I am me (part 1); a preface, a parable

The kingdom of God is like…

A vegetarian is invited to a barbeque cookout and attends. The vegetarian knows full well that he’s going to be hungry so he brings himself food that he eats and has a good time.

The non-vegetarians observe this and ask; “what’s with the Boca Burgers? Don’t you want a REAL hamburger?” The vegetarian smiles and says, “no thanks, this is what I eat, this is what I need in my life. It wasn’t always so, but I’ve changed. Feel free to eat one in my honor if you so choose, but that isn’t me any longer.” The non-vegetarians smile and say; “suit yourself, enjoy your Boca Burgers!” And all is well between the vegetarian and the non-vegetarians, because it’s about the fellowship and sharing of life, not the food being ingested by all parties…

Thanks be to God!

Hello again! I’m “back” to writing here on WordPress, a lot of things in life has changed and I feel the impetus to write on here again. This preface, this parable is but a veiled idea behind other ideas behind what’s going on in my life as of late. So buckle up, things are about to get interesting!

~Nathanael

Church Incognito; An intergenerational, literal and KJV only church; my experience at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church

A few Sundays ago my friend Rameel and I attended the church of a woman we met at the Open Mosque. We both arrived a little late, but we were greeted warmly nonetheless, and we found our way to our mutual friend’s pew.

During the time we stood and sang hymns, I took time to get a feed on who made up Valley Baptist Church; a somewhat diverse group ethnically speaking, but there were multi-generational families gathered as well. Most of the hymns I recognized, so I followed along while those gathered sang.

During the meet-and-greet portion of the service, I ran into a guy I have known for a very long time. I talked to him about how long he had been going to that church (as I know him from a church we once attended together). He told me he had been attending there for close to 3 years, and he liked it better than the church we used to attend together because he much preferred reading the KJV only and he liked hymn books over Powerpoint slides.

The message Pastor Hemphill gave that Sunday was on contrition, that is repentance. It was a good message in and of itself, but at times the language found in the KJV threw me off; not that it was off-putting, it’s just not my lingua franca and consequently I got lost in a sea of thee’s and thou’s.

After the service, my friend Rameel met with the pastor because he had some questions. While I don’t know the full nature of their discussion, I was greatly encouraged by pastor Hemphill taking time out to talk to my friend. During this time I talked to Rameel and my mutual friend, and she filled me in on some addition in’s-and-outs of the church, I was encouraged to find out more from her.

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While my views differ from what’s presented at Valley Baptist Church, I was greatly pleased by the hospitality of those my friend and I met, especially by pastor Hemphill. It’s one thing to have doctrines, theological perspectives, and beliefs, but it’s entirely a different thing to put them into practice. What I observed and experienced firsthand was practice over doctrine, and that has made all the difference to me.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Theological arguments [are no longer part of my framework]

I was raised to believe that you have to know what you believe in order to believe.

I was raised to think that the answers mattered, and if one was lacking answers you better out those answers QUICK, or else (although I never found out what the “or else” scenario presented, “back sliding” perhaps?)

And I was good at learning about God, about the bible, about church history, et al. I could present sound arguments as to why I believed what I believed, and consequently I built this wall around myself- whether it was to keep myself in or others out, I think the answer to this is yes.

I knew the songs, I knew the bible verses, I was the Babe Ruth of bible baseball (questions ranged from easy / single to hard / home run).

The thing is, at that time in my life I equated knowing with believing, and thus my faith was secure as I thought it had to be.

But the funny thing is,
life happened.

Life happened to me in general, but the more definitive marks on my mortal coil were and have been the friendships and relationships I have invested my time and energy into. As my bro Ben says; “it’s not about stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s about expanding it” and I realize that’s what did it for me.

I also realized that arguments, and a “locking down” of one’s beliefs to assert what you believe can be a futile endeavor. Sure you can speak of God, but you can’t speak on God’s behalf. If anything, the more you learn about God the less you know (a beautiful paradox I find to be true). Mere words are drops of water in the ocean, no one has an upper hand in the God market.

I realize that when people are faced with new twists and turns in life, we can either resist or embrace what comes our way, mainly people who are different than ourselves. Living in our day and age, I don’t think it is possible to be completely closed off from whomever is the “other”, and so we will face the crossroads of resist/embrace.

So what does this look like to my system of faith? I’d say that when it comes to matters of God, theology, and everything in between, I hold it all with open hands. I am adaptable, I allow myself to be challenged, I allow myself to think for myself, I allow questions and doubts to swim about in my mind, I allow myself to take things in and leave things out.
Admittedly I’ve been accused of changing my mind and perspective on a variety of things, and I’m not worried in the slightest because I hold to the notion that the close I am in touch with my humanity and divinity, the humanity and divinity of others, the closer I am to God. “Closer” but nowhere close, and still I partake in learning and doing what I can to be the best possible follower of Christ I can be.

