen?

Now I know that I "should" also feel really sad about all the people who haven't accepted Jesus - and that should truly motivate me to get out there and urge them... But it doesn't happen, even though I've prayed about it many times. Maybe I just don't love You enough? But how can I change that (or You change that?)

And I did feel sad about the street people, and I worked really hard at "God's Kitchen" and got really stressed emotionally and physically, but it feels like I ended up just closing down mostly, in self-preservation, I guess.

Is there something wrong with me for not being an easily sad person?

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Should I Dream About What I Could Be and or Do?

I'm afraid that if I start dreaming about what I could be and/or do ... I will feel guilty, and I'll toss my dreams aside (after some of my dreams don't turn out at all even though I've really tried them, which has happened just often enough to make me scared to dream again).

Then there's the whole question of whether my dreams come from You, God, or from me--and how can I know for sure? What if they actually are from You, though I thought they are from me, so I didn't follow them, and now You are disappointed in me not being happy with Your plans and purposes? Or maybe my dreams not working out are my own fault after all, because of wrong decisions I've made and bad things I've done, and therefore I "deserve" things not turning out the way I hoped and wished and dreamed?

And after all, I do live in the 1% world (even though I'm not rich) and I do have a really awesome life compared to the 99% world, so what right do I have to complain, anyway--or need to dream of bigger things?

(And yeah, what about "Take up your cross..."?)

And related to dreams ... learning to ignore the expectations (dreams for me) and beliefs and criticism of others: that's really hard for me. Learning to not wish for and work for others' approval and acceptance and all. Being brave enough to not have to obey anyone but You (who is not nearly as scary as people are because You DO LOVE ME ... and I CAN TRUST YOU!).

Friday 14 June 2019

Wandering, Wondering, and Welcomed Back

(originally journaled May 20, 2018)

A friend posted on Facebook that he's wondering if it's possible to return to Jesus without having to deal with church. Seems to me that the mere fact he's thinking about this means that You have probably already initiated the conversation.

It made me think of my own fears: that I won't be accepted after I've "denied" You or at least not stood up for You and complained about Your church and wondered if it's all trueafter all. Fear and embarrassment about what people might think of me if I "stood up strong and declared my belief in You" Fear of maybe "having" to go to church and be involved in programs and things there that I don't want to or am afraid of.

You know I sometimes even wonder if You are real, at least in the distinct terms or definitions of You I have been taught. Yet it's pretty apparent You keep calling me back--a miracle in itself.  Well, I know that my "wonderings" are more on an intellectual level since deep inside it always ends up that I know You are with me and always have been.

You don't let Your children go, do You (unless maybe they really, really want to, and really, really deny You)? I remember going to a church camp and there was a young man, a few years older than me, who had I guess wandered away, and then there he was, talking about how You'd drawn him back, and then they sang this song that has always stuck by me no matter my own wonderings and wanderings:

"Welcome back to the things that you once believed in,
Welcome back to what you knew was right from the start....
Welcome back to the love that is in your heart.
I know that you thought you could turn your back,
And no one could see in your mind,
But I can see that you know better now....
Sometimes you just don't know what you're missing,
Til you leave it for awhile.
Welcome back to Jesus."
(Chuck Girard).

I've found myself wondering, lately, where I got so off track for so long. And why? But maybe it was a stripping kind of time. Pulling away parts that were extras, padding that was blocking me from seeing You. (Which is maybe why I'm nervous about picking up so many things related to church--and even personal devotions and stuff).

I don't want to do things because I "should" but only because when it comes down to it, I know I do believe in and love You, even with all my doubts and wonderings and wanderings from all the paraphernalia that has gathered around You.

It's easier, I guess, to "do things" that "show love" than to actually bare one's heart and be vulnerable and actually love. I don't like to be hurt. I don't like to be scorned.

I like to be intellectual, because it feels safer. And it's easier to accept things that can be proved. I'm a bit skittish about things that can't be proved. Though it seems that a lot of things that once were "proven" haven't turned out to be so.

Faith is a difficult thing because we can't see it, quantify it. Can't even feel it emotionally a lot of the time. Yet ... You have always been here with me. I've never doubted You. (Though I've doubted, sometimes still do, the theology and theory of it).

I know I'm not the only one who thinks about these things. So many of Your children do (and yes, I'm pretty sure they're still Your children, even with all their wonderings and questionings and fears and stuff. Because You don't let go, do You? You patiently keep loving, drawing ...)

