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Atheist’s Perspective on Church October 16, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Christianity.
6 comments

My mom just gave me a printout of an interview with the atheist who agreed to visit a whole bunch of churches and give his perspective on them. He then wrote the book “I Sold My Sould on eBay”. Check out the full article here. The following are everal comments he made that got me thinking.

 1. He noticed that all Christians gave testimonies that went something like “I was hopeless and miserable. And now that I’ve found God, I’m much better.”  He never heard anyone saying that they were okay and are now better with God.  He himself doesn’t feel miserable so does that mean Christianity has nothing to offer him.  It’s an intriguing question.  I think sometimes we actually try and dramatize our testimonies so they’ll apparently have more pull, carry more weight. But maybe that can actually backfire.

 2. He commented on how, growing up with a religous family, when they saw people having a rough time, or who were homeless, etc. they were encouraged to ‘pray for them’ but rarely did anything. Now that he’s an atheist and doesn’t believe there’s a God that will step in to help these people, he feels more impetus to get personally involved. Ouch!  What a commentary against the apathy that has crept into the church.

3. He describes the way a service was run at a church he didn’t really like. His description reminded me of some of the seeker friendly churches that I’ve been too. Which is interesting…cuz this guy, the supposed target population of these types of churches,didn’t like what they were doing at all.

Read the article. What do you think? Have any of you read his book?

Zoned October 2, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Life.
8 comments

Some of you are probably wondering if I’ve disappeared from cyberspace altogether. Nope…but I have been excessively busy. Not only do I have courses at University, but I’m doing a thesis this year, preparing applications for grad school, and I’ve taken on the role of youth leader at church. So…I’ve got a lot on my plate.

Case in point to illustrate just how brain-logged I must be. This morning I’m driving to school and I stopped at an intersection for a red light. I’m sitting there thinking away, semi-alert for when the light turns green. A car honking behind me brings me out of my reverie to realize that I am actually at a four way stop a block before I even get to the red light and that it was my turn to go a long time ago. Whoops. I felt a bit sheepish.

Any crazy zoned stories?

(Total side story…just something I thought was hilarious the other day. I’m sitting at Webster’s Falls enjoying a bit of solitude when these two young ladies walk by where I’m at. The one has a camera and the other is in what looks like a wedding or prom dress of some kind. They are trying to find unique shots and are even venturing knee deep into the creek and such to get them. I finally, out of curiosity, ask them what they are doing…are they actually taking photos for a special event or is this a photo student practicing with a friend as a model. They reply that this is called ‘Trash the Dress’. Apparently, the girl in the dress had been married shortly before but had been frustrated at the conservative, ‘safe’ nature of her wedding photos due to the necessity of preserving her dress for the reception, etc. So now that the wedding was over, she was out with a friend getting all the crazy shots she couldn’t get before. I thought that was hilarious…and kind of neat.)

Unnaturally Unatural September 12, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep, God.
4 comments

I’m a teaching assistant for a class this fall and we had the opportunity to put a brief profile up on the web. One of the questions it asked was what books and music we would take with us to a desert island. I would definitely take the Bible and some of my worship CDs, but I hesitated to put it on there for fear that it would either turn people off or label me in such a way that would make open discussion in the classroom difficult (ie. would being known as a Christian make students less likely to trust my answers in class). That bothered me somehow because the answer to a question as simple as what books and music I like should be a no brainer…answering it should come naturally. I began to think of other areas such as asking for advice about school decisions. Its really hard to include in the conversation the fact that my overall orientation towards such decisions is a belief that God is leading me. Instead, I’m usually very concious of leaving that sort of info out.

If my worldview is such that I believe God is intimately involved in my life, that he is in control, that he loves me and so forth, there are countless places in conversation where that should jus slip out. And yet, it doesn’t very often. There’s a sort of preset choke mechanism within me that is always valuing appropriateness. And thus, what should be natural feels very unatural.

And the fact that it feels unatural…is well unatural. Thus, the fact that I don’t feel comfortable simply making reference to my faith and how I see God involved in every aspect of my life is ‘unaturally unatural’.

A big consequence of this is that we actually grow to doubt what we believe rather than strengthen it. Its a psychological reality that our attitudes often align themselves with what we speak, and if we never speak of what God is up to in our lives, we will find it more and more difficult to recognize his presence and involvement ourselves.

Bloodsucker slayers! September 12, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Christianity.
1 comment so far

Alright…this one isn’t for queasy stomachs.

The other day a friend was telling me that while we was praying for a particular place, she had a picture of this dark, ugly creature that was sucking the life out of the people there. Then she saw that the prayers of the church were pouring salt on this creature causing it to shrivel up and release its hold.

It hit me that pouring salt is exactly what we do to leeches (bloodsuckers) and that ‘blooducker’ is a perfect caricature of the enemy and how he attacks the lifeflow of people, draining them through overwork or emotional wounds, etc. It kind of gives another dimension to what Jesus meant when he called us to be the salt of the earth, doesn’t it?

