Church Incognito; Intellectual, Communal, Missional, my experience at a Lutheran Church

On the Saturday night before Mother’s Day I was talking to my friend about my Church Incognito project. I was still undecided as to where I’d be going to church on Sunday and he invited me to St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church, as he and his brother and his mother and grandmother would be there! I love my friend so it was an easy sell.

Upon arriving to St. Olaf’s I arrived almost at the same time my friend and his family did! So it was great to finally meet them! As we walked in we were all greeted warmly by the ushers as well as our mutual friends who also attend the church.

As I entered the sanctuary I scanned for familiar faces as well as to get an idea of who attends St. Olaf’s, and it was encouraging to see a diversity of older individuals and their families as well as younger families, and there were even multi-generational families represented. I am always encouraged by the latter because it’s something I would like to do someday, that is, go to church with my kids and my kids children. There’s something beautiful to it and I am pleased to see it happening in real life.

As the service started I was encouraged by the pastor making it known that he wanted St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church to be “intentionally making this place a place of welcome”. There was the passing of the peace, there was re-greeting some friends, and then it was time to sing hymns and reading Bible verses corporately.
Having grown up in the church for nearly my entire life long term memory has served me well. I enjoy singing hymns, especially as one voice within a church. There weren’t any “new” ones so I was able to find the cadence with the congregation and sing along. Even reading the Bible out loud and in community is one of my favorites as well, especially when it comes to reading what’s attributed to the doings and beings and sayings of Jesus. The power that comes with unity when it comes to serve God and serve others is hard for me to put into words, but for every instance I am able to worship God in the context of church I am ever grateful.

The service was good, Mother’s Day was the theme and so the message was along the lines of why God made moms. It was systematic in nature with bullet points:
1. Moms FEEL with us.
2. Moms PROTECT us.
3. Moms SACRIFICE with us.
4. Moms CREATE a home for us.
5. Moms MOTIVATE us.
How do we respond?
How can we honor our moms?
1. We OBEY them.
2. We BLESS them.
3. We TAKE CARE of them and lastly…
4. CHOCOLATE!

All very good, and Bible verses supported these points. And after a few more hymns, church was over! I was invited by friend’s mother to spend mother’s day with them but I already had mother’s day plans of my own so I politely declined.

Overall it was a worthwhile time spent at St. Olaf’s. It was good to see old friends and some new, and to finally connect with some people I knew solely on Facebook at first. I love Lutherans, they’re for the most part an intellectual group of people and I for one appreciate people who have smarts that they utilize in a communal-missional sense. Lutherans have that in spades, and while I might not align myself denominationally I have no qualms with those who do provided they recognize their identity in Christ first and foremost. Hearing about faith is one thing, but I am ever pleased to see it in action, and Lutherans for the most part have that down.

~Nathanael~

Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism 101: A Working Definition of Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism

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You won’t find a definition in the dictionary for Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism, so I will utilize this post to unpack what I mean by it.

Red Letter = A lot of Bibles record what’s attributed to what Jesus said by writing it out in red letters. Subsequently, I try to conduct my life based on what’s attributed to what Jesus said and did, thus red letter.

Christ-centric = As I stated above, I try to conduct my life around what is attributed to what Jesus said and did. Christianity and following Christ has been very much a part of my life in its entirety. I am Christ-centric because of my roots and what works within the framework I have and what I’ve been given. Had I been born in a Buddhist culture and tradition, I would be Buddha-centric, Had I been born in a Muslim culture and tradition, I would be Koran-centric, and so on and so forth.
I am not the only one operating out of centrism to one’s beliefs past or present, and both realities meet within my Christ-centric views and faith system.

Universalism = I believe that everyone will be reunited and reconnected with God, themselves, and others some eon on the other side of eternity. I don’t believe in an exclusive god, a god that only a select/elite few will ever commune with, a god that damns a portion of humanity to hell. This universalism is inclusive, it is for people of all belief systems and Atheists and Agnostics too!

What this all looks like is something I will unpack in an upcoming post, so stay tuned! :-)

~Nathanael~

Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism 101: An Introduction

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Several months ago one of my youth ministry students asked me (and I cannot remember the context for the life of me) “Do Muslims worship the same God we do?” Given that this answer is a loaded one I told him I would love to talk to him what I think about this at a later time, not that I didn’t have a personal answer for him but I had to unpack it for him.

