Comparative Religion

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I went to Ruby’s 4th and 5th grade end-of-the-year class picnic yesterday. The clouds couldn’t decide what they were doing. It was sunny, with a cool breeze, most of the time. Hordes of kids chased a soccer ball. Others queued up for the swings. One white Maltese got walked, a lot.

I found Ruby at a picnic table. She’d already started on her pre-packaged pb&j, courtesy of the hot lunch program.

“Hey, Ruby,” I said as I started to sit. I nodded hello to the sandy-haired boy across from us.

“Hi,” he said, shooting up and sticking out his right hand. “My name is Peter*,”

I blinked a couple of times. Huh?

“Hi, Peter,” I said, taking his hand. Couldn’t leave him hanging. “My name is Susan.”

“Nice to meet you, Susan,” he said, smiling. “I’m the son of Peter Johnson, of Peter Johnson Realty.”

“Oh, right. I know who he is.”

We both sat down.

“I like your manners,” I said to Peter. Highly  unusual in 10 year olds, I thought. What’s the angle? Is he into Ruby and trying to make a good impression with her mom?

“How’s your day going?” Peter asked me.

I smiled to myself. Good manners, part two.

“It’s going well. And you?”

“Good, so far,” he said.

We ate in silence for a few minutes.

“So,” Peter broke the silence. “What do you do?”

Um. I swallowed my bite of egg sandwich.

“I work for the city.”

“What do you do there?”

“I’m in public works, “I said. I explained about the water utility (briefly) and the roads, garbage service and the like.

“Oh,” he said. He paused a minute, chewing his sandwich. “Do your guys pick up the bags of trash by the side of the road, the ones picked up by the community service people?”

“No, “I said. “That’s all part of the court system, I believe.”

I chatted with Ruby about her lunch. She liked the cookie but left the carrot sticks alone. Somehow, she’d gotten too many of them in her young life. She may never eat another.

“What does your husband do?” persistent Peter asked.

“He works from home,” I said, hoping to shut this down. It was getting a leetle awkward. He wasn’t asking anyone else questions.

“Oh, “he smirked, “so he does laundry and cleaning. A house husband. Like that?”

I laughed.

“Oh no, baby. He’s got a doctorate. He works for a university, just does it from home.” So there!

Insert uneasy pause here.

“I have kind of a personal question,” he hedged.

What now, Pete, my boy?

“What religion are you?”

Wow.

“Oh, I’m a Christian,” I said. Then added, “You know, in a couple of years, you won’t be able to ask that,” I stated, Mom warning face on.

“I know, ” he said, then sighed. “My parents told me talking about religion and politics make people uncomfortable.”

Indeed, Petey.

“You’re Mormon, right?” he said to the Hispanic boy on his left. The boy nodded.

“I’m a Christian, too, ” said the small boy in a hoodie balancing on a ball to Peter’s left.

So much for that.

“And you, Peter?”

“Yes, I’m a Christian, too. I attend Valley Christian Church,” he affirmed.

OK.

Ruby and I went off to check out the dogs at the dog park. But I wondered about Pete. Why all the questions? Is he an only child? Maybe the youngest in a long line of children, raised on grown up conversation? Future journalist in training, or simply precocious?

But really. What’s the fuss, after all? Can’t we ask questions and get to know each other’s true selves without freaking out? I don’t have to agree with what you believe or how you practice. But I don’t have to be a jerk about it. Heck, we could even become friends. We can say what we stand for and be accepted; no subterfuge required. Just ask Peter.

*Name changed to protect the curious.

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Got Bias?

I’m afraid I’ve been processing a couple of things and haven’t been able to write about them yet.  Which leaves room for a guest blogger!  Dr. Isham – aka the hubster – will be enlightening you today with his thoughts.  Enjoy!

I have been thinking about confirmation bias lately. Google defines it as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.” Basically, it’s our (everybody’s) tendency to see evidence that supports our position and ignore (or misinterpret) evidence that contradicts us. Unchecked, this confirmation bias can lead to a VERY skewed view of ourselves and the world around us.This is a big deal in research circles because if you go into a research project expecting a certain result (without being very careful of confirmation bias), your research findings may be skewed or worse, completely wrong.

