Tag Archives: Thoughts

Pray Without Ceasing

I mentioned in a recent post that many Christians, myself included, sometimes view prayer as another thing to check off the “to do” list. Many people have specific times every day that we pray, whether it’s when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed, when we have our meals, or at specific prescribed hours. Some use specific methods, formulae, or scripts. Some don’t. However, the Lord asks us, through Saint Paul, to “pray without ceasing.” As I said, many of us make the mistake of allowing prayer to be something to check off the list. This inevitably makes it feel tedious when it should be a real, genuine conversation with the Lord.

As I mentioned in my post about idolatry, prayer doesn’t necessarily have to be done in any specific way. We can laugh with the Lord while watching a funny movie, or cry with Him when we hear some bad news. Lately, I find myself asking for small favors, and because He grants them so readily, I remember to thank Him. It doesn’t even have to involve words. When we’re lost for words for whatever reason, sometimes all we can do is acknowledge that He’s there, and that He’s God, and we’re not. Sometimes that feels really good, and sometimes it feels scary, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen, and sometimes it’s all we can manage.

I don’t think I’ve reached the point to where I literally pray without ceasing, but I can say I pray a lot, largely in small ways, and I thought it would be helpful since we are nearing Lent to share some of my prayer habits.

1: Say “Good morning,” and “Good night.”

This is really easy, and can actually sometimes be really hard. I don’t remember exactly when I came up with this prayer, but it’s short, sweet and to the point: “Good morning, Lord. It’s a good morning because it’s one that You made.” Sometimes that can be hard to say because either, the previous day was crappy, and it’s still on my mind, or I’m anticipating something I don’t want to deal with on the day that I’m waking up into. Regardless, Good is good, anything He makes is good, and therefore, regardless of my own circumstances, the day I’m waking up into is good. Similarly, I say “Good night,” to God because it’s my way of leaving everything to Him. It also just makes sense. If I say “good night” to my parents, then obviously, I’m going to say it to my Heavenly Father.

2: Along with that, have other prescribed times.

These don’t have to be specific (e.g. at 7:00 PM). For example, after I say “Good morning,” I sometimes go straight to the Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Other times, I’ll let my mind wander for a bit. I don’t wake up at the same time, every day, so sometimes this is done at 6:00 AM. Other times, it’s done at 2:00 PM. It just depends on when I went to bed the night before, and when I woke up, and sometimes, if I had insomnia or not (the plight of being an artist). I also do Evening Prayer from the Liturgy when I finish whatever it is I finish work for a given day. Sometimes that’s at 6:00 PM, and sometimes it’s at 9:00 PM. Sometimes I don’t have time for this prayer until right before I go to bed, which on Thursdays isn’t until Midnight or after. I also pray before meals, and when I’m in the shower.

3: Unscripted prayers should be short, personal, honest, and to the point.

I’ve had to have several priests tell me this, but it’s okay to be angry at God, and it’s okay to use your own vocabulary. When I’m pissed off about something, I just tell Him. I’m the kind of person who thinks too much. I know that. Because of that, I can sometimes be a bit of a melancholic. I have to refrain from watching the news a lot of times because it can get me into a really bad place emotionally. When something really bad is happening, and I’m kind of stuck in it, sometimes my most meaningful, honest prayer is, “This sucks, Lord.”

4: When you don’t have the words, but you want to pray, just start with what you’ve been given.

Growing up, we weren’t the kind of Catholic family who prayed before meals, said the Rosary together at night, and went to church every single Sunday. I never really learned to pray anything other than the “Lord’s Prayer” until I went to college. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, my teenage years were a pretty desperate time for me, but I wasn’t using even what I had been given. If nothing else, I could just have said the “Lord’s Prayer,” and he would have known what I needed. Of course, I didn’t know that because at that point in time, I didn’t really know anything about God.

5: Be quirky.

This is sort of a small thing, but sort of a big thing, too. We’re all different people. I’m an abstract-thinking person. The other day, the phrase, “Come to me, and you will find rest,” popped into my head. I thought, “You know, I know that, Lord, but I’m not sure I understand it, really. I have an idea, though.” I got my guitar and said, “I’m just gonna play, and You use me, and I’ll just let You direct me, and show me what that ‘rest’ sounds like.” What He showed me was the inspiration for an instrumental tune that’s going to be on my upcoming album. Sometimes just letting Him play guitar through You can be a form of prayer.

6: Read stuff, and try stuff.

I was really good about praying the Rosary every single day for a long time. Now I’m not great. It takes twenty minutes, and I often simply don’t have time. Instead I try to do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which takes about six and a half minutes, and you use Rosary beads for it. It was given to Saint Faustina in a vision by Jesus, and given my somewhat melancholic tendencies, I find a lot of hope in it. I also recently learned about the Catholic Acronym, F.I.N.C.H., which is about the message of Divine Mercy that Jesus wanted to share with everyone through Saint Faustina. (F) is the Feast of Divine Mercy, which takes place the Sunday after Easter. On this day, Jesus promised to give significant mercy to His people. This was not a one-time thing. You can check out the details online. (I) is the Image of Divine Mercy, which Jesus told to have Saint Faustina to have painted. This image is supposed to remind us of His Mercy, and of the fact that we can trust Him. (N) is the Novena of Divine Mercy. The Novena is simply that one should pray the Chaplet every day between Good Friday and the Feast of Divine Mercy. (H) is the Hour of Divine Mercy, which is at 3:00 PM when Jesus died. We are to make note of this, and, if we have time, to spend an hour with the Lord in prayer, or just to say a prayer of thanks for His sacrifice. I’m definitely a fan of the Divine Mercy stuff. If this doesn’t strike a chord with you, try something else.

I try to keep my prayer routine at a good mix of stream-of-consciousness, and scripted stuff. Both are, or at least can be meaningful. I find also, that a good time to pray is before I start my work for the day, whether that is writing a song, writing for the blog, or working on another project. I can get stuff done on my own, sure, but it’s a lot easier when I ask for help. Today I started working out how I’m going to organize a pretty big project I’ll be working on with my Godfather, and I knew that if I didn’t ask for help I’d get nowhere. I was sleepy to begin with, and really, I should never be in charge of organizing anything. With that in mind, I prayed, and it took me some time, but I figured out exactly what needed to be done for at least the first draft. When I finished, I just said “Thank you, Lord.”

That’s the last thing I want to make note of because it’s super important. Say “Thank You.” Our parents teach us to say “Please” and “Thank you,” when we’re kids, and I think anyone with good manners remembers to say this to other human beings. The crazy thing is, we ask for stuff from God, and God provides, but so many times, we just forget to say, “Thank You.” God is good, and I think we just expect to get what we ask for. I may be twenty-five, but I’m still a spoiled kid. Granted, sometimes I don’t realize until later that God has answered one of my prayers, because He can be very subtle, and there is absolute wonderful joy in that realization. Especially then, I’d say it’s important to give thanks.

