Points of Ponderation…..Episode 6.17

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

Yep…..

 

 

 

Religion is a curious thing. I think we are all well aware of our own shortcomings as well as the flaws of others when it comes to living a sinless life, but I also think many of us oftentimes have the misguided notion that  people of a professed faith…Christianity especially…all believe in the same basic principles, whether they live up to the ideal standards or not. However, that is not the case. This isn’t necessarily a shock when it comes to certain social issues. You’ll find Christians on both sides of the debate when it comes to topics like abortion, gun control, euthanasia, & the death penalty. What I find surprising are “Christians” who don’t believe in the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, the unerring Word of God, or the divinity of Jesus Christ. Oh sure, you’ll find lots of folks all around the world that believe that Jesus was simply a wise prophet…sage, yet very human. But most of those people don’t call themselves Christians!! I can’t wrap my head around the concept of an alleged Christian not believing in the very ideas that define the faith. It’s like someone with no discernible talent calling themselves a singer just because it sounds cool. Of course we live in a society these days where even something as indisputable as gender can now be left to an individual to decide based on how they feel rather than what the scientific facts actually are, so I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that anyone can call themselves a Christian despite not even believing in the bedrock foundations of Christianity. Such “believers” are quick to point out rampant hypocrisy within the church…divorce, addiction, racism, fornication…and they aren’t wrong. Temptation is inescapable and too often we fall prey to immoral instincts. However, is it any less hypocritical to “self-identify” as a Christian while casting aspersions on Christ’s virgin birth or a large chunk of The Bible?? Obviously in a free society individuals are permitted to believe or doubt whatever they choose, and that’s fantastic. I am simply suggesting a little more truth in advertising. If you can’t or won’t buy into the essence of what Christianity is then maybe you should find a more accurate way of describing who you are and what you actually believe in.

 

 

 

Well…it’s true!! 🙂

I’m not sure there’s anything much prettier than a woman in a sun dress.

Insights into my current mindset…..

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We just finished celebrating Easter, but let me add a post-holiday thought. Since it is one of the two most important days of the year for Christians I find it a bit odd that the date of this annual “moveable feast” is decided in a rather pagan way. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the paschal full moon that occurs on or soonest after March 21st. In other words, which Sunday we have Easter is determined by…moon phases. And yes, I am aware of some of the pagan related symbolism of Christmas, including late December originally being associated with the Roman festival Saturnalia (Jesus was most likely born in springtime). But atleast it has a fixed date, which is nice. Easter has its share of non-Christian symbolism (sorry Easter Bunny & Cadbury Crème Egg fans), but having the date revolve around the phases of the moon is just…odd. Suggestions for a fixed date (because we don’t know exactly when Jesus was resurrected either) have been made by various legislative bodies across the world, but nothing has ever been changed. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t a dealbreaker. I love Easter (aka Resurrection Day) and celebrate it appropriately…I’m just thinking out loud.

 

 

 

Good information…..

My 2013 Lenten Non-Sacrifice

Ash Wednesday completely snuck up on me this year…came & went. I knew Easter was early (March 31), but I still wasn’t quite in that mode yet. To me Easter signifies spring, and since we just had a fairly significant snowfall here lentin West Virginia a couple of weeks ago my brain is still in the midst of the winter doldrums. Unfortunately I did not make it to the always lovely Ash Wednesday service at church a few days ago due to some untimely mechanical difficulties, and I am a bit tardy in publishing the present discourse, but hey…it’s a long season so we’ll just go with it.

 

At any rate Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent which is usually 40 days (give or take) before Easter. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. Lent is a time of preparation that symbolizes Jesus’ time in the desert where he was bibletempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13), the forty days & nights Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving The Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 19:1-25), the forty years the Jewish nation spent wandering in the desert, and the forty days & nights rains fell upon the Earth while Noah & his family were in The Ark with all the animals (Genesis Chapters 6-9). Forty is a very important number in The Bible, used by God to represent a period of testing or judgment. To that end it is traditional for Christians to make a sacrifice during Lent, which usually entails giving up a certain vice or bad habit that may be hindering our relationship with God.

 

For many years I did not fully embrace Lent. Sure I would go to church and participate in all the ceremonies & rituals, which since I am a Methodist doesn’t really involve all that much. But as with many other churchgoers who simply go thru the motions it really didn’t hold any type of significance outside the walls of the physical church building. However, citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I have mentioned on multiple occasions in the past few years my desire for a deeper, more genuine relationship with my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ and know that there has been an ebb & flow of growth, churchunderstanding, failure, and detours along the way. In 2010 I decided to make a true Lenten sacrifice, which meant giving up Facebook. And trust me…at the time it was a genuine hardship!! The following year I gave up fast food & chocolate. Again that may seem superficial to some, but honestly at that time those two things comprised the majority of my diet so it was difficult. In 2012 I was nearing the end of my year long sambatical from organized religion, a time that I regret but also appreciate because it was a necessary reset for many reasons. Since I wasn’t in church and still trying to sort some things out I didn’t choose any kind of sacrifice. I believe my running joke at the time was that I had given up church for Lent. Anyway, I returned to church right around Easter 2012  and have enjoyed the past 10 months or so.