This might not seem like a big deal, but I think it is, even in our daily lives. All of us have a very particular and personal view of the world. Some hold a Christian World view, and others do not. What do we do with situations that don’t fit into our paradigm? Do we ignore it, do we explain it away or discount it with sophisticated mental gymnastics, or do we wonder how that fits into our world view and wonder if our world view is off?

Confirmation bias is a 2-headed beast that must be controlled. On one side is our tendency to look ONLY for evidence that confirms what we already know. “God is good all the time, and all the time God is Good” Really? Is He good ALL the time, or do we choose to only pay attention to the times when He has been good to us because that phrase MUST be right because churches have been using it for years…or it’s in the Bible (that phrase is NOT in the Bible, by the way, but did you assume it was? might want to look that one up for yourself…)  We only look at the evidence that confirms the statement. We only look for time when God was good, and therefore, the phrase is correct.

The OTHER side of this is that we quickly discount or completely ignore the evidence to the contrary. Let’s take our test phrase again “God is good all the time…” What about the times when God DOESN’T come through? What about the times when your finances are stripped bare? Or what about when God DOESN’T protect you from harm? We Christians don’t even talk about those things because when we say God is Good, we tend to only find the good things in life. The rough parts don’t make sense to us, so we either ignore them or perform some pretty sophisticated mental gymnastics to make them fit into our paradigm instead of questioning whether our paradigm may need a bit of changing.

And we do this ALL. THE. TIME. we HAVE to make guesses about the world so we can (hopefully) predict how things work in the future. Without prediction, you can’t plan anything. EVER. Evolutionarily speaking, we have to try to make sense of our world or we would die. I use evolution as evidence here to mess with my Christian readers a bit. How many of you just discounted my argument because evolution has no place in your paradigm? What I am saying just lost credibility because I pointed to something you dont agree with?

Evolution vs Creation is a great study in confirmation bias. When I read discussions of creationist science (even well-structured research studies), I find both sides ignoring evidence that contradicts thier position and both sides seem to focus too much attention to evidence that BOTH supports thier theory AND contradicts the other. They may not be as contradictory as everyone seems to make them out to be, but without looking at ALL the evidence…without confirmation bias, the debate simply becomes more polarized and dogmatic.

We mere humans (as opposed to evolutionary or creationist scientists) do this all the time as well. How many times have we woken up in a bad mood and the day was horrible…until we started actually paying attention to the GOOD things happening that day as well. Sure, we stepped on legos that kids were supposed to put away yesterday and our pants were a bit too tight (Grr….), but what GOOD has happened today? If you are convinced that it’s a bad day, you will ignore the good things and LOOK for the bad things as evidence to confirm your prediction.

And what about me? I have a particular world view that I hold. What am I missing that other people are seeing that make their world different than mine? I have dogmatic liberal friends on facebook who disagree with pretty much everything I think as an evangelical Christian. What are THEY seeing that I am ignoring? What are THEY ignoring that I am seeing? We BOTH suffer from confirmation bias, so can I try to see things from their perspective, or will I continue to see things ONLY my way?

SO, here’s my challenge for you (and me) today. Find something that you don’t agree with and challenge yourself to figure out if it truly is the way you see it, or are you ignoring (or at least heavily discounting) evidence contrary to your viewpoint. Is this REALLY a bad day or am I just paying attention to the bad things? Am I assuming that person is a bad person because they hurt me once but I am ignoring how they can be kind and generous? I am ignoring someone with great wisdom because they are uneducated and clumsy in their speech? Am I assuming that someone is not worthy of being my friend because I disagree with their lifestyle? Are there beliefs I hold dear because I have chosen to ignore evidence to the contrary?

It’s a tough assignment, I know, but I think we can do it. I’ve seen the evidence 🙂

Celebrating Zig

Happy birthday, Mr. Ziglar! On this day in 1926, you came into this world. While I don’t know much about your particulars, others do. As the 10th of 12 children, you had a ready-made community to grow up in. And your name was really Hilary Hinton Ziglar. I would’ve gone with Zig, too.

Until you are happy with who you are, you will never be happy because of what you have.

Five years later, your father died, then a younger sister. You grew up in rural Mississippi. Your faith in Jesus sustained you. Your mother and relatives taught you to work with what you had, to keep on.

The six people who had the biggest impact on my life were all women. Had I been sexist, my life would have been far less fulfilling.

The problem with pity parties is very few people come, and those who do don’t bring presents.

