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

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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~

Feeding those who are hungry as a spiritual exercise; day 6 of Ramadan

Be kind to parents, and the near kinsman, and to orphans, and to the needy, and to the neighbor who is of kin, and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and to the companion at your side, and to the traveler, and to [slaves] that your right hands own. Surely God loves not the proud and boastful such as are niggardly, and bid other men to be niggardly, and themselves conceal the bounty that God has given them. Qur’an 4.36-37

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and the poor, in the land. Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Day 6 of Ramadan’s Suhur was good. I made myself a garlic, zucchini, and egg combination that I put in a flour tortilla that was awesome / healthy / and was a good source of protein! I enjoyed watching the sunrise yet again (it doesn’t get boring to me in the slightest!) and then I got ready for work.
Work was good, it zipped by in the best of ways; I walked quite a bit with my students and I also helped out in the garden. Speaking of the garden, I absolutely love seeing gardens growing flowers and food. In the garden at my work we have some swiss chard, green peppers, red peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and green beans! I slightly salivated at the things growing that are so healthy and nutritious…but since I’m fasting, I just offered up a quick thanks to God for food and watching it grow.

After work I took some time to meditate and reflect on the nearing first week of Ramadan. I am not as hungry as I thought I would be in partaking in Ramadan, despite having meals spread apart by 15.5 hours (at least). This time of fasting has helped me at becoming more in tune with God, others, and myself. At times because of the clarity of it all I have a bit of sensory overload; colors appear to be brighter, sounds clearer and a bit louder, etc. It has been a worthwhile goal and has served me well thus far.

This evening I joined several guys I know for a night of helping prepare meals that we measure out, seal, box, and prepare to be sent out across the world! Feed My Starving Children is an awesome tangible way in which to feed children around the world.

It was great and I was psyched to be a part of the process. I’ve done this event before with these guys and I dig every moment of it. My goal for the night was to work hard but play hard too; the latter came in the form of me yelling / motivating those around me as well as the guys I was with, I may have been a bit over the top but it was all worthwhile.

It was encouraging to me to see a lot of young children helping out as well. Social Justice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, listening and being with people is what I like to do. Not necessarily in times that qualify as “spare time” but whenever I can wherever I’m at, because in doing so I serve God when I serve my fellow human being.

The hour and a half that we were there went by very quickly as it often does. We cleaned up, prayed over the food we were sending and for the receipients of said food, and we were done. Next time at Feed My Starving Children can’t get here soon enough!

So with all that being said, feeding those who are hungry were my keywords on this 6th day of Ramadan. Thanks me to God for providing us with food. May we learn to share what we have with our brothers and sisters who are in need because we DO have abundance and we should be willing to feed those who are in need. Thank you for our daily bread, and thank you for life to serve you and tend to the needs of others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Being flexible in life in community as a spiritual exercise; day 2 of Ramadan

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Yesterday marked the second day of Ramadan, and honestly the time spent fasting wasn’t all that difficult. I started the morning not so bright but early (pre-dawn) with a protein enriched shake and time to pray. It was peaceful and calm as I sat in my apartment and watched the sun rise into the sky. I thanked God for the shake and I thanked God for the beauty of a new day teeming with possible possibilities, and a chance to go to work and make a difference in the lives of others.
It was a good work day and some of my coworkers and students found out about me participating in Ramadan, I politely answered their questions to the best of my ability, and then one of my favorite students chimed in how he wanted to copy me and fast but with the intentions of losing weight rather than as a spiritual practice. And if a month wasn’t long enough, he said he wanted to fast for 2 