 

In pondering potential sacrifices for 2013 God led me in a new direction. I am not exactly Mr. Excitement. My life is pretty basic and usually uneventful. That’s not a complaint because my lifestyle is a byproduct of my own choices, most of which I fully embrace or atleast no longer run away from. I didn’t want to make any kind of food sacrifice because I am already on a weight loss journey and have already lowered my intake of all those really good things that are bad for me. And there wasn’t really any other kind of sacrifice that seemed appropriate for a variety of reasons. As I pondered the issue I began to recall various things I have read and sermons I have heard wherein it was stated, in essence, that it is just as appropriate to add something for Lent as it is to give gregolsenup something. The whole idea behind Lent is to acknowledge that we fall short in our relationship with God and draw closer to him. I have done a lot of re-evaluating in the past few years and have stated my displeasure on multiple occasions with the superficial nature of the modern church, and it seems to me that Lent has become a perfect example of the problem. The Lenten sacrifice…for most folks anyway…has become nothing more than a sequel to meaningless New Year’s resolutions. If quitting smoking, giving up chocolate, or reducing your intake of booze & caffeine helps you develop a more meaningful relationship with God then by all means go for it & don’t let me stop you. However, I suspect that such removals are…most of the time…simply hollow acts of self-righteous vanity in which we all try to top one another with the level of our “suffering”. No thanks…not this kid. I want my relationship with God and my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ to have more depth. Your mileage may vary.

 

Having said all that what I have decided to do is refocus myself in a more dedicated effort to cultivate my relationship with The Lord. I feel like such an endeavor is a more positive way to approach Lent and something that won’t just last 40 days. Now lest you think that statement is too general…too “big picture”…I think there is a way that I can fit the task into the more rudimentary, more tangible paradigm most identify with Lent. One of the ways that I can palpably grow both my relationship with The Lord and my own depth of knowledge & understanding of things more profound than General Hospital, Double Whoppers with cheese, and Judd Apatow movies is by reading, studying, & writing. Sometimes I think that God really does have a sense of humor, and I have to smile sheepishly when I realize that after commenting at the beginning of the year that “I have an increasing hunger to write” and that “inspiration flows more steadily” the past 6 weeks have not been nearly as productive as they should have been. Sure I write superficial little ditties now & then, and that’s not always a bad thing. But The Manofesto is meant to be more than that. A year ago I promised a book-by-book look at writing-fountain-pen-400 (1)The Bible that I have yet to start. 31/2 years ago I started a series on The Fruits of the Spirit that is still incomplete. There are only nine of them for Pete’s sake…what is taking me so long?? Nearly three years ago I began a similar examination of The Sermon on the Mount that is still not finished. That is unacceptable. When I look at The Bookshelf section here and realize that I have only written 14 entries in four years I am ashamed. There was a time when I constantly had my head in a book. I don’t know what has happened as I have gotten older. There are dozens of books in The Bachelor Palace that I could write about and share my experience with The Manoverse. Therefore what I have decided to do for Lent is commit to adding atleast 6 entries each in both The Bookshelf and Values, Principles, & Truth sections here over the next 6 weeks. In practical terms that will naturally necessitate focusing my energy on reading & studying as opposed to wasting my time on more worthless pursuits. One of the  things I like about The Manofesto is that I feel a certain sense of accountability to the things that I publically proclaim, which is a good thing. I am not a disciplined person. I am single, which means I get up when I want, sleep when I want, eat what & when I want, and go where I want whenever I want to go. The only responsibilities I have are my job, my bills, & Rocco. While that freedom is kind of nice for the most part it also means that there is a tendency to become somewhat lazy & neglectful of other significant things. I want to use Lent as a launch pad to be more responsible to God, to the talents with which He has blessed me, and to the commitment I have made here at The Manofesto.

 

God bless you all and may you utilize this Lenten season to draw closer to God and improve your life as well.

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part 1

Nearly one year ago, right after Easter, I exited the church in which I grew up and had attended regularly since I was a child. I had not returned until today.

The cause of my initial exit is trivial, important only to me. There were valid issues, but some problems can just as easily be blamed on my own neuroses, stubborn pride, and failure to deal with disagreements effectively. However, the bigger reasons for my nearly yearlong sambatical, as well as my abrupt decision to return to the fold, are worth delving into because I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there are numerous disenfranchised Christians who, like me, have felt a growing chasm between what they are seeking versus what organized religion in 21st century America currently offers.

