Category Archives: religion

What I Believe In

Tonight I spoke at our Wednesday evening Vespers service. I thought I’d share what I had to say here. A little background: from September through now we’ve been looking at the Apostle’s Creed and thinking about our own beliefs and doubts how they mesh or maybe don’t mesh with the statements made in the creed. I told Scott, the Vespers coordinator, that I’d like to speak one of the nights. And I thought I knew what I was going to say but in the end, this all came together for me this morning.

I don’t know what I believe.

At least, that’s how I often feel. Whether it’s doubt or the rather exhausting way my brain must look at everything from every side but rarely come to a succinct conclusion; I feel as though I either believe in everything or nothing at all.

The beliefs I held twenty years ago are vastly different from the beliefs I held ten years ago which are quite different from the beliefs I hold today. On the one hand, I know that is to be expected as I age and, hopefully, mature. On the other hand, my propensity to seemingly be swayed either by time and experience or by a well thought out argument troubles me. Am I getting wiser or just being wishy washy?

As I’ve been contemplating what I was going to say here tonight, I came to realize the difference between core beliefs, the foundational ones that will never change, and transient beliefs that center around personal preferences or schools of thought or what’s popular at any given moment. It’s the transient beliefs that have been changing as I get older and learn more. They may define seasons of my life but they do not define who I am.

Before a few months ago, I had never given much thought to the creed that we’ve been focusing on for the past several weeks. Creed was an academic word to me, a concept, something else other religions focused on. But as we read those words each week and contemplated each part of it, I began to see that that is where my core belief lies. I believe those statements we read each and every week. And I always have. And I always will.

I’m not sure what I believe when it comes to many of the hot button issues our churches face. I’m not sure what I believe in terms of how we read the Bible or how exactly prayer works or where we came from.

But I do believe in God. I do believe in Jesus. I do believe in the Holy Spirit. This will not change. It can’t change, because it is as much a part of me as this mortal shell I dwell in.

That is what I believe in.

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My Lent: Epilogue

glamour MaliaWell, I did it. I went 40 39 days without eating sugary foods like brownies, cookies, cake, pie, candy, donuts, cokes, sweet tea, lattes, milkshakes, etc, etc. No, it was not easy. No, I really didn’t feel better while I was “fasting”. I did lose a few pounds, that was nice. Yes, I craved it every. single. day. Yes, it did get a bit easier after awhile but it was never easy and never very far from my consciousness.

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This week I’ve been enjoying many of the things I had abstained from. I had brownies for breakfast on Sunday morning, oh yes I did! I’ve had real coca-cola, a Rolover (chocolate & caramel latte) and a cookie from Fido, Samoas (Girl Scout cookies), sweet tea and “taxes” from the kids’ Easter baskets.

I was told by born & raised Catholics that my choice of Lent abstinence was rather ambitious. I agree. But I gained some insights from it.

  1. It’s encouraging to know that I can do it. I don’t have to eat sweet things, I can say no.
  2. The profound never occurs the way we think it will.
  3. Next year will be different! For one, I’ll pick a singular something to abstain from, not an entire category! I think I’ll also try some of the traditional observance like abstaining from meat.

Thanks for following me through this exercise of faith. I hope in some small way, it was helpful for you, too.

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My Lent: Part Four

glamour MaliaExistential crisis. In my life I’ve never really questioned the existence of God or the truth of Jesus or the workings of the Holy Spirit or the mystery of all three. There have been many times when I doubted my own place in this world. Times when I struggled mightily with sin, it’s consequences and the truths that come to light because of it. I’ve been confused and angry with God but I never doubted him.

Until Maddie died.

Life is such a strange thing. Why the death of a child whom I don’t know would affect me so profoundly is unexplainable. I just know that by the time I got to church on Wednesday night for Vespers, I doubted God for the first time in my life. And I was sure that I was done with him and his church.

I sat in the semi-dark, candlelit room and cried. I was so sad for Heather and Mike. So worried about another family I know who’s 3 month old son is in a hospital struggling for his life. So done with believing in a God that let bad things happen.

