Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Bible and other things


It's me. MidnightCafe. (So as not to confuse people who might think it's Heather responding. ;) )

You said:
"My first thought I wanted to share with YOU was about the Bible. With a one sentence description on my feelings and struggles with it: it's scribed by men from men from men...and to me it becomes the "telephone cup" game of sorts where you pass along a message so many times that "I love to eat bananas" becomes "May I shovel the feet of camels". Know what I mean? I do believe THIS about the Bible - the essential meaning and lessons give a great "to do" list for living a good, honest, meaningful and CARING life."

I wanted to respond to this, if I may be so bold as to jump in the middle of this discussion. You have a lot of things going on here in this one sentence. First, it seems that you're wondering about the accuracy of the Bible as an ancient book passed on over time. But, also, you seem to wonder how it is that the Bible is God's book...not just the thoughts of a bunch of people.

I tend to begin by approaching this stuff intellectually. I enjoy theology, and I love to explore the details. Bear with me.

There are a number of books and articles out there attesting to the historical accuracy of the Bible and also the integrity of the book as it has been passed down over time. Late manuscripts of the Bible have been compared to very early manuscripts, and the consistency has been remarkable. The people charged with copying the text were held to a very high standard, and several manuscripts are out there demonstrating that the words have, in fact, not been changed over time. In spite of it seeming like it would turn into a big game of "telephone," the documents themselves demonstrate that this is not what happened.

Aside from that, there are some "proofs," if you will, that the Bible is historically accurate, meaning that the historical events recorded in the Bible are the same as the events recorded by other historians at the same time period. Current archeology also supports the historical accuracy of Biblical events. It's actually pretty amazing.

These things, of course, say little about how it is that the Bible is God's book. People can, on their own, record history and even accurately pass down manuscripts and texts. It's still a book written by people about people, right? Interestingly, I kind of agree with you there. There are a lot of different schools of thought about the way that the Bible is God's book. People have different theories about how it was written, if the words were given directly by God or if the people were simply prompted or inspired by God to write the stories in their own words. I believe the latter, that God prompted people to write the stories. I don't believe God held their hand and literally wrote the text through them.

For me, though, this doesn't make the Bible any less God's book. It's a book about God moving through the lives of people, weaving a story of love and reconciliation through the ages. The stories are true, and they're all about God. So, that makes the Bible God's book. We know that it was really God speaking in and moving in the lives of people because of the number of prophecies recorded in the Bible that were later fulfilled. Do you know that the books of the Old Testament contain something like 2000 prophecies that have all been fulfilled? And we know that the books were not written after the fulfillment because the early manuscripts have been clearly dated before the time when the events happened. It's wild and amazing.

I *do* believe that the Bible is inspired by God. I believe that God inspired the people to write their stories and experiences. It's not something I can prove, as Heather mentioned. It's more that it's very clear that the Bible is true on other levels. So, I choose to believe in this one last area that it's truly inspired by God.

I don't actually think you have to believe the Bible is inspired by God when you're first exploring it, though. I think it's important to know that the stories are historically accurate and that people appear to be telling the truth, that the prophecies were accurately fulfilled and that even many of the miracles are historically and archeologically supported. Then you just go from there. You read the stories to find out what those people knew about God, how they experienced God, who God was to them. You listen to the stories and the way they tell God's story. And that's all. (And you skip the family genealogies and the several repetitions of the laws until some other time....)

I hope I haven't said too much. I, personally, didn't really get "into" the Bible until I started studying it in college & seeing it as a whole unit that tells the story of God bringing redemption/reconciliation/ whatever-you-want-to-call-it to the world, to all of us human beings, individual people who are each made in God's image.

Oh, can I say just one more thing? I don't want to wear you out, but that reminded me. You were saying something about how people ought to live good lives, care about others, etc, etc...because it's human, not because it's Christian. What I just said there in the last paragraph is why I believe that it's both. Human beings, if I believe the Bible, were created in the image of God. We have a teensy bit of the character of God in us, and that is why it's human to love, to care, to have compassion, to do good. God is all of those things and we are made in God's likeness. So, it's human to do those things. It's the humanitarian, if you will, way to be. And it's also Christian, because we have that likeness, that character, that image of Christ, of God, in us. That's what makes us human.

Phew. That was a lot.

Dear Jess

(If you're new here, the most recent posts are comprised of a conversation between myself (Heather) and a reader/friend, Jess. The conversation has grown to include a few more friends in the comments and I'm loving that. Thank you all for coming along.)

(If you'd like to start at the beginning, you can click HERE for the first post.)
Dear Jess,
Hopefully you aren't getting too overwhelmed! There's a lot being said here and I hope that as you wade through it all it's helping rather than frustrating you.

I hope it's o.k. that I speak for all of those who have responded when I say that it's tricky to find words. Because this discussion is about faith, it's hard not to speak too much Christianese. I think about that a lot in my own life. When I'm talking to someone who's not a Christian about theological stuff, I often have to laugh at how I must sound. I just wanted to let you know that I'll do my best to not use phrases and terms that don't make much sense.

After the last post, Midnight Cafe (a contributor to this blog) left a comment I want to quote here because I think it's really important.

"I'm wondering if looking for proof that God exists OR if you're more in the position of believing that there *is* a God but you're not sure how people have a relationship with that God. Maybe you're wondering about both.

And, clearly, you're wondering about the we know that Bible is really God's word, how we know it hasn't changed over time...that sort of thing."

I've gotten the impression through our email correspondence that you're asking not WHY a person would believe (since you don't think it's ridiculous), but rather HOW. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought I should help clarify.

Now on to my response to your last email (finally).

Your thoughts about the Bible are totally valid. If we're being honest it seems a bit far-fetched to trust a bunch of imperfect humans to get the Word of God written by hand and call it good. For me that's exactly why I'm blown away by it's validity. It seems impossible, but even though it was created the way it was, it speaks to my mind and heart in a way no other book can. It's not that we're dumb, I think it's that we can't wrap our minds around God's bigness (yes, that's a word.) He is perfectly capable of using men to do things that only He can do, we just like to give Him human qualities, restrictions and limitations. So when the ink was in the hands of men, God was really the one doing the writing, knowing exactly what He meant and how people would respond. I think God knew there would be a lot of disbelief and worked his book to speak at the right time to each individual as they seek it and try to understand. It's like there was a different Bible written for each of us. You know, a spiritual phenomenon if you will. We are always evolving, changing, learning...and as we do, the Bible does it with us, different parts of it speaking to us at different times. That's what I mean about the Bible coming to life for me. It's aliiiive. (: That's what makes it different than other books even on the same topics.

For example, as I went through my years of being frustrated with "the church," I kind of shut down my belief system for awhile. I needed a time of quiet, without all the doctrinal stuff floating through my head. I'm a distracted person, always have been. I've never been good at just sitting with the Bible, praying, doing Bible Studies, etc. And I always felt like that was bad, or I was wrong and should feel guilty. I needed somewhere to start, but didn't know what to do, I just get so stuck in feeling like I'm not up to this whole Christianity task.

I'm a sensitive person who is easily sad and down on myself. Since I believe God made me, I think He knows this full well. He knows therefore what my specific needs are. He knew I needed to hear that I am loved fully no matter how lame I can be. So he met me there through His word. When I was reading and learning (here and there) I was being plowed over with verses that spoke to my hurting heart. I didn't have much self-worth and finally the Bible started to act as the tool to heal that.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." James 1:5

For once, I didn't think something along the lines of "oh, that's nice." I was hit right in the heart, I could see that I needed to get that, to really get that He... "gives generously to ALL without finding fault..." I was blown away by this verse and so many like it because they screamed God's love to me. Instead of being a big book of do's and dont's, I started to realize that God just wanted me to read it so He could tell me as often as possible that I'm loved, just exactly as I am.

When I opened myself up to that perspective, I started to see the Bible in a new way. I recently heard a woman speak on this. She talked about how we need to start imagining ourselves IN the stories of the Bible, to be the woman at the well, to be a part of the crowds receiving the fish and the loaves, all the while coming from the idea that God is showing LOVE in every every story, even the ones that don't seem that loving.

That's enough on that for now. I do go on and on and I don't want to do that. I'll be saying much more about the Bible as I tell you my personal story in bits and pieces if that's o.k.


Your second question had to do with "praying the prayer," the feeling of getting saved and what that entails. I'll start by saying that I believe that coming to a belief in Christ is not always so black and white. I believe it can be a process. I think there is more than one way to "accept Christ," if that makes sense. Sometimes that can be kind of a slow dance, moving toward a full acceptance of all that He is. I don't necessarily think a person needs to have a date and time of the moment they suddenly believed. Some people think the Bible is saying you DO have to be that certain, that clear...but you know what? We're all different. God is the one that made us that way. Not every person is going to have a clear cut "come to Jesus" moment. I have dear friends that are good examples of that. They may have never "prayed the prayer" in the way we're taught we're supposed to, but they've been "praying the prayer" in the sense that they pray, they believe, they're growing and changing...they are Christians just like a girl like me who prayed the prayer a gazillion times, trying to fix myself. In the end, maybe it's more about coming to a fullness of peace in knowing that Jesus was who He said He was, and He loves us like crazy. Then we take it from there and ride the faith train, learning more as we go.

I'll shut up now.

As usual, I'm looking forward to more thoughts from you,

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear Heather

I began telling Jess my own personal faith story in the last post. This is her response to that post and to your comments. I'll post my response to her questions tomorrow.
(My email from Jess)
My first reactions were:
1. The ladies who commented were very, very sweet.

2. I got nervous about posting under my blogger name (I could create an anon but don't really want to do that) because I still felt, just from reading their responses, that although some say they came to understand as an adult...they still sound so..."church-savvy" (in a completely unoffensive way) I'm afraid I still won't be able to relate.

My first thought I wanted to share with YOU was about the Bible. With a one sentence description on my feelings and struggles with it: it's scribed by men from men from men...and to me it becomes the "telephone cup" game of sorts where you pass along a message so many times that "I love to eat bananas" becomes "May I shovel the feet of camels". Know what I mean? I do believe THIS about the Bible - the essential meaning and lessons give a great "to do" list for living a good, honest, meaningful and CARING life. Please share your story about how your views on it changed, as you see fit and when you want. I'd love to hear more of that.

My second thoughts were to ask these questions if anyone is willing to elaborate and share:

Heidi - Thank you for being honest and not feeling "put off" by the fact that those who have always known are somewhat of a mystery to me. LOL Hopefully in time I can relate to what you say with regard to this topic.

Sara@butterville - What types of "other" things had you tried and how did you become certain that HE was the one moving things in your life, that it wasn't just "life" happening?

Kazzy - How do you experience a "two way" relationship with God? How are you certain that what's happening is two way?

Growin' with it - Just reading "it will always be a process" and "I don't ever expect to figure out God" helps more than you know. I'm a SOLID THOUGHT person. I have to have definitive answers and solutions. I hate leaving things open-ended, and I fear that this search will still feel that way once I am done or give up.

Brooke - If she is willing to share any of her experiences that solidified the knowledge, I'd love to learn of them. The quote was wonderful, thank you for sharing. I think it'll be something I hang onto for awhile.

Lastly, for you since you mentioned it and it's something my husband repeats as what he KNOWS and feels about religion - accepting Jesus as your Savior. I understand why we should do this, in the most general sense. But other than saying "sure, he might have offered up his son under the presumption we'll be saved because of this act" did anyone come to FEEL this acceptance and that you were "saved" because of it? I follow the story, I think I believe that Jesus existed on Earth as a man to share what he believed was the word of his Father...but from here it gets gray for me. I hope this doesn't qualify as blasphemy - that would really suck. LOL

I will stop talk about YOU rambling...sheesh. I am not even going to spell check!
Thank you for giving me a forum/sanctuary of sorts to read and talk about this but still feel like I'm under my blankets. I've already been told I'm going to hell back in college because I didn't know what I believed, and I really don't feel like hearing it anymore, even if I AM doomed to it. LOL


Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Jess

*Disclaimer: I'm no theologian and I don't have all the answers. This is simply a discussion among friends and these are my thoughts and feelings as a part of that conversation. Some will agree and some will disagree and that's cool with me. Please accept my story as my experience, not as right or wrong.

Dear Jess,

I wish I had a nicely wrapped answer for you. With a bow on it. But I guess if it were that easy, you most likely would have received it already. :)

Most likely I will go on and on, but I want to get the conversation (on my end) rolling by keeping it short and sweet so you don't have to respond to a huge lengthy ramble. (Have you noticed I have a tendency to ramble?)

That said, I'll begin the story of how I came to a certainty of belief.

I did grow up in church (of the Baptist variety.) I never disliked it. I had fun with my church friends and found going to church on Wednesday nights and Sundays to be more of a social thing than actually learning about God. Because I was just a kid, and in my insecurity I cared more about what boy liked me than memorizing verses. But I did "accidentally" come to believe what I was being taught (for the most part.) My parents are also Christians, so there was a lot of talk of Jesus in my house too. I'm thankful that this foundation was there because it has really helped me as I've made my faith my own in adulthood. I'm simply admitting here that I don't think my faith was all that genuine until much later in my life. I was missing some very important things that would open my eyes and heart more than I had thought possible.

Early on, I was taught that a person needed to pray a certain prayer and "accept Jesus as their Savior." It seemed to me that was the most important thing because that gets you into Heaven (PHEW). From there, it appeared that having faith was about lifestyle. (Going to church, no drinking, no smoking, no swearing...)

(I must say here that this was MY impression, it's not how every Christian thinks, I'm sure. But that's how Christianity appeared to me as a child.)

So up until I was an adult, I think I "prayed the prayer" about a thousand times, every chance I got. I had this sneaking suspicion that I wasn't good enough so I should probably keep trying to make sure I wasn't going to Hell.

In my early twenties I finally started to see that walking with God was not just about an afterlife. I now believe that we focus a bit too much on that. Sure, it's very important to have an assurance of your final destination, but I think that final destination may take care of itself if we could learn more about freedom in Christ in this life. Coming to know that freedom means a person has come to know HIM for who He really is, and if we do that, I'm of the opinion He'll welcome us to Him in person one day cause we'll be friends and stuff. (I have no idea if that sentence made sense, sorry.)

I'll continue this possibly very boring story after your response. As I tell it, hopefully I'll answer your question of HOW a person comes to believe. I don't think there's a specific answer to that, like I said before. But I have my story to tell of how it's been for me and I hope that will help.

Lastly, I want to throw a little something in about the Bible. Because I'm a Christian a lot of the knowledge I have of God comes from His book. I have to admit that for much of my life I found the Bible to be somewhat...boring, unrelatable, and really confusing. As we carry on our conversation I'll tell you how that changed as well. I'm now finally understanding how God's Spirit works with we humans, opening our eyes to see things in a way that we couldn't if we didn't ask for His eyes. His word came alive for me and I was actually quite shocked (and impressed) by that.

Jess, I want to say that as I was cutting and pasting your emails in last night for the first post, I found myself more and more impressed by YOU. I appreciate that you aren't judgmental, you're so thoughtful, funny and just plain kind. Thank you.

I SO look forward to hearing from you,

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Here to There

I wrote a post recently on my other blog about what I believe. Shortly after posting it, I received an email from one of the readers asking if she could ask some questions about my faith. Her name is Jessica, and with her permission, I'd like to share some of her words.

(from Jessica's first message)

"I wanted to express to you how much I enjoyed reading your full description, but didn't feel

like commenting in the public forum. I hope you don't mind. So much of what you said are things I feel in tune with, and was wondering if I could share some questions with you.
I have been speaking a LOT with my husband (a Christian man who knows what he believes) and trying to figure out things for myself.

I learned a few months ago what it was that I was seeking out, and it was someone who found their path to God and religion and might be able to share with me ways of understanding it. I have found it very difficult (so far impossible) to discuss my reservations about religion
with people who have always grown up "believing"in a higher power. They talk about it as if God already exists for everyone and explain from there, but I'm still back
at "how do you GET to him and feel him in your life" stage. I hope that makes you said, it's very difficult to put into words what exactly one means when talking about faith.
If you would be open to sharing some conversation with me, I would love to "chat"."

(from Jessica's second message, after I told her I would love to talk more with her about faith)

"I appreciate you being open to discussing, I just felt from the tone of your posts, you would be a comfortable voice to talk to. I've been searching for quite awhile for someone to bounce ideas around with, and realized looking around my peer group wasn't cutting it."

I decided to start off by giving a very condensed synopsis of me and any religious"ness" that's been in my life. It's brief, which makes it the easiest place to start (when you compare it to the thoughts in my head that I've tossed around for years). I'm 31. The first 10 or so years of my life, my dad took our family to Catholic church and Sunday school, almost without fail, every Sunday. One day, we woke up and didn't go anymore. I asked my mom about it, and she said they had a problem with the Father who was currently at that church (he picked on families with small children if their children were loud - go figure, Catholic priest getting mad about KIDS??). My mother was raised Methodist and converted to Catholic to marry my father. For those ten years, I really got nothing out of church. We didn't discuss religion at home, and I don't recall much of anything from
Sunday school lessons, and all I really remember about mass was the singing and trying to stay awake.

I basically went through the rest of my young years and all of college ignoring everything about religion. I didn't have anything against it, and I didn't have anything for it. It existed, and I existed, separately.

I started to ponder religion and what was "real"in my early 20s. I was living alone, working,
surviving....I saw a guy a few times, but during a latenight phone call, we started talking about church. I don't really remember what was said, but I believe it started with him saying something about being blessed, God knowing what was right for him...and I was totally
shocked at myself because I started crying. Not to him, and not aloud, but I just cried. He sounded so peaceful talking about God in his life, and I knew nothing of what he felt.It was during this conversation where my thoughts began, and so did my confusion. By this point in my life, I was so set in my beliefs that good things happen because good people made them happen.

Simple as that. I believed that you treat people nicely and as you want to be treated because it's the right thing to do, not because I want to please a higher being. I didn't feel this way to shun God, but I just didn't see how it was "Christian" of me to behave this way, I felt it was a HUMAN way to behave. It's how my families have always acted. And because I felt and still feel this way, it makes it hard to understand that it's a Godly way to live. My husband has told me that he believes I'm one of the most Christian-living people he's known and I don't even realize it. But I tell him it's how people are supposed to be, I shouldn't have to believe in a God to want to live this way. Because I could go on and on with my confusing thoughts, I'll get to my main two points of conflict (right now anyhow!).

1. I think religion is a great thing for those who have it. I think, no matter if the afterlife and God exist or not, having something like religion to believe in allows people to live more peacefully. I envy that feeling that people have, and that no matter how rough life can be, they honestly feel that by praying, their life becomes less stressful and the struggles are given to God to lead them the right way. I think it's wonderful to have it regardless of what really exists.

2. I have yet to meet anyone who came to understand and believe in God as an adult. I have realized I can't talk and ask questions from most people who have believed all their lives because they truly canNOT relate to what it feels like to not believe or to waffle. Asking questions about how they KNOW God is there and how to form a relationship with something so intangible always ends up with answers like "praying will help you find your answers" or "I just knew he existed because I've been so blessed". That doesn't work on someone so uncertain of it's very existence. It doesn't make sense. I don't feel blessed, I feel like I struggle and good things happen if I work hard or have good people around me. I can't pray because that feeling of inner peace or tranquility that comes with releasing your fears doesn't wash over me. I feel silly.

I am so sorry this got so long but I guess with a topic like this, it's very difficult to condense such confusion. I am really looking forward to hearing from you. Your post made me feel like I could get some truly honest and non-judgmental responses and conversation.
Thank you again, good night.
(and from her most recent message)
"My question or quest is determining how to create or seek out this relationship or how to even come to terms with his existence at all. It's like..."I want to believe that someone will "catch me when I jump" but I can't force myself to step off the ledge". Make sense?"

Jessica and I agreed that it would be a good thing to have this conversation in a public forum. For me, that's because I would love input from the comments, people adding thoughts to mine when I can't find my words. And also, the contributors of this blog will most likely have lovely things to say in post form if we get their wheels turning. They are wise women who are the type of people who understand, like I do, where Jessica is coming from.

I'm honored that Jessica felt comfortable opening this discussion with me. I'm humbled to think she found me worthy of carrying on this conversation. I consider her a friend, and can't wait to see what's in store for both of us. I respect where Jess is coming from and hope and pray that I can express myself well here. I'll ask God to reveal himself to both of us, since every human has much to learn, whether they are believers or not.

We're all on a journey in this life. Come along and think with us, out loud if you'd like.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feast or Famine

Over ten years ago I stood in the city dump in Quito, Ecuador baffled by the stench of garbage and completely disturbed by the fact that people lived there. My heart hurt as the dark side of life sunk in.

We were an idealistic group of Americans, and as we crawled out of our van and stood loaded down with loaves of bread, we let the children run to us, their dirty faces smiling.

Radiant smiles. Pure joy, confidence, contentment, shone from their faces like headlights angled up a bit too much, blinding with bright. I was the deer in those headlights, dumbfounded and confused, unable to move for fear I might miss something, a clue as to why this awful place held so much happiness.

That's when I began to realize I was the one there to learn something. The aching need I thought would be expressed in those faces wasn't there as I had predicted. These people were simply happy. I imagine they were truly thankful for our gifts. But the thankfulness in their faces wasn't temporary, a result of our presence or our bread. It looked like the kind of gratitude that proved consistent, a part of the countenance of the souls behind those smiles. It was the kind of thankfulness that could be trusted to remain, gifts or no gifts, feast or famine.

I looked at the cardboard boxes leaning together posing as walls and roof tops, and thought of how so many called this home. There were old blankets and stuffed animals molded into beds. I couldn't imagine spending even one night there. But for many residents of the city dump, it was all they'd ever known.

I thought we would come to these people and tell them something they didn't know. That there is a God who loves them despite their circumstances. I was going to teach them about faith. But mine is a faith clouded with things. Opinions of denominations, the inevitable task of keeping house, daily doses of commercial "freedoms" clouding my vision and confusing me. I can have the best of intentions to love my neighbor the way these people did, but my intentions often get buried under sales flyers, phone calls, emails, and the rat race of my American life.

That day in the dump I realized that one day, or even three weeks of stepping outside my comfort zone was not what I was called to do. It was a good thing to do, but I knew I couldn't leave it at a loaf of bread, wash my hands of it, and head home.

Because every one of us has a specific calling over our lives to serve the people around us, whether there is a feast or a famine in our own lives.

The fulfillment of moving forward and reaching out brings joy, feast or famine.

That day in the dump, we had shown up with the idea that we knew something about life and faith that these people needed. We went assuming that what we knew of God had not yet been revealed to the people of the city dump in Ecuador. We felt we were there to help some lost souls meet Him.

But God had shown up long before we had.

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."

The light that shone in those eyes I met that day was pure, ignited by the simplest of life's pleasures. And a knowledge of a loving God that meets people in their need. The Great Comforter is a dear friend to those that live in the city dump. And He is just as close to those of us who are completely distracted. We just don't often cry out for Him like those who have set aside their pride and realized their need for His daily presence, feast or famine.

My twenty-year-old American mind could hardly grasp the lesson, but I believe it was there.

Stripped bare of all other desires and freedoms, the human soul can finally rise up to meet contentment as that desperate soul comes face to face with it's Maker.
In that contentment there is pure joy, feast or famine.
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