To those who are really just getting started, though, keep in mind that Christianity is about love. Just start from the heart. Talk to God like you’re talking to your best friend, because that’s who He is. I’ve had to learn a lot of this by accident, but another great place to start is to go to Adoration. Find a church that offers it at a time that works for you, and just sit with Jesus. If you can’t figure out what to say, say nothing. Let Him get the conversation going, because He will. Let Him help. He loves you.

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Things I’ve Learned From Playing Minecraft

Interpret as you will.

1: You can’t create something from nothing.
2: People need other people.
3: When building something, make sure it’s fire proof.
4: You don’t have to fight the monsters if you have plenty of light and good defenses.
5: Starting over is often the best option.
6: Boredom feeds creativity.
7: A world needs a story.

What I Know

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I’ve been feeling for a long time that God wants me to tell people about him. I didn’t want to tell people what they’ve probably already heard a thousand times. This is simply what I know about God.

I know that God answers prayers.

Truthfully, he doesn’t always do this in the way I expect or the way I want. The cliche is true. God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I even forget about what I prayed for, and he answers anyway. I try very hard to be a peacemaker. Because of that, I haven’t got into too many fights. I’ve witnessed some pretty deep resentment among people I love, though. I’ve prayed about it, and the problems have been resolved. God always provides. I have epilepsy, and while my medication prevents me from having full seizures, I still have symptoms. Usually this is because I’m too hungry or I’ve spent too much time on the computer, so most of the time I can get rid of them just by changing my behavior. However, sometimes it’s out of my control. In these situations, I often pray, and the problem often goes away. Sometimes I just need something small. I need to make sure I wake up on time or I do something stupid and get my wheelchair stuck and need someone to rescue me. There are so many examples I simply can’t list them all. When I pray for small things, however, God often answers those prayers almost instantly. I have to mention however, that sometimes God’s answer to a prayer is “No” because it’s the best thing for you. It’s also important to remember that God works in real time. God can make difficult, complicated things happen, but because they are difficult and complicated, they will take time–sometimes years. One example I do want to mention, though is that when I was in middle school, my cousin had Cancer. It was treatable, but it definitely wasn’t easy. One night he told my aunt that he really felt like he was going to die. I desperately wanted him to live, so I prayed hard, and soon after, things changed drastically.

I know his love is intense.

I was born with Muscular Dystrophy. Because of this, I couldn’t run around and play on the playground with the other kids when I was little, so God gave me a playground in my head. I constantly made up stories and characters and drew pictures and made up better reasons for why snow fell instead of what science told me. This playground in my head is always getting bigger and bigger as I continue to write stories and learn about philosophy and contemplate my place in the world. Eventually, however, I realized that my imaginary playground wasn’t enough. I am asexual. In short, I find sex repulsive. This was very confusing for a lonely high school student who wanted love and didn’t understand it. I thought I needed a boyfriend. At the time I believed in a god, but not necessarily a God one could have a relationship with, so I prayed that I would find love. In retrospect, I realized that a part of me, though not necessarily a conscious part of me, knew that I needed God. I was confirmed as a Catholic in the first few months of my Junior year. Though I had not exactly intended to, I kept going back to church for no real discernible reason. It wasn’t until October of my Freshman year of college that I knew he loved me. I went to a very Christian school and as a requirement, went to chapel services three times a week. It was the first time I had heard contemporary worship music, and that made something click. Still, I was lonely, but one night I prayed and the part of me that needed God somehow became conscious and I said “I love you” basically by accident. As soon as I said it, I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and peace.

Over the next several years I learned many things, though how I learned some of them isn’t entirely clear. It took a while for it to sink in, but I learned that Jesus loved me and had me in mind when he took on the sins of the world. He took on my sins, too. I learned that it’s not enough to love God. You have to trust him, and I do. I learned that God loves us no matter what, and he always will. Jesus hung out with people that his contemporaries literally wouldn’t talk to and wouldn’t even touch. He said that he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. That means a lot. I learned that the more time I spend with him, and the more I come to know him, the more I need him. I learned that his love is unfair in the most perfect way. Most importantly, I learned that God made a way for us to literally see and touch him in the Eucharist, and this will last for all time until he comes back.

I know that God has a sense of humor.

If you had told me in my Freshman year of high school that I would be considering being consecrated to God, I would have told you that you were crazy. If you had told me that I would start going to Church every day, I would have told you that you were crazy. I didn’t know God. I didn’t like the Church. It was lame and boring, and Catholics were all old and annoying and judgmental. If you had told me that I was going to go to a Christian college and major in English, I would have told you that you were crazy. Even if you had told me what kind of music I would be writing, I would have told you that you were crazy. I wanted to be in a punk rock band. If you had told me I was going to write a novel, I would have told you that you were crazy. I tried twice and gave up twice. Among my closest friends, I am the only practicing Catholic, and I was the first to graduate college. I find irony hilarious. You would be laughing too, if you knew just how much irony I’ve lived through.

I know God’s voice.

Some people at my school said that they felt a connection to Jesus from the age of five. It took me literally twenty years and then some. I know God is infinite, and I know God is love. Love is patient, and love is kind. God has infinite patience. His sense of time is not like ours, but he still had to watch me wander around without knowing him for what, to me, was a long time. God’s call is not like a voice in my head. It’s more like I feel him pulling on my soul. I can resist. I can ignore him, but I don’t want to. At the moment I’m feeling the pull, I can’t always put it into words, but I usually can eventually. After I was confirmed I felt the pull, and it was like he was saying, “Stay with me, okay?” The pull has become more and more obvious as I’ve come to know him better. It’s not the same for everyone. He relates to everyone in the way that makes the most sense to them.

I know that sometimes God gives us more than we can handle.

You read that right. It’s a matter of trust. The month before finals in the second semester of my sophomore year of college was a nightmare. I was overworked and got very little sleep. On top of that, the dosage of my medicine wasn’t right and I was dealing with some nasty epilepsy symptoms. During that time I had one prayer: “Get me through this.” That year Tenth Avenue North released their album “The Struggle.” Through the month of April I practically had their song “Worn” on repeat. That song made me feel like I wasn’t alone, even though it’s about a completely different kind of struggle than what I was going through. The point is that I knew I couldn’t make it through on my own. I trusted God. It was my turn to say “Stay with me, okay?” and he did. I passed all my classes, and after finals, went home and slept. On occasion God has asked me to do the impossible. He has asked me to do things that I am terrified of doing. I’ve found that I can’t do these things unless my answer is “I’ll do it, but I need your help because nothing else is gonna make it happen.” If I don’t do the impossible for him, I often can’t do the simpler things that I want to do. This may seem unfair, but God wants what’s best for us, and he wants us to be happy. If we want what God wants, and if we do what he wants, we will be happy. This doesn’t meant that we’re robots. God has an individualized plan for each of us. We are all unique, and God uses and relates to all of us differently. He understands our quirks and desires and fears and preferences and works with us in the way that will cause the most good and the most happiness for us and for the people around us.

I know that God is emotional.

