Gentle Fudge
religion, politics, current events, and other fashionable dinner conversation.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Because I will never arrive
My husband can affirm this: I argue with preachers during church. Quietly. Under my breath. I am not malicious. I am not mean. I just have opinions and teachings and personal challenges that I wish to share and I haven't been asked to preach. Yet.

I'll admit I'm a highly opinionated person when it comes to challenging the traditional, safe, vanilla-protestant with a twist of classic Baptist religion of my childhood. We dunk; we don't sprinkle. We don't listen to "heathen" music. We don't allow women to lead churches. We view our "unsaved" friends as convertable sinners only. Funny. For something that is supposed to be so freeing, there are a lot of don'ts. Which only inspires me to do more research on doctrine. But back to my point.

I tire easily of the Sunday school answers that flow so easily from our lips. We don't think any more. Or maybe we think that we think since that's what we're told to think. For the most part, I get along with differing opinions-- even pastors-- but every once and a while, something tweaks my consiousness and I spout off in the car as we drive home. Or it sits at a slow simmer for several days and I mull it over, chew slowly and politely with my mouth closed, and let the flavors mingle until I sense the heat and then sent off my short thesis to a small audience. Everyone should have a sounding board.

A while back, the Theme Of The Month was Forgiveness and Grace. Very tricky to put into practice. There are many pretty songs about both. We are familiar with the story of the good Samaritan and how Jesus forgave everyone and how we should do the same. Yet we still have problems with those who don't share our viewpoint
. We pick and choose based on our personal biases; avoiding those who don't fit into our definition of worthy. Anyway, here's that spout about forgiveness and being honest [about] yourself.
With thoughts from the "but how do I forgive THAT person?" topic of the past couple weeks and tangent into a deeper realm of purple. Warning: Xtian abbreviation usage. I'm sensing that many are feeling pulled into doing the "good Xtian" thing because that's what "good Xtians" do. Such as the Forgive-Others theory. Or Love-Others. These concepts kinda go together. This includes the terrorists that flew the planes into the Twin Towers, your coworker with an alternative lifestyle, that guy in Washington you didn't vote for, televangelists who fleece our widows and orphans. Insert Name Here. Nice thought. Easy to do when you're five. Harder to practice when you've reached... a more mature stage in life.

So often when we struggle, we're told to give it over [blindly] and then magically everything will be all right. G-d will wave his cosmic wand, sprinkle the pixie dust and somehow, we are assured, everything will work out. For [our] good, it is implied, which usually is interpreted in our Westernized ear as instant gratification for vengeance, material wealth, companionship that will incite covetousness among the neighbors, instantaneous healing, or really cool shoes. Even if the process is extremely uncomfortable and we still have questions that we can't really ask because that would indicate doubt, either in G-d or in G-d's "messenger". And if we have no "faith" then are we truly "good Xtians"? And the vicious cycle continues. Notice that the focus remains on ourselves.

Which brings us to the topic of the moment. How do we change this culture? Should we? Is this healthy -- to doubt and ask questions and say, "Y'know, I really don't get this whole thing and I really would rather take a two-by-four and slap him upside the head"? (Now I don't condone acting on violent tendencies; just being honest with the emotion.) Can we be honest without spitting back Sunday school answers? And is religious regurgitation really honesty or simply parrot-speak?

From the blog I read earlier today which addresses the importance of honesty and inclusion, especially in The Church:

Today's young adults see a generation of baby-boomer Christians that has striven for "excellence" in every part of church life... The nurseries have got to be sparkling clean, the church buildings are marvelously functional as opposed to artistic, the music is as close to FM radio quality as possible (even if they must hire a band), the Sunday services are seamless with perfect transitions (just like television), the preaching is entertaining and informative (but not so deep as to offend visitors), and the plants on stage are beautiful (but artificial).

...the next generation has concluded that "everything is image," and therefore nothing can be trusted. Church is too slick, too good, too polished to be real. And the twenty-something hunger for raw authenticity just doesn't fit in...

