Renewing your vows as a spiritual exercise; day 13 of Ramadan

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In a few days from now I will be assisting with my friends renewal of their marital vows to one another. This will be a first for me and yet I think it is an important act for married couples to do at least once in their married lives to each other.

What crosses my mind when a couple gets married is that I hope they’ve put forth more effort in preparing for marriage than the day spent getting married to each other; yes the marriage ceremony, whether in a courthouse or other place is important, but as those two individuals exchange vows to one another, the getting-married-to-one-another part is all the more important.
So when it comes to renewing vows it has the potential to put everything into focus; by thinking about the reasons, the why-I-married-you’s may help jump start a marriage if it needs it. Ultimately renewing one’s vows should ultimately be for the couple saying them and not for the friends and family who might gather, while the latter have importance in serving as witnesses to the act, it is ultimately upon the two individuals to carry out the vows mutually exchanged.

And so with all that in mind I am more than happy to have a role in helping my friends renew their vows to one another. I cannot guarantee anything, but I do believe that if they turn to God for guidance, if they communicate to one another about what’s going on in their lives, if they seek help when they need it, if they mutually submit to the other person on a continual basis, they’ll have what it takes to continue on in their marriage to one another.

So with all that being said, renewing vows were my keywords on this 13th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who watches over us and protects us, he who never slumbers but is always awake and ready to help us in life. May we be faithful to our significant others and they to us, may we continually mutually submit to one another out of love for the other. And may the vows we say, whether for the first time or in a renewing vows ceremony, be something that comes from our hearts and backed up with our actions as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

My personal rules of engagement

Earlier today one of my former youth ministry students informed me that he will be visiting a Hindu temple in my area, he asked my insight since I visit different places of worship every now and then. He asked me my insight and I gave it to him, I asked his permission to repost what I sent him and here it is.

1) Take time to listen – it might be obvious, but I truly believe it needs to be done.

2) Look for common ground – I think too often followers of Christ (I speak as one of them) are under the impression that people of different belief systems are 180 degrees from Christianity. Yet as you listen to their stories, you’ll hear how they want to do unto others, they want to feed the poor, they want to honor God, etc. As followers of Christ as we listen, we can find out that we have so much many more commonalities than differences!

3) Dialogue over debate – If you think about how debate works it’s about 2 sides coming up with the most compelling argument so as to defeat the other, the one who has the better argument “wins” and the other person “loses”. In life going by that model will only take you so far, and it will actually be the grounds of alienation between yourself and others. When you dialogue with others, regardless of where you’re at and wherever they’re at, it allows room to talk despite the differences that are present. Dialogue isn’t about about “winning” it’s about communicating, it’s about expressing yourself and allowing others to express themselves as well. It is better to make peace than be “right”.

4) The norms of other belief systems are their own norms – When you think about the Hindu belief system, one thing that you’ll get pretty quickly is their polytheistic belief system. As followers of Christ we might perceive that as wrong, but is it “wrong” or is it fact their norm? It’s what they perceive as normal, so who’s to tell them otherwise? Instead of going with the models of missionaries and colonists in the past of having a particular group of people go with their self-imposed norms, why not engage people where they’re at. Surely, God is big enough to work within the framework of a polytheistic society. Be with people; true incarnational ministry isn’t about bringing in your model of thoughts and ideas and discarding what their norms are will not go over well, let God lead you and guide you, don’t leave your faith at the door, but sometimes you need to step back from Christianity in order to move forward with God and those you’re interacting with.

5) Engagement over judgment – Avoidance is sometimes a problem for followers of Christ; instead of engaging the people around them, they choose to come up with assumptions and sometimes hurtful statements without actually getting to know that group of people. Walking a mile in someone shoes, getting to know them on their terms and in their territory needs to be done. Too often I see followers of Christ who sit on their haunches and wait around with the air of “well when you get your act together, we’ll help you out then”, but as I read the parable Jesus told of a Prodigal Son, it is the father who sees his son off in the distance and runs to him and embraces him. The son’s the one who screwed up royally, in fact he was going back to the father to simply see if there was an opportunity for him to become one of the servants, he didn’t come back with the expectation of being taken back in as the son, of being in good standings with the father, he was expecting to be treated as the lowest. Yet the father takes him back, takes him in as he is and not as how he should be, and if we as followers of Christ can emulate that behavior, our witness will go a lot further in a positive way.

6) Love wins – 1 Corinthians 13, while so often deemed The Wedding Chapter because it’s used as such, should really be a checklist for followers of Christ. By going by what Jesus said as recorded in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are called to be his witnesses, not the jury or the judge, because God alone knows our thoughts and our hearts. We at the very core of our beings should live out that love to everyone, not just among those who get along with us, but to EVERYONE! It takes time, it is very difficult, but we are instructed by Jesus to do so.

7) It begins with God and it ends with God – I believe in a God who is so big that he will meet us where we are. I am not saying that all roads lead to God, because I believe we have to go through Jesus to get to God, but within that framework I don’t believe it’s tied down to Christianity exclusively. We as followers of Christ do not bring anyone to God, God alone brings people to God, and it is our freewill to accept or not. But when does the average person run out of chances of making that choice? I honestly don’t know, some people might speculate and say the obvious answer is that someone dies, then and there is the “last time”, but again, we don’t know from this side of eternity if death is indeed the final call, that is God’s business not ours. Should we share what we have faith in with others? Absolutely, we’re called to be disciples and disciple others, but again it begins with God and ends with God. When it comes down to it, God doesn’t need us to help him out, but he invites us to! Ministry shouldn’t be so much wrapped up in the person who’s leading it, it should be about what God is doing through the ministry, and sometimes that means stepping out of the way and letting God do what he’s going to do. That might be a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been learning in youth ministry, that sometimes that is the place I need to be.