Then our speaker for the evening got up to talk. Now, I’ve had the experience of hearing a sermon or reading a blog post or talking to a friend that seemed to be directed straight at me. Words I needed to hear, ideas I needed to ponder, comfort I needed to accept. But Wednesday night was the most profound and powerful experience of that I’ve ever had. That Vespers talk was for me. I know it was.

He spoke of his own existential crises, of a time when he declared he was done with God and the revelation he found from it. He spoke of a deeply rooted faith, of mystery and of accepting that there are no answers to many of our hardest questions. I wish I was talented enough to describe to you what happened to me as I sat there listening to him and crying. The realization of my own deeply rooted faith that would never, ever be able to give up on God came with a keen physical sensation. I think it could be called relief.

You see, in all my darkest times in life, I’ve never felt like God has left me. I’ve always felt his presence with me. Even on Wednesday. But there I was telling God I was done, I was leaving, no more, good-bye. And the irony of it is actually quite comical. It was like standing in front of tree and declaring to the tree that you don’t believe it’s there and then sitting down underneath it, resting against it’s trunk and taking comfort in it’s shade. The tree isn’t going to leave me and I can’t leave the tree.

I’m still very sad. In fact, this week has been marked with much death, destruction and despair. I’m really tired of hearing bad news. I’m grateful for the little bits of good news sprinkled in, like the birth of another little girl. One life ended, another began. And so it goes.

I was looking for something profound during this Lenten season. I don’t know what exactly I expected but I know it wasn’t this. I guess when it comes to faith, we never quite get what we expect from God, we get what we need.

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Maddie’s parents, Heather and Mike Spohr, requested in lieu of flowers for Maddie that donations be made to the March of Dimes. Several of us bloggers around the country who knew or knew of Heather and Maddie have formed walk teams for the annual March of Dimes fundraising walks. I’m walking for Maddie on Sunday, April 19th. If you are so inclined, I’d be humbled and delighted if you sponsored me for this walk.

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My Lent: Part Three

glamour MaliaI was expecting something a little more profound.

There’s more to this Lent observance than just not doing something for 40 days. I have a lot to learn. I’ll confess that this has been more of an exercise in self-control for me rather than an exercise in faith.

But perhaps the two are linked? I hope so. I’d really like to come away from this experience with something more than…the knowledge of that I stuck to my vow. And perhaps that in and of itself is profound?

I do hope so.

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My Lent: Part Two

glamour MaliaThree weeks. I’ve made it three weeks without eating (real)* ice cream or (real) cookies or brownies or donuts or muffins or cake or pie. I’ve  not had (real) coke, (real) sweet tea or used my favorite creamer in my coffee. I’ve also not had oatmeal because I eat it with brown sugar, or pancakes because I like them with real maple syrup. No peanut butter sandwiches because I make them with honey. No biscuits because I put jelly on them. Oh, and no tasty cocktails, wine or beer. Mmmm….beer.

If you had told me even in January that I would go 3 weeks without indulging my favorite sweets and treats and beverages, I would have thought you were off your rocker.

And I still have another 3+ weeks to go.

The last few days I have even found myself fantasizing about how I will break my Lenten fast. Seriously, I’m not even kidding. I had a good laugh with a friend earlier this evening who has given up caffeine. He suggested we go to Krispy Kreme Easter Sunday morning and celebrate with donuts and coffee. I’ll end up passed out from a sugar induced coma and he’ll be bouncing off the walls from the caffeine high!

And if anyone ever tells you that giving up sugar is easy and you won’t miss it, they are lying! Liar, liar pants on fire!! Fire…roasted marshmallows…s’mores….

It’s going to be a long 3+ weeks.

*(real) – denotes that I have had sugar-free replacements of these items. It’s not the same, not the same at all!

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My Lent: Part One

glamour MaliaTechnically, assuming I make it, I’ll only go 39 days sans sugary foods. That’s because I didn’t actually settle on what I would abstain from until our Ash Wednesday Vespers service. But so far, I’ve been “successful”. I say that in quotes because even though I have managed to not indulge in cookies (you know we were smack dab in the middle of Girl Scout cookie season when all this came about right?), brownies, ice cream, cokes, sugar sweetened coffee & lattes, sweet tea, etc, etc, (I need to stop listing these because I’m only so strong!) I have found some substitutes for them.