It's been my experience that twenty-somethings simply want permission to struggle. Most fear that they are not good enough for God's family. Each week they are told about the standards they are expected to keep, and each week they are led to believe that the rest of the church is somehow keeping up. This "silence about the struggle" quietly drives young adults away from churches all over the country. One of the highest compliments the pastor of an emerging church can receive is to be told that his/her own difficulty in following Christ has given someone hope that they, too, can fail and still keep following Jesus.

Twenty-somethings also see a generation ahead of them in the church that cannot live well with moral ambiguity. Boomer Christians tend to divide the world into three categories: the holy, the secular, and the downright sinful. For example, there was a debate years ago about whether or not Amy Grant had "sold out" when she left the Christian recording industry and crossed over to the secular market. It wasn't evil, boomers would say, but neither was it holy.

I'd replace twenty-somethings with a broader age group and include Xers and disenchanted Boomers. But this does address the concern that many of us have regarding the Image of Honesty that many churches-- small c-- have. *raise hand* Permission to struggle? Can I leave the Oscar nominated performance at home on Sunday? Monday? Tuesday?

There is no neat, tidy way to wrap this up as I'm anti A-Better-Life-In-Six-Bullet-Points. Because faith is a process. I like the thought of a race, but races are short and you know where the end is. I have no clue where the finish line is or in what shape I'll be when I get there. But it is affirming for my personal faith to hear those speak out about their own doubts and struggles and knowing that they "aren't with it" along with me. And that is the foundation for an honest, genuine, living faith.

Y'all have a good weekend.

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posted by Sara @ 12:49 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
On Blasphemy and Dusty Relics
There is plenty of activity surrounding the Madonna "Confessions" tour and blasphemy has been thrown around a lot by church leaders. Reminds me of protests at heavy metal concerts. Overall, as an artist, I do think the whole mock crucifixion on a disco-mirror-ball cross is in bad taste, but what else do we expect from the pop diva who has made her living on shocking an antiquating institution into reanalyzing the faith of our fathers and the fixtures in our weekend country clubs?

In the late 80s/early 90s, many music groups began blurring the line between the secular and the sacred and sparked a mini-revival in the spiritual arena. Madonna was one of them. We were encouraged to wonder, to see G-d in the details, to doubt, to question, to see the Kingdom on earth, to speak in public and quit hiding our lights under little buckets which, as any good firestarter knows, impairs feeding the flame and eventually will kill any fire left. Action cemented faith. But the voices were still there: "You can't be [fill in the blank] if you [fill in the blank]."

Legalism is willingly remaining in the fishbowl.

Not to be overly cynical, but much of what we once held dear has lost meaning for many since spirituality has become a dry excuse for a Sunday morning nap before the game, looking down our noses at those less moral than us, and beaming over the BMW in the parking lot that G-d "blessed" us with. We have lost our saltiness and others merely shrug and say "so what?" We are so comfortable in our climate-controlled megachurches. Our mentality has shifted from "go into the world" to "let the world come to you (and then convert them to Your Version of xtianity)." We focus on appearing reverent and perfect, unaware of our spiritual numbness.

I don't want to discount the opinions of the cardinals of the Catholic church. But it makes me wonder. Has the cross become our good luck charm? Has it lost meaning for many who see our culture saturated with a symbol that means little more than 14 karat? Why does a poorly performed publicity stunt get our dander up? Or is it an appropriate gesture for someone who feels crucified by her childhood religion, damned to hell because she didn't measure up to the human standard of righteousness and now she is seeking purification the only way she knows how -- through penance?

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posted by Sara @ 9:18 AM   0 comments
There have been death threats issued against the pope. A nun was killed in Somalia. This coming from a peaceful religious group, supposedly. They were cited (in a reading from an ancient text) as being violent, so they wish to disprove this through violence. Huh?

