Freedom of Religion in the United States

Editor’s note – I don’t want to get into political debates, discussions perhaps, but I’m straying away from politics because it’s my intention not to vote in the two party dictatorship that is voting in the United States of America. I will be addressing some things, but I’m not going to go deep because it is a deep deep hole and it’s a pain in the ass to climb out such a hole. Enjoy…perhaps?

It strikes me at times Christians who live in America advocate for Freedom of Religion and what it entails, but the thing is, they make it out to be a for Christians only issue…uh…what?

Muslims who live in America can’t practice their own religion?

Jews who live in America can’t practice their own religion?

Baha’i who live in America can’t practice their own religion?

Those who practice Hindu and live in America can’t practice their own religion?

It perplexes me that some Christians hold such views, because it is very limiting to state who can practice insert religion here and who cannot. Granted some of the things the original writers of The Constitution did try to limit certain liberties to themselves and other rich white people who owned slaves, which has been cleared up since then (thank goodness), but it seems like there’s a lot of self-imposing that is what it is…unconstitutional.
I’ve even heard people murmur that “Obama’s a Muslim” and to be honest, I don’t know his heart, only God does, but seriously? Are Muslims not capable of running a country?

That’s all I’ll say about these issues,
Nathanael

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Following Jesus is a matter of faith

Sometimes I think Christians get hung up about Christianity and lose track as to what or more specifically the whom it is about.

Christianity isn’t what saves you,
reading the Bible doesn’t save you,
Praying on a regular basis doesn’t save you.

Only Jesus can.

It’s not a supposed to be a religion based upon orthodox (right way) or orthopraxis (right practice), but about letting go of closed fist beliefs and allowing God to work in one’s life to transforming them into open handed faith.

Recently I heard Rob Bell speaking live via video at The Viper Room in Los Angeles. It was a very good talk, and in a way it was a LAN Party for the emergent church, but one thing out of the many things he said stuck out to me “You can’t put anything in a closed fist”.
Too often I think  that’s the case, that we come before God with closed eyes and clenched fists, a posture that seems like we’re unwilling for God to enter in and to change us, a posture that is unmoving and unchanging, caught up in the dogma we’ve imposed upon ourselves and to some extent what we’ve imposed upon others.

As I examine my life and what I have faith in, it is far less and more freeing than when I was operating out of a system of closed fist beliefs. Instead of making this post one of a “what I don’t believe” nature, I rather say that I have faith in what God is doing, the good others are doing in his name, and that somehow someway this is ushering in the kingdom of God the “on earth as it is in heaven” part of the Lord’s Prayer.
There is a freeing nature to faith, it’s not lackadaisical or laze-fare, it’s holding onto something I can grasp, it’s looking with eyes on the kingdom of God and looking at humanity, all of humanity with eyes of love – God’s love. I am a part of the kingdom work that ushers in perfect shalom and as long as I have breath in my lungs I hope to continue on with the various tasks set before me starting with what’s in front of me in the now.

It can be difficult to make the jump from belief to faith, but it is by all means necessary, to lay one’s life prostrate before God in surrender of what we make of him and simply let God be God. I’m not out of the woodwork yet, I still have self-imposed ideas of who I think God is and who God isn’t, but he’s working on my heart, he’s working on my beliefs and is extending his hand saying “follow me”.

“Follow me” is a lifelong challenge, because it doesn’t always come with a map, there sometimes is no itinerary, it’s all a matter of…you guessed it…faith. Sometimes I feel like God is absent or even not there, it’s something I’ve been wrestling with, but I realize that in faith sometimes it’s a matter of keep on walking despite the foggy and murky path that’s in front of me, sometimes I don’t see the light, but I keep going because he helps me to keep going.

Take God by faith, keep walking even if you don’t see, keep walking by faith and not by sight.

Learn to open your hands in faith, unclench your beliefs and allow God to come in and transform your life by faith with open hands.

~Nathanael~

Sometimes I wish I were a fly on the wall

Sometimes I wish I were the proverbial fly on the wall, the eavesdropper, the one who hears what others have to say whether they are aware of my presence or not.

