Archive for Faith

Fruits of the Spirit Dying on the Vine

I took the summer off church. The last few weeks of my time in church in late June and early July were becoming increasingly painful. At the root of my discomfort in church was a deepening questioning of the vaildity of the idea of Fruits of the Holy Spirit and in turn the actual concept of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the trinity and so on.

I grew up in the church. Not from a super young age but starting at the very impressionable age of 11. Early on I realized that following the acceptance of Christ you were inbued with the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit, the third member of the Holy Trinity, sent to us after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to help guide Christians once the physical person of Christ was no longer amoung mankind. In Romans 8 the role of the Spirit is outlined as:

As Christ has set us free from a life served in bondage to the law, we now walk according to the Spirit. And the Spirit of God dwells in us, the believers. And anyone who does not have the Spirit does not belong to Him (vs 9). The chapter ends celebrating the adoption into the family of God by through the redemption of our bodies and displaying the Fruits of the Spirit. Displaying the Fruits of the Spirit are central the demonstration of a changed life in Christ, The thing the sets us apart from non-believers and the sign for the hope of things to come. At the core of my current spiritual crisis is my doubt in the existence of Fruits of the Spirit within the Chrisitian community.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are outlined in the episitle to the Galatians in Chapter 5 ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.’ (vs 22).

I look around me, at the many many Christians I know, some displaying the fruits of the Spirit more prominently than others. Many, many, myself included, barely displaying most of the fruits, even some of the time. That would be okay, as we are all a work in process. But where my doubts really begin to break down is when I examine the many non Christian friends I have. Many of them don’t display all the fruits of the Spirit either, or at least not most them, but many they do display some of them. And some of these friends display these attributes far more strongly than many of the people who profess a life in Christ and are purportedly given over to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So my mind began to ponder this and I racked my brain for those among me who displayed a life changed, a life evident of a transformation into living according to the Spirit and not by the law. And when I examine those Christians around me; my lovely and amazing sister with kindness beyond measure, the elderly spiritual giants at my church, displaying wisdom beyond years lived, my father transformed from a life of drugs and other temptations, transformed to a man of God, and lastly my amazing life partner, who displays the entire list everyday of his life. But when I look more closely at these individuals, and others, what I really see are personalilty traits that leads them to be kinder, more patient, less forceful people. And when I look at the the non Christians in my life who also display what looks like Fruits of the Spirit and I see the same thing, personality types, not a decision or a life changing event that sets them apart.

So then the true test should be a display of Fruits of the Spirit in those who do not already have a personality that lends itself to kindness, and goodness and self control. To peace and patience, to love and joy. And I turn my gaze to myself. I have a text book type A personality; driven, outspoken, critical, opinionated, fearless and prone to taking over. I have spent my entire adult life trying hard, very hard, with all my might, to fight this person inside me, in order to display the Fruits of the Spirit. And to my great sadness, try as I might to beat down my type A self, it always comes roaring back with a vengance, stomping all over the poor struggling vines of the Fruits of Spirit. And not just me, so very many Christians display deeds of the flesh. Described as ‘immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissessions, factions, envying, drunkness, carousing, and things like these.’ (vs 19 – 21) Capital letter ‘C’ Church loves to focus on the items at the beginning and the end of this list, immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkeness, and carousing. But so rarely do we hear much on the items in the middle of the list, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions and envying. In fact judging by the daily deluge to my email inbox from my family members that love to rail against anything democratic, supporting Obama, worring about the socialization of our society by promoting any form of welfare or caring for those less fortunate. Judging from my Christian friends who are quick to judge and rail against types of people, they don’t know. It is evident that there are many Christians who are exceling at this list at a much higher rate than the Fruits of the Spirit.

Fruit Dying on the Vine

I think the genesis of this doubt started with the display of fear and mistrust as our church went through a building campaign. Watching so many people being afraid to step out in faith, unable to imagine a facility that would serve people other than ourselves. Lastly not even willing to be incovienced to park elsewhere during construction phases even at the expense of visitors curious about the changes in action but never to return and the lack of parking was a sure sign of a closed door to them. So many of the people I church with every Sunday have a laundry list of complaints about any and every little thing, a spirit much more similar to mine, one of judging and criticism, instead of kindness and gentleness.

The media has been ripe with hints of this from the blog post on CNN about how Christians can be so mean online. Just google the phrase ‘Why are Christians so Mean’ you will be sadden and amazed at the amount written on this very topic.

Another example is the recent decision by Anne Rice to ‘leave’ Christianity.

So my mind wonders, maybe, just maybe there is no such thing as the Spirit of God, or at least a Spirit that leads us to the Fruits of the Spirit. But so very much of the New Testament centers around a life with the Holy Spirit, transformed for the rest of the world to see. But if I can’t see this in the world around me, perhaps it isn’t really there. And if that isn’t true, then what else isn’t true? Jesus, the body of Christ, God the Father? And as you can guess the whole house of cards that is Christianity starts to come down around me. And since I have spent my whole life trying to live under these beliefs, you have no idea how disorienting and scary it is on the other side of these beliefs.

So sitting in church or among other Christians where it is inevitable that the topic will turn to how Christians should behave has become painful, so I have taken a break. Rarely do I get a chance to think through the deep complexities of what I am truly pondering but maybe getting this in writing will help me continue the journey to find out what is up with the Fruits of the Spirit.

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My Political Manifesto: An Evangelical for Obama

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Here is a copy of an email I sent this evening that is culmination of my thoughts of late. Why, as a committed evangelical Christian, I will vote for Barack Obama next week:

“I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond to your last email. I have given much thought to our exchanges in advance of the historic election we all face next week. Thank you so much for your kind words about this exchange and I am pleased that you see our children as thinking individuals. We try hard to instill a good work ethic and a strong mind in our children. We teach them to question everything, to ask what is the agenda behind anything they hear and wonder what is not being said in a conversation. I see promising signs that they both are going to grow up to be strong. loving, intelligent, Christ centered people willing to help others. I too, respect how much time you put into giving thoughtful understanding of the issues we face and I suspect we really agree on more than we disagree with.

The reason I have not had time before now to respond to your latest email is that both Matt and I have been very busy working on a new venture at our church called The Service Project. It is still in it’s development stage but even at this early point we are seeing amazing things. The general concept is to get the people in our church out of the pews after Sunday morning and into the community reaching out to those who have needs that are not being met. We also meet on a regular basis to inspire new ideas and spend time in worship. The ideas for service come from anyone in the congregation that has an idea that we can assist in. So far we are launching a clothing collection for children in a local group home that have been kicked out of foster homes and come only with the clothes on their back. We are working with local food banks to help stock shelves in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. We plan on an outreach to seniors in centers where they need people to visit and socialize with to combat lonliness and depression. We are tutoring in juvenile hall and we are planning on adopting a local beach in the new year. Most recently more people have come aboard and are starting a home repair service for single mothers, senoirs and othe low income families in our community, comprised of volunteer labor and minimal costs. I was encouraged to hear that Greer’s Jr High group has also become excited to get involved and they are looking for a service project they can start.

I mention all this, because this project speaks to my agenda when I present my take on the political issues and the choice we all make next week as we elect a new president. I realize every day when I wake up that I lead an incredibly blessed life. And although I often feel like I am working harder and harder and yet finances seem tighter and tighter, I also know that I am so much more fortunate than 90% of the rest of the world and even most of the citizens of this great country. I have spent my entire life living in an economy that encourages us to buy things we don’t really need to create jobs that eventually end up overseas where labor is cheaper. The fact is that every day when I get up I spend time wondering what I will wear and every evening I spend time wondering what I will eat and this tells me that I have more than I truly need and my focus needs to turn to those who have less and truly need more. Even though we qualify for the Obama tax credit I would not mind if we did not. I strongly believe the best way to stimulate our economy is to give money back to the people who need to spend it, the middle class. Our middle class, as large as it is, represents an enormous economic engine that can help us get back on track. These are the people that will reinvest this money back into the economy hopefully stablizing the housing industry and getting the banks back on track.

After that I think we all need to take a long hard look at our lifestyles. Almost everyone I know has more than one car per person in their family, multiple homes, large toys like boats and bikes. Do any of us really need more? I think we all need to turn our focus to those less fortunate than us. We need to have a health care system that is affordable for everyone, even if it means some reduction in the services we don’t really need or even utilize. We need to pay teachers more and focus on education, using tax dollars to encourage more college education.

We have already touched quite a bit on the one topic so very many Christians use as the litmus test for any candidate, abortion. You know my personal story and I stay committed to ending abortion but I also realize, the abortion question is really the wrong question. We need to focus on preventing the preganancy in the first place and providing resources to those who are pregnant but feel they cannot financially survive a child, or another child. The Republicans have for so long had a pro-life focus and have worked tirelessly to overbbturn Roe vs. Wade but where are their efforts support those women who make that very hard choice to have an abortion? I was so saddened when Sarah Palin had a great opportunity to discuss the issue of an unwanted pregnancy with her daughter Bristol, to hear no mention of adoption. Also it is one thing to for Levi Johnson to drop out of high school and work full time, but his economic resources are vastly different than the average teenage father. Our focus as Christians should be support pregnant women and reduce/prevent the pregnancy in the first place before we worry about legislation.

Also how, as Christians, can we be so concerned with life before birth but worry so little about it after the baby is born. I believe the number one moral issue we as Christians should address is poverty and starvation. When we as Amercans spend more on pet food than many third world countries can spend to feed their citizens. When our globalized economy and farm policies mean that food aid to countries like Haiti support American farmers while completely disrupting local Haitian farmers and fail to meet even the most basic nutrional needs of the people. When our defense forces are so streched in a questionable war that we cannot come to the aid of the Sudanese in the Darfur region, who are being attacked for their religious beliefs, uprooted and forced into refugee camps run without adequate resources. When we have starvation in our own country, a country where many of us throw away as much food as we actually consume. I think we as Christians need to lead the way.and sacrifice a little to help other and support policy changes to combat hunger and starvation the world over.

I could continue this explanaton of how my Christian morals shape my views on other topics like the environment and enegy, but I think you get the idea. And so with my focus, I currently see the Democratic party as being more in tune with trying to help those less fortunate than me. Are they perlect? No. Are there members of the party that I don’t agree with? Absolutely. But I see this party as more in tune with these goals than the Republican party which I see as focused on ‘let’s make sure we (the already rich and powerful) get what we deserve, and it will trickle down eventually’.

So there you have it. My manifesto on why I believe it is my civic and moral duty to vote for Barack Obama next week. Either way this is a historic election and very exciting. I hope everyone is headed to the polls next week if they have not already voted. And for all the bystanders of these emails, if you made it this far, thanks for listening and sharing in my deep deep respect for this great nation and the over abundant life that God has given to each and every one of us.

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The Service Project

Our church is going through somewhat of an identity crisis. I love my church! For me it is like a family, incorporating both the good and bad, the annoying and encouraging, the supporting and questioning aspects of any family dynamic. Probably my most favorite thing about our church is that we openly agree to disagree on many topics. This means that we are not a homogenous group. We are varied in almost every way; age group, economic status, political persuasion, environmental concerns. We coud be more ethinically diverse, but perhaps this is also a feature of our community which is also not very ethinically diverse. This has always surprised me, as I view our broader community very open, and I would assume all groups would feel welcome, but I thinks this points to other issues about self observation that deserves it’s own post in the future.

Our identity crisis revolves mostly around who we want to be in the future. We are a somewhat small and tight knit group. And for every person who wants to broaden that circle and reach out to others and bring them into the group, there is another person fearful that “new” people will change the group dynamic and we will lose what makes us special and therefore tight knit.

I personally view the situation as an opportunity to share more of our loving kindness with others and grow the tight knit group. That more people to love won’t fundamentally change who we are.

There is a strong pull on us to reach out to our community and be of service to others. And to that end a group of us is launching a new opportunity this coming month to do just that. It is called The Service Project and the intent is come together and perfom acts of service to our community. A brief outline of what we are:

“Communal, interactive, alive, integral, dependent, alive, changing, exploring, asking, leading, learning, listening.

What we plan to do:

Create a place and times, to come together to worship, learn, service, reach out, create, share and support.

Ideas about how we can do this:

Monthly worship comprised of sensory, media, interactive tangible sharing.
Monthly service projects around such ideas as supporting the NA group at CCSV, reaching out to community via art and music and other means, developing the property for uses such as a prayer labyrinth and/or stations of the cross, ministering at Beach Flats and Elm Street Mission.
And your ideas.”

So our journey starts now. I will check in with you all on regular basis and let you know how our experiment goes. Pray for us. I hope we can inspire others to not be afraid of change and open their hearts to expanding the family circle.

Update: I forgot the most important part, our scriptual basis:

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but it is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:12

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What is after the Shack?

The Shack by William P. Young

Many of my friends are reading the book

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Can you ruin your own day?

Okay a little departure from my typical postings lately on politics.

I have been a journey lately. A journey to be a happier person. In general I am a pretty happy person and I have been relieved to find, that when things get really down and out, I can buck up and be strong. But I have to admit, I am one of those people who can get annoyed by the little things in life. Annoyed to the point that it affects my mood and then I am annoyed by more things and well you can see where this can become a departure point from being a happy person.

I am not talking about happy people that live in denial, somewhat clueless about life or perhaps even a little off kilter. But I am talking about people who choose to let the little annoyances in life slide right off them and not get them down.

And because I am on this journey I am noticing more and more the type of person, I was and I am trying to leave behind. The person annoyed because there is a boisterous child in the booth next to them at a restaurant. The person who looks inconvienced because there is a line at Starbucks and it will take them a whole extra minute or two to get their coffee of the day. The driver who must go fast at all costs and rushes around tailgating every car in sight but only ends up the same place just ahead of everyone else (in the interest of self disclosure, this was one of my former vices, and I am really trying hard to work on it).

You get the picture. And so my question of the day is this. How often are we ruining our own day? If we could just let these little inconviences not matter, would it change our day? Even more, could it change more than that? If we let the person with fewer groceries in front of us in line. If we decided to laugh with the happy kids dancing around in front us at Costco. If we let someone merge in front of us

Kind of like this:

Okay so I am not trying to sell insurance but you get the idea. Maybe if we all slow down, if we think about the other person. If we do one act of kindness each day. Can we stop the bad days?

I am not saying there are not things we shouldn’t be upset about. But the little things, can we let them go and if so what might happen?

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