I understand the basic teachings of Islam and the command to eliminate enemies who wish them harm. But I still want to hear the quiet voices of Islam saying "This isn't the way." There was one last night on the local news, but he still began by denouncing the pope.

I'm not Catholic in the denominational sense, but I am trying to practice a more catholic (universal) faith. So seeing any one religious group start [physically] attacking another hurts. It makes me wonder what G-d thinks, watching all of this.

Misunderstandings breed like rabbits. Forgiveness needs to be first and foremost at the front no matter what. The pope has apologized. Twice. Now can I possibly relate firsthand at what was said? No. I will never be able to empathize fully. I have an inquiry put out to my bhai to possibly gain some better insight.

I am careful not to jump to conclusions or think that this is a simple situation the simple solution that can be solved through a 23 minute sitcom. All we can do at this point is wait and pray. I wish it were easier on the stomach.

Addition (10/04/06):
From Spaeth Communications
Bimbo Awards

The Power of Words
Pope Benedict XVI made global news at a scholarly lecture he gives annually in Germany where he quoted the 14th century Byzantine emporer Manuel II Paleogus. The lengthy quote was meant to highlight the debate about whether faith can, or should, be spread by violence, however the phrase that made headlines was "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

(The incident touched off riots, violence and one death, reminiscent of the Danish cartoons satirizing Mohammed which touched off riots and attacks. Many thought the Pope had attained his goals of highlighting the need not only for Muslim-Christian dialogue but, more importantly, for Muslims to grapple with what defines Islam.), "Muslim Fury at Pope Jihad Comments," Sept. 15, 2006

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posted by Sara @ 8:38 AM   0 comments
Monday, September 11, 2006
Happy Anniversary
September is the month of anniversaries for me. It's been five years since I stared in awe at a television screen just moments after hearing that the indestructible towers of steel and glass had melted in the heat from two plane crashes and I quickly put out bulletins to all my international email pals (and my mother who was vacationing in Finland) about the attacks, experiencing the internet freeze-up on any news site I tried to access, and listening to silent skies for days afterward. It's been ten years for sobriety... think I'll have a drink. Of coffee. It's been 25 years since my brother's birth, and February will mark the anniversary of his death.

All these end in a nice, even number this year. And I can remember where I was when I first heard about the beginnings of all these events. Each time prayer was involved. Prayers for protection, forgiveness, pleadings. Each made their own mark and life was never the same.

Reflecting on 91101, that was the only time in history that I can remember watching the news that much. Even to this day, I get a bit overwhelmed and can only watch a half hour a day.

It was the second to last day of my job working at my church. The first plane hit and no one knew what was going on. The guys on the radio prayed for those who may have survived
and wondered. The second plane hit as I parked. I ran inside, demanding a TV and told everyone that we were under attack. None of my coworkers knew what was going on. I got updates from a friend who was watching everything happen on cable until the TV was procured. The Towers had collapsed by the time the TV was switched on. "What do you mean they're GONE?" I kept asking over and over. The internet was frozen with all the traffic and I listened as they told about another crash into the Pentagon. And more planes suddenly went missing. We all grew more anxious.

Our bi
ggest symbols were destroyed or disfigured. The World Trade Center -- our symbol of capitalism. The Pentagon -- our symbol of defense. A plane downed in a random field in Pennsylvania. We wondered at what would be next.

The whole day I wrestled with the question "Why". Being the interim editor for our newsletter, I knew something had to be written. Some explaination. Some reason. I tried to write about faith during such a trying time. Where was G-d? Was this just another example of religious fanatisicm? What would happen next? And why us? Why now?