You see, I have a means in which to intellectually converse with older human beings, human beings that are able to hold within their minds the concrete and the abstract, the both/and, the humanity and the divinity…but, with all that being said, I’ve never unpacked this at a level that makes sense to junior highers. And I got to thinking that this blog, this platform I have for thought and consciousness, could be the ideal place to start writing it out for a younger audience.
I realize my blog isn’t junior high-savvy, but still I think that this place is a good one, a safe one, for me to unpack my views and I’m going to do so. Yes it’ll be a bit more lingual-simplistic than when I talk to older human beings (interestingly enough I’ve presented my views to my coworkers who’ve inquired), and I am not saying that you the reader aren’t capable to understand my belief system, this is my sandbox and this is how I play and how I will play.

So come along for the ride into delving into Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism with me, it’ll be a lot of fun if you are patient and suspend disbelief to engage in my faith system.

Ready set go!

~Nathanael~

Love as a spiritual exercise; day 30 of Ramadan

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A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – John 13:34

Happy Eid Al-Fatr y’all! :-)

I decided to hold back in writing about love until the very end of Ramadan because it is the very essence of God. We as human beings have the capacity to love one another and ourselves, but so often we don’t. Why is that? Is it because love is in short supply or ? I think that some reasons why so many of us go without loving others is because we get selfish, we expect it without putting any effort in, we think love is something that will just fall in our laps, we get self-absorbed, we get scared…

I too am scared of love, more to the point true intimacy; because it is one thing to chill with your peeps and be unabashedly bold in what you say without thinking or blinking (or maybe you think and blink but you know what you’re saying will get a reaction of some sort.) but it is entirely different to put out the same things to a significant other, or at least I perceive it to be, because at the end of the night you go back to your SO’s place or your SO comes over to your place and you’re left with what you said.
And while I am careful in being articulate and communicating what I want to say so that there’s no misunderstanding as to what I have to say, I still worry to a certain extent, I worry will I still be liked and I worry will I still be loved. And I want to be liked and I want to be loved, and yet it is the root of my inhibition to be bold, to take risks, to ask girls out on dates…I am a work in progress, and I am getting over myself, but unfortunately I’ve been in that rut for a while. :-/

Yet despite my hesitations it doesn’t slow me down in working on becoming the best possible version of me. I love me, healthily and wholly, I am glad I am me and not someone else because then I wouldn’t be me! Silly perhaps, but I am glad to be alive because it’s great to be alive! (My coworker reminds us all this on a daily basis, and I concur.)

I believe in love. I believe in being loved and loving others. I believe that love conquers all and drives out fear. I believe that everyone is deserving of love. I believe that everyone has the capacity to love others. I also recognize within my being that I am loved even when I don’t feel like I am being loved, being in community assures me of that on a regular basis, for I am a recipient of love and a giver of love myself.

***
I was extended love on Eid Al-Fatr by way of having an Eid dinner with my good friend and his family and friends. The majority of the time was spent talking to him and his 3 younger cousins, it was great to be in community and to have serious and silly conversations. Dinner was great too! Pakistani food, and also dessert, it was great to simply be with my friend and his family plus. I was caught up with it all during part of the evening, I found myself meditating and being present but being overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of it all. I am thankful to God for moments when all my senses are in tune with my being and I feel deeply present where I’m at.

It is my intention to do better at loving others and to put some of my worries and what-if’s to the side as I pursue loving in a dating relationship context. Because I know what it is like to be loved and to love someone else, and there is no better feeling in the world than love because love put this world and universe into motion and it sustains it still.

So with all that being said, love was my keyword on the 30th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Source of Love, who loves us and knows us, deeply and truly. May we learn to love one another as God has loved us, may we learn to love ourselves, may we learn to meet people where they are at when they’re in need of love, on their terms and not our own.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Forgiveness as a spiritual exercise; day 29 of Ramadan

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To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12

Truth to be told, I am able to forgive others easier for big offenses than small / petty offenses. Today was no exception, and while I won’t get into it, when the offense was committed I was pissed off…and for several hours afterwards I spent time ruminating on what was done and I was nowhere in a better state of mind.

The quote,“In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die” (Anne Lamott) came to mind when I was in the throes of self misery. It didn’t set me free, but it did aid in the slow and arduous task of pushing the toxic lack of forgiveness out of my system. It was no easy feat, but after some time spent in prayer and also napping I was able to free myself and forgive the other, but also the ability to forgive myself.

I am human (surprising insight, eh?) and subsequently I act in human ways and sometimes the worse part of me comes to light; I hold grudges, I don’t forgive, I cut people down verbally and sometimes I passively cut them down in my head…among other things. But despite being all things at sometime or another, I remember that I am human, and that it is part of the human experience to screw up time and time again. And yet as we struggle through our humanity, we are at times compelled to do more and do better next time around; sure, some of us are quick to toss in the towel to make changes in our lives, but theoretically we might be in a better place for having done so instead of simply letting the chips fall where they may.