We as the human race are all trying to get through this life together, so please be kind and be loving to each other in this journey.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

transplant, but don’t cut, your roots; an open letter to new Christians

https://nathanaelvitkus.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/c79d5-10723910_909369172425404_934437676_n.jpg

Recently I found out about an event where some former Muslims turned Christians talked about their experiences and how they became followers of Christ/Isa Al-Masih. When they were asked questions about Islam they chose to focus on some of the negative aspects they found within Islam, they also perpetuated some fear based around Sharia law and Islamic fundamentalism especially in the area of it coming to the United States of America.

***

Fundamentalist ideals and views can be found all over, and not solely in religious forms. So to get worked up about the minority in Islam is rather foolish, because focusing on this may lead to fear, and fear is a horrible way to live out one’s life. Sure be proactive, but don’t be foolish.

Also there’s the nature of followers of Islam, they have dreams and ideals for their families and community at large, they have values that benefits all. I have some Muslim friends and I’ve been to the local mosque on more than one occasion and for a while last year I was learning about Islam 101 through the local mosque and I received nothing but love and hospitality. While some skeptics might say they were being nice to me because it was their intention to convert me to Islam, that this was the sole reason why they were being nice, I beg to differ; I used to bullshit others (for many reasons) and I can tell you this, you can’t bullshit a bullshitter (past or present) and the love and hospitality I received at the mosque was genuine.

***

So this message is primarily intended by new Christians, and here’s what I have to say. Transplant your roots if you do, but don’t hack away at them. The time you were oriented in another religious direction or even if you had no previous religious direction was not spent in vain. The process I kind of mentally go through in any new situation or direction is examining my past, learning from it, and essentially “eat the meat, spit out the bones”. One of my more recent favorite authors (Ian Morgan Cron) spoke at my church last year and I got the chance to talk to him privately about his book, and how I appreciated it but more to the point I could relate to it. He listened exceedingly well and responded in 3 words:
nothing is wastedin regards to where I’ve been in this life. It stuck deep and it is still something I dwell on, and I recognize this can be placed on pretty much any experience life throws our way. nothing is wasted, there’s always something to learn from and grow on when we transplant our roots.

***

So if you’re entering a new job, becoming part of a new religion, or anything else that matter, I hope you’re able to glean from where you’ve come from to become a better you where you’re at with what you’ve gone through and/or where you’ve come from.

~Nathanael~

One river, many streams; I love theology (and so can you!)

https://nathanaelvitkus.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/a7cf0-braided_drainage.jpgTheology is defined as, according to dictionary dot com, “the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity.” I agree with this definition, and more to the point, I love theology.
The thing is, theology isn’t limited to terms solely in the here and now, but across the entire expanse of human history! With that being said I enjoy learning about theologians had to say across that expanse of time. From the early years of the church; the desert fathers and mothers in their self-imposed cloistering away from community brought so much to their community (not how I would handle things, but it worked for them) to more modern contemporaries such as Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, Brian Mclaren, Frank Schaeffer, Rachel Held Evans.

Yet I also look for truth of who God is from individuals outside of my faith tradition because I truly believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that grace and beauty reflect creation as well as Creator so the universe of theology is that much more bigger as a result. I also look for God’s truth in varied mediums apart from what people have said and what people have written, but also what people have created, what people have drawn. It is humbling for me to be in the presence of others and where they have found God and decided to share it with others, it also leaves me enamored and grateful for God making God’s self known in so much of creation. And with that in mind all someone has to do is be receptive to seeing / experiencing God to find God, although there are times where I “see” or “experience” God in a limited way, as Nadia Bolz-Weber put it- “I once was blind, and now can see’: it’s more like, ‘I once was blind and now I have really bad vision’.

You might be wondering, how can I love theology? Well, I would say since the streams are many, find one of interest to you! There’s queer theology, feminist theology, process theology, liberation theology, et al. Maybe you connect with one because where you’re at now, and if you happen to jump into another stream as it were, there is space and grace to do that…progressing and evolving is all part of the process, and I’m led to believe that God doesn’t want us to be a stagnant stream, to state out loud or not that “this is what I believe in, this is what I have faith in, this is what I doubt about…” Sure there might be some things we carry over to the new steam we’re in, but I encourage eating the meat, chewing the fat, but spitting out the bones.

~Nathanael~

P.S. Here are some resources:
Queer Theology
Feminist Theology
Process Theology
Liberation Theology