As people began to draw together, it encouraged me that so many were willing to put aside petty differences and focus on something bigger than themselves. Churches, mosques, synagogues, everyone opened their doors. Time, money, water, blood, sweat and tears... all were sacrificed to those who were in need. It no longer mattered where we lived, how much money we had, if we had a degree or not, political persuasion, if we worshiped in the same church or shared the same religion, we all were in this together. Our soul had been ripped open and we all saw the responsibility to repair it and to love our brothers and sisters who were in pain and loss. Sure, there were a few loudmouths who prophesied that the attacks were brought on by G-d's wrath against homosexuals or nonXtians or tattoos or lobster or whatever such nonsense (and were told by many to shut up and stop representing us), but overall, we bonded as a country. To paraphrase Becky Garrison, the Kingdom of G-d had come on earth. We finally were acting instead of speculating.

But five years later and we're more divided than we were before these events. We can't seem to get along anymore. I really wish we were in a better place than we are now. But we still have time to learn from our successes as well as failures. Five more years? I hope it won't take that long.

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posted by Sara @ 8:48 AM   0 comments
Friday, September 08, 2006
Human Rights Violations
Ok, so I lied. We'll be taking a brief sabbatical from the previously mentioned topic of church and marketing -- and this is everywhere, so feel free to research -- and move our focus on China.

Now, I grew up with a mixed heritage: an American with Finnish grandparents who met in China, spoke Manderin along with several other languages, and raised their children in Taiwan before moving to the States in the 60s... Confused? Anyway, I learned about the finer points of tea, to always share take-out, and mastered chopsticks. My grandparents were missionaries in China before the communist revolution and forced them out. There are stories I have yet to hear of my grandmother jumping onto a moving train, afraid for her life, because she had a heart for the Chinese people and wanted to tell them of God and Jesus. But I digress. Anyhow, China has always held a piece of my heart and hearing of the atrocities that are [still] committed over there makes my soul weep.

So when I read of the Chinese government "disciplining" a film director... it kinda upsets me. The director of Summer Palace, Ye Lou, apparently did not submit his film to the government for approval, and so he has been banned from making films for the next 5 years. His producer was also banned from making films for 5 years. The film, which I've heard is excellent, is a love story that takes place during the pro-democracy demonstrations that lead up to the 1989 massacre at Tienanmen Square. Lou states that there are autobiographical moments in the movie that he wanted to share with the rest of the world. I'm sure that Lou didn't submit his film because the censors wouldn't have allowed it to be shown at the festival. This is not a proud moment in Chinese history and one that they would like forgotten; the protests are remembered as "counterrevolutionary riots." I still remember watching TV, seeing a student confront a tank, watching the staredown. My memory quits after that moment. It was surreal.

One more incident that makes my stomach turn is the Chinese government shutting down a website that reported the killing of a villager who was trying to stop the demolition of his home. From the link above: "The Web site contained reports from overseas sites and also people's comments on the death of the villager reported to have been beaten to death by thugs after resisting government efforts to tear down his home." The government has eminent domain and can seize land at any time from anyone for any purpose. Sound familiar?

In one country alone people are denied the right to make a living or even a right to live in their own home because The Powers That Be deem they are not human enough; they aren't worth enough monetarily. It is cheaper to look after Their business than save one insignificant life. This is so very very wrong. And this does not end with China alone. This happens in the States, too.

So what do we do about it? Why are we not outraged? Why are all the talk show hosts hatefully spewing about the ills of That Other Party instead of linking up and taking on what is truly evil in the world?

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posted by Sara @ 4:02 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Test for Echo
Ladies and gentlemen, we are up and running.

True to my word, there will be little published here that is of a personal nature. I don't care to share that with strangers and very few will find my personal life all that interesting anyway.

First order of business will be marketing and church.
Can they get along?
Do we need to market our singular versions of Christianity to the world as we know it? Will we ever get beyond the silly "us v. them" mentality? And what do we need to represent anyway? Where is the love, man?

These and more when I get some long overdue shut-eye.


posted by Sara @ 10:18 PM   0 comments
About Me

Name: Sara
Home: gypsy wanderer, United States
About Me: Those who know me find me stubborn, opinionated, open-minded, strong-willed, of some intelligence, and yet they still hang around.
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Love God. Love all. Serve both.

There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

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