Category Archives: Religion

A Preacher’s Wife’s Take on Religion, And Customs. (Or…So Stone Me Already!)

imageMy favorite quote about religion is one I coined myself to put on Facebook to describe myself when it comes to religion. I know, I’m tooting my own horn…scandalous…I know…who am I to think that I am quotable?…but here it is:
” I may believe a certain doctrine, however fervently. But that does not mean that God agrees with me, because God does not take religious instruction from me.”
My parents had no religion. My mother’s German Lutheran family left Germany for Russia, and the German speaking village they settled in had a German Reformed Pastor.

So, in the blink of an eye, they became Reformed, and this travelled with them 70 yrs later when they moved to Nebraska in the United States. My mom was soured on faith because she was worn out from a childhood and youth of being screamed hellfire and brimstone sermons in German every Sunday. Dad’s father’s family were Lutherans in all three places, Germany, Russia, and here. There’s a story that the local Lutheran Church asked his parents not to let my dad go back because he’d had polio and they were afraid he’d fall down the stairs. Dad was bitter about that. He never went to church again except for weddings.
When I was very young, I was invited to go to Sunday school at a small Presbyterian church four blocks away. A right turn instead of a left turn, I could have been Lutheran like my ancestors, instead. I loved Sunday school. My best memories growing up at church are from there. We kids were loved and nurtured. I was also cautioned constantly by the older women to walk like a lady once I hit my teens…If only they’d succeeded! Every Wednesday we had a program at church where we went, did crafts, had a Class in which we sang and were taught lessons on a flannelgraph by a gifted teacher named Evangeline Robles.  We then were turned loose to play if it was daylight savings time. Every session ended with dinner, after which we went home. This cost us all of a quarter! When my 6th grade teacher tried to keep me after school on Wednesdays because I was hopeless in Math, I was shattered. My mother had to intervene. I had very few enjoyable things in my life, and my mom put her foot down because I came home so happy on Wednesdays. I attended this program, called Open Door, till it ended. We also had Vacation Bible School in Summer and when I got older, Church Camp and Youth Group. I have amazing memories of growing up in that little place, and it was where Steve and I got married. When you hear me criticize the Christian faith in other writings, this is not where I am referring to…I am referring to places I attended much later.
I had the same Sunday School teacher from 7th grade until I left home to go away to finish college. He kept me spellbound, and amused. He had an intimidating stare, but he knew I wasn’t afraid of him, and we teased each other. When he was away, he gave me an excuse note from his wife, and when I was away, he got a note from my mother to make him laugh. At Easter we each got an Easter egg. Mine, however, was special. It was always the ugliest shade of grey he could get it…hard to explain, no it didn’t shame me or embarrass me, it made me laugh. Everyone else got whatever color he pulled out of the bag. Mine he made personally. I looked forward to it every year.
We got a good grounding in the Bible that rivals anything taught at a good seminary. Having edited and punctuated my husband all through seminary, I know. That plus I took a Bible as Literature class in college. It was the only class that didn’t require that I study, since I knew the subject.
We were constantly told to challenge our Sunday School teacher and question him. None of us did, but I liked that we had the freedom. He had one habit that I loved. If he had a question about Catholicism, he would call up a priest. If he wanted clarification on Jewish customs when he was teaching Old Testament, he called a Rabbi.
This got me interested in different religions and cultures, and how important they were to those who follow them. We had a very large Pentecostal holiness church in town that had a dress code. Women could not cut their hair, or wear pants. The dresses were well past the knees and sleeves had to be no shorter than 3/4 in above the elbow. Men could not wear shorts. These girls had to wear culottes instead of gym clothes that the rest of us wore. They didn’t dance, go to movies, and some didn’t watch TV. I became curious about their beliefs, because we saw them everywhere…no  belief in the Trinity, wild worship and a belief that the only way to Heaven was the ability to speak in tongues.

The first friend I met in first grade was and is,Catholic. I became such an expert on Catholicism from my own library reading that many, many years later when I joined the church, they brought me in early, since I could have taught it to them.
In high school had the life scared out of me by a Church of Christ girl who stalked me and criticized my dress (modest by most standards), insisted that instruments in church were wrong, and unless I was baptized by Immersion in her specific church building, I was going straight to hell. She stalked me, called me and  wouldn’t leave me alone. I had nightmares. She didn’t succeed in getting me.

I felt uncomfortable by those in the Jesus movement that wanted us to pass out tracts threatening hell and damnation to those who didn’t read the tracts or to those of us who refused to pass them out because. They felt that if we didn’t acknowledge Jesus by sharing our faith this,way, we were certainly going straight to hell. That worried me. I had no trouble admitting to,being a Christian and telling anyone what they wanted to know if they asked. But I saw firsthand how having religion forced down their throats by an aunt impacted my parents.  But it was another movement that I met in college that encouraged you to pretend to be someone’s friend, convert him forcibly by scaring him and successful, drop them as a friend and move on, that made me cringe. What hypocrisy! Where was the idea of being friends with someone just to be a friend, because you shared common interests? They also wanted us to go away to a certain college and we all should become missionaries….that should be our only option. There was a heavy push to go to an expensive conference to sign up and train for the mission field.

Another close friend I grew up with was and is, LDS, commonly known as a Mormon. I read the Book of Mormon out of curiosity, and learned a good,deal of their doctrine. I exasperated a teacher who later when  we became good friends tried to convert me to the LDS church, because I could repeat so much of his own doctrine back at him. As he said:” How can you know ‘The Truth’ and not give in?

I wrote a good friend from high school when he was on his two year mission for the LDS church. While he and I were just friends, I teased him with perfumed letters to amuse his roommates, who thought we were involved. He appreciated the letters from home and enjoyed the joke on his roommates.