Lastly I say this; when you choose to interact with people who might not be coming from your viewpoint, don’t go at it with “Christian eyes” but with the eyes of God, with the ears of God, and with the heart of God. If you don’t have love, what good are you? I don’t say that accusing you of something you’re doing, but keep your reasons in check, if it’s not out of love, then you will only go as far as a mere human being can go…but if you go with the love of God, you will go a lot further than you imagined, it might frighten you because at times that can lead to unexplored territory at times, but it needs to be done, following the tracks of what “everyone” else is doing will leave you with the same results. Choose to be a leader so that others too can learn from your example and blaze an unmarked path of their own, to God be the glory in all things!

~Nathanael~

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Hold on loosely; what water damage has taught me about material possessions

“Hold on loosely” by 38 Special entered my mind when I was informed earlier today that due to the rain from the night before some additional water damage took place in my basement. It caused some water to drench some of my old clothes and a lot of auto-related “earthly treasures” to get ruined.

So I helped with moving out those damaged goods, quite quickly too as today’s garbage day and I certainly didn’t want that sitting around for a week.

There are times where the best response to things is to have that kind of an attitude, recognizing that everything is prone to rust, mold, mildew, breaking, cracking, et al. and if we think we have some control over it we’re only kidding ourselves and so when it comes to material possessions (which I need to practice more in my life) is to recognize that the best things in life aren’t the material possessions I’ve acquired and they aren’t things either, they’re the people I’ve gotten to know and love.

I like how Jesus put it as recorded by Matthew in chapter 6 verses 19 to 21; ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I too want to store up treasure in heaven, I too want to say unselfishly that the treasure I guard most closely are those I come into contact with, those who I choose to engage over judge and those I love with a heart like God’s and with his eyes seeing the Imago Dei-ness in everyone.

Thanks be to God for water damaged material goods, I’m a little more free as I hold onto my possessions a bit more loosely.

~Nathanael~

Engagement over judgment

The other night at my youth ministry meeting with my fellow high school leaders and middle school leaders, we played a game of “5 minutes in the hot seat”, essentially 5 minutes of questioning the individual that was provided to us, to give ourselves a chance to talk and share a bit of who we are and our stories.

When it got to my turn I got a gist of the kind of questions my fellow youth ministry leaders were asking one another, and so prior to getting up there and answering I started mulling over my answers, but one of my favorite youth leaders asked me out of the blue “what is something you hate?” I responded as such.

I hate it when followers of Christ choose judgment over engagement in regards to the LGBT community. When Christians make assumptions, or all they have on their mind is same sex sexual intercourse, there’s a wall that gets put up and those kind of Christians keep it up, maintain it, but by no means do a lot of Christians step forward to question the wall, leap over the wall, or even break down that wall.

The wall will not always exist within Christian culture, I have faith in God that it will come down completely over time, but I do recognize that while laws on a government level are yanking down the wall (good stuff!) it will take a while for people’s hearts to change…and this is where I come in.

As a straight advocate for equal rights for everyone who is made in God’s image, I believe I am called to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community. I choose engagement over judgment, and while I cannot change people’s hearts, I hope and have faith in God that through me and others who are like-minded and like-hearted will help others choose this path.
I do realize as in my own journey getting to this point it takes time, it takes having faith and holding it out with open hands instead of getting caught up in belief and certainty with closed hands. It also takes time to develop personal thoughts and concepts paired with tangible and dynamic love, getting away from “my mom says/my father says/my pastor says/my professors say” is a lengthy but worthwhile endeavor.

So that’s what I hate, but it’s a hate I will overcome with love, God’s love, it takes time but it will be worth it, I have faith it will be.

~Nathanael~

2 things I’m contemplating prior to the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago

There are some individuals who say that you should compartmentalize and keep the sacred from the secular and vice versa. Yet the way I look at it, all truth is God’s truth and there doesn’t need to be a split up of the so-called sacred and secular.

As I prep for the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago I’m contemplating two things, one’s a well known prayer and one’s a cover song by Todd Rungren’s band Utopia called Love is theAnswer.

Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

Utopia/Todd Rundgren – Love is the Answer

I’m excited for a third year to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community (not that there’s no overlap but there needs to be more) at the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago. God spoke to me prior to the event 3 years ago and I listened and I acted, and so I prepare to leave my house to answer the call once again.

It must be done, building bridges, because this is an issue the church cannot sweep under the carpet and hope nobody notices…well I notice it and the way we act the LGBT community knows it as well. These things take time, but I have faith in God and my generation that we will take care of the matter to truly take the steps of restoration and reconciliation between the Christian community and the LGBT community. Yet since it is in it’s early stages those individuals who go forward now, such as Andrew Marin and The Marin Foundation, are pioneers; they’re blazing a trail that hasn’t been traversed and they’re going on faith and trusting in God because the outcome hasn’t been determined yet…but God will see them and I to completion, I have faith in him to do that 🙂

John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

~Nathanael~