Category Archives: religion

In Congress, July 4, 1776

Declaration of Independence (NARA image)

Declaration of Independence (National Archive)

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

Some 233 years ago, the founders of our nation put their lives, families, and fortunes at risk to pave the way for a noble experiment — a new nation based on the consent of the governed and recognizing as self-evident that we are all born with certain rights that must not be violated.

Since then we’ve weathered the challenges of political parties and partisan division, the influence of special interest groups of every stripe, and the full range of other challenges that face a nation.

Despite our differences, on this most holy day of our civic religion may we remember not to let our partisanship or our religious differences divide us. We took our first step as a people with differing political beliefs but united by a common cause: to exercise our birthright of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

After all this time, we still find we have differences. At times the discussion about them becomes shrill. But through it all we remain one nation.

Today of all days may we remember that despite our differences, we are all Americans.

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Trying to be christian: “Be thou clothed”

Organized religion can be a tough gig. More often than not, we see a lot of profession of faith or of religious principle followed by little action or by hypocrisy. Well, here’s today’s beautiful words that I hope I’ll manage to follow through on…
A common problem among various congregations is that people stop coming to meetings for one reason or another (offended by someone, made a mistake and felt too guilty/embarrassed to return, fell away long ago and afraid of judgments, etc.).
  • Do we miss those that have stopped attending?
  • Do they know that we miss them?
  • What are we doing to make sure they know that?
In every country I’ve served in, I’ve visited with members who stopped attending church meetings and didn’t feel like anybody cared. “If the members really loved me as much as they claimed, they’d notice I wasn’t there and say something, wouldn’t they?”
We often do notice when people aren’t there. We ask our spouse or our friends “Did you see brother So-and-so?” Sometimes we even resolve to make a phone call or drop by to see how brother or sister So-and-so is doing. Then we get in our cars, go home, get distracted by the rest of life, and fail to make that phone call or visit. We may even repeat this cycle the next Sunday, feeling a greater drive. “I was going to call brother So-and-so last week and I forgot. I’ll make sure to do it once I get home today.” And the cycle repeats until we forget altogether who we were going to call.
It’s possible I turn to James too often on this kind of thing, but let’s look at James 2:15-16.

15 If a brother or asister be naked, and destitute of daily bfood, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye agive them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

In speaking to all members of the early Christian church, James pointed out the silliness of our actions even in the modern era. Faced with people that need food or clothing, do we clothe them or feed them? We say some pretty words, say “see you Sunday,” and pray for God to rain help on the poor and needy while failing to help the poor and needy standing right before us.
Focusing on our brothers and sisters that feel isolated or unwanted, we say “welcome” or “let me know if I can do anything for you” without providing any follow through. It’s exactly what James is talking about. “Be warmed” or “be filled.” So what? If we don’t take action, the need goes unfulfilled. Praying for those in need is good. But sometimes God calls upon us to be the answer to the prayer, not just the person praying.
This is the part where, in a typical sunday school lesson one of us would mention that sometimes what’s most important to people is to know that we’re willing to help, not that we smother them with our well wishes, or that one of us points out that sometimes just smiling and saying hello makes a huge difference. There are times these points are true, but let’s not be satisfied with ourselves too easily. A chorus of “hello” rings empty if there’s no notes to follow the promising introduction. “Let me know if you need anything” feels cheap if we aren’t willing to develop sufficient trust with people that they feel comfortable sharing their needs with us. When we’ve developed trust, we’ll stop speaking in Hallmark cards and start providing real help, because those we’re helping will direct our action to their real needs. When we have trust, we can follow the guidance of the holy spirit without fearing we’ll offend.
Jesus didn’t teach us to be nice to people, he taught us to love them. When we love people, we listen to them and to the spirit and we follow through.
We’re not going to do so perfectly. We’re going to mess up, and sometimes badly. But the Lord will help us as we strive to learn to do it right. He’ll help us learn to develop trusting relationships with those around us so we can actually bless each other like he’s called us to do.