Inclusiveness September 6, 2007

Posted by amybeth in School.
7 comments

Yesterday I went to a workshop for TAs (teaching assistants) on ‘The Inclusive Classroom’. From the description (interpreted through the lens of my own interest background), I assumed that that we were going to be taught how to work with diversity in the classroom, particularly in terms of helping the various cultures that come to McMaster learn the material and excel as much as their peers.

That’s not what it was about at all. It had nothing to do with learning, perse, but with eliminating discrimination, making everyone feel welcome regardless of race, gender, disability or sexual orientation. While I am strongly against racism or discrimination of any kind and believe that we should definitely confront such when we find it, encouraging, instead, a fundamental belief in the equality of everyone, I get frustrated with the way in which ‘inclusiveness’ has become an obsession to the point in which one has to trip over one’s tongue in order to risk the least hint of potentially offending someone with their language, regardless of their true intentions. Can’t we all give each other a bit of grace and trust that, for the most part, people today are good intentioned and want to show respect to all peoples? Sometimes an accusation of discrimination creates more division than was ever intended in the first place, pointing out difference that was never even noticed in the first place.

One thing I found amusing was the way in which the workshop leader struggled to model what she was teaching. She was being so cautious in her wording, trying to avoid any hint of exlusion. At one point she was talking about some distinction between the dominant culture in the West and others but in doing so she used the word ‘whites’. Instinctively sensing that perhaps that was not the right choice, she scrambled for an alternative and came up with ‘non-ethnic’. Satisfied at last, she went on with her teaching.

Now is it just me, or does the word ‘non-ethnic’ strike you as even more problematic than ‘white’. For some reason, it implies that Caucasions have no ethnicity, but even worse, it implies that they, therefore, are the default from which all other ethnicities diverge. Now, if that isn’t culture-centric, I don’t know what is.

Any feedback? How do you feel about the whole inclusion issue? How do you react to the word ‘non-ethnic’? Have you ever encountered a situation where this extreme caution about wording has made a real difference in how a person feels about themselves (I’m not talking about preventing an overt reaction of offense…I’m talking about the true self-esteem of people)?

Grocery Shopping 101 September 6, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Life.
3 comments

Okay…so yesterday I went grocery shopping at the Fortinos closest to the University. I think I’ve only been shopping there at this time of year once before, so I’d forgotten what it was like. There were no single shoppers…just groups. Either the group was a set of roommates haggling over what they needed or the best brand, trying valiantly to shopy by consensus. Or it was parents shopping with their teenager extending advice about what to buy and sometimes running into interesting roadblocks when they discovered, for example, that their child had decided to go with Soy milk instead of regular. The students all walked around with this sort of stunned, bug-eyed look. In one conversation I overheard, a student was exclaiming at how many shelves of a certain type of product there were compared to the tiny section of that same thing in their local grocery store. Culture shock at Fortinos!

I totally sympathize with their plight and how overwhelmed they must be, how nervous on their behalf the parents must be. And yet I have no compunction about recieving a measure of amusement at their expense. What can I say…it was funny! 

I don’t think I ever had that sudden of a change because even before I left home I was expected to do my own grocery shopping. So I could venture into that area of responsibility while my mom was still around to consult later. How about you…any school or living on your own culture shock stories?

Floating on the Sky August 28, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Life.
1 comment so far

My dad and I went canoeing on the Grand River yesterday. It was so beautiful…peaceful.  The thing I loved the most, I think, was how the sky reflected on the surface of the water. If I stared at the surface of the water as I paddled, it was like we were skimming across the clouds.

Ancient Parallels August 22, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
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I just read a novel by Lynn Austin called “God and Kings”. Its the first in a series about King Hezekiah in the Old Testament. In her interpretation of the story, she has drawn some amazing parallels with the current state of the church and the struggles we face trying to make the message of Christ relevant to modern society. I thought I’d quote a particularly pertinent dialogue that really caught my attention when I first read it.

The setting:  Ahaz has just offered High Priest Uriah the position of chief advisor, however the first tasks Uriah has been assigned are to strip the gold of the temple for an a gift to placate Assyria and to prepare for a sacrifice to Molech. Uriah is torn because he wants to see worship restored to the temple, but these things are…well, wrong. The following dialogue comes from a council meeting of priests where he is trying to convince them that his doing these things is okay, and even good. I’ve only typed out the most relevant sections…you’ll have to read the book yourself for more.

Uriah – “We serve a dead institution…Look around you. Even the building is crumbling down on us, and we don’t have the resources to repair it. It’s time we faced the truth: the men of Jerusalem are no longer willing to support this Temple or its priesthood with their tithes. Like the king, they go elsewhere for spiritual help, to the idols and shrines and groves. Meanwhile, we barely take in enough  offerings to keep our families alive. It’s time to make some changes….Our Temple worship must change as the world changes or it will eventually die out altogether. We’re so bound to tradition that we no longer listen to the people. I’m not talking about changing Yahweh’s laws, I’m talking about examining our traditions. If the men of Judah are drawn to the religions of the nations around us, then we need to ask ourselves why. It’s time we consider changing our outmoded traditions to fit the times instead of blindly clinging to the old ways.”