My friend The Owl, who is much more devout and genuinely devoted to living a Christ-like life than most folks I know (including your humble Potentate of Profundity), says that the church has become too worldly. He hasn’t found a “home church” in a long time, even though, to his credit, he still occasionally gives it the ol’ college try. He has most certainly spent more time in close proximity to pews & steeples than I have in the past year. However, his devotion, strong faith, and heartfelt determination to, as my Dad would say, “live life closer to the foot of the cross” despite not having close ties to a church has been influential in my own thought process. After all, a church is just a building, right??

Ah yes…a building. There’s a building. There’s land. There are bills to pay, things to buy, and stuff to maintain & repair. These things make money necessary. Fundraising becomes an obligatory evil (atleast in smaller churches). Committees are formed. Disagreements are either argued about or fester quietly for years. Folks jockey for position. Egos are bruised, feelings are hurt. All the sudden instead of focusing on Christ and His teachings, we spend a half hour on Sunday morning with Him…theoretically…at the center and the rest of the time running the business that the church has become. Even worship service is bogged down by meaningless ritual, incongruous nods to secular pop culture, screaming children lacking manners & discipline, and squirmy, visibly disinterested adults who are merely fulfilling an obligation but clearly have no sincerity of purpose. I honestly believe that most adults are more attentive when they shell out $8 at the local cineplex for some profanity laced, overtly sexual, ultra violent CGI crapfest than they are in church. And many are undoubtedly more passionate about a host of other pursuits…golf, fishing, watching the game or the race…than they are in worshiping God and spreading the good news of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I have been right in the thick of the hypocrisy. I’ve been that disengaged, disinterested, distracted person just going through the motions and only giving my bare minimum (or less) focus to The Lord. I’ve been the person who attends all the committee meetings and helps out with all the fundraisers but has merely a cordial (at best) relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve been the person who attended church on Sunday but sinned freely and capaciously the other 6 days of the week. But at some point something either broke or awakened inside of me and I decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. This discontent with my Christian walk culminated with me walking away from the church.

It really all began nearly 6 years ago during what I call My Unfortunate Incarceration. I’ll spare those not “in the know” the details and just give the Cliff’s Notes version of my sad tale. In April 2006 I landed in the hospital with an ulcer on my tailbone. 6 weeks in the hospital were followed by 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility. That was followed by an entire year homebound until, at last, I had the surgery that probably should have been done right off the bat. Another month in a hospital, a second shorter stint in a “skilled” nursing facility, then a few more months at home finally ended with me resuming normal activities after having, in essence, lost 2 years of my life in my early 30’s. I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I must admit that given the chance I’d skip over or significantly alter that time period in a heartbeat.

Looking back it was during those long dismal months that…atleast subconsciously…the yearning for a closer bond with The Lord blossomed yet I began to grow apart from the church. After all, besides my Dad, sister, and an aging, perverted, hard headed, yet genuinely kind & decent cousin all I had was Him. Regretfully though, instead of embracing the opportunity to cultivate that relationship I chose to wallow in a newfound bitterness caused by being “out of the loop”, “out of sight, out of mind”, and left in solitude by people who I am sure were blissfully unaware they were doing anything wrong. These were the days before Facebook allowed us all to stay in constant contact with hundreds of people across the globe on a daily basis. My Dad & sister would run into people who’d say “Tell Sam we’re thinking about him & praying for him”. I didn’t buy it. I just wanted them to take 10 minutes and give me a call. I was lonely, bored, and probably depressed, yet few people outside of my immediate family seemed to give a damn. When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery my friend Greg & his wife Jenn…who live in Texas…came to visit. Sure they were in town for his father’s wedding (or maybe it was his brother’s), but that visit meant the world to me. It was aggravating that friends that lived thousands of miles away found the time to make contact in my hour of need but others who lived much much closer…many of them “church family”…did not.

The Lenten Sacrifice

I’d be willing to guess that in any poll that would ask the question “what is the most important Christian holiday??” Christmas would be the overwhelming winner. Now I love Christmas as much as the next guy…maybe more. But what is it that we appreciate about it?? Is it the fact that it celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ (Yes…I know all about how Christians abducted the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and that it is unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25th, but let’s just roll with it, shall we??), or is it because we love all the secular trappings like the food, the music, the movies and TV specials, the decorations, and the gifts?? The exploration of that dispute can wait until December. For now I would like to suggest that, though the birth of Christ is certainly of supreme significance, it would not mean much of anything without His death and even more importantly, His resurrection. To that end maybe we ought to give a little more love to Easter. The candy folks have given it the old college try, but let’s face it…The Easter Bunny vs. Santa Claus is about as good of a matchup as Barney Fife vs. Mike Tyson. Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and frilly bonnets are no match for Silent Night, “You’ll shoot your eye out!!”, and twinkle lights. But maybe that secular smackdown is a good thing, because it leaves Easter more pure and properly focused. I will likely have more to say about Easter in the next several weeks, but for now let us concentrate on where it all begins…Lent.