Jump to any part of Scripture, and you will find that things people do please God or make him angry. In the Gospels we see Jesus having fun at a wedding celebration. Later on, he gets angry at the people who were buying and selling animals in the temple. The night before his death, he stays up and prays because he’s afraid. God feels what we feel, and what we do matters to the Father who knows us and loves us more than anyone else ever could. He loves us even though we’re broken. He loves us despite everything we’ve thought or done, and he forgives everything. He’s willing to go to extremes for us because he wants us to love him back. To many, the story of salvation sounds unbelievable; crazy. To me it often sounds unbelievable and crazy. I don’t understand all of it. It’s not possible to. That’s the whole point of faith. God is way smarter and way more loving than any human ever. He gave us stories and metaphors and teachings in his Word, but he also gave us the Church so we would never be alone in our faith, and he gave us souls that will lead us to him if we allow them.

Hey, Terrorists

Hey, terrorists. I want to talk to you. My name’s Katie, and you know what? I’m Christian. Guess what else? I graduated college. I’m writing a book, and I’ve got paid money to be on stage and play music for people. I bet you hate that. You know what the best part is? I’m not afraid of you. You probably see me as broken. You see me as an infidel, and there is no doubt in my mind that you would kill me if we crossed paths on the wrong day. I don’t hate you, though. I am angry with you, but I don’t hate you. In some ways I feel bad for you.

You don’t know my God, so you don’t know love. You’ve never known freedom. You’ve never known peace. Your lives revolve around war. All you want to do is kill people for your insane deity. I have a secret for you. Freedom and peace come when people can accept each other’s differences and get along. You are my enemies. You made that clear when you started attacking and killing my fellow Christians in Syria and Iraq and other places, and later when you made me worry for the safety of my friends in France. I don’t hate you. My God told me to love my enemies. My God told me to pray for my enemies, so I’ve been praying for you.

I’ve been praying that you would change. I’ve been praying that you would know the love and joy that you would find in the presence of my God. Your god is distant. Your god demands death and destruction, and your god will never be satisfied. My God loved you before you were born. My God loves you now, and my God will love you no matter what. He made you in his image. He made you in the image of love. That’s what he wants you to do. He wants you to love. He doesn’t want you to destroy. He wants you to show kindness to those you disagree with. He wants you to help the people who have nothing. He wants you to repent and give him the glory he deserves. Only love can create a perfect world, not your so-called holy war. Just stop. Just give it up. Isn’t that easier? No one else has to fight. No one else has to die. No one ever has to be alone ever again.

You call your fighters martyrs. You’re not dying for your god. You’re dying for your own ego. You’re dying because your leaders told you to. The real martyrs are the Christians you’re killing for believing in love. You can’t possibly be devoid of love or remorse. There must be a part of you that knows this is wrong. You are human. If nothing else, that makes us family. You are my family, and I will not hate you. Like me you have a family. Like me you were once a silly, imaginative child. Like me you must have someone or something that you love. Like me you believe in a greater purpose. We are a lot more alike than you would ever like to admit, I know. I bet if you and I sat down to coffee one day we’d find something interesting to talk about. I bet we could have a civilized conversation. Isn’t that easier? Doesn’t that sound nice? Stop fighting. Just think about it.

 

Nonsense!

NOTE: This is a rough version of a project I’m working on. I’m posting it now because I would like some feedback, so comments are much appreciated.

I can’t prove God’s existence. A lot of people want proof, and as much as I would love to, I cannot provide that. What I can tell you is that proof comes with faith. Proof comes with a willingness to follow, even if you don’t know where you’re going. That’s not the end of anything. That’s where things start. Once you have faith, God will answer your questions, but nothing will happen unless you are willing to suspend disbelief in the first place. My advice is to do your research. You won’t find conclusive evidence for God’s existence, but you will find numerous evidence in history and various scientific fields that point to it. I will leave that up to do because, as I said, I’m not here to prove God’s existence. I’m writing this to try and help make some things make sense.

This is about the big questions. Why do good people suffer? Why, if Jesus promised to return, has it been 2,000 years? How do science and faith relate? How do you explain impossibilities in the Bible? How do you explain the violence that is not only prompted, but often orchestrated by God? I see these questions come up a lot. Christians and Atheists alike ask them, and I would like to try and address them from a personal perspective. I will try to remain unbiased where I can, but much of my discussion will be coming from a Christian perspective and will be driven by personal experience. Furthermore, this article will not offer an exhaustive study of each topic, but serves as an overview of each and a study of how they relate to one another. Lastly, you will note that I do not cite conventional sources. This is because I am not a Bible scholar. I have a degree in Creative Writing, and secondly, this is, in part, an opinion piece, and although it might help, I don’t think you need a degree to study theology. If that doesn’t interest you, then I’d suggest moving on.

If this does interest you, we’ll start here: why do good people suffer?

I use the word “good” instead of “innocent” on purpose. People tend to ask why innocent people suffer when I think this is the wrong question. It’s a dicey topic because, for one thing, “innocent” means different things to different people, and secondly, there are no truly innocent people in the eyes of God. I get that this seems harsh. It doesn’t seem fair that some people get to be born in America, completely by chance, eat what they want when they want, and watch football on Sunday night, while a poor family from Syria has to flee their country and seriously worry about where they’re going to get their next meal. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible and even probable that the people who suffer more have more faith than the people with very easy lives.

Then there are those who choose more difficult lives. They choose to suffer a little to help those who suffer a lot. Sometimes the most wonderful, selfless people suffer the most. There are people in this world who would sacrifice everything to help someone else, whether it’s their child or a stranger who really needs their help. These people go out of their way and make their own lives difficult to help others who have it worse than they do.

And what about the child who is born with a serious birth defect and dies before he’s a year old? Surely he was innocent. Surely a loving God wouldn’t let something like this happen to him and his parents. But it does happen. People die of starvation: are forced to leave their homes: contract treatable diseases that kill them because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can’t provide a completely satisfying answer. The answer I can provide isn’t even completely satisfying to me, but it’s the best I can do. First, a quick explanation of what actually happened when Jesus rose from the dead and what it meant. The resurrection meant that humans were saved from sin. It did not mean that we were no longer sinful. Even saints are sinners. Quite frankly, it’s extremely difficult, and probably impossible to live a completely sinless life. Whatever happened a long, long time ago, it infused our human nature with something nasty, whether it literally involved an apple or not. Secondly, we need to remember two statements that Jesus makes that help understand the context of this question. He states in Mathew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you…” and in Mathew 20:16, he says, “The last will be first and the first will be last.”

From the beginning, God tells his people to take care of the poor and vulnerable. He constantly makes mention of orphans and widows, and makes sure that these people are remembered by the Israelites. What I think we have to remember is that humanity is much more interconnected than we think or even want it to be at times. We’re one big dysfunctional family, and whether we like it or not, it is our duty to take care of the people who need us. God has a special place in his heart for those who suffer, so he certainly hasn’t forgotten them.

But why will the poor always be with us? I think there are several answers to this question.

