Tag Archives: Lent

What is a “True Christian”?

Pentecost w Artist Effects

   This week a friend of mine, who’s an atheist, posted a link to a video of a guy who spent five minutes ranting about how he didn’t understand how any woman could be a Christian.  I respect my friend as a thinking person who has actually read the Bible before accepting it or rejecting it, because I know a number of skeptics and believers who have based their opinions on what they’ve heard is in the Bible.  So because I respect him, I watched the video all the way through as the speaker raged, making the same claims over and over again without ever pointing to much of anything specific to support his argument, as if repeating it endlessly might make him believe it himself.
   Afterwards, I wrote back to my friend, telling him that while I respected his opinions, there are far more logical atheists who actually have sound arguments for what they believe.  He wrote back to me, suggesting that, because I choose to focus on the messages of grace in the Bible, I am “cherry-picking.”  He said that if people are going to accept part of the Bible, they have to accept it all:  “A person cannot be a true Christian without believing in the teachings of the Bible.”  Translation—you, Estelene, are not a true Christian.
   So here we are again, in an either/or world—a world that so many of us want to see in simplistic terms—black or white, right or wrong, for or against.  I can’t accept such a world. The world is sometimes light, sometimes dark, sometimes dusk, sometimes dawn.  The world is sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy, sometimes both—resulting in an amazing rainbow.  People are sometimes good, sometimes evil, sometimes a mix of the two—simply complex human beings.
   And that’s the way I read the Bible.  It isn’t the inerrant word of God.  It isn’t a collection of mythical stories meant to teach a lesson.  It’s the stories of people who are struggling with good and evil, light and dark, hate and love.  Sometimes they completely miss the mark, and sometimes they’re close.  Just like you and me.  And my favorite stories in the Bible are those where Jesus is kind and understanding to the people who can’t quite reach him but can’t quite let him go either.
   First, there is the story of the woman who just needed to reach out and touch Jesus’ robe to know she will get the healing she needs. Jesus is being jostled in a huge crowd, and He suddenly stops and asks who has touched Him. The woman figures she will never get Him to give her the time of day with all those people demanding His attention, but she is convinced she will be okay the moment she touches Him.  And she is.
   The second is the story of the man whom we have come to know as “Doubting Thomas.”  Jesus appears to the disciples after the crucifixion, and Thomas can’t believe it unless he sees it for himself.  The part I love about the story is that Jesus understands Thomas’ doubt and tells him, “Here, stick your fingers in these wounds and see for yourself.”  I also love it that Thomas is willing to reach out his hands and take a chance that his doubts might be wrong.
   The third of my favorites is a father’s story.  This man’s child has been plagued by convulsions all of his life, and the father can do nothing. He asks the disciples to heal his son, and the disciples, too, are powerless. When the father sees Jesus, he cries out for help. Jesus tells him that if he will just believe, his son will be healed. The man declares his belief, but then, in the same breath, he begs, “Help my unbelief,” which shows that he really isn’t sure at all. The wondrous thing here is that Jesus seems, again, to understand the doubt of this tormented father, and He heals the man’s son despite the man’s wavering faith.
   Do I believe everything in the Bible is to be taken literally?  Of course not. I don’t believe God thinks a woman should be stoned for adultery or that women should just shut up in church.  But do I believe the stories of Jesus are simply stories—made up to make us think about what the world would be like if we live as we should?  No.  But even if I end up being wrong about that when I leave this earth, what a glorious set of stories they have been for me—helping me to see the world as it should be.
   To me, a true Christian is someone who lives a life like Christ—the fully human man who challenged the know-it-alls, who used the resources he had to heal the sick and champion the least among us.  Not such a bad way to be—and every bit as beautiful as that rainbow that we can only see when we’re willing to accept both the rain and the sunshine at the same time.
   So tell me the favorite stories of your faith.

Control a Meteor’s Path

After Hurricane Irene

On Friday we earthlings had a crashing reminder of how little of the universe we can actually control when a meteorite, estimated to be about 50 feet in diameter, slammed into a sparsely populated area of Russia.  For the first time in history, the event was captured in a multitude of videos and posted on the Internet almost immediately.

All weekend the news outlets have swirled with explanations and comparisons to past meteor hits.  The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History reported a significant uptick in the number of people visiting to view the meteorite collection.  Geologists interviewed on weekend news shows championed the importance of government funding for the study of minerals embedded in meteorites—most too small to catch the attention of anyone other than scientists.

Of course, attention also turned to the biggest rock of all—the six-mile wide asteroid that left a 150-mile crater off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago.  According to a PBS report—and most scientific studies—that unexpected chunk of space junk produced so much dust that it darkened and chilled the earth.  And when the dust settled, the greenhouse gases produced by the impact caused temperatures to sky-rocket, and the two extremes killed 70% of Earth’s plant and animal life.

At the same time that the tiny piece of rock created chaos in Russia, scientists also had their eye on another much bigger asteroid passing within 17,000 miles of Earth.  And every news outlet acknowledged that, as powerful as we human beings are, should such an event happen today, we could do nothing to stop it, just as the dinosaurs could do nothing to prevent their extinction.

Now for a worrier like me, all this hoopla could have shifted my anxiety into high gear—enough to send me over an emotional cliff.  This time, though, the event coincided with Lent, when I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what the crucifixion means for me in this life and the next. Born into an extended family of evangelicals who filled my mind with the horror of a fiery hell, I was taught that my only measure of control was complete surrender to a God of angry vengeance.

As an adult, I’ve chosen a faith that focuses more on God’s grace.  But it’s taken me a lifetime to put away the fear and anxiety of having so little control.  And now I understand that, for me, focusing so much on the afterlife robs me of the now-life—a sometimes harrowing but mostly joyful journey through an astonishing world.

Writers have been telling us this since the advent of the printed word. Harper Lee’s Miss Maudie described in To Kill a Mockingbird a group of Christians who are so preoccupied with the next world that they’ve forgotten how to live in the present world.  Emily Dickinson wrote that immortality was “So huge, so hopeless to conceive [that] / Parting is all we know of heaven, / and all we need of hell.”

And so I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll try harder to leave the afterlife to God—that I’ll think about it less and make the most of the gift of this present life.  I can no more control how much time I get to have between this known life and that other unknown life than I can change the trajectory of an asteroid that may come crashing into our planet.

But as I focus on the meaning of Lent, the example Christ set for how to live in this world, I understand that I’ve been given a pretty good model.  He broke bread and drank wine with his friends.  He allowed himself the luxury of having his tired feet anointed with expensive oil, even though self-righteous people criticized him for it.  He never forgot the least among us—doing what he could in the time he was given to make a difference for someone in need.  And he found time away from the needy crowd to center himself and commune with the Spirit.

Not a bad example, is it?  Even if you don’t share my faith.  Even if you don’t believe in the afterlife.  Even if you worry about that meteor that might come crashing into the Earth.

So come walk beside me now.  Tell me your stories of the joy of this present journey.