You served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. You met your wife when you were 17 and she was 16. You graduated from the University of South Carolina.

Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have.

Somewhere along the line, you became a motivational speaker. You addressed how to achieve success.

Success is dependent upon the glands – sweat glands.

When you are tough on yourself, life is going to be infinitely easier on you.

You talked about how to parent.

Every obnoxious act is a cry for help.

Be there for your kids. Later, when you need them, they’ll be there for you.

You focused on how to prosper in our chosen profession.

You are who you are and what you are because of what has gone into your mind. You can change who you are and what you are by changing what goes into your mind.

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.

You brought up the nagging issue of physical health.

For 24 years of my adult life, by choice I weighed well over 200 pounds. I say ‘by choice’ because I have never ‘accidentally’ eaten anything, so when I choose to eat too much, I have chosen to weigh too much.

I once dieted so religiously I quit eating in church.

You made a lasting impact on us.

The right quote can inspire people to change their ways.

Yes, it can. Thanks, Mr. Ziglar, for showing us the example of good words.

Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. – Proverbs 25:11

Seven Basic Truths

Today, Dr. Isham brings us his thoughts on true Christianity.  Comments and dialogue encouraged.  Enjoy!
I’ve been mulling over something about modern Christianity that I’ve wanted to express for awhile. I’ve always thought that I would (possibly) deliver the idea as a sermon in my local church, but never really gotten up enough guts to outline it and prepare it. I wrote it down here so I can choose my words with care.
I dislike some facets of my particular strain of Christianity.  My particular strain seems to value purity. Don’t misunderstand me; purity is a great virtue.  But..we spend a lot of time trying to root out any evil within ourselves that we feel Jesus wants us to work on. This (sometimes) spills over into trying to root out any evil we see in others as well. We have our 12 steps to spiritual maturity. We have our list of 47 do’s and don’ts to being a better Christian. We have our music superstars and our prayer formulas. We have a long list – spoken and unspoken – of things we think we need to believe or agree in if one professes to be a Christian.
The problem  is that it excludes people. To require belief in one specific thing to be considered a Christian keeps others from the fold. I’m not talking about those who…”well…they are still a Christian, but they aren’t walking the walk.” I dislike saying someone “just isn’t interested in God’s best” or is not “going hard after God” or my all-time favorite….”lukewarm.”
Jesus summed up the law and the prophets into 2 rules. Love God and love others (Jonathon’s simplified edition).
We tend to take things to the opposite extreme. Love God using these 32 prayers and watch out for these 26 ways that the devil can enslave you and make sure not to do these 412 activities because someone somewhere will look poorly on you and think that either they can participate, too. Your example will cause them to stumble or think you don’t love Jesus…because those who love Jesus don’t do that. Or that, or that.
I know I have offended some of you, and I am sorry. I also know that this type of idea (getting rid of our formulas and criteria for what is and isn’t Christian behavior) makes a lot of people nervous. We can’t just throw the doors open and say that God loves everyone and that everyone is going to heaven. Everybody needs Christ’s salvation and cleansing work. I would agree, but the more rules you place on the work of Christ, the more people you exclude from the kingdom. It’s “us” against “them”, but the more tightly you define “us”, the fewer who qualify. Define it too tightly and the only ones that qualify to be in the “us” category end up being the ones making the rules. That, my friends, is a very lonely (and judgmental) place.
So…in the interest of throwing open the doors once again to Christianity and what it takes to be a Christian, here are the things I think all Christians need to believe. This is my “us vs. them” line. To be a Christian, you must agree with the following:
1)  There is a God –There are 2 truths in this statement. First, there is something out there we call God that has powers like a being that we would expect of a God like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence. Second, it is in present tense. He is, not He was. This statement excludes atheists and post-deists (those who believe that there was a God, but he left the building).
2)   You are not God – This statement excludes those who believe that we are gods and/or that god is in everything. God is omnipresent, but the tree is not part of God. God is separate from mankind.
3)   The Bible is the word of God – To be a Christian, you have to have some amount of trust in the book the entire faith is based on. This statement does not exclude other texts or other ways of hearing from God, nor does it endorse a specific translation of the Holy Scripture. However, if you want to know something about the nature and presence of the Christian God, the Bible is a good place to go for the answers.
4)   You have been separated from God though sin – The Bible states clearly how sin separates us from God and how that separation is both through our actions and through heredity. This particular list makes no mention of specific sins (the “do”s and “don’t”s of modern Christianity), but  sin is something you need to fully own to be considered a Christian.
5)    Jesus is the son of God – to be honest, I’m not sure how this works. God is one God but He has a son and they are one with the Holy Spirit and….huh? I know the Bible recounts the life of Jesus of Nazareth and makes a claim of his virgin birth and chronicles His years of ministry, His teachings, His death and His resurrection. Jesus claimed to be the son of God and God spoke from the heavens and said “this is my son in whom I am well-pleased”.
6)    Jesus was God’s choice for payment for our sin – See #4 for how we get sin (actions and/or heredity). Jesus had no human heredity (virgin birth…see #5) and so was a lamb without spot or blemish, which is a requirement for the forgiveness of sins.
7)   Jesus’ payment was for me – This is the “accepting Christ into our hearts” part of Christianity. You can believe all the above statements, but if you don’t receive it personally, then you still have no relationship with God. Christianity is all about the relationship with Jesus.
Yeah. That’s it. I know the blog is long, but I’ll bet a lot of you were waiting for more than that. Speaking in tongues? What about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Why aren’t those two previous statements all in one sentence? What if we believe in evolution instead of a literalistic 6 day, 24-hour per day creation story? What if those people over there don’t agree with me on my Biblical exegesis or my eschatology?
So what?
Sin separates us from God. Jesus paid the price for reconciliation. I have accepted that reconciliation through Jesus. I now have a relationship with God. Everything above and beyond that is simply a different flavor.