Like Octavius Winslow wrote:

"Child of My love, lean hard,
And let Me feel the pressure of thy care;
I know thy burden, child. I shaped it;
Poised it in Mine Own hand; made no proportion
In its weight to thine own unaided strength.
For even as I laid it on, I said,
'I shall be near, and while she leans on Me,
This burden shall be Mine, not hers;
So shall I keep My child within the circling arms
Of My Own love.' Here lay it down, nor fear
To impose it on a shoulder which upholds
The government of worlds. Yet closer come:
Thou art not near enough. I would embrace thy care;
So I might feel My child reposing on My breast.
Thou lovest Me? Doubt not then;
But loving Me, lean hard."

Thursday 30 May 2019

Worship reflections: Prayers, Scripture, Hymns, Liturgy

originally journaled March 13, 2018

How do you worship?

For the past couple of years, I've been attending traditional Anglican services, where we use the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. At home I've been following The Divine Hours (P. Tickle) and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (S. Claiborne), and I've tried using centering prayer.

And I am feeling that back in the day, in the "tradition" I was raised in, we missed outto some degree, on the possibilities of prayer, though we prayed a lot.

We prayed a lot. At home we had prayer before meals, daily family worship, individual devotions, bedtime prayers, scripture memorization, and prayer whenever circumstances called for it, like someone sick, setting out on a road trip, praying before guests left, financial needs, or upcoming events.

At church, we had a fairly lengthy prayer (by the minister, usually) in each service, opening prayer for every special event or service, and weekly prayer meeting, when everybody could pray. All were extemporaneous (created on the spot) other than the Lord's Prayer.

Even at school, we all repeated the Lord's Prayer and listened to scripture reading each morning (until it was phased out during my high school years).

But the thing is, the emphasis was mostly on personal requests—for health, safety, finances, guidance, and so on. We didn't often use Scripture as a prayer itself or as a prayer pattern, other than the Lord's Prayer (though I suppose we did cover "Scriptural praise" through hymns and choruses). There was a very simple "liturgy" of prayers for communion, all repeated by the minister, that I remember from my early years, but that was mostly phased out in favour of, I think, being "creative" and "personal" and "non-traditional" and "modern."

We didn't, so far as I remember, draw much upon traditional prayers passed down through the church ages, nor did we use any of the church "creeds." I did learn the Apostle's Creed in our church's children's club in order to earn a badge—but with no context, no knowledge of where it came from or its significance. There seemed to be a great caution—fear even—of anything that smacked of "tradition," and we prided ourselves on being "non-liturgical" even though the weekly Sunday service bulletin proved we certainly followed a distinct pattern that was rarely deviated from and was, dare I say, religiously followed. A liturgy of our own, unrecognized as such?

Our church hymn book had a few simple liturgical passages in the back, which I don't ever remember being used, and a section of "responsive" readings from the Psalms which were used on rare occasions.

So in a sense, the hymns were our "congregational prayers" I guess. And worthy ones, at that. Happy and joyous, deep and repentant ... I think the hymn book was our "liturgy," and maybe when we gave up hymns, replacing them with "worship choruses" (which seem to me, on reflection, to be much more focused on "I" while the hymns were generally more focused on God and scripture), we lost an important part of our worship.

I still have a copy of one of the hymnbooks we used. Of "The Role of a Hymnal" it says:

"The faith and life of the church have always found expression and reinforcement through its hymnody....  The hymnal teaches and inspires. It expresses faith, hope, and love. It voices our experience and aspiration. It is a way to share. It is a rich source of biblical theology. It is where we join with the saints of other centuries in a common expression of joy, praise, and worship. It is a force for unity. It is a stimulus to Christian action and evangelism. It leads to God and to men. The combination of lyric and melody fastens truth upon the inner man."

All fine and good—and sounds very much like a description of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, doesn't it? So ... why have we so often cast aside the "deep things" of our common congregational worship? And is that casting aside of the long "traditions" of the church in liturgy, scripture reading, common prayers—and yes, hymns—a cause of so many people (including myself for a long time) drifting away from the church (and its Founder and Centre)? What do you think?

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Taking a leap

originally journaled Feb 26, 2018

Maybe I've crossed a bridge (or taken a leap, or been picked up and carried over a chasm or a wall or something by Your loving hands...) but yesterday for the first time in a very long time I had a sense of longing for You--like a "deer pants in the desert for springs of living water," you know.

I don't care so much about happiness and pleasure ... but I want Your joy!

I don't care so much about mushy human love and friends ... but I want the love of God and neighbours You offer and promise.

I don't care so much about solving wars and political upheavals and even religious/Christian ones ... but I long for contentment in You and Your peace that passes all human understanding in the hearts of people everywhere (because that's the only way true peace will ever come).