Because I think people are fascinating not just some of the time, but all of the time, for better or worse…

The other day I returned to a church that I’m involved with in the context of youth ministry, but due to my work schedule and the other church I attend has kept me from attending. Yet at the advice/request of one of my best friends I’m going to do a two-fer Sunday mornings.
Yet it was interesting being back, a lot of new faces (albeit I was at a service I normally don’t attend) and the dynamic of a large(r) gathering was a bit of a short-lived shock. I sat close to where I normally would, so I guess that’s habitual, but it was interesting to look around at the diversity…which is needed within the church, and to see some of that being lived out, it gave me a case of the warm fuzzies.

Yet…On my way out the door I caught two conversations, overheard at church as it were. One guy was expressing to another guy that he found it hard to believe that “this was church” because he didn’t feel any guilt. One woman was talking to another woman and shared how coming to this church was a secret fix for her, even though she didn’t like how the pastor didn’t read from the Bible as much as she’d like.
WOW! That’s all I will say, because whether the nature of church and feeling guilty being paired together (which I can recall times where I’ve been in such churches) and the nature of a pastor not reading enough of the Bible… Again, people are fascinating…all of the time!

I think I’ll write my insights to what these individuals talked about, but later, I have to buzz out of here!

~Nathanael~

I am an anomaly/BEing in the now

Too often I view church culture to be couple oriented, and at times their best attempt to provide a place for 20somethings comes in the form of college ministry.

I recognize that being a 28 year old single guy who’s out of college puts me at a disadvantage, essentially where I am at this time makes me out to be an anomaly.

Yet I also recognize that I have to be the change I want to see, and so I am not down nor am I out, nor do I feel like I am the only 28 year old single guy within a church.

***

The pastor of one of the churches I attend, Scott Hodge, spoke the other day about his trip to Thailand and the advice he received before his trip – “practice being in the now” – and it was great to hear how that worked out for him and I know he’s not going to stop now that he’s back, I too long to be in the now.

If I am honest with my life and situation, I’m not always in the now; I’m too often caught in the painful nostalgia of what was and the undeveloped yet-to-be what I hope for, so I’m caught up in my past and what I’m doing to make for my future…and it gets to me, I get hung up and I get tired, I get angry and I get burned out over what I had and what I don’t have and yet want to have so much.

So I am taking my time, I’m reeling in the years and focusing on what’s in front of me, not what’s behind me or ahead of me, but in the now of my present situation, problems included.

I’m getting there, but I need to focus on the here that leads to there…and little by little, day by day, I am 🙂

~Nathanael~

A series of unfortunate events; Sam and Don

The other day in my hometown a storm of heavy rain and fast winds came in and came out, the resulting storm lead to power being out in my house (as well as others). So I decided to get up and go for a walk, camera-in-hand of course! 🙂

I was walking up one block and there was this tree that was knocked over completely, roots and all, and as I was getting ready to photograph it a guy came out of his house. Don* started chatting to me about photography, to which he shoots with the Canon T3i, the same make and model I do, so it was a connection point. After a while he was placating and essentially kissing my butt photography, but then…he started to proselytize to me!
Now interestingly enough, I already know Don but apparently he has forgotten about me (it’s been a while since the last time we interacted, I didn’t have long hair or a ‘stache then!) but he weaved into our conversation about photography about how I am going to hell :crickets: and told me to go to a website he created (not going to drop the link, not sorry!). He didn’t share the Gospel message with me, I don’t interact with him, and yet he still feels the urge to tell me I am going to hell… I am glad I got the brunt end of his hell spiel and not someone else, Lord have mercy on Evangelicals who share of hell before they share of God’s love and grace. Writer’s note: I went to the website and it looks like it was made in 1998, a few random lightning bolt gifs and the pièce de résistance…This was your life! A Jack Chick Tract, oy vey iz mir…:-(

After I left that street I found another fully uprooted tree lying across a street in my area, that’s where I met Sam* who also was shooting photos, and with a Canon T3i no less! Sam told me if he had his way, he’d organize people of Aurora to move the debris to assist the city workers who were absolutely busy beyond belief that day, and afterwards we could all kick back and eat burgers and drink brews. I told Sam that I liked his idea a lot, it would be great to pull together and then commune with one another.