In Junior college I reluctantly took a required anthropology class. Much to my shock, I not only got an ‘A’ easily, but it was more of the same thing, I was and am fascinated with! Culture, Belief systems and how people live.
I made friends in high school with Baptists, and discovered that they had the same fervor in their faith that we had been taught to have at ours, except we baptized babies, they dedicated theirs, baptized their adults, while we confirmed ours. My youth group sang concerts in many of those Baptist churches that my friends attended. As I got older I started to realize that while many adherents to Christian groups had different beliefs and customs, they actually had very equivalent rituals, that in fact, pretty much mean the same thing. But they couldn’t see it. When you baptize a baby, you promise to bring her or him up in the faith. When a baby is dedicated instead of baptized, the same promise is made. Adults that are confirmed, confirm that they believe. Adults being baptized do the same thing. I’m not arguing the theology behind the different customs. I can put you to sleep explaining them to you, and why each group ‘knows’ the other is wrong. But, honestly, as I said, it boils down to the same basic idea, culturally speaking. I met many, many people during the time that my husband was in the Army that had very different beliefs from me, yet a very deep faith and relationship with God as they understood God. They had lots of wisdom, and lots of love. Who was I to tell someone this positively affected and in love with their faith that they were wrong, when you could see the evidence in their lives for the positive?
In the Chapel we attended in Germany, while my husband Steve was with the Army, I found what is still my model for people of,different faiths and customs. We usually had three chaplains of different Protestant denominations, and a Catholic priest assigned to the Chapel. What I have never seen since was the amazing cooperation between the chaplains, and how those they served became caught up with this idea of cooperation. If someone had a religious need, and no-one there could do it, Heaven and Earth was moved to fulfill that person’s need. This is still the job of chaplains today. Whether they agree with your faith or not, it is their job to care for you and help you find what you need, should you have one they can not fulfill. Sadly, some chaplains ignore this.
Communion Sundays in the Protestant chapel both amused me, and earned my respect. It was a three ring circus. We had pews reserved for people who could only receive communion kneeling, and a chaplain standing at the front for those who could only take it standing from an ordained minister. Lastly for those of us who were Presbyterians, unable apparently to move….they passed communion down the rows of the pews, the wine segment with both wine and grape juice. ( I was thrilled; I HATE grape juice)
When someone in the Catholic congregation needed someone fluent in sign language to teach a Catholic child his faith. I volunteered. The priest gratefully passed my offer along, but in the meantime, the child’s mother decided to do it herself.
It was hard to leave that place. We became friends with the chaplains and met frequently with them and their wives for dinner. Our favorite chaplain was one who came from such a different background religiously that we were on different pages in that respect. True friendship surpasses these things as inconsequential. We had lots of fun. Our sense of humor meshed with his and that of his wife. Or, true friendship SHOULD, surpass religious differences and customs in my opinion. But he helped us when we needed him, helping Steve to make the decision to become a chaplain himself, and gave him sound advice.
Since then, we have attended many churches….some I’ve adored, some I haven’t, some with good, sensible doctrine, some questionable.
As I have gotten older, I’ve become sure of one thing. I don’t know it all. I don’t have the corner on the truth. I’m secure with this. I believe that God, if God is God, uses the information we have about our knowledge of faith, no faith, and customs, to work with us to,reach us. It’s the same, I think, of speaking Spanish or German or whatever to talk to those who speak that language. I think our Creator is comfortable with us believing different things, even vastly different things.

I am finally after all these years, comfortable discussing things night and day different from what I have been taught. Don’t come to me dissing Native American Religion and customs. It has worked for Native Americans for Centuries. I respect it tremendously. I won’t attack you if you believe in reincarnation.( To those who don’t approve-throw the rocks)If you DO believe in reincarnation, I am interested in hearing about it. I’ve always been curious.

I’ve met Wiccans, and know so little about them that I am embarrassed. Steve, my navy chaplain husband, had a great rapport with them on ship. Why not? It’s his job to care for people. That’s what he does. He’s good at it. There’s more to diversity in the military and the workplace than accommodating Seventh Day Adventists, and Jewish Holidays. I read a book recently by two doctors, brothers who grew up in India, and are Hindu. They discussed the various Hindu deities, who there were, and old Hindu legends, if that is the right word. I was fascinated! I feel,sad that I know little of Buddhism, but I adore the Dalai Lama. I read his autobiography. He is,truly a great man who is not afraid to tell you that he thinks you may need to return to your own religious tradition. That alone caught my interest. If you have no religion, like my parents, I am fine with that, too, and interested if you want to talk about it.

As a chaplain’s wife, (one of few, I’m sure) it is my interest in as many faith groups being represented in the military as possible. I have given the LDS missionaries that have come to my door contact information for their chaplaincy representatives. I felt like I was about to be stoned at a meeting of chaplain’s wives once, when I told this story.
I’ve met Muslims and enjoyed talking to them.
I have, finally satiated….almost, my fascination with the Amish. I have Mennonites in my family. I don’t know them, but I have absolute adoration and respect for the way Mennonites care for people.
As I start to wind this down, there are some things I wish: We as religious and those who have none would do. Scorn not the person different from you that you do not understand. Do not ignore the poor, even if your church believes that only the rich have God’s favor. You might miss out on having a good, wise, friend. Do not shun your family that believes different from you.  Good relationships with family nurture. Separations because of disapproval hurt. Love them, cherish them, and have fun. Celebrate your common interests and celebrate your heritage. Don’t do what my aunt did: send my mom a birthday card wishing her a very happy birthday and many more, accompanied by a tract that says, believe this, or you’re going to hell! Rejoice in the milestone of your niece or nephew’s confirmation in a faith that you might even abhor, or not understand, because it’s important to them, and they should be important to you. Give them an appropriate gift, money, or that religious book they can’t afford, even if it makes you shudder. You are showing love to the young person. Be respectful of those who don’t consume certain substances, but don’t condemn the cultural practices of those who say, drink alcohol when you are horrified by  what you perceive as the mere sinfulness of the fact.  Some people drink their ancestors’ ashes mixed with water. This horrifies me. But it is very important to them. Why should I dismiss this custom to them? They’re not forcing me to do it.  Likewise, If you believe that only YOU are chosen by God to be in Heaven, it wins you little admiration if you treat those you deem are not chosen like trash.

Finally, my last wish :  if you have always shunned them, please respect and love the gay, lesbian, and transgendered, regardless of what you have been taught. The Bible  (should you follow it)  doesn’t say that ‘God made us in his own image,’ “except for those people over there.” Don’t do the condescending ” Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” thing. That’s looking down on people, right there.  There have always been people in these categories. They have feelings, fears, experiences and emotions. They have the same needs as straight people. The only difference is that in many states, it is still legal to treat them shamefully. Nobody is forcing you to be friends with anyone you don’t want to be friends with.
Women finally have rights. People are no longer allowed to put signs up that say “No Irish need apply”. It is no longer legal to turn down a disabled person for a job they are well able to do, like it was for my dad, who had polio. Or refuse to serve me at an office because you claim my speech is too poor for you to try to understand, and talk to the person with me like I’m stupid. Yes, this happened.
Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered people are the only people left that we can deny basic human rights to….I don’t want to hear how horrible you feel gay marriage is. Fine. Your church doesn’t have to marry anyone it doesn’t want to marry, including divorced people if that’s an abomination to you. But marriage in every country is essentially, a civil contract. You get your marriage license from the state. Do you know how painful it is not to be able to give someone spousal benefits, such as insurance? Don’t bring the sex part of it up to me. Do I ask you about your sex life? This is about basic security. This is not about religion. The state above all, should not deny basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by most to a select few, just because some people don’t approve.
Rocks? Do I see any incoming?

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Filed under Disabilities, Faith, LGTG, Religion, Uncategorized

The Abbess Muses on “things “Of This World”

Christians have their own subculture and language. When I was 12, it bewildered me. Some 38 years later, some of the phrases now hit me as hysterically funny, especially when I’ve seen the extremes to which people take their meanings. The one that has hit me the funniest is how Christians beat the phrase “Of The World” around. These are not my own opinions. I’ve gathered them from people I’ve known for the last almost four decades.

  I’ve drawn on some of my friends more than others. If you recognize yourself, you may very well be right. But let’s get to my topic:

 

                   Things Of This World:

 

This refers to something that can’t POSSIBLY be of God. If something is Of The World, you don’t want it. It leads to hell.