 

For the heathens among you, Lent is the season of preparation encompassing the 40 days before Easter. This is meant to symbolize Jesus’ time in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. It is traditional to make a sacrifice during Lent…to give up something one enjoys, a genuine vice. I always joke around about what I’m giving up for Lent…walking (I am a paraplegic), sex (I am sadly a serial loner with no love life), vegetables (my eating habits are far from healthy). However, this year I am on a mission. I have decided to take the whole Lent thing seriously. This is a byproduct of the past few months, as I have been going through a spiritual awakening, realizing just how superficial most peoples’ religiosity really is, including my own. I am seeking a deeper connection with my Heavenly Father and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I suppose Lent is a good place to start. I am as much of a stumbling bumbling fool when it comes to all this as anyone, but my Dad always said this: “I want you to be the best but sometimes that won’t be possible…If you can’t be the best then be one of the best, but even that won’t always happen…So if you can’t be one of the best then atleast try your best…you can always do that”. I am trying my best.

 

To that end what I have decided to do is give up Facebook for Lent. Again for the benefit of the uninitiated, Facebook is a social networking site. In the past year on Facebook I have reconnected with literally hundreds of old acquaintances from all aspects of my past and present…grade school, high school, college, church, family, every job I’ve ever had. It really is very cool to see what people are into, where they live and what they do for a living, see photos of their families, etc. It’s a great way to stay in touch. All of those whom I considered my friends live far away from me…Dallas TX, Columbus OH, Charleston WV, and many other far flung towns across the map,  from Montana to Georgia to Florida New York to California. So I am grateful that technology allows me to maintain some form of contact. However, Facebook is also rather addicting. There are countless games, quizzes, polls, and other applications that one can mindlessly get lost in for hours. I’m not against some pointless fun on occasion, but I do feel like I waste a lot of time that could otherwise be spent on more consequential activities like prayer, studying The Bible, reading a good book, or even getting the proper amount of sleep.

 

I am just a couple days in right now and it’s tough. But I am embracing the challenge. I am looking forward to what I can accomplish during this time, and definitely looking forward to drawing closer to The Lord, which after all is kind of the whole idea. When Easter arrives I will reactivate my Facebook account…those relationships and friendly interactions are important to me and I don’t want to give them up permanently. But I am sure I will have gained a new perspective and hopefully will have opened some doors to be able to witness to the masses about my faith. We’ll see.

 

 

 

Blue Like Jazz

Cover of

Blue Like Jazz

There are church goers, there are people who are “spiritual”, there are Christians and Jews and Muslims, there are those who claim to be “religious” but won’t go into specifics…..many many shades of grey. But the truth is you can’t always have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes one must actually make a choice and stand behind it, through the sunshine and the storm.

I first ran across Blue Like Jazz while looking for books about jazz and blues music. Realizing that it had nothing to do with music I moved on. Then a friend with whom I have a lot of conversations about God, the Bible, church, Jesus Christ, etc. mentioned it and I said “oh yeah…I remember seeing that”. He recommended I read it, and I obliged.

At first I was blown away. The writer uses a straightforward humorous tone that’s a little unorthodox but eminently readable. The book is a breezy read, and that’s cool. He has a unique perspective that occasionally made me go “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. He’s right”. But as I kept getting further into it I was reminded of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In one scene Steve Martin’s character is ranting against John Candy’s character and says “And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea – have a point!! It makes it SO much more interesting”. Blue Like Jazz is kind of like that…..I still don’t know what the point is exactly.

I realize what direction the writer was attempting to go. Church these days can be very legalistic, ritualized, and ultimately meaningless. Almost every congregation has its fair share of heathens and what my minister refers to as 7th Day Christians, meaning they’re “Christian” for a couple of hours on Sunday but then do whatever feels good the other six days (I have been that person in the past and am doing my best to improve). As a matter of fact Easter Sunday was just a few days ago and I spotted several Christers myself, meaning people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. I understand suspicion and trepidation when it comes to the church. But that doesn’t mean one can just ignore everything about Christianity that’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. The church and its people may be broken, but the faith itself is most certainly not.

I kept waiting for some big resolution or lucid path to somewhere conclusive…..but it never happened. Ultimately Blue Like Jazz comes across as one man’s free association about spirituality, with subtle hints at a political agenda. The premise had potential, but the finished work feels more like a first draft that has never crossed the desk of an editor or any kind of authority who may have given the directive for..…well…..direction. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read at all, but I was expecting better.