Waiting on the Wind

Our area is under a fire warning right now.  Danger, dry weather!  I know.  Sounds strange, doesn’t it?  We have had a beautiful, sunny summer.  This means a spark could flare into something much bigger:  wildfires.

What’s causing the fire warning is an east wind, starting out as a light breeze, then becoming more ferocious as the day progresses. I saw it firsthand this afternoon as I walked a letter down to the drop-box by the courthouse. Trees swayed.  Leaves skittered down, prematurely loosened by the lack of moisture and rogue zephyrs.

All of this warmth and light resulted in an extra long blooming season.  I passed white hollyhocks, burgundy dahlias, and fall crocuses in purple profusion.  They provided a late summer riot of color. Even the sweet pea keeps putting out fuchsia blossoms. I basked in their loveliness as the breeze played over me.

Back to the wind. The wind brings change.  It stirs things up.  It knocks things down and moves things over.  You can’t see the wind, but it’s a disturbing force.  It pushes against all in its path.

I started thinking about this as I walked home.  I considered Acts 2, where the Holy Spirit descends on the 120 disciples waiting, expectant, in the upper room.  They received the gift of tongues and fire fell on them.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:6-7

The disciples waited on the Holy Spirit for 50 days. Fifty days!  Jesus never mentioned how long it would take; they simply took Him at His word. We get tired after waiting on God for a few minutes, let alone days that turn to weeks. I’ll wager they got weary of waiting, meeting together every night, seeking God together.  What was the point?  Did despair start to set in?  How many psalms can you sing? However, it looks like the original 120 mentioned in Acts 1 held out.  Nobody left.  The full complement received Jesus’ gift.

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. – Acts 2: 1-4

It’s interesting to me that fire in the natural gets stirred up by wind. Fire in the spiritual realm has a similar dynamic. The disciples’ dry season plus the Holy Ghost wind yielded a bountiful harvest of committed believers, able to endure and thrive despite persecution. Those 120, fueled by passion and new-found heat, changed the world. They spread Christianity around the globe like a dangerous wildfire.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I need a little of that fire, a little puff of Holy Spirit air, in my life right now. I need a fresh gust from the Paraclete. He who is faithful will provide it, if I’m willing to wait.

Dear Christian

I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus, the only Son of God.  He died on the cross for my sins.  I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of prophecy.  I believe in the Bible, the inerrant word of God.  I’m a full gospel, Pentecostal, all-in believer. If that offends you, I’m sorry.  This is who I am, and in the wonderful words of Rich Mullins, “I did not make it/No, it is making me.” Full disclosure:  I don’t swing from chandeliers or bark like a dog when filled with the Spirit.  Just FYI.

That being said, I am mindful of how I share those beliefs.  Recently, an associate of mine recounted an argument in which they discussed scientific advances with an unbeliever. 