 The worst things “Of The World” always lead to fornication…which is the worse sin next to the unpardonable sin.  Nobody knows what the unpardonable sin actually is. But fornication is it’s runner up. Fornication is a scar that follows you for the rest of your life. You can be forgiven by God and Saved, By Grace, but you won’t be pure.

 . You can’t change your status. You are either a Godless fornicator, or a “Forgiven” ex-fornicator. That’s why it follows you. You can’t escape the word.  It’s just how it is. You’ll be loved by your fellow Christians if you’ve repented, but they’ll remember that you’re not pure. What category they personally fall in is neither here nor there. It’s YOU they’re concerned with.  They’ll conveniently forget the forgiven part if you date their son or daughter unless they are Liberals. Liberals think they are Christians. They’re not because they don’t believe in the devil, sin, or hell. Because they don’t believe in hell, that’s where they’re going. But here is the list of what leads to fornication and hell.

A. Psychology

. Psychology, along with Movies, Dancing and Rock makes the top four on the “Of The World” list. Psychology ranks up there with much of the faithful to be possibly more dangerous than drug addiction. See movies for clarification as to which sends you to hell faster.

B . Movies

Movies are definitely of the world. We learn many of our bad habits from movies and psychologists. Movies are, however more fun because attending them is considered downright sinful. They can lead to fornication. Psychology isn’t as much fun and it costs more. You’re more likely to be prayed for because you are “misguided”. It won’t send you to hell. At least not right away. It takes a while for psychology to send you to Hell. It’s not an instantaneous process. It takes a while for the doctor to convince you of the joys of fornication…

C. Dancing

Dancing will send you to hell as fast as attending a movie. It’s a given that if you are involved in dancing, you’re enslaved to rock music. See Rock music for clarification. Dancing is a horror. You’re (gasp) TOUCHING a member of the opposite sex, and it’s most likely with someone you are NOT married to. That’s bad. Touching leads to fornication. The only exception is if you are holding hands while praying. That’s because your eyes are closed. You’re not looking at anybody’s skin.

  King David danced in his underwear. It’s Ok. King David was one of God’s chosen people. They’re allowed to dance. There’s a song I learned in the charismatic churches that mentions that “when the Spirit of God moves in my heart, I will dance like David danced.” That song always alarmed me because the thought of 2,000 people stripping to their underwear in church was un-nerving.

D. Rock music.

  Rock music is anything that involves an electric guitar and drums. It’s just a straight prayer to the devil asking him to enslave you. It’s a given that if you’re a slave to the devil, you are also a fornicator.

 E. Drugs

This is easier to deal with than rock music or dancing.

 Sometimes all you need is prayer. If you are taking illegal drugs, you’re going to hell. Prescription drugs in your name are fine, unless they’re psych drugs. Those send you to hell. Psychiatrists are just as bad as psychologists, because they both work in hand in hand to enslave you to the devil. The drugs that the psychiatrists prescribe make it easier for the psychologist to convince you that fornication isn’t a sin, and God is a figment of your imagination.

 

F. Alcohol

It only became a sin after the temperance movement. Before the temperance movement, it didn’t send you to hell. Then after marching through the streets and pouring the beer in the gutters the temperance people rewrote the rules so it would send you to hell. It’s a good thing that the Temperance Movement wasn’t around when Jesus turned the water into wine. They would have sent Him to hell long before the Sanhedrin got a hold of Him.

 

 

G. Tobacco.

This is also a victim of the temperance movement, which involved a rule rewrite. It didn’t used to be a sin in the olden days. At my husband’s seminary they have a portrait of the Seminary’s founder with his hand in his pocket. Only it isn’t really a pocket. They were forced to paint over his hand holding his cigar after tobacco became a sin leading to hell. The only exception to the tobacco rule is if you’re a tithing Baptist in a tobacco growing state. Then it’s required because tobacco pays your rent and fills the offering plate.

 

H. Living in a Co-ed dorm if you are a college student.

If you live in a college dorm that is co-ed, you will become a fornicator. You can’t help it. You’re surrounded with rooms of people the opposite sex from you. These rooms contain beds. You+opposite sex+dorm rooms containing beds=fornication. You can’t help it. It’s animal instinct. You have absolutely no control, because simply by moving into a co-ed dorm, you’ve given yourself to the devil. God can’t possibly be with you if you live in a co-ed dorm.

I. Long Hair On Men

 Long hair for women is considered their “crowning glory” as the Bible describes it, so it’s ok.  Long hair on men sends you to hell because it’s a symbol of rebellion. Nobody notices that Jesus has long hair in all the pictures painted of him….nor did they notice how long Billy Graham’s hair got when he was doing his crusades. I think God gave him special permission. His son Franklin however has short hair. He doesn’t have permission.

   There are two other exceptions to the long hair on men rule. Charismatic preachers are allowed to have it long in the back as long as it’s short in front.  Christian musicians are allowed to do whatever they want with their hair because otherwise they’ll stray into rock music.

J. Short hair on women

Most Christians don’t pay attention to a woman’s hair unless they are Pentecostal or Texans. The Bible says that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, if you’re in some Pentecostal groups; you go to hell if your crowning glory is cut. You can repent and save yourself from hell, and restore yourself to God’s favor, but the fact that your hair doesn’t either hit the floor or brush against the top of the door frame will be a constant reminder of your past sin. In Texas, women wear their hair in these big helmets known as ‘Big Hair’. Not having big hair isn’t a sin but it tells them right away that you’re not from Texas.

K.  Pants on women.

If you belong to certain Pentecostal groups, you do NOT wear pants because that would mean that you would be mistaken for a man, so it’s a sin that will send you to hell unless you repent.  You cover up your knees and your arms above the elbow to show that you are a Godly, chaste women and to keep men from lusting in their hearts.  You can wear shoes like a stripper and it’s ok. You’ve just got to wear that dress.

    If you are non-Pentecostal, meaning that you have no problem for the most part with pants, but you are “Saved”, you leave those pants at home. You’ve got to wear dresses and hose if you’re a Godly woman.

Pants in church won’t send you to hell because saved women can wear pants everywhere else. It’s just that if you wear pants in church they might mistake you for a Liberal, and think that you are “NOT SAVED,” so they’ll be very concerned.

 ….And another slight variation:

Things of man or Things of Men.

 This is a cousin to things “Of the World”

   Things of man or things of men are never good. They’re religion and religious customs invented by man. If you don’t like someone’s liturgy, or religious customs, you can just disdainfully consign what they do to “Things of Man”. You would never, ever do anything religious that was “of men” instead of God, so you personally are safe. You don’t practice man made religion. Other people however do. They’ll pay for it, too because they are leading people to hell.

 

 

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The Ghosts of Christmas past…good and bad.

This year I am overwhelmed with memories of Christmases past. I have very good memories, and very bad memories.

Every Christmas eve as a child I had to listen to Gene Autry’s Christmas record. It wasn’t Christmas even until I listened to it. The fact that I got most of the words wrong because I couldn’t hear didn’t matter. I loved his voice.

One of my best memories  is outside in near freezing weather on Christmas day trying out my new pogo stick. I never got very good, because I have bad balance. But I loved that pogo stick.

    My painful memories involve my family. My parents often fought. I had two older sisters and a brother. I seldom saw my brother since he was 15 yrs older. My oldest sister was out of state from the time I was 1o until I was in high school. The sister closest in age is 5 yrs older. She left home as soon as she could, not that she had a choice. Dad threw everyone out when they turned 18….except for me, because if he did, Mom was going, too.  

Christmas dinner had everyone at the table, and I dreaded dinner. There was one family member who never tired of reducing me to tears by telling my most embarrassing moment to everyone who would listen.I wanted to die of embarrassment. Why this humiliation was allowed to contine every Christmas, (Thanksgiving, too), I don’t know. It was the one thing I knew would happen every year and it did without fail, until I got married, moved to Germany and never went home for Christmas again.

     My good memories are of church, and of the times spent with my two best friends, Maria, and Tootsie.  My mother began a tradition  of having them over for breakfast on Christmas morning, and Mom, Dad, and we three girls looked forward to it every year. Mom would cook a big breakfast, and we would all exchange gifts. We did this until I got married and moved to Germany, and Tootsie went by herself one year.

   I loved Christmas eve at church. I went to a little Presbyterian church that was my lifeline. On Christmas eve, we always had a service of Lessons and Carols. You read scripture, and then you sing. I loved it. I became close to two young women that were older than me when I was in junior high. Martha was 6 years older, and Angie was 5 years older, the same age as my sister. It was because of them that I joined the choir. Angie played the piano and the organ and until I grew up and got married was what I wished my sister had been. We looked so much alike that people thought we were related. Wed do share the same ethnic background. We’re both descended from a group of people that are called Germans from Russia.  My husband thought we were sisters, even though he had never seen us in the same place. How he explained to himself why my last name was Keiser and hers Richert,  I don’t know. But I lived for Christmas eve when Angie and I would exchange gifts.  I adored Angie.She could do no wrong. I know I had to have been a big annoyance. But she was patient with me, and very good to me I was her shadow. However, we are no longer in touch, and as I think about her this Christmas, it pains me. The break was over my husband and my choice of churches. The fact that I am now Catholic would probaby be considered even worse. But I miss her. It hurts and in the last year especially I have shed many tears over this estrangement. There is much I would love to tell her. Before I could read music, I used to annoy her by picking up when she made a mistake on the organ. No one else in the church would have heard it. But I did. How I could do that with a severe hearing loss and worthless hearing aids is beyond me.  Since our estrangement, I have discovered that I can sight read enough to save my life when I don’t know a song, and that I can play the melody to almost anything I can think of by ear on the guitar. I’d love to tell her how her encouraging me to join the choir at the age of 13 impacted my life and that I have sung in choirs ever since.  But I can’t. I don’t know where she is, and she doesn’t want contact with me. Neither does my sister, who is the same age. But I don’t grieve over that. It’s a relief. I don’t know where she is, but I do know one thing. She can no longer hurt me, and that is good.

   After I got married, we lived in Germany for 3 years. My favorite time of year in Germany is Advent and Christmas,, There are Christmas markets during Advent, and much to eat, drink, and buy. I lived to buy Christmas ornaments. I’ve missed it ever since, and the three times I have been back to Germany have all been during Advent.

   I used to be very lonely at Christmas, because I missed the the Lessons and Carols service and the breakfasts with my parents and Maria and Tootsie.

   Now it’s just me, my husband and the dog, and that’s enough.  I sing with my church choir for Christmas eve, and we come home and unwrap our gifts. The dog gets really excited and unwraps her gifts, and that’s fun. She loves to play with toys and she knows that if we hand her a wrapped gift, that there’s a toy for her, and she tears it open as fast as she can to get her toy. It’s a lot of fun.,

 On Christmas day, for the past 10 years, we’ve gone over to Christmas dinner at the house of some very good friends. They have two boys, and I have greatly enjoyed watching them grow up.  I’m grateful for the ten years of good memories, and hopefully more to come. 

  So this year I ache for the painful memories, and for friendship lost. I’m grateful that the abuse that I suffered in long over.

I’m grateful for  good friends, a loving husband, a funny dog, and the blessings of not only having all of my needs met, but almost all of my wants, too.   I couldn’t ask for more, other than this one thing. Angie, wherever you are, I miss you terribly.

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You can’t always go home again, but sometimes you stumble upon something pretty close…

My best memories growing up are of church. I had a painful childhood, and home wasn’t a comfortable place to be. My escape was church, since I was the only one that went there. Four blocks away was East Side Presbyterian Church. It’s not there any more. It is, and it isn’t. The building is still there. It’s still Presbyterian, but it’s a Spanish speaking Presbyterian church, which is as it should be. Even in my day, the language spoken by most of the neighborhood was Spanish. I’m glad that the church is in use, but it also hurts, because what I knew is no longer there. First of all, the Presbyterian elders that I respected, and the Sunday School Superintendent that I avoided because he was always roping me in for something, are all long gone. The people that I respected and looked up to were all older than me.  East Side Presbyterian church’s sanctuary is small. I think it can hold 200 people. We had a small but thriving congregation during my childhood and teenage years. I was lucky to be there during the era that the church had the biggest youth group. We were up to 30 at one point. We had retreats, and activities, and were pretty busy, but I had relationships that the rest of the youth group didn’t have, with the older adults, whom we referred to as “The old people”. It makes me cringe now, because it sounds disrespectful. But I was friends with the old people. There was one couple that I adored, Mr. and Mrs.Randolph. We talked often and they were good to me. When the youth group had fundraisers such as bike-a-thons, and walk-a-thons, I signed up all the older adults as my sponsors. When I blew off the last bike-a-thon because I went to a square dance on a date the night before and was too tired the next morning, that Sunday I went to every single one of my sponsors and said “I didn’t go”, and explained why. I got treated to some great stories of their memories of having gone square dancing, and I got my sponsorship money from every single one of them. My fellow youth group memebers were disgusted with me.

Our church, like all Presbyterian churches are run by a group of people called The Session. The Session consisted of twelve elders. To be on the Session, you had to be ordained as an elder.  Our elders had a lot of power. Those on the Session made decisions and all of them served communion on Communion Sundays. We had Communion every six weeks, and they were my favorite times. In the Presbyterian church, you sit in the pews, and the elders walk down the aisles and pass these big silver trays of  “the elements” as our pastor called them. First they would serve the bread, and then go back and serve the grape juice. There was time before communion for private reflection. Since serving communion took a long time, we sang. We would sing the same songs over and over again in a worshipful manner. They were  serious,solemn, holy and peaceful times. I loved them. I very rarely had the attention span to remember sermons, but I did remember music. I soaked up all the old hymns on Sunday mornings and old camp meeting type songs on Sunday nights. We often sang spirituals both Sunday morning and evening. We had an African American choir director named Percy Smith, and he had the choir sing spirituals for some of our anthems. Some of the anthems had copyright dates like 1902 and I hated some of them. But I loved the spirituals. The choir didn’t just sing them. I learned them at every age growing up. Percy wasn’t everywhere. But for some reason, this little, mostly but not completely white Presbyterian church included a lot of spirituals in their worship. In the youth group, we didn’t sing hymns. We sang praise and worship songs. We also sang spirituals.