Within the forgiveness of others we are able to find some forgiveness for ourselves for what was done and how for a brief eon in time we forgot our humanity and divinity in others inasmuch we forgot the humanity and divinity within us. I think that’s why it’s good to forgive others inasmuch as well as ourselves, because if we don’t do the latter there’s a possible possibility that we hold onto something that is better off letting go.
So free others, forgive, free yourself, forgive!

So with all that being said, forgiveness was my keyword on the 29th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Great Forgiver, who forgives us. May we learn to forgive others and forgive ourselves when the occasion call for it, and may we learn from what we’ve done to make better choices to, if at all possible, not commit those offenses again.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Recognizing the humanity and divinity in everyone as a spiritual exercise; day 28 of Ramadan

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God made everyone, she really did! And I am led to believe that we can cull some of our conflict and criticism for others, our hatred aimed at others, our disputes with others might be able to be patched up and leave us in a place of healing and not hurting if we keep this in mind; we are all made in the image of God.

I learned about this truth growing up by way of its Latin term, Imago Dei, and it has helped me out in not only knowing this truth but living it out. Because when you’re able to recognize the divinity in another person, you might just get a better view of their humanity as well.
It seems like some of the harshest conflicts and genocides across history have a common thread of removing humanity (and subsequently divinity) from the equation. If we reduce people to less than human, call them cockroaches (as the Tutsis were called prior to the Rwandan Genocide) or something else, we dehumanize them. And unfortunately people will be more malleable to do some of the worst things known to man against their fellow man because their humanity has been removed from them. And to a certain extent the humanity and thus divinity is removed from the oppressors as well.

So how do we keep our humanity as well as others intact and in check? Perhaps just realizing consciously and subconsciously that we ALL are made in the image of God, we ALL bear her likeness, we ALL have a right to life, we ALL have it hard but we can make life better for ALL if we put this into action.
I get that this might seem like hippie drippy bullshit, but I think it is a worthwhile endeavor, a good thing as well as a God thing, to get to a place individually / culturally / across the globe where we see the good in others inasmuch the God in others. It might take time for some of us, but we’re counting on ALL of humanity, not just some or for those it comes easier to.
So when should we ALL start seeing the good and God in others? The humanity and the divinity? Right here and now!

So with all that being said, humanity and divinity were my keywords on the 28th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for placing within everyone humanity and divinity. May we open up our eyes and lives in seeing it in others and extending it to others, for this truly awakens the humanity and divinity in us as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Patience as a spiritual exercise; day 27 of Ramadan

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At times the above comic sums me up succinctly; I ask God for many a thing, including patience, and instead of waiting around on God I yell at her to hurry up the process! The thing is, as you probably know, patience is a process and it takes time to get there; both in being patient with ourselves as well as being patient with others.

My work demands quite a bit of patience given that I work with kids. One thing I’ve learned over the years with working with kids is they require a LOT of patience, but to a certain degree persistence as well. They also need to know your intentions in the matter, because it is very possible that in your patience and persistence they might think you’re doing it to be mean or that you’re coming across as being a harsh authoritarian.
I do push my students, but I know their limits through rapport built with them, and some can take on more and some can take on less, it varies (as with all of us) person to person. It helps that I work with nearly the same classroom on a daily basis, and so I am familiar in my ways and approaches with my students.

When it comes to patience in my life it’s usually in light of what is going on in my life, and while I tackled contentment the other day I need patience. Because there are times in my life I wish could be resolved in a blink of an eye, but while sometimes a lot of the time I cannot have it that way. I am still content throughout all of it, but I want it in an expedited manner. Yet life isn’t like that all that often, and sometimes it is through the trials of error we’ll figure out the reasons why, but even that is in limited supply because sometimes (as cliche as it sounds) the answer is that there is no answer.

In moments like that I am sometimes aloof, sometimes I am able to surrender to that truth, and other times I yell at God will all my might, hoping that she hears me and does something about it. And yet there are times where I hold the answer, sometimes I am the answer to my own prayers as well as others. All in all, patience needs to be carried out without having a mindset as to when will “x” come to fruition, because sometimes it comes to be and other times it doesn’t come at all and sometimes it comes in time but a time frame we might not align ourselves with.

So with all that being said, patience was my keyword on this 27th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, the ever patient one, may we learn to be patient with ourselves and with others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael