Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An Essay About My Church

We are living in a culture in which Christianity has become synonymous with bigotry, hatred, judgment and self-righteousness.  Those who profess the faith are considered foolish, backward, old-fashioned, or hypocritical.  With the increasing acceptance and promotion of alternative lifestyles, Christians who cling to traditional values are labeled as hate-mongers.  

Let me tell you: yes, some of them are.  Or rather, some of us are.  

Although I frequently cringe when I hear stories of Christians acting out hatefully against those with different values and beliefs, I am still a Christian.  I identify as one, and I try to act like one.  

It's not easy.

I have been pretty open about my beliefs about, well, everything.  I never wanted this blog to become political or "religious", and I've tried consciously to stay away from hot-button topics.  Most people who know me know my stance on abortion, homosexual marriage, feminism, and other major issues.  

And, yet, many of the people who disagree with me still consider themselves my friends.  Even when we have  really, REALLY different opinions.  It's not because I subscribe to the "you do you and I'll do me" policy of life (I don't).  It's just because I realize that my words alone, no matter how excellent or persuasive, will probably not convince a person that Jesus is the way to go.  That's God's department, and it's not up to me to "save" people.  My job is to be honest, to tell them about my faith and about Jesus, not to be ashamed of my relationship with Christ, to pray for and with them (if they let me).  My job is to model Christ-like behavior to the best of my ability - which includes respecting others, loving others, and treating others with compassion.  It does not include making excuses for sin - theirs or my own - and it does not include condoning behaviors the Bible calls sinful.  

The key to living this way - at least, trying to live this way - is to find a community that supports you.  If you are a Christian, you need a home church.  I cannot say this enough.  God did not design us to be blowing about in the wind spiritually, so to speak.  The book of Acts talks almost constantly about the believers being together, physically, and being together, spiritually.  Unified.  Joined.  In agreement.

Even us introverts.  

I love my church.  My church was there for me when I was single and lonely (I must qualify that; not all the time I was single I was alone).  They were there for me when I was dating guys who were, well, not for me - and they advised me, but loved me even when I made the wrong choices.  They were there for me when I met Ross.  When I lost my babies.  When my mom died.  When my son was born.  When I struggled to breastfeed, and ultimately failed.  (Well, the women of the church were there for me, anyway - let's not get into semantics on that one.)  

What I love about my church, other than its welcoming nature, is ultimately its honesty and transparency.  Both Pastor Mark and Pastor Stephanie (yes, she is ordained in her own right and not "just" a pastor's wife) are truthful, caring, cautious, and kind.  I say truthful because they don't play games with the congregation.  They don't wheedle us for money; they don't just deliver sugary, watered-down, feel-good messages; they don't manipulate the words of the Bible.  I say caring because I've watched them put the needs of other before themselves, time and again.  Their children.  Their parents.  Their siblings.  Friends.  Church members who need support and guidance.  I've watched them teach others to minister, to pray, to love.  I say cautious because they are careful to obey the Holy Spirit; they allow him to lead, but never function without the Word.  They do not follow every new church fad, but instead cling to the foundation of Christianity: Jesus as the Living Word.  I say kind because I have known them now more than half my life and I've seen them as leaders, as parents, interacting with their own parents, their siblings, their congregations.  And they're the same people in the pulpit as they are in restaurants, at movie theatres, during family meals.

They are not afraid to preach the Gospel with love.

They don't care about the size of the church, as long as it is healthy and continuing to grow spiritually.  They aren't worried about popularity - they want to be relevant without being a "relevant" church.  They want to preach in a way that is easily understood - in bite-sized pieces.  But they encourage others to dig deeper into the Word with in-depth Bible studies and small groups that deal with some pretty heavy stuff.  

In a society in which church-bashing headlines are splattered daily across social media, where quotes are purposely taken out of context to reduce church leaders' credibility, where splinter groups, cults and sects form their own "Christian" special interest hate groups, where even non-Christians will pick and choose which parts of the Gospel they want to accept, where being a conservative white male is now a crime in itself...

...its nice to know there's still a place like this.  With open arms, a warm smile, and yes... a seat for you, too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Among the Stars

My mother raised me on science fiction.  I don't think it was her intention, but I spent my tween and teen years watching reruns of Batman and Star Trek, and I read comic books as well as classical literature (that, I admit, had nothing to do with my mom).  I wanted to be Deanna Troi when I grew up (not realizing, of course, as a preteen, that the character was originally meant to be little more than eye candy).  When Star Trek: The Next Generation was finally cancelled, I remember crying.  I legitimately, really and truly cried.  On and off, for maybe like 4 days.  

Then the miracle of Netflix brought it all back to me.  Fortunately, I married a man who thinks eating popcorn while binge-watching science fiction series can be considered dinner and a movie, so I've been able to enjoy that part of my youth all over again.
Image courtesy of twitter.com.

So I guess it's only natural that I take my place among Mr. Nimoy's many, many fans and say that I'm so grateful for his legacy.  As a child, I considered Mr. Spock my least favorite character on Star Trek.  He was different.  Dispassionate.  He seemed critical and cold.  I didn't like that.  As I got older, I realized that there was some value in controlling one's emotions, at least to a degree.  And, I've also come to realize that he represented the role of The Other.  He was never anything less than himself, but when others didn't understand him, he didn't take it personally.  He went right on being himself.  He had great value as a team member, as a leader, and as a support to his captain and crew.  He never quite fit in as a human or a Vulcan, and even though he struggled with it, he tried to embrace his unique identity.  There are a lot of people - minorities, women, 

What a wonderful lesson science fiction taught us!  During a time when sci-fi pulp mags all showed the bulky blond spaceman blasting aliens with his ray gun, while rescuing the scantily-clad (also somehow Caucasian) space princess, Leonard Nimoy portrayed the green-blooded, stoic antithesis of Captain Kirk and became both a hero and sex symbol in his own right.  

Some folks might take issue with a Christian who loves science fiction.  Yes, it's true!  *Gasp!*  There are people who are SO straight-laced that the idea of living in a world where characters don't believe in God is shocking and offensive.  I say - look around you, brothers and sisters.  That world is THIS ONE.  I posted this years ago about why I love Doctor Who, even though the fictional world of the famous Gallifreyan is basically one that defies the idea of an all-powerful celestial deity.  

That all being said, I just want to go on record as saying that I, one voice among many, so very much appreciate Mr. Nimoy's contributions to the world of science fiction, of early television, of film, and the many realms his legacy has touched.

May memories of you live on as long as the stars, good sir.