I had a lot of angst as a teenager, and a hard head. I realized one time that you could tell me until you were blue in the face that God loves me, and I would blow you off. However, sing it to me, and I’ll listen to the message.  For me, my spiritual and church life has always been about the music.   So I absorbed the music I heard in both morning and evening church. And I absorbed the songs our youth group sang. We would often sing our praise and worship music an hour at a time.

Years passed. I went away to college, and sang in a church choir there. I learned more music. I came home to be married in my dear home church and then went to Germany for three years. We came back reluctantly, and settled in San Antonio.  Eventually we left San Antonio for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so my husband could attend seminary. These were some hard, hard, times. The churches we attended played mostly praise and worship music, and we continued to learn them as new ones came out. Music comforted me when it felt like life should be over. I clung to the comfort of God’s love that those songs threw to me.

If you play music now for me that I have known for many years, my mind will go back to where I was when I learned the song, or sang it regularly.  My memories are all tied up in the  music that we sang.

It’s been 30 years since I went to East Side Presbyterian church. I miss the solemn, holy times and the majestic hymns. I miss the worshipful spirituals. Play any of them, and suddenly I am 14 years old sitting in church, singing, and quietly reflecting about my relationship with God.

Recently, East Side Presbyterian Church has come back to me. It hasn’t come back to me literally, but its music has.

My husband Steve recently met Fr. John, who is the pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. Steve met Fr. John when Fr John came to the Navy Hospital to visit a very sick parishioner.  They started talking and became friends. Fr. John invited Steve to church. It’s small church with a small congregation. It is very historic. It is THE historic church that the Episcopal African American population in Portsmouth have gone to since 1890, when the church has founded. The congregation has doctors and lawyers, professional people and retired  military people You see people from all walks of life. There’s a lot of history there. It’s a warm, loving congregation and you feel enveloped with love and welcomed when you go. Steve fell in love with St James, because it reminded him of his family’s church in West Virginia. I had liked the WV church for the same reason, that I had liked East Side.

Eventually I visited St James.  It had the homey feel that I missed, and the solemness, serious worship that I’d grown up with. The music was and is the exact same type of music that I grew up with. I was unprepared for this and  was suddenly transported back 30 years in time.  I wept. I wept for the memories of the good times, and the worshipful times. I wept because those times are no more and I can’t recreate them. And then I wept because I was finally hearing and singing the old songs after 30 years.

When I can, I accompany my husband to St James. I haven’t gone very many times, but I plan to keep going with him.  Every time I go, I’m suddenly whisked back 30 years in time, and my heart breaks. I cry, and I cry hard. I cry for the friendships now lapsed, and I cry in remembrance.  Sing the old song “Break thou the bread of life, dear Lord to me, as thou didst break the bread besides the sea” as we did today at St James and it’s 1974 . I am 15 years old. I’m caught up in worship and lost in the song as we sing it over and over and over again. I see Elder Herschel Schaefer pass out communion. I see my old Sunday school teacher, another elder, passing out the trays as well. I’m there. And then suddenly I’m not. I’m sitting in a pew at St James in Portsmouth Virginia. It’s the year 2009 and this year I will be 50 years old. And the tears are pouring down my checks uncontrollably, as my memories take me  back to where I was with almost every song.  I love hearing the old hymns.  I really, really do.  But they’re painful, because they remind me that what I had is no longer and I can not go back.  But at St James Episcopal Church, in Portsmouth Virginia, I come awfully close.

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The Keys to Hell have eluded my grasp

I’ve often borne a grudging admiration for those who knew that they knew that they knew  that they knew what they believed. I mean, they were sure beyond all belief. They knew what was right, what was wrong, how to get to Heaven, who was going there, how to get to Hell, and who was going there, too.

I’m not saying that I agree with them. My favorite quote is one I came up with myself:  “I may believe firmly in some specific doctrine. That, however, does not necessarily mean that God agrees with me, since God does not take instructions from me in theology.” I don’t have the gall to say that I absolutely KNOW what the absolute truth about God is, and that I alone have it.

I mean, it’s a big world.  Generations of theologians have gone before me, and generations of them will go after me, should our Lord  continue to tarry in his return… not that the idea of His return would worry me.  Just because My favorite bumper sticker reads “Jesus is coming. Look busy”…  doesn’t mean that I actually think we should look busy.

I fail to see why we need to worry about Jesus coming back. I plan on putting some beer to chill and throwing some steak on the grill at the first sound of the trumpet… or maybe I should rephrase that, since my hearing is far, far, less than normal. I plan on chilling the beer and throwing the steak on the grill to welcome Our Lord’s return when someone gets around to telling me the news or I read it online. Whatever comes first.

But lets get back to the subject that I’m warming to here. Hell. Hell, from what I gather, is far south from Heaven to the east of Purgatory. Or maybe it’s West. I don’t know. Not only do I not have the keys to hell, I don’t have a map or a GPS that will show me it’s position, either. The fact that I have no  map or a  celestial GPS may be a good thing. Tonight I got angry. I got VERY angry. How angry did I get? I’m beating you to the punch here. I got SO angry, that I announced to my husband tonight that SOMEONE was going to Hell.

We were in one of  our favorite places, a  chain of a  well known bookstore that has stores all across the country. I’d tell you except that they’re not paying me for advertising. So I’m not.  This bookstore thoughtfully supplies restrooms for their patrons, and a table next to the restroom doors for the convenience of those needing to use the facilities. Patrons are strongly urged to leave their books on the table while they are taking advantage of the comfort facilities. Some times I do, sometimes I don’t . Some times I hunt down my husband and hand him my stack of books, announce that I need to use the facilities and them abruptly disappear so that I may do so.

Tonight, like a fool, I left my books on the table and went into the little room. I came back, and stared at the table in disbelief. My stack of three books had shrunk to two! I was outraged! I was outraged because not only had someone had the audacity to steal a book that I had painstakingly picked out for myself,  I felt my blood pressure begin to rise. I was also outraged because I couldn’t remember what the book was. I could narrow it down a bit, which is  to say that I could narrow it down to being  non-fiction. Before you applaud me for narrowing my choice down to at least the genre of fiction, let me hasten to tell you that I ONLY read non-fiction, so this doesn’t narrow it down much. Actually, for me, it doesn’t narrow it down at all. I did know that it was in the sale rack. So were the other two that I had gotten, so that wasn’t much help. I circled round and round the sale racks like I was playing musical chairs, however without the benefit of the music, or the disappearing chairs. At least I didn’t hear any music. It’s not to say that there wasn’t any. I did say that my hearing is far, far, less than normal. I’m just saying that I personally didn’t hear any music. If I’d known that I was going to blog about it, I would have polled the other patrons to find out if they were hearing music. But I didn’t so we won’t know unless you feel like shooting off an email to my husband and asking him.