  1. It’s human nature. Whether we like it or not, people have selfish tendencies. No matter how good of a person we are, we naturally take things that we want and whether by accident or intentionally, we keep things from other people. This isn’t always a bad thing. It’s partly a survival instinct. All animals do it with territory, water, and food. We just happen to do it particularly with money because in a civilized society, money is a survival resource.
  2. Socialism doesn’t work. There will always be haves and have-nots. For a similar reason as I just explained, a society will never be entirely equal. There will always be people who work harder than others, and those who want more than others. For some, living on the bare minimum can be satisfying, while to others, it’s just not. Ideally, in a socialist society, the people who are more ambitious or simply have better-paying jobs or just have more resources would freely share those resources with the less fortunate. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work because a) there are selfish people in the world, and b) too many people take advantage of the system. You can’t receive if you don’t give anything.
  3. This is also related to my previous points. Along with money comes status. While it isn’t necessary to have money in order to have status, they are generally related. Furthermore, regardless of the means by which it is achieved, people strive for status, and while a given social structure may be fluid, there is, and always will be a status quo. In order to be high on the social ladder, by necessity, there needs to be people below you.

When it comes to the question of child labor, child death, sex slavery and other such tragedy involving children, there are a few things to remember. These things by no means make any of it okay, but they can shed a little light into some dark places. First of all, children who die before the “age of moral accountability” are automatically saved. They go straight to heaven. This could mean that a child who would otherwise have a short and miserable life is now in paradise with their heavenly Father. Again, I’m not saying it makes it any more okay. It’s still tragic and quite frankly, unfair if you ask me. But what about the children who do grow to be a little older, only to be cut short without ever hearing about Christ? I think the answer can be intuited. Never hearing specifically about God or Jesus isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s rejecting him that causes problems. Want proof? “The truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19-20, New Living Translation). I found this after a very brief Google search.

That being said, it doesn’t give us license to slack off when it comes to telling people about God and his promises. We are clearly told that we must spread the Gospel throughout the whole world. It’s a pretty clear job description for anyone who calls herself Christian. On the flip side, it also doesn’t give us license not to seek the truth about God when we have the resources readily available. This actually helps answer our question: why do people suffer? It also leads into the question: why has it been 2,000 years since Jesus’ resurrection? First, good people suffer because the rest of us don’t do enough to stop it. Remember that the Church, which ideally encompasses all of humanity, is the body of Christ. Most people just think about it in the context of salvation, in other words, we tend to think of it in a very spiritual sense. What it actually means is that we are here now to do Jesus’ work in the world. We are here to literally heal the hurting and feed the hungry. We are literally here to be his voice and hands and feet in a very physical, real time sense.

This means finding a cure for cancer through serious medical research. This means starting schools in places where education isn’t really available for kids. This means volunteering for or donating to nonprofits that help refugees. This means blogging and trying to answer the hard questions. This means standing up to the bullies who just want to tell you you’re an idiot for believing in something. It also means praying. It means being proud of what you believe in. It means not trying to change the subject when people bring up religion, even if that’s way easier than having that difficult conversation. This is as much a reminder to myself than anyone else, so bear with me.

One thing to remember is that we are a significant part of God’s plan. The other thing to remember is that God has a different understanding of time than we do, so what seems like a really long time to us, can seem like no time at all to him. At the same time, we’re told to be ready because Jesus could return and things could drastically change tomorrow or within the next hour. We could argue that so much more could get done and the world could be made a lot better a lot quicker if God chose to be more directly involved. In the Old Testament particularly, he is depicted as doing absolutely miraculous things for the Israelites, singlehandedly winning battles for them. These days it seems that miracles aren’t quite as noticeable, if they even happen at all. On the other hand, we cured Polio; we figured out how to use electricity; we figured out how to make a smart phone, for crying out loud. Are any of these things not miraculous? While things happen slower, I think we should consider it a privilege to be so involved in making God’s world a better place. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the Jewish religion, which was the context in which the Church was born, started out pretty tiny. This could explain why God had to really directly help them out. Jump ahead to the present day, and not only are we much more advanced in many ways, but Christianity is now the largest religion in the world. These two factors really seem to be significant.

So the question is, do we ever see miracles that could only be explained by the existence of God?

These medical miracles took place mainly in the 1960’s and 70’s.
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/05/17/the-top-5-medical-miracles-that-science-cant-explain-or-can-it/

Here is the story of an unexplained miracle rescue.
http://www.godvine.com/God-Sent-a-Mysterious-Angel-to-Pray-with-Victim-of-Terrible-Car-Crash-3762.html

Here is a story of a little girl whose accident cured her of two diseases, and who had a near-death experience, in which she claims to have gone to Heaven.
http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/04/14/miracles-heaven-near-fatal-fall-cures-sick-little-girls-symptoms

This is a Facebook page where anyone can write in their miracle stories. There are a lot

Miracles can happen in many ways that we take for granted. Many times we see them just as coincidence or luck. I have a few miracle stories of my own that might change your mind, though.

  1. My friend told me that he has often had dreams about things before they happen, and they often happen exactly as they did in the dream. This has been happening to him for years now, and is usually the only kind of dream he has these days.
  2. My friend also told me that his girlfriend’s family sometimes gets premonitions and intuitively knows things about the past or future that wouldn’t make sense unless they were told these things. For example, my friend’s girlfriend intuitively knew that her aunt’s house once had a balcony that was taken down before she was born.
  3. Towards the end of high school, into my first year of college I was starting to have emotional problems. I felt very lonely a lot of the time, even though I knew that my family and friends loved me. I was missing something. I thought I needed a romantic partner, and I prayed about this a lot, though at the time I didn’t quite know God. One night, two months into my Freshman year I said “I love you” for the first time in a prayer, without really even meaning to, and an indescribable feeling of love and peace came over me. I’ve felt different ever since.

Then consider the fact that life on earth exists. The conditions had to be exactly perfect. The planet had to be an exact distance from the sun. There had to be water. The conditions in the air had to be just right. Narrow it down to human life. I don’t know the exact odds, but it seems unlikely that any species on earth would be intelligent enough to learn to use language, learn to write, understand abstract ideas, or be spiritual. None of these things help us survive, so from that perspective, they are completely useless abilities. There are explanations for why these things happen, but at the same time, they are extremely unlikely. A miracle is something that seems impossible but happens anyway. Maybe one day we will find a scientific explanation for every miracle, but I see science as a way of understanding God.

In some sense, the answer to any prayer can be considered a miracle, even if it looks like coincidence. Many people assume that God only does or would do miracles through supernatural means, but often, God answers prayers by putting people in the right place at the right time or allowing natural events to happen that allow a person to get ahead or even save their life. God is the commander and creator of both the natural and supernatural world, and these two aspects of reality are much more interconnected than one might suppose.