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If we can…

“Charity, or love, is the greatest principle in existence. If we can lend a helping hand to the oppressed, if we can aid those who are despondent and in sorrow, if we can uplift and ameliorate the condition of mankind, it is our mission to do it, it is an essential part of our religion to do it” (Joseph F. Smith; Conference Report, Apr. 1917, 4).

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Fortunate son

Every time this year, my birthday rolls around with its requisite thoughts. On a good year (when I don’t make poor decisions about my attitude), I get to think about how fortunately placed my birthday is.

It wasn’t really supposed to happen when it did. I was born about a month premature (supposed to be a Halloween baby), and as best I’ve been able to put together, I gave my parents a bit of a worry for the first year or two.

It’s worked out rather well… I was born on my Dad’s birthday, so I get an easy way to remember when to call Dad with birthday wishes. With my brother Kevin coming on Oct 4th two years after I did, it was pretty easy to keep track of things. (Plus a triple birthday celebration to start off October.)

There’s some more general niceties as well.

Being born in early October puts your birthday in an interesting place in the Jewish and Muslim lunar calendars. The way things tend to shake out, my birthday’s usually within a month of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur) and the Muslim fast of Ramadan. Christian folk like myself may tend to save our holiday devotions for our local Thanksgiving or for Christmas, but I’m glad to have been born in the general area of what I consider to be the most holy time of the year (what with two major world religions holding some of their most important celebrations, even though they aren’t my own).

So before moving on (and because I’d planned to write about the holidays in their own post and probably won’t now), I just want to take a minute to remember Yahweh granting us this new year and time as we begin it to reflect on our sins, make things right, and atone, and begin our year as new souls. Let’s also remember Allah granting his word to the prophet, to guide us through the desert of life to salvation.

As if being surrounded by holy days weren’t enough, another gift came round. The Berlin wall started falling in late 1989, and Germany became a single, unified country again on October 3, 1990. As a 3rd generation German American who’s never been able to speak the language, there are only so many times I feel connected with the land of my forebears. Each year on my birthday I get this one.

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a web based prayer app?

Stolen from the pages of plainasm.

Going through web app bookmarks on ma.gnolia tonight I happened on something curious: a prayer request management and tracking application.

At first I wondered if this was for real or if someone thought they’d channel their web 2.0 energy into a “2.0 for Jesus” satire.

Initial reactions aside, this makes a lot of sense for religious folk… a space where you can develop a community of prayer, sharing things you’re praying for with friends, getting to know friends of friends through praying for them and trading comments. (It wouldn’t hurt the more self serving goal of just keeping your prayer requests straight either.)

What I see as the big unknown quantity is whether people will be shy about sharing the things they’re praying for with the community at large. It provides ways to do so, and ways to limit prayer items to a specific list of friends. My initial guess would be that people will keep their sharing pretty tight, but then, I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be so free as I am about sharing bookmarks through del.icio.us or ma.gnolia, or photos on flickr, so what do I know?

So… you think the web using public’s ready to basecamp their benedictions? Would you use such a tool to build your own prayer circle?

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Pride comes before… trouble

After last night’s political discussion, I read this in my daily reading:

Doctrine and Covenants 23:1

Behold, I speak to you, Oliver, a few words. Behold, thou art blessed, and art under no condemnation. But beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation.

Doctrine and Covenants is a book of revelations given to the prophet Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as mormons. This specific revelation was received in 1830, in behalf of a number of people that wanted word from God on their duties and how well they were performing them.

Anyway, this struck me in light of the political discussion I had with Eric and Jo because it describes one of the root causes of religious fundamentalism as it relates to politics. We talked a bit about the Jimmy quote from a week back. (For some reason the words came out in a Jimmy Carter voice too. Don’t know why exactly.)