At about the fourth go- round of the sale rack, looking for the deeply desired, however, well forgotten book, my dearly undeparted  husband came around and announced that HE was tired and wanted to go. Pompously, I announced to him that ” SOMEONE was going to HELL!”, and then I clarified just why I thought that this person had won an uncoveted spot in the bowels of Hell. He was  properly stunned at the magnitude of the offense, and asked me what book it was. I didn’t know. He asked me what it was about. I didn’t know that, either. He ventured forth that if Icouldn’t remember it…THEN….and I cut him off before he could utter more words even more offensive. He reminded me that he was tired. I rudely strongly suggested that he go park somewhere while I continued to hunt for the missing book, and off he stormed to do my bidding. He only managed to storm a mere two steps before I announced that I’d found the book that had eluded my eyes during the first four trips in a circle. We waited patiently in line until we made it up to the counter to pay, and I admitted to Anthony, the man behind the counter that I’d consigned someone to hell for stealing my book off my stack. The fact that Anthony was neither surprised nor shocked just points to the fact that he’s talked to me far, far, too many times before.

At least I found the book again. I left the bookstore with all three books that I’d come across and chosen. I still have no idea who stole my book. I never did see anyone walking around with it in hand, nor do I know if I’d had the courage to cause a scene had I found them. I don’t know if I’d been able to share with them my heart felt conviction that they were destined for Hell for mere book theft. This is most likely a good thing, since I’m not well versed in how to cause and resolve a scene in public, and also because I can’t at the top of a hat find a single scripture or reference to church tradition that would point to the fact that those who steal books do in fact go to Hell. It’s a theory of mine, but I do not know for a fact that  my theory is true. I do know one thing, though. I do know that I don’t have the power to consign anyone to Hell. Given how angry I got at the mere lifting of a book off a table, don’t you think it’s a good thing? And with that, I’ll wind my way off to my cell here at the Abbey…but maybe I should hunt and see if the Abbey’s Chapel has anyone on duty at the confession booth?

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How to turn someone off from faith

I became a Christian when I was very young. I was 12 and it was at Vacation Bible school. All I remember is that at the end that we were asked if we wanted to “accept Jesus as our personal Savior”.  My next memory is of my right hand raised in the air, almost independently of me. But I followed the other kids into the next room, and we prayed. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but God took the little crack I opened as an opportunity and ran with it. I fell absolutely in love with Jesus, and devoured my Bible every chance I got. I was  so overwhelmed with God’s love and the love of the people at church. I wanted to be mature in my faith like they were, and for people to see in me what I saw in them. They lived what they believed and I admired them. They didn’t need to tell you why you should admire them. The reasons why were plain for everyone to see.

The same summer that I accepted Jesus, my mother’s youngest sister did as well. The paths that we took diverged dramatically. I was immersed in my love affair of faith and the normal anxieties of becoming a teenager. I was too shy to tell my parents what I had done, since they had no religion. I couldn’t see why they would be happy for me. So I didn’t tell them. I did however, beg Mom for a Bible that I could understand, because I couldn’t scare up the $ 7.00 that the one I wanted cost. It took a few months, but she  finally did relent and get it for me.

My first inkling of something having happened to my aunt was when we went to Sacramento to see my Aunt Mary (all names changed) and my grandmother, Cornelia. We may have had some of the other aunts visiting from out of state. I don’t remember. My mother had five sisters living and I just remember a lot of people at the table. We sat down to eat, and  as usual,  I dug into the food. There was dead silence and I got  chastised by Aunt Beatrice  because we hadn’t “said grace.” This was confusing as hell. We’d NEVER said grace before, but apparently we were now, and had to from then on.

What had become my comfort and joy had become my aunt’s sledgehammer. We had to make sure that we didn’t offend her now delicate sensiblities. She harrangued my grandmother, who had grown up and been baptized into the German Reformed church into praying with her and getting baptized. My aunt and her pastor dragged my 80 some year old grandmother into an icy lake….but I guess if you look at it from Grandma’s point of view, it got Beatrice off her back. I never saw any evidence that Grandma actually agreed. Aunt Beatrice couldn’t even leave Grandma’s birthday alone. Her96th birthday cake  read “God Bless Cornelia on her Birthday”.  It’s a nice sentiment. Grandma deserved God’s blessing. But that’s not why “God Bless Cornelia” was on the cake.  Every family reunion was a platform for Aunt Beatrice’s to tell everyone that they were going to hell. She didn’t confine herself to family reunions. Every Christmas and birthday, my mom got a card wishing her well and literature telling her that she was going to burn in hell if she didn’t accept Jesus. Aunt Beatrice wasn’t particularly loving. None of us wanted to be around her, or anything like her.  I was exempt from the barrage of fire because Aunt Beatrice considered me “saved”. She wasn’t interested in me because there was nothing for her to do with me. My nieces and nephews lived in fear of her because she wouldn’t hesitate to back them into a corner and force them to pray with her to accept Jesus. They’d do it to shut her up.

I made the mistake one year of letting my aunt go to camp with me. The people in my church that had reflected the love of Jesus to me didn’t see Jesus in her, either. They saw a spiteful woman who refused to obey the rules of the camp  and wouldn’t pitch in and cooperate by doing chores. I was only 14 and I was getting talked to by adults about my aunt’s behavior. Anyone who made my aunt angry was treated to a spat out” Well! Maybe the Lord will BLESS you THEN!”  I don’t think anyone thought that she was sincerely wishing God’s blessing on any of us.

I got quite an education f rom Aunt Beatrice. I gleaned a few lessons on how to turn someone off from becoming a Christian:

Become someone’s friend only so you can convert them. Have no real interest in them, their talents or their personality. You’re just talking to them to “win them” over to your side. After you’ve succeeded, you go on to the next one.

Badger them about their need for Jesus, despite the fact that they don’t feel a need for anything or think their faith is fine where it is. .  Never let up in telling them that they’re a sinner and if they don’t repent they are going to burn in hell.  Keep this up continuously. Make sure that you work into every email, phone call or face to face conversation about their need for Jesus, and how you want to keep them from hell.

Oh, and make sure that you put literature in every Christmas, Birthday and other holiday card you can think of. Make sure that it spells out why they need Jesus and the consequences if they reject Him.

Don’t talk about every day ordinary things  with people like their interests, health or what they’re up to. You are above such worthless talk because they are “of this world”. You also  couldn’t possibly be interested in discussing mundane things like fashion,  weather, TV, movies or going out and having fun UNLESS you can use these opportunites to keep your subject a captive audience. You have to use everything slip in a few words about why they’re going to hell unless they relent and accept Jesus.

Eventually, if you haven’t scared them into wanting to avoid burning in hell, they will start avoiding you. You may just write off their avoidance of you as “rejecting Jesus” That in a nutshell is how to turn someone off from faith.

My aunt succeeded in turning everyone off completely. She turned Grandma’s funeral into a hellfire and brimstone affair as to where everyone was going to go when they died if they didn’t change.