However, many of the events that are written into history are natural impossibilities. We have already seen that God uses natural and supernatural means to do the impossible, but many of the events in the Bible seem quite unbelievable. They just don’t make any sense. How do we explain things like the Creation story, or the flood in the story of Noah, or the parting of the sea in Exodus? To answer this question we need to look at several things. We need to look at the Bible as a whole and determine what, if anything, is supposed to be taken literally or figuratively, we need to look at the historical and cultural context, and we need to look at what these stories are actually trying to tell us if the Bible is supposed to be believed as the timeless Word of God.

First let’s look at the Creation story. The first story we are told in the Bible is about the six day creation of the world. Scientifically, this story is completely inaccurate and could not have happened, if it is taken literally. A world cannot be created in six literal days, and even if it could, everything is created in a completely nonsensical order. The theory of evolution teaches that all species originated from one life form and branched off from there. Species were born and went extinct and continue to do so and will always continue to do so. The Big Bang Theory goes back further and teaches that the Universe was created after a singularity exploded and all matter developed from there. If you want the details, I’m afraid you’re reading the wrong article. The question is, where did the singularity come from? To me this seems to be an unanswerable question, at least for a girl who studied creative writing with a little philosophy and theology thrown in. However, what we do know, in terms of scientific facts seems very compelling, and some use these scientific theories, which however compelling, could still be proven wrong, as evidence against the supernatural. This is where we must look at two things: historical context, and the use of language.

While many teachings in the Bible are timeless, one must remember that many of the stories, particularly in the Old Testament were written at a fixed point in time, about a fixed point in time. The writer of the Creation story would have had no knowledge of evolution or the Big Bang Theory. They would have had no idea about how atoms interact or how life was created, from a scientific standpoint. Therefore, they pieced together from their understanding of the universe, an explanation of how the Earth was made. However, it isn’t the creation that is truly the focus of the Creation story. The focus is God’s relation to his creation, and most importantly, his relation to humanity. God creates the universe peacefully, and it is greatly emphasized that this creation is good. It is also emphasized that humans were created in God’s image and that we are here to take care of his creation. This is the point we are supposed to take from Genesis. God’s creation is innately good, and we are a significant part of it.

So then what about the story of Noah? What are we supposed to take from a story about the near destruction of the whole human race by the God that created it? The point of this story, it seems, was not to describe literal events, but to demonstrate a point about human nature, the nature of faith, and what a relationship with God provides and entails. Noah survives the flood because he is faithful, while many do not survive the flood because of their sinful behavior. I would like to pause and address a related question before moving on. Stories such as this, including stories in Exodus, Joshua, and Judges depict horrible violence, largely orchestrated by God himself towards large groups of people.

It does seem that many of these stories are meant to be taken literally. The Israelite conquest of Canaan was, in fact, a real, traceable series of events. Jesus tells us in Mathew 5 that we are to love our enemies as well as our neighbors. However, the depictions in the Old Testament of conquest and violence make this command seem almost hypocritical. There are several reasons why the violence committed by God and his people may have been exaggerated, for one thing, and also may have been justifiable. Professor Lawson Stone from Asbury Theological Seminary explains in this article, which I will provide in full.
http://seedbed.com/feed/violence-in-the-old-testament-starting-points/

“It’s hard to imagine anyone today who is familiar with the Bible not being concerned about the violence in the Old Testament. It’s a fashionable bomb tossed by the so-called new atheists, and the easiest way for critics of Christianity to dismiss the Bible. To hear them talk, on every page of the Old Testament cities are burned to the ground, whole populations annihilated. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is in turn portrayed as a wrathful tribal deity constantly calling his people to commit atrocities in his name.

The problem of violence in the Old Testament centers mainly around the stories of Israel’s struggle to settle the land of Canaan. These stories center on the books of Joshua and Judges. So establish some starting points by looking in a general way at the question of violence and war in the Old Testament. Then in the installments to follow, we’ll turn specifically to Joshua and Judges.

All these presentations will share one important conviction: central to getting the Bible right is hearing it in its own cultural and historical setting. This is not just good scholarship; it’s good listening. That’s why I’m excited to be sharing with you from a place called Bedhat es-Sha’ab, a little-known and infrequently visited site just west of the Jordan river that is possibly one of the earliest places where Israelites assembled and worshiped as they settled in the land of Canaan. Being an outsider in this barren, desolate place reminds me that the biblical characters didn’t live in a world of civilian police, ambulance and 9-1-1 service. Nor did they have 2000 years of reflection on the whole Bible. The Old Testament characters need to be seen and heard in their own time, not dismissed from the perspective of our time.

With that in mind, here are seven facts to to help focus the question of violence in the Old Testament:

FACT ONE:

Jesus and the NT writers never complain about the violence in the Old Testament. That should flash at least a yellow, caution-light on our hasty dismissal of the Old Testament. Are WE more morally sensitive than Jesus and the New Testament writers? Did they see something in the Old Testament that we miss?

FACT TWO

Secular historians and the Bible itself tell us that the land of Canaan at the time of the Israelite settlement was not inhabited by a uniform, indigenous population. Canaan was a crossroads and a diverse culture of many different groups: You know, all the “-ites”-Canaanites, Amorites, Perizites, stalactites, stalagmites… If you’d asked a random inhabitant of Canaan “Whose land is this?” You’d have gotten different answers. It was a no-mans-land.

FACT THREE

Genesis 12-50 tells us the Israelites’ ancestors had actually lived in Canaan for centuries before their sojourn in Egypt. They were not outsiders trying to take a land from its original owners. In fact, the Pharaohs of Egypt would have seen no real difference between Canaanites and Israelites. They came from the same place, spoke the same language, had the same physical anthropology, i.e. they looked alike. So there is no parallel between the book of Joshua and, say, the European settlers in North America displacing the earlier inhabitants.

FACT FOUR

This a biggee. By Joshua’s day, Canaan had long suffered under a harsh political system. Canaan in the time of Moses and Joshua had been ruled for centuries by Egypt. Egypt had been ruled by foreign kings known as the Hyksos, who possibly came from Syria-Palestine. A native Egyptian dynasty expelled these foreign kings, pursuing them into Canaan. To insure they never came back, Egypt annexed Canaan and ruled it with two aims: first, never-ever would Canaan be a corridor for anyone attacking Egypt!

Second, Pharaoh exploited Canaan economically. He administered Canaan by appointing rulers in the top 30 or so towns. They managed the country like a giant agricultural plantation, a kind of “factory farm.” They focused on producing a small number of crops valued by the Egyptian upper classes, mainly olives and a type of grape that thrived only in Canaan.

This reality had serious consequences.

The focus on massive production of a few crops not only risked depleting the land, it also destroyed the locally integrated, self-sustaining economies of small villages and towns throughout the hill country. These  communities needed mix of farming and herding just to survive. The Egyptians also yanked the best of the work force out of these towns and villages to toil as forced labor, emptying the rural hill country of Canaan. Many people from Canaan, not just future Israelites, wound up slaves in Egypt. Settlement patterns in Canaan about 1300 B.C., just before the exodus and conquest, show the central hill country of Canaan was largely emptied out.