***

Now I don’t know Sam’s heart, but there was more of a pull on my heartstrings interacting with a guy who was for social justice, tangibly doing something to make a difference, than my encounter with Don who weaseled in a message of I’m going to hell despite not having a relationship let alone a friendship with me. I think that’s where followers of Christ get it wrong sometimes, we’re quick to pull the you’re-going-to-hell trigger and we’re left with a smoking gun. I usually abide by St. Francis of Assisi’s words of “preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary.” I live my faith out in action, in my being as well as doing, I want to love on this world so much that people will get soaked by the love of God through what I do. Love compels me to do this, God’s love to be precise, and I think that goes a lot further than telling people they’re going to hell.

~Nathanael~
*names have been changed

Compartmentalization is more work than it’s worth

I’m packing up for 5 days in Wisconsin, and one thing I recognize is my compartmentalization skills; my camera gear is separate from my clothing is separate from my book bag is separate from my laptop bag.

While this is important, well, as long as you know which is which and if you can find what you’re looking for at it’s needed time, life sometimes in itself becomes compartmentalized; my work life is separated from my home life is separated from my spiritual life is separated from the friends I hang out with on Friday nights after work at a bar…

While I do think that balance and boundaries are a good thing, some things need to have that type of order, it is my opinion that compartmentalization is more work than what it’s worth, and that a follower of Christ I should fear or worry about living holistically, because as Rob Bell said; everything is spiritual.

There was a time in my life where I did my best to compartmentalize my life, my life consisted of boxes, all of mine but I only let some people in to what was really going on in my life. I did what I could to keep up a good facade of “everything is okay” but by the time I got to college I started unraveling at the seams.

When I went away to school I tried to keep up a good show of what was going on in my life; after all I was the new guy and didn’t know anyone apart from a friend who transferred from junior college to that school with me, we were actually in the same program before he dropped out and got married while I switched majors and graduated.

Some of my suite-mates and even one of my roommates picked up something was amiss in Nathanael-land (why yes, I am an island entire of myself, sometimes) and they were patient with me and they loved on me which I found odd because I thought that if I put myself out there I would be disliked and even worse, unloved.

Life without love is hardly a life at all, you have to give it and hopefully you get some love as well 🙂 But as I put my hurts and my pains out to my new acquaintances who became my friends I realized that I was still liked…I was still loved.

***

Since my college days gone by I do try to open myself more to people I trust and live life holistically, but I need to step up my game. If I am not willing to be more transparent and less compartmentalized how can I expect anyone else to? My standards are for me, but if I am to part wisdom upon those around me it begins with being the change I want to see in me.

So I will tear down my curtains,
I will reveal what goes on behind-the-scenes,
I will engage with you the proscenium.

~Nathanael~

I’m not the original audience to whom Jeremiah 29:11 is written to

…but I do take comfort in his words when it says

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

But Jeremiah, writing to individuals exiled into a land that wasn’t their own goes on to say this (verses 12-14);

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

I do have a hope in my future years, where God is guiding me now and where I might end up, but there are times when I am plagued by doubt and being in the proverbial “thick of it” makes it hard to see. Yet I get that’s a good place to be, doubting and also taking things by faith and not necessarily belief.

Do I blame God for my self-imposed exile? I did for a while, but I recognize that sometimes life is life and shit is shit, and sometimes there’s not much to do but get up every time I’m knocked down, to thank God for the new start and every second chance, to keep walking as if I am in a dense fog in the middle of a forest…keep walking, keep taking life, my journey by faith, one day at a time…and sometimes it has to be one minute at a time.

Things aren’t working out for me at this time, and I will write about it equally inasmuch I will pray about it and for others. I’m not the only one in exile and it is encouraging when brothers and sisters share with me their journey and their struggles, it hurts to hear their story but it points to that I am not alone in my struggles, I feel deeply connected to humanity in such times.

~Nathanael~