Substituting feels a bit like cheating to me. Part of the intention behind my choice was the acknowledgment that I over consume those foods since I use them for the purposes of comforting myself. Happy? Have some ice cream! Sad? Make some brownies! Need help waking up? Drink lots of coffee with Coffee-Mate French Vanilla creamer! Need an afternoon pick me up? Drink a coke! So sugar free forms of these items only takes the sugar away, not the reason behind consuming them.

I’m also adverse artificial sweeteners. I’ve never really enjoyed food and drink sweetened with any of the variety of sugar substitutes out there. But in an effort to not go completely insane I’ve allowed myself the occasional diet soda, sugar free cookie or other such artificially sweetened item.

Coffee has, by far, been the hardest to adjust for my taste buds. I considered giving it up altogether since I wouldn’t be using my normal creamer choice. But that’s just crazy talk! I got some out that new artificial sweetener, Truvia. Yuck. I tried to drink the coffee without any sweetener. Double yuck. Then a couple of my tweeple (twitter peeps) recommended agave nectar. Hallelujah! I like it!

It’s been both easy and difficult to “give up” sugary foods. I take my vow very seriously, so saying no and denying myself those treats isn’t really that hard. However, I have to think so much more about food now. I honestly consumed all those items without a second thought. So adjusting to not grabbing a cookie or a piece of chocolate when I just “want a little somethin'” and not having a Sonic Cherry Coke in the afternoon as a pick-me-up and not soothing my PMS woes with a pan of brownies means having to find an alternative. Too be quite honest, I’ve not been a very pleasant person to live with the past 2 1/2 weeks.

And then there’s the religious aspect. This Lenten abstinence is supposed to be a reminder to me. It’s supposed to prune and shape me not make me lust after cupcakes in magazine ads. I still have a ways to go with this whole experience. I’m still getting the hang of making this a faith building and strengthening exercise, not just an exercise in self-discipline.

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My Lent: Prologue

glamour MaliaI remember in high school every February when Ash Wednesday would come around; students would show up with ashes on their foreheads boasting that they would be “giving up” booze or sex for Lent. In those days of youth, it seemed more like a joke than a real religious observance.

And until a few years ago, I hadn’t given Lent another thought. Then my church began the Wednesday night Vespers services. Our Vespers services follow the Liturgical calendar of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Ordinary time. For the last few years, I’ve participated in Lent only through getting ashes smudged on my forehead on Ash Wednesday and attending the Lenten Vespers services. Last year I thought I’d give the “giving up” something thing a go. I decided to stop yelling at my children. Um yeah, I didn’t even make it home from church that night.

But why observe Lent? I’m not even Catholic. There are many ways of expressing faith in God that the Churches of Christ have never fully observed. On one hand, disciplines such as fasting are talked about but not often practiced by entire congregations. Tithing, on the other hand, is expected and though not officially required, is often strongly encouraged. Oh the ironies! My fellowship of faith rejects many of the practices from Catholicism and orthodox religions as being unnecessary to living out a faith in Jesus Christ. Yet as I get older and essentially more complacent in my faith, I’m finding that the watered down, by the Book, legalistic traditions do little to encourage my faith.

And yet, those things serve as a firm foundation upon which I can grow and supplement with other ways of expressing and living out my faith. Which is where observing Lent comes in. That is Lent, on my own terms.

There are many aspects to the Lenten season that I don’t know about or even fully understand. The major one seems to be the practice of abstaining from something pleasurable for the 40-day period of time from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.  It’s a personal choice for each individual observing Lent. My choice was deeply personal and made for even more personal reasons. And since the choice was personal and it’s “my first rodeo”, so to speak, I’m just focusing on the abstinence part. As a friend, who is also observing Lent, quipped to me the other day, “One thing at a time. We C of C girls have to start off slow.”

Vowing to do something, or not do something as the case would be, is a tremendous responsibility. It requires self-discipline, forethought, courage and commitment. Those are all qualities that strengthen faith and relationships. I’m not sure I fully understood this as I embarked on this Lenten season but I’m understanding it now.

My abstinence item of choice is the consumption of sugary foods. Everything from my sugar sweetened coffee in the mornings, to desserts of any kind, to sodas and alcohol. For the rest of the Lenten season, I’ll write a little bit about how it’s going and what I’ve learned from it.

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Here’s Your Sign

It seems to me that the best “sign” that an able-minded person can receive from God is the simple fact that God saw fit to endow you with a working brain. If you are of rational mind and reasonable intelligence, I don’t think it’s necessary to try and find “signs” that you are doing the right thing. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be mindful of God’s will for our lives by being in prayer and study. I think that if you are able to see a situation for what it is whether it’s deciding to take a new job, to move to another city/state/country, to end an abusive relationship, to have more children, to change churches and so on, then you can make that decision without relying on “signs”. Yes, sometimes things happen in our lives that add clarity to those decisions but just because everything falls into place doesn’t necessarily make it a “God thing”. God’s will for our life isn’t a “That was easy!” button. Life itself is a “God thing” and it’s up to us to make something of the life we’ve been given. There are times when everything works out and decisions are easy. And there are times when things will work out but the decision is still very hard.

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Sacred Space – Epilogue

180px-opus_blue.jpgI began this post as a part of the Museum of Sacred Space post last fall.  Portions of it have been sitting in draft form since then for fear of sharing these thoughts. 

It is said that there is a darkened room in the recesses of every person that we dare not let anyone else near for fear of exposing our true self.  

There is something about “feel”, sacred space, mysticism and spirituality that is lacking in the version of Christianity to which I am accustomed. Entrenched squarely in the Enlightenment, what matters most in my tradition is what one knows and believes.  It is a cerebral, internal, intellectual and thoughtful thing.  Knowing and believing are wonderful and necessary but I think they are not entirely what it means to be in relationship with the divine or sacred. 

I attended a “green” business summit last week that focused on sustainability.  Some of the most fascinating seminar speakers talked about how the science of sustainability is going to nature to determine better ways to do things.  It is a concept called “biomimicry”.  It is all the rage.  It is also nothing new. 

We once thought that we could tame the world to do our bidding….bigger, better, faster, higher returns with smaller inputs, more, more, more.  We thought that we could know everything there is to know about the world.  However, we are slowly learning that we are but one component of a very complex system.  We are learning that the natural way is cyclical not exponential, that our choices fueled by our knowledge have consequences that we can not always foresee or know.

Somewhere along the way our knowledge outstripped our ability to observe anything further in some matters (eg. string theory) and we lost touch with the natural rhythm and harmony of life.  Michael Polanyi speaks well of this when he writes about transcendence in this essay.  Within a framework of hierarchies and boundaries, the higher one gets in hierarchical levels, the more meaningful but intangible the levels become.

I think that is where the divine intersects our existence, something that we can encounter but can’t explain, something that we can know but not tell, something that, in its comprehensive form, is incomprehensible, something that is deeply meaningful but intangible, something ever-present but undetectable.

The more I think about this the more I understand that the encounter of the sacred in our lives is as individually resonant as just about anything else in life.  While the St. Patrick’s Cathedral was beautiful and grand, it did not stir in me a sense of the sacred like beautiful art or a sunset or some music or a cool rock does.  Aunt B “sits out“, Malia has her Wednesdays, and I have my music and art. 

In all of these, we open that darkened room within ourselves and encounter what lives there.  These are the encounters which ground us, which shape who we are as people, which define our true selves.  It is here that we find our sacred space.   

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Easter “Lite”

oc-christmas-025_crop2.jpgBack in December, our worship minister resigned to pursue other opportunities. He had a bunch of responsibilities in his worship ministry role including Christmas and Easter plays/concerts/productions. His resignation came after the Christmas concert was finished and it didn’t really hit me how much he set the tone for these two holidays until we got to Easter. There was no play/concert/production. There was no special chorus group for Sunday morning’s worship time. The cross that is always used at this time of year did not get set out and draped with a purple sash. And to be quite honest, yesterday felt kind of, well, bland. (I’m not at all disparaging what anyone did for yesterday’s service, just making an observation.)

And I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I know it shouldn’t take the charisma and talents of a worship minister for me to feel excited and joyous about our risen Savior on Easter (or any other Sunday for that matter). But on the other hand, I really missed that aspect of Easter Sunday this year.

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