Under this kind of regime, Canaan was unstable and violent. The city rulers fought each other, hired mercenaries, sometimes cruelly treated the local populace. Bandits terrorized the highways. Men stripped of their land and living gathered around warlords, some of whom were good men, others just thugs or gangsters.

So, by the time Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, the place was dark and bloody ground. It’s just possible that, far from being seen as invaders, Joshua and the Israelites represented the arrival of order, justice, and even peace.

FACT FIVE

The Old Testament shows us that, even in the conquest stories, the Israelites were not a militarized nation. While other nations boasted of their weapons and crack troops, the Israelites were not a professional army.  Likewise, the Israelites were not a huge group. The idea found in some textbooks that there were at least 2.5 million Israelites comes from a  misunderstanding of the Hebrew terminology for numbers. Archaeologists tell us that likely weren’t 2.5 million people living in all of Canaan and Syria combined!

The books of Deuteronomy, Joshua & Judges stress that, from a military perspective, the Israelites were out-numbered, out-maneuvered and out-gunned. After Joshua, they had no central authority. They were only a coalition of tribes, often divided, often untrue to their own religion. The Bible says they needed miraculous divine intervention just to survive. Hardly the profile of a nation of bloodthirsty, imperialists!

FACT SIX

Warlike nations, and all of Israel’s ancient neighbors, gloried in their superior weapons and firepower. Images of Pharaoh portray him holding his hapless enemies by the hair and smiting them with a mace or battle axe. Or, we see Pharaoh thundering along in his war chariot, horses’ reins tied around his waist, unleashing arrows at cringing, fleeing foes. The Old Testament, in contrast,  stresses that the Israelites were poorly armed, confronting fortified cities or huge chariot forces on foot. The Old Testament also emphasizes Israel’s lack of metal workers. Again, not exactly a warrior nation.

FACT SEVEN

Finally, the world of Moses, Joshua, Gideon and David was a world of unspeakable violence perpetrated by massive, well-armed professional armies. The kings of Egypt, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia gloried in their brutality and savagery. In countless inscriptions throughout the history of the ancient Near East, the great kings boasted of  boring through their enemies’ bodies, ripping their entrails out, galloping their horses and chariots through the gore of enemy bodies, splashing through enemy blood as if crossing a river, impaling thousands of “rebels” on stakes around conquered cities, flaying the skin off of their defeated enemies in full view of their families, and hideously mutilating the dead. And you know, almost nobody in the ancient Near East found this shocking. Rather, most thought it glorious proof that the gods had favored the king. Compared to the graphic detail, intensity, and sheer mass of these ancient descriptions, the Old Testament looks rather tame, even modest.

Whatever problems we might have with the violence in the Old Testament, it was One who claimed to be the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Joshua, who appealed constantly to the OT witness. Schooled in the Old Testament, Jesus called his people to love their enemies and to be peacemakers, not in spite of his Old Testament heritage, but because of it.

That’s something to think about.”

This, to me, is extremely compelling. However, does it justify the killing of women and children? This article may help answer that question. Note that I personally do not agree with everything that is said in this article, but as I said, I want to stay at least somewhat neutral.
http://www.gotquestions.org/Old-Testament-violence.html
There are two main points I want to focus on.

  1. “A basic knowledge of Canaanite culture reveals its inherent moral wickedness. The Canaanites were a brutal, aggressive people who engaged in bestiality, incest, and even child sacrifice. Deviant sexual acts were the norm. The Canaanites’ sin was so repellent that God said, “The land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). Even so, the destruction was directed more at the Canaanite religion (Deuteronomy 7:3–5,12:2-3) than at the Canaanite people per se. The judgment was not ethnically motivated. Individual Canaanites, like Rahab in Jericho, could still find that mercy follows repentance (Joshua 2). God’s desire is that the wicked turn from their sin rather than die (Ezekiel 18:31-32, 33:11).”
  2. “… The Scripture teaches that we are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5;58:3). This implies that all people are morally culpable for Adam’s sin in some way. Infants are just as condemned from sin as adults are….  an argument could be made that it would have been cruel for God to take the lives of all the Canaanites except the infants and children. Without the protection and support of their parents, the infants and small children were likely to face death anyway due to starvation.

It’s worth noting that most people, myself included, like to see the supernatural with rose colored glasses. We like God’s love, and ignore the parts that are scary. God’s justice can definitely be scary. As with more allegorical stories like the Creation story, the Flood account, and parts of the Exodus, there is a timeless takeaway from all this. God is serious, and God is righteous. He isn’t just one-sided, and he expects us to live a certain way. That being said, he does give us a lot of chances to change, and he helps us out in that effort.

One final point I would like to make before we beat this topic into the ground is that these stories are told from the point of view of the victors. In this next article, Professor Stone narrows his focus down to violence in the book of Joshua. You can find the whole article via the link, but I would like to focus on one thing that, I think, is really key.
http://seedbed.com/feed/7-keys-to-understanding-violence-in-the-book-of-joshua/

“Scholars of ancient military texts remind us that in the ancient Near East, battle accounts used very stereotyped, extreme language. Nuance was not their strong suit! A king would claim he killed every single occupant of a land, only to report how much tribute the presumably dead enemies had to pay each year! Clearly, the claim of annihilation there only meant to convey total victory.

We should also remember that our modern notions of genocide and total war come from our knowledge of weapons of mass destruction and the actual experience of genocide by these means. The ancient world, for all its ferocity, couldn’t do better than spears, arrows, swords and catapults. They had no way to envision the literal extermination of whole populations. The language was stock military rhetoric that conveyed an unquestioned, uncontested victory. Maybe that could help us with those statements in Joshua too.”

I think that, with caution, this understanding of exaggerated and allegorical language can be applied in our interpretation of many parts of the Bible. Some would argue that if the Bible is not taken literally in its entirety, then none of it can be taken literally, and therefore, many significant teachings can be dismissed. I disagree. If all parts of the Bible are taken literally, they become inapplicable to our modern world. In some sense, they become meaningless. If the book of Revelation is taken literally, it becomes an interesting, but very confusing, and quite frankly, very unbelievable story. Perhaps what is written in Revelation is literally what the Apostle John saw, but even that does not require that the vision be interpreted literally. On the other hand, it is clear that most, if not all of what is written in the letters of the Apostle Paul should be taken literally, though it is still important to keep in mind historical and cultural context.

The most important thing to remember when trying to answer any of these big questions is that God wants us to know him. His Word is timeless, and it will always reveal truth to us. That being said, the things God says and does won’t always make sense. People don’t always make sense, even when they have the best intentions, so we especially shouldn’t expect an all-knowing, all-powerful God to always make sense. God is good, though, and he does love us. This is a personal and emotional issue, and it’s been proven through the personal experiences of millions of people. Yes, many believe simply because they want to, and yes, faith provides an emotional crutch to lean on sometimes, but if the stories and teachings we believe in are nothing more than just stories, then a very large portion of the world’s population is certifiably insane, claiming to have seen, felt, done, and experienced the impossible. Beyond that, though, it seems that if it weren’t true and if it weren’t still relevant today, Christianity would have died out a long time ago.

That’s not to say that Christianity can’t change. There are many examples of how God’s people have changed over time, most notably with the birth of the Church shortly after the Resurrection, the official adoption of Christianity by the Romans, and the Reformation, which marked the birth of Protestantism. However, Christianity constantly goes through much more subtle changes. Worship style may change slowly, but the music that is used changes much more quickly with whatever genre of music happens to be popular at the time. This is a good thing, and there are many other examples of similar changes. The Church and the broader culture are meant to be amiable partners.

Freedom of religion means we have the right to believe whatever we want, and we also have the right not to believe anything without being bothered about it. However, it seems that because of this freedom, we’ve largely given up on the idea of absolute Truth for several reasons. Firstly, postmodern society, particularly in America and other first world countries, has become extremely relativistic. In other words, most people believe that anything could be true, but nothing is necessarily true. No one can claim to know the full truth about anything, but there is nothing wrong with asserting that a particular belief system or philosophy is true. This assertion gives us conviction and direction. In fact, this claim is actually made by those who firmly believe that there is no higher power. It is important to practice humility when claiming something as the truth. This means admitting that, while we know something to be true, we can never know the full truth.

This brings us to my second point. No one is willing to claim any knowledge of absolute Truth because we have become so concerned about offending people. In any given conversation about religion or philosophy, you will often hear phrases such as, “This is just what I believe,” or “I don’t know for sure, but…” There’s nothing wrong with claiming something is true as long as we can back it up with sufficient reasoning, whether it’s scientific or historical evidence, or logical explanations, or even personal observation. The problem is that people often see disagreement as a personal attack, and many have the mentality that if you strongly believe something to be true, and if you are unflinching on the matter, you are arrogant and self-righteous.

Third, “Because God says so,” is no longer a valid reason for anything outside of Christian circles. To be fair, it’s often not a satisfying answer to me at all. I find it extremely frustrating when I’m trying to figure out the reasoning behind a particular teaching, and the only reason I can find is “Because God says so,” or “Because the Bible says so.” The truth is, this should be a valid reason for things, but it’s not a satisfying one.

Lastly, we’ve become impatient, and we’ve turned elsewhere for answers. Biology, Chemistry and Physics tell us about how the world works, and how life works in it. Psychology and Sociology tell us about how the human mind works and why we do things the way we do. Economics and Politics give us a social structure to live in. The list goes on. There’s a field of study for just about every question imaginable, but we’ve erased God from the picture. Some would disagree with me, but I see this as a problem for several reasons.

  1. Having faith in God gives me a reason for seeking answers. It gives me a reason to keep on living. It brings purpose to life. Knowledge without purpose is empty. One might argue that the purpose of seeking knowledge is simply so we can be better at what we do; so we can have smarter and smaller technology, so we can cure diseases, so we can be more efficient and have a more productive society. But what’s the point? If there’s nothing after this life–if there’s no greater purpose–then why does any of that matter? There are surely selfless people who would want to make life easier for the next generation, or for a few generations down the road, but they would have no reason for doing it other than, simply, they were nice. It’s much more compelling and motivating to me to believe that there is something to look forward to after this, and I am part of a bigger plan.
  2. Faith in God provides the most stable moral code. Many would argue that you don’t need a god to have a moral code. In a sense, I agree. Whether we have a concrete idea of God or not, morality seems to be partly built into human nature, partly because a lot of it is just common sense. If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice to me. We know intuitively that we shouldn’t steal or cheat or commit murder. Furthermore, many belief systems share very similar ideas when it comes to morality. However, without God, morality can change over time, which changes society, sometimes for better, but sometimes for worse. Also, without God, our morality is based on faulty human ideas. With God, the rules don’t change.
  3. If I can’t be reliant on God, I have to be completely reliant on myself. Having faith in God, at least to me, allows “I don’t know” to be an acceptable answer. Furthermore, if I have to completely rely on myself to get things done, not much will get done. I’m only one person. Not only that, but I’m not physically capable of doing a lot of things. If I can rely on God, I can do the impossible. Prayer works, and if I can rely on God I’m never alone.

God is absolute Truth. Therefore, yes, I believe that everyone should believe generally in the same thing, and our world should strive for that Truth as one. I will not back down from that belief. However, what is also true is that God wants us to have the freedom to choose what we believe, and so do I. I support peoples’ right to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if they so choose. I support peoples’ right to believe in absolutely nothing at all. While it is the duty of the followers of Christ to tell the Truth, it is not our duty to impose it. We should all surround ourselves with people who do not share our beliefs. We may not ever change each others’ beliefs, but we can promote respect, tolerance, and good listening in the world. Remember that Jesus hung out with weirdos and sinners. He didn’t have status or power in mind. His mind was set on love, and so should ours.

Prayer Advice From A Total Newb

I’ve been trying to pray more. I’m bad at praying. Last night my friend asked me, “Isn’t praying the same as just talking to God?” Maybe it is and I’ve been doing it wrong, but from my experience, it seems like it’s somehow spiritually and mentally different. I’m not sure how to explain it. It involves getting very close to God, and that’s intimidating. Something I have discovered that’s helped a lot, though, is that prayer starts with humility. If you realize and acknowledge how tiny you are, it becomes easier. In a way, though it is just like “talking to God,” because you have to work through exactly what it is you need. I’ve also discovered that begging doesn’t seem to work–for me at least. I’m not sure why. Generally, I think it’s because God wants me to get somewhere or discover something before he’ll give me whatever it is what I’m asking for. On the other hand, there have been occasions where I’ve just stopped and said, “Hey, listen, this is important to me. Think you could help me out?” and whatever it is will be given.

Despite the fact that I feel I’m rather awkward about it, prayer works for me. I was talking to a kid I mentored about it the other day, and he said that part of the reason he doesn’t believe in the Christian God is because prayer hadn’t worked for him. He asked me if it did work for me, and I told him that I wouldn’t have got through college if it hadn’t been for God answering my prayers. I firmly believe that he’s helped me out with everything from emotional issues to tough classes.

Something else I’ve learned is that you can’t just idly wait for God to answer prayers. A lot of times the answer to a prayer involves you doing something. A lot of time it means trying everything under the sun, and allowing God to push you in the right direction. Sometimes prayers are a little something like this: “God, I’m afraid to do X or Y, so drive me up a wall until I can’t stand it any more and just do it.” That’s worked for me before.

Ultimately, there’s no “standard” or “correct” way to pray. Different things work at different times for different reasons. I don’t always feel sincere when I recite prayers (like the Our Father or the Fatima Prayer), but sometimes I do. On the other hand, a lot of people find it a lot easier to pray if they don’t have to search for the words. Sometimes things you wouldn’t even think of are a kind of prayer, like simply being with someone, and loving them so hard it hurts. The most important thing is sincerity. Mean what you say. Don’t just pray because you’re supposed to. Pray because you want to; because you need to. Remember the good in this world. Remember the good in your life. Remember that God loves you and loves the world, and acknowledge those things because they’re important.

Like I said, I’m not very good at prayer. I feel like I could be a million times better, but the point is that God listens. It doesn’t matter how eloquent or knowledgeable you are. What matters is that you’re making an effort to communicate with the God of the Universe in a meaningful way. In effect, you’re  saying “I have no idea where I’m going. You drive.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Why Kids Hate Religious Education

I’ve been teaching CCD (Christian Child Development) for the past 2 months or so. The kids have a class about once every three weeks, and it’s been difficult to get them engaged and get them to like me. You might say that it doesn’t matter if they like me; it only matters if they’re absorbing the information. That tends to be the philosophy of a lot of teachers, at least from my experience, but it doesn’t work.

I had sucky math teachers in high school, which is the biggest reason that I suck at math. They all assumed that we were instinctively good at it, and they taught that way. They looked down on the students who clearly were not getting it, and it made me hate them and hate math. The exception was my trigonometry teacher. I took trig in my senior year of high school even though I didn’t have to because I thought it would look good on my college resume if I did well. It happened to be the one of the best high school classes I ever took. Our teacher liked us, and we liked him, even though some of us really struggled with math. We all ended up doing so well that he didn’t give us a final. He often taught things other than math as well. He taught us self worth, perseverance, kindness, and in some ways, love. Sometimes we would spend half a class not talking about math in any way what so ever, but it helped. It all helped.

So how does this apply to religious education? From my experience, the administration at our church looks down on teenagers. They act like 14 is the new 8, which is actually really bad, since at 14, a lot of people want to be thought of as adults. Because of this, the kids act out, or don’t engage at all. One of my co conspirators–err, teachers, acts exactly like many of my high school math teachers, from what I’ve heard. She says she teaches with rules. She will be taking none of their unruly shenanigans, and because of this, her classes tend to be very well behaved. They get through all of the material, and everything is hunky dory.

And you know what? Maybe it works. Maybe her students are engaged, and maybe they do grow in their love of Christ, but from my experience, this kind of teaching doesn’t work. Again, this is super subjective because I’m going off of my own experience. However, the point is, that I don’t teach that way. I let my students get distracted. I engage in their conversations, I use naughty language in class, and I let them know that we are equal and this is, or at least should be, a fun, safe place. I want to get to know my students, and I want them to get to know me. I want them to know that I think of them as people, not just as kids. I let them talk about their talents, and I talk about mine. I constantly remind them that all this is about is love. I want them to get to know love–of neighbor and self; of so called enemies, and of God.

Another problem I’ve run into is that some teachers assume that everyone at least believes in some idea of God. They don’t acknowledge the skeptical ones at all, and the fact of the matter is, that not everyone in CCD believes. Almost no one wants to be there. On the first day I had my students go around and say why they were there. Maybe peer pressure had something to do with it, but the unanimous answer was “my parents are making me.” I let them know that I get it. That was my answer to. I let them know that being skeptical is okay, and that I’m going to try and persuade them otherwise, but I’m never going to tell them that they have to believe anything. Faith is between them and God.

I decided to teach CCD in the hope that I could be helpful. If I can convince one kid that God is real and that Jesus loves them, I will be a happy camper. If I can’t, I want them to know that that’s fine, too.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

We Are Of The World, And That’s Okay

I was taking a walk yesterday, and I was amazed at just how colorful the trees in my neighborhood were. It’s kind of funny, actually; it’s like I forget that they get this way every year. They really are beautiful, and they drop giant piles of orange and red leaves that smell amazing.

I take a walk just about every day if it’s warm enough outside, and yesterday was about perfect. It was a bit cool, but not uncomfortably so. There was a bit of a breeze, and the sun was warm. My walk takes me around the horseshoe of the street I live on, then down a busier street, and onto the street that leads to the cemetery. I then wander down to the back of the cemetery, which is connected to my friend’s back yard, and I cut through there to get home. I sometimes sit in the back of the cemetery for a while and look at the sky or follow ants, or sometimes talk to my grandmother on the phone. Sometimes I just talk to myself. Yesterday I just sat there with my eyes closed. It was very nice.

There are a few particularly colorful trees on my street, and they, along with a video I remembered, made me think of something: The world itself is not evil. The world worships God. A similar thought came to my mind after seeing (or rather, hearing) this video in one of my classes. It is the sound of crickets slowed down to what they would sound like if they had the same lifespan as humans:

I remember a quote from John Keats that has stuck with me since high school. He said in his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty–that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” An idea that is thrown around a lot at my school is that, as Christians, we should be “in the world but not of it.” Well, the fact of the matter is, we are “of the world,” and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Nature is beautiful and innocent, and we are natural beings. Obviously we, along with many things we create, have been corrupted by sin, but we were created in the image of God, and I think that somewhere within us, that innate goodness remains. If it didn’t, I don’t think it would be possible for us to know God. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be possible for us to be creative.

What I’m trying to say is that the trees changing color is their way of worshiping God. Birds singing; crickets chirping; water flowing and giving life; the sun rising and setting everyday; it’s all Creation’s way of worshiping, and saying “thank you” to the Creator. As humans, we often try and do it so elaborately, with complicated music and ceremony and what have you: but in a way, even just existing and acknowledging where we came from and our place in the world is a form of worship; possibly the purest form.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Belief vs Knowledge

Is believing something different from knowing it? I had a theology question a day or two ago, so I went to a discussion forum I had joined about a year or two ago to see what people thought. It had been several months, if not a year since I had gone there because last summer I decided that I was addicted to social media, so I quit everything except Facebook and flyinguineapig.

Anyway, I couldn’t find any threads about my particular question, and I didn’t feel like posting a new one so I left. Before I did though, I read a few posts on a thread about believing versus knowing something. I almost posted something, but I didn’t feel like getting into an argument, which actually happens a lot on that forum, but I thought I’d share my thoughts here.

Normally I would like to keep this open to belief in general, but I think in this case I might have to talk about it in the context of my personal beliefs. I think “belief” implies a lack of knowledge in one way or another. The online dictionary says that belief is “the acceptance of something as true or real.” Knowledge on the other hand is “What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information.” I think faith may actually require both. There are things I know because I have accepted them as fact. There are also things that I believe, but don’t have enough information to accept them as fact or make judgments one way or another.

I think if one is to follow a particular religion or philosophy that there are beliefs within that system that they need to accept as fact. For example, Christianity is a very individual-oriented religion. One’s personal relationship with Christ is often what makes or breaks their faith. Therefore at the very least, people need to accept their salvation from sin and death as fact. Not knowing that for certain makes for a weak faith. I think Knowledge actually implies a very strong belief. There were facts in science that people accepted as true and real until they were proven false by innovation. For example, at one point in time people thought the earth was the center of universe. This was accepted as a scientific fact until it was refuted and a new model of the solar system was created.

In short, here are my definitions of  knowledge vs belief:

Knowledge: The acceptance of information as true based on evidence and conviction

Belief: The acceptance of ideas as true based on limited information and one’s personal desire/inclination to believe them

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!