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Looking Back for Assurance and Thinking About Prayer

When I'm going through a "dry spell" (AKA wilderness experience), it's helpful to look back through my journals and be reminded of past moments when I was feeling more light. (A good reason to journal). Here's an  example:

(Journaled August 14, 2017)

Well! I had a wonderful "mini-retreat" kind of weekend ... and feel much more assured you love me, are with me, approve of me ... and are guiding me even when I don't "see" it in any emotional or "concrete" way. But on the other hand, this whole weekend has provided pretty concrete assurance You are in me, in my life.

Yes, I'd like to somehow be more "clearly Christian" and reach out to people more clearly and be surer that I'm including You in all my daily activities, but I am glad to know You are with and in me even without the "for sure, clearly."

The Flee, Be Silent, Pray book has been a great help and assurance, and I feel relieved at the thought of being able to have short devotional times a few times daily vs intensive many chapters of reading and long prayers.

I've been wondering about so many people with their "needs." I always remember hearing about that girl in India who would pray by name for 500 or 600 people every night. And great men of the church who'd pray for 4 or more hours a day on their knees in the closet or at their bedside, wearing dips right into the floor. And Susanna Wesley's prayer times with her apron over her head while her dozen kids ran around (though she did have a cook, gardener, and maids). 

We were so taught that real, great Christians prayed and prayed and prayed—until they "broke through"--though these mostly seemed to be clergymen with wives to take care of the home and family or single people without too many daily responsibilities. :-)

I've always been attracted more by Brother Lawrence's approach, which is much more related to being aware of and listening to You in all the little moments of the day (as explained in The Practice of the Presence of God). And the books I've been reading lately, like The Divine Hours and Contemplative Prayer and The Examen seem to line up with this path. I've been finding the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Claiborne's Common Prayer helpful in this way, too.

Rational to Transcendent

(originally journaled Feb 9/18)

I was listening to a discussion on the radio about artificial intelligence (AI) and where it is taking us, and the difference between "super machine intelligence" and "general intelligence" (and how the latter is what—so far—separates us from AI). They were using the word "transcendent" and You spoke to me through that word.

I realized that in the past, my longing for study, though not "wrong," was more based on my "love of learning"--an intellectual, reasoning, rational approach—which now as I'm getting older, I am experiencing a longing to know You in a more intimate way. To grow into Your mind, as in "Put on the mind of Christ," and to live in Your love and allow You to share it with others through me.

Some years ago, I did go through times when I would hear You and write it down and share it with others. But then came a long period of depression and exhaustion—and avoiding "churchy" things—and I seemed to lose any ability to hear You.

I'm back to doing "devotions" again—scripture, hymns, Divine Hours, personal prayers—but so much of the time I end up feeling "but shouldn't there be more?"

Part of it, I know, is that I'm afraid to write things down that I do hear from You. Afraid of what people might think, yes. But also afraid to move from a rational (with a bit of emotional) knowing of You to a more transcendent relationship with You, the Transcendent One. Lord?

Saturday 27 April 2019

Simplicity vs Clutter

(originally journaled Jan 8 2017)

I'm feeling overwhelmed by "clutter" ... so much stuff I truly don't need or even want. My life feels cluttered.

I want simplicity: " ... the arrangement of life around a few consistent purposes, explicitly excluding what is not necessary to human well-being." (Willard)

I'm afraid this constant drive I have to learn, learn, learn, teach, teach, teach, write, write, write, discuss, discuss, discuss, reason, reason, reason—may be driven to a large degree by my fear of dementia. Every time I forget a word I begin to panic (and then I really can't remember it).

Oh dear God, I want peace. And I don't think peace comes with dementia. My mom was such a peaceful person (in You, I'm sure), and then the dementia took her peace away. She became worried and upset as she realized what was happening. She did some bizarre things she would never have done before. Yet at the end, the nurses on the dementia ward commented on how very peaceful she was in her last days. No fear. No worry. Sweetness and gentleness (like she used to be).

But generally, so far as I can see (I spent several years visiting my mom in dementia care units, and so I saw plenty of it), dementia does not seem to be a peaceful state, at least until the patient doesn't seem to know anyone or anything anymore. (And even then, some become more and more unpeaceful... Maybe they're people who never learned to trust You? Or?).

Is it all right to ask You this: Where are You when dementia takes over? Are You still present? Are people with dementia aware deep within of Your presence?

And what about people with serious mental illness? Children born with serious issues who never develop mentally or spend their lives in bodies that don't function? People who never did anything wrong to "deserve" it?

I get (mostly) that what You think is worthwhile and important is way different from what we think. But I feel like time is just rushing by and my life is so busy-busy and cluttered, yet with all my effort I'm not doing anything truly worthwhile for myself or my family or anyone else—even for You. I see so many failings on my part.

Oh! But just now I am experiencing a deep sense You are pleased with me even if I can't see anything particularly worthwhile. Peace in the midst of my self-induced storm. You really do love me, don't You? Amazing grace. Thank you.