I saw firsthand how my aunt affected my parents. She annoyed them and they wanted nothing to do with her. She wasn’t interested in them in the least, and they knew it.  If believing in Jesus was being like her, they wanted nothing of it.  They didn’t see her bullying as a virtue.   They weren’t unwilling to listen to the Gospel, though.

I was fascinated, because on long trips, they would listen to preachers on the radio and critique the message. They didn’t automatically cast them out because they asked you to pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus. My parents were interested in what the preachers had to say, how they said it and the quality of the message. We listened to countless radio programs on long trips. When my boyfriend was touring as a spotlight technician with a singing group, they volunteered to take me to a church in the area to see him,They sat with me and listened with no complaints. In fact, they  enjoyed themselves and thought that the evangelical message was well done.

A cousin was a missionary in Japan. His mother had died when he was a child, and he’d never known her, I’d been told by one of the other aunts, not Aunt Beatrice, about my cousin and that he was a missionary. I wrote to him, and he wrote a warm letter back. When he left Japan, he came through our town in California and visited us, partly to meet me, but mainly I think to hear stories about his mother, which my mom could provide. My parents liked him. He didn’t rudely tell them that they were going to burn in hell.

Another interesting thing that my parents received well was one summer, for weeks, on Saturday mornings, a pleasant, soft spoken man would come to the door. He would hand my parents religious literature and then politely excuse himself. My parents always read what he’d given, and he was so pleasant and had such a peaceful air about him that my parents eagerly looked forward to seeing him, and worried when he missed a Saturday.

I started to see a pattern between who my parents would listen to, and who they wouldn’t. They admired people who lived what they believed and didn’t hound you.  They didn’t like people who used scare tactics and had no interest in doing anything but forcing them to their beliefs.

This was during the ’70’s. Christians were encouraged to stand on street corners, preach, or go door to door. We were encouraged to make friends with strangers just to get them to pray the sinners’ prayer and when successful, move on. I was shy to begin with, but none of this sat well with me.I saw the effects of my aunt doing the same thing.

After  junior college, my boyfriend and I transferred to a school down south.  We made friends with people that interested us and we had a good time with them. We didn’t stop to interrogate them on religion first to make sure that they were worthy of our friendship, and our group varied from mainline evangelicals, to a Catholic, to  one very young atheist.

We never volunteered to the atheist that we thought anything less of her because she was an atheist, because, well we didn’t. We loved her and spent a lot of time with her because she was fun, not so we could get her to let her defenses down so we could brow beat her into our religion.  Occasionally she would ask us about things, and we would answer. She was very well read, so there wasn’t much that she needed to ask, other than maybe how we saw things, or our opinion. She knew we went to church and believed. Living around us, she knew what we were like, warts and all. Did we pray for her? Yes, we did. We also cared deeply for her, and this she knew. We didn’t constantly say “I’m praying for you” because that comes across as a threat to someone who doesn’t want it in the first place.  Years passed, and we continued to keep in touch. Not too long ago, we each got an email from her. She’d been thinking about God and faith. She started attending church and one of the requirements for joining was that she be required to write out her journey to faith and how she became to believe.  What did she say? I won’t violate her privacy by saying too much, but she gave us a huge amount of the credit because she’s seen us live out out our lives and that we hadn’t preached at her and told her that she needed to become like us or she’d go to hell.

To get that letter reduced me to tears. I was humbled. I’m a fairly obnoxious person.  But someone had seen something in me, and in Steve, and some 30 years later, decided that she was willing to investigate and embrace what we had. I’ll let you judge for yourself whether my method of quiet evangelism is effective. I don’t have the audacity to tell people that they’re going to hell unless they believe like me. I may have left enemies in my wake, but they’re not because I pushed someone to the breaking point by beating them over the head with my view of faith. My aunt left many enemies…everyone of them scarred by her constant preaching and complete lack of interest in anyone’s welfare.  She didn’t bring a one of my family to her views. I’m glad that I became a Christian before she got to me, too, or I would have shared everyone else’s opinion of ” religious people”. It’s not to say that my aunts did not believe. They just didn’t pass her test.

Agree with me, or don’t. Pray for me if you think I’m in grave error. But do think about how you come across to people when you share your faith.

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More on Religion. A past essay.

I grew up in a non-Christian family that had no religious beliefs, or pretense of any. We celebrated Christmas and Easter as Santa and the Easter Bunny. Our language was pretty straightforward. My parents were not given to euphemisms. Their language was far from genteel, and they pretty much literally meant what they said aside from a handful of my dad’s memorable expressions, none of which I can tell you here.