“I told him it didn’t matter that his son has a doctorate in physics and is respected in his field, or was wanted at this university and that university.  Who cares? Physics doesn’t solve man’s ills,” my compatriot said with a smug smirk.

I stood there and said nothing. Maybe physics can help, maybe it can’t. I don’t know. One college class doesn’t make me an expert. I simply couldn’t get past the offensive blanket statement.  It floored me.  The condescending, dismissing comment damaged that relationship.This “little Christ” made Christianity offensive to someone whom Jesus longs to embrace.

This, friends, is unacceptable.  We know the One who has answers, but we don’t have them all. We don’t get to pass judgment on every decision someone makes.  Our role is to share the good news, be filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and to serve.  The Bible says as we lift Jesus up, He will draw people to Himself.  We don’t draw people, and we certainly don’t win people to Jesus by hammering them with self-righteousness soliloquies.   We are to exemplify excellence by submitting our lives as we follow Christ .  That’s it. Is it easy?  No. It costs us, sometimes dearly. The Holy Spirit in us gives us the forgiveness and power to live outside of our weaknesses and poor decisions. We won’t measure up completely, but that’s what God’s love does:  it covers. It forgives.  It restores.

Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a non-believer.  Maybe you can remember back to what it was like before you became a Christian.  Probably you considered yourself, as many of us did,  a “good person”. How would you want to be treated? As a complete and utter buffoon, lucky to be walking upright, or as a valued member of the human race, loved and respected as one of God’s precious children? Would a belligerent, belittling conversation with a God-worshiper make you want anything to do with that God? I know I would run away screaming.  Probably silently, but still.

For clarification purposes, this is not about “speaking the truth in love”.  We earn that privilege. The other person must trust us enough to hear our counsel. It’s not a given. Even then, we have to ensure our motivation is love, and not simply to be right. We can be right at the expense of a relationship.  While there are times we have to make tough decisions to sever toxic associations, Jesus’ prime directive has always been redeeming the connection between God and man.  We get to facilitate that.

I know I can grow in this area, too. I consider this an open letter to all my fellow believers, myself included.  Please fully receive God’s love and acceptance for yourself so you can freely give it to others.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. –
I Corinthians 13:4-7

Haikus and True Confessions

I was having a hard time coming up with a topic for today’s blog.  My husband, bless his heart, thought I should write a haiku based on the words in my tagline. But I thought you, dear reader, might need more than that from me today.  Seeing as how it’s Tuesday and all.  Hence the confessions to follow.

My tagline reads Christianity.  Coffee. Chocolate.

Ok.

Christianity
Learning to die daily, we
arise to love now.

Coffee:  black, sweetened,
with cream, iced, blended, strong, mild
How don’t I love thee?

Chocolate, dusky joy
On my tongue. Siren song of
sweet bliss.  Marry me!

Whew!  Hey, I never said they were good. Now that’s out of the way, on to the meat of the matter.

Despite my best intentions, I have not been able to live life sugar-free.  I’m living with less sugar.  But I’m not avidly reading every label anymore. I try to eat with more intention. I don’t want an adversarial relationship with any food, except maybe lima beans.  That being said, I have never, ever forgotten to eat.  I have several friends who tell me they do on a regular basis.

I simply found life much less fun without the occasional cookie, pie or slice of cake.  No, I don’t eat them all the time.  But Cookie Monster is on to something.

The other confession I must make is that I stopped my 8-month Professor Horner Bible reading plan.  It simply made no sense to me.  I started out reading Matthew 1, Joshua 1, Job 1, Proverbs 1, Psalm 1, Acts 1, Matthew 1, 1 Corinthians 1, Romans 1, Genesis 1.  I found myself unable to concentrate reading such a disjointed plan.  I didn’t remember from day to day what happened or what truths lay in the previous chapter. I kept dropping the thread of the story or theme.  I found myself simply going through the motions, making notches on my invisible belt.  Ten chapters a day is nothing to sneeze at.  I think I would have gotten more out of ten contiguous chapters, like in the 3-month Bible reading plan.  Now that I’ve quit, it’s as if a great weight rolled off my shoulders.

My alternative is to read as I feel led.  Doing it this way feels like free-falling to me; I’m excited and wee bit terrified at the same time.  Won’t you join me?