Conaniah – “You want to revive the worship of Yahway by sacrificing to Molech? That’s insane! The only way to revive Temple worship is through repentance. The men of judah must give up their idolatry and turn their hearts back to God!”

Uriah – “Repentance! Where has that gotten us? The whole purpose of the Temple is to serve the spiritual needs of the people. Obviously our traditions aren’t meeting those needs or the people would come back. First we must draw them back to worship. Later we can wean them from their idolatry.”

Hmmm…food for thought ain’t it??? Are there any of God’s ways, God’s principles that have become watered down, compromised over the years as the church has struggled to remain relevant and palatable to society?

Spiritual Painting Lessons August 22, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep, Life.
1 comment so far

Well, I decided this summer that I couldn’t afford to go away, take a trip, experience an adventure (I had wanted to take a guided canoe trip in Algonquin park)…sighh. So I racked my brain trying to come up with fun stuff I could do around home. I decided to take a beginning acrylic painting class (by the time you add supplies to the cost of the class its not thaaaat much cheaper than going away…but I didn’t know that starting out).

The last time I actually painted a picture on canvas was in Grade 10…that was approximately 10 years ago…and I wasn’t that good at it. But I’ve always sort of wondered if I could be any good if I got lessons. I’ve tended to stick to more controllable mediums like paper and pencil or images on the computer. For some reason, painting has always frustrated me cuz its not as simple as just making marks on a page…you’ve got to understand color and build up layers of strokes. In reality…you are not depicting an image, you are implying it.

As I started pondering all that, I began to get this inkling that there was something else going on in my taking this painting class, a prophetic act God was calling me to engage in (by that I mean, I was to do/learn something in the natural in order to do/learn something in the spiritual). I’ve struggled with how un-straightforward life is sometimes…especially in the church. We talk about what God is doing, his desire for his bride, the impact the church is to have in the community and so on. And yet in reality, any project we undertake involves imperfect people and only kind of vaguely implies this bigger destiny.

Metaphorically speaking, pastors are amazing painters. They understand the limitations of their medium (people) and they have an incredible level of patience to continue building layer upon layer as they bring groups together, implement projects, counsel families and so on. They understand that any stroke that is laid upon the canvas now does not specifically represent anything in terms of the final pictures, but rather contributes to the overall effect which will create the impression of the church, the bride of God’s heart. As such, they do not get frustrated when something doesn’t turn out quite right or seems a little off-colour or crooked…they understand that as more strokes are applied, the painting will be adjusted and turn out just fine.

I don’t have this kind of understanding…yet. And so I see this painting class as God’s way of teaching me a little bit more about how to see the world, to see what he’s up to, to see the possibilities of dreams being fulfilled…to hope again. Even in my own life as I’m trying to make some decisions about graduate school, I’m trying to find the perfect fit, the thing that will define my career, the rest of my life. And yet, I’m beginning to recognize that whatever further education I take, it will only be another stroke on the canvas contributing to the overall picture. In the end, that particular stroke may not look anything like it did when first laid down. It may play a minor or a major role in the overall composition. I don’t know. But I need to relax and enjoy the process of painting, instructed by the master painter himself.

Feed Your Discontent? July 24, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
3 comments

I was in the Christian bookstore the other day and skimmed a book by Bill Hybels. I can’t remember the title (sorry), but the theme was figuring out what God has called you to do. His basic premise was that most of us have something that irritates us, some injustice that just totally drives us nuts. Some people eventually get so fed up, that they do something, anything to help bring change in that area. Other people try to alleviate the discomfort by avoiding anything that might stir up that angst. (For example, some people might find that the plight of the homeless really touches them and whenever they hear of government decisions to reduce support to shelters or other things that would negatively affect this population, they get really angry. So…they could choose to get involved and advocate for the homeless or they could turn off the news station).  There are all sorts of issues which affect each individual differently. Something that gets you all stirred up might not even be on my radar screen. Hybel’s challenge was to not avoid those things that create discomfort, but to actually feed our area of discontent, expose ourself to that issue, until it drives us to get involved and that as we get involved, we will find that we walk into our calling, the area in which we feel most fulfilled.

I skimmed another book, a biography by the creator of Veggie Tales, that offered a somewhat different perspective. After the company filed for bankruptcy due to an alleged accusation that was later dropped, God brought this man to a place of stillness before him, teaching him that all his years of driven service had been focused on trying to please God through works and not about getting to know God in relationship. The man (I forget his name) decided that from then on, he wasn’t going to create any long term plans but simply seek God for each decision. He has since started a new company for which he refused to develop the typical 5 yr business plan. He says Christians have no business trying to determine things that far in advance. Instead, he and his employees set aside time to pray together about decisions and seek God for ideas.

In some ways, these two accounts seem opposed to one another, but in other ways, they don’t. They may just be puzzle pieces from different parts of the big picture. What do you think?  How valuable is either piece of advice? Have you experienced an area of discontent, a striving to please God rather than know him, a seeking him first and not worrying about the future?  How have you found balance between doing and being?