So the way I’m looking at things, the tendency to see ourselves as superior for our proper relationship with God and others as inferior or subhuman for holding to different religious beliefs or not holding to any religion comes out of pride. Thing is, while President Carter cites this in reference to conservative fundamentalism, it’s just as possible for progressives, moderates, and liberals to espouse that same pride. “We’re enlightened religious folk, not like those crazy (inferior, subhuman) fundamentalists.”

The only refuge I can see for people of faith is to seek after the doctrine of their faith. In the case of mormons, ponder and try to understand the doctrines of Christ as he taught them directly and through his prophets through the ages. There may be tensions that need resolving (how do we provide for the immediate needs of the poor while helping them become self-sufficient?), and we have to be careful not to play salad bar–taking up only the doctrines (or interpretations of them) that are most comfortable to us or that our fears tell us to embrace.

It’s a tricky path, and like when following anyone, it can be easy to lose the way for the features of the road or the people along the way. But as we work at getting closer to the destination, and sincerely and authentically ponder our progress and path… we’ll make it.

We can all fall victim to pride, not just whatever “them” we feel like talking about. Pride knows no party, no economic status… as someone once said, it’s the universal sin.

Fortunately, we’ve still got choice. With enough care, with enough humility, we can keep ourselves out of pride’s cycle.

Just wish it weren’t so tricky sometimes.

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a quick Jimmy

When I get a chance to grab some exercise after work, I tend to read. It helps me to focus my attention on something other than the exertion. Give the body enough attention to keep it working hard, but not enough for it to complain at me.

My current workout book is Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, and while reading this evening, I came across something that me really impresionó. To give a little context, the thing that impressed me was expanding on a comment from his 2002 Nobel speech, where he said, “The present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.”

Christianity Today asked him to explain that further, leading to:

There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions—including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasingly, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: “Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong.” And the next step is “inherently inferior.” The ultimate step is “subhuman,” and then their lives are not significant.

That tendency has created, throughout the world, intense religious conflicts. Those Christians who resist the inclination toward fundamentalism and who truly follow the nature, actions, and words of Jesus Christ should encompass people who are different from us with our care, generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and unselfish love.

It is not easy to do this. It is a natural human inclination to encapsulate ourselves in a superior fashion with people who are just like us—and to assume that we are fulfilling the mandate of our lives if we just confine our love to our own family or to people who are similar and compatible. Breaking through this barrier and reaching out to others is what personifies a Christian and what emulates the perfect example that Christ set for us.”

His comments about “I’m better because God’s on my side” and the human inclination to encapsulate ourselves parallel concerns of mine. I can’t count how many sunday school classes I’ve been in where we start talking about what people are like “in the world” and how much “the world” isn’t like us. In respect to a number of standards and norms, this is true. We’re different. In many core respects though, we’re very much the same, and sometimes that seems to get lost, especially when talking about groups of people that don’t hold to the same standards of conduct as one’s own group.

I think one of the most difficult parts of Christianity is the idea of loving people while hating sin. It’s so easy to confound the two, either hating people we consider sinful (potentially running through the “inherently wrong… inferior… subhuman” progression that President Carter mentions), or condoning sins because of our love for the people committing them. (They’re people like you and me after all.)

I come from a background where people have made serious, sinful mistakes, the most painful mistakes being those made by people I care about and am close with. I can look back at energy wasted in the past, raging over what people had done to me and how it wasn’t fair. I wasn’t really able to move ahead in life until I learned to let those things go and remember that I can’t control what other people do and I’m not meant to. With that sort of background, if I err, I tend toward letting something someone does slide.

I hope that leaves me in a good spot. It’s served pretty well thus far in my ecclesiastical work. That said, I’m not in a place where I have to judge the worthiness of others beyond referring them to other authorities when grave issues come up. Even in those cases, I’m often amazed at how easily forgiveness flows and people change. Contrition and atonement make quite the combination.

And with that… I really better get to sleep. Sorry to lose focus at the end here.

Post some thoughts. Kick me into thinking things through a bit more.

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