When I was old enough to walk in the neighborhood by myself, I went to Sunday school every Sunday. By default, I became Presbyterian, because the church was only four blocks away. I had a good solid grounding in the Bible and theology covering not only that of the Presbyterian Church, but other denominations and Protestant church history as a whole. My Sunday school teacher consulted the Rabbi when he had a question about Judaism and the nearest Roman Catholic priest when he had a question about Catholicism. As a result, our Sunday school program came close to rivaling a decent seminary education, and it helped me considerably in editing and punctuating my husband when he went to seminary. Since leaving my hometown, I’ve found myself in many different worlds of the Christian faith. While I cherish my faith, I don’t feel threatened by those who either differ from me faith-wise, or have no faith. Someone else’s faith or lack of it is not my decision to make for them. Whether they do, don’t, and the whys fascinate me, because a lot of it boils down to life experiences and culture. I am fascinated by different cultures, and human psychology. I can discuss spiritual things with liberal, fundamentalist, and conservative Christians reasonably well on both sides of the Catholic and Protestant fence. They have some interesting language differences, and I can usually speak them and make myself understood. When I need prayer, I know to discuss my” prayer request” with my Protestant friends, but tell my Catholic friends about my “special intention.” Catholics have some amazing words that I just love to say, such as “opprobrium, oblation, and ablution, and try as I might, I can’t think of a single sentence to include any of them in and sound like I know what I’m talking about. When I was in high school, in church my youth group used to sing joyfully about being “covered over with the Precious Blood of Jesus”, and on Sunday nights in adult church, we would sing about “being washed in the Blood of the Lamb.” I am very grateful that Jesus shed His blood for us and died for our sins. However, when you think of these words literally, the resulting mental picture can be alarming. When I was in the midst of a spiritual struggle while my husband was in seminary, a lady well respected for her spiritual knowledge helpfully urged me to “Gird up the loins of my mind.” My resulting thought, which I didn’t share with her, was: “You want me to wear my underwear on my head?” I can talk theology and church history with pastors throughout the vast spectrum of the Christian world. I’m fascinated by theological differences, and the history of different church denominations. In college I learned that what Protestants call the Apocrypha is what Catholics call the “Deuterocanonical books”…although you won’t generally find them in a Protestant Bible. They were, however, stuck in between the Old and New Testaments in our pulpit Bible in the church I grew up in. When my husband was in seminary I learned that Catholics and the Orthodox split a thousand years ago on a disagreement about something in the Nicene Creed called the fillioque clause, and that it is still a sore spot. I can even explain to you what it is. Many people think of the early church fathers as the people that started the Reformation. Unfortunately, when we limit ourselves to looking at church history only from the Reformation on, we’re limiting ourselves by missing out on some wisdom from those who shaped Christianity in its infancy. There is a wealth of literature about the lives of Christians that went on before us. My favorite is St Teresa of Avilla. She didn’t put up with much and had no problem with telling God what she thought. When she fell off her horse in the mud she asked God why He let this happen. He replied “This is the way I treat my friends”. Her retort was” Then it’s no wonder that you have so few!” She once said something that could best be translated today as “Lord, deliver us from gloomy Christians!” On feast days her she was apt to dance on the tables with castanets. In the book “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” Augustine details his life before and after he became a Christian. He had quite a sordid lifestyle. His mother prayed for him for many years, and her prayers were rewarded. There were many times that the church came close to splitting up into heresy, and there were times it almost succeeded. It took a lot of perseverance and risk to bring the church on the right track. Many of the things we hear today, that mainstream Christianity considers scandalous is nothing new. They struggled with what the truth is then, just as we in our many denominations struggle with them now. In Sunday school growing up in my little Presbyterian church my teacher taught us that Martin Luther finally got so fed up that he nailed 95 theses to a door of a church in Wittenberg, and the mental picture I get is of a monk storming up the stairs to the church door with a hammer, nail, and a VERY long list. He couldn’t do that today. He’d have to use tape. The doors of the church in Wittenberg are now metal. Maybe too many other people followed Martin Luther’s example and it made a mess of the doors. I don’t know. I just know from my visit there that the doors are now made of metal. Other things I’ve learned are also interesting. There was a man named Menno Simon who preached pacifism, and I wonder what he’d say about vast spectrum his followers fall in today, from the Amish who live simply in what looks like another century to the vast range of people who call themselves Mennonites. Some Mennonites are strict, and others fall into a category with no dress or grooming restrictions. My husband usually describes the Mennonites as “Baptists without Guns” to people who ask what they are.” I have a cousin that is a Mennonite minister, a wonderful, Godly man. I don’t know him well, but we’ve talked on the phone a handful of times. He likes my husband’s description. Don’t ask him what kind of Mennonite he is, as my mother did when I was a teenager. His answer to her was this: “We’re the ones without the beards.” Since he was sitting there bearded, my mother was very confused. My Sunday school teacher taught us who John Knox was, and that John Calvin had a doctrine about something referred to as “total depravity”, to describe the human condition and that he also believed something called Predestination, which means that those who come to God are predestined. Predestination in its purest form troubles me. The closest I can get to that is conceding that God, being God, knows who will accept Him and who will reject him. I can’t go so far as to say “God picked you, you and you, but NOT you. Total depravity I understand a bit better from a difficult wirehaired dachshund we had for 16 years. My seminary educated husband is convinced that Calvin must have had a dachshund. I wonder about that myself. This dog had absolutely no conscience or remorse when caught doing something she shouldn’t, and if you were rude enough to stop her from doing something she considered important, despite being well aware that it was forbidden, not only was she highly offended at being interrupted, she was only too happy to flash some teeth, and turn into what my husband still refers to as a “28 lb razor blade” (Wirehaired dachshunds from Germany, where she was from can be huge.) The closest attitude to remorse we could from get her was an “Oh, well. So you caught me. Big deal.” As horrifying as the idea of having no conscience was to me, I still had to admire her absolute lack of repentance and complete embrace of what can best described by borrowing a phrase from Star Wars, as “The Dark Side”. I know about John and Charles Wesley, and that they brought religious revival in England during something called “The Great Awakening” and wrote some great music alone the way…and that there was a second Great Awakening in the US which started in Kentucky and spread via Camp Meetings everywhere. In Los Angeles there was the Azuza Street revival that is credited with the birth of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement as we know it today. I can discuss Aimee Semple McPherson who started the Foursquare Church and then mysteriously disappeared. My husband went to the Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth Texas, where he received an excellent education in Church history as a whole along with Southern Baptist theology. Being his editor and punctuator, so did I. I can discuss the merits of infant baptism versus believers’ baptism and the strong arguments on both sides. I can tell you what “dispensationalism” is and that it is one of the theories of eschatology…or what most people in real English refer to as “the end times”. It was the version of the end times that my Sunday school teacher espoused… an odd choice for a Presbyterian, if you think about it.

Despite all these differences in doctrines and teachings, I’ve noticed that there is one thing that stands out and is universal with all of us. God sent his son, Jesus to die for our sins. You would think that this would unite us, but it doesn’t. Often people are too insecure to feel comfortable around anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do, so all of their friends are exactly like them. I nearly developed an ulcer from a girl who hounded me in high school and insisted that unless I was baptized in HER church, and she meant the specific building she worshipped in, I was going STRAIGHT to hell. She terrified me. There was always the “what if…” burning in the back of my mind. None of us wants to be wrong, and few people actually want to go to hell. Many people can’t see that someone can believe differently from them, and still have a deep, deep faith. Baptism continues to divide us, and I won’t pick a fight on that one except to comment that I’ve heard from both Protestants and Catholics alike that they prefer baptism like they did in the early days of the Church. What they think they’re saying is that they prefer baptism by immersion. I have no quarrel with that, and experienced immersion myself. But they also baptized people stark naked in the early church. Do we REALLY want to go all the way back to doing that? Others, both Protestant and Catholic take exception to any translations of the Bible that they consider to be other than the absolutely correct version. My favorite argument is the one from people who insist that the ONLY Bible is the “Authorized King James Bible” making considerable emphasis on the word “Authorized”. There’s a problem with this, though. Not only did King James hate non-anglicans, he had a special hatred for Baptists. He killed them…and persecuted and jailed them at the very least. And there’s more that’s appalling about him. But I’m spare you. I’m mystified by Catholics who insist on kneeling on the cold, hard floor in modern Catholic churches without kneelers, because God will only hear you or accept your worship if you’re reverently on your knees. That’s fine, but I have a question. Kneeling was a custom introduced in the middle ages. Was God deaf to people’s prayers before then? Maybe we should go even further back and stand? Some churches actually do still stand. Some of the Eastern Orthodox stand for up to four hours.

My prayer for the Christian world as a whole is this: That we look past what we’ve carved in stone as the absolute truth dogma wise, and at least be willing to see this: We all preach a Jesus, the Son of God, crucified, died, buried, and resurrected for our sins. Can we please see this as our common ground? I’m not saying that the different doctrines in our churches that we hold dear are unimportant, because I refuse to dismiss another person’s experiences or doctrines even I don’t agree or understand them. I’ve met too many wise people deeply mature in their personal faith and walk with Jesus all across the Christian world to think that God only blesses and listens to one corner of humanity. I refuse to limit God’s ability to work in our lives.

My plea for everyone who takes the name of “Christian” as the faith they follow is this: I think it’s high time we stop using our differences to divide, dismiss, and ignore each other. If we call ourselves Christians, shouldn’t we be more about Jesus, less about condemnation, encourage our walk with Him and less about our differences? Can we start doing this now? Could we even go so far as to love those that are not Christians and allow them to exist in peace and not hate them? There is an old song that says “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”. Isn’t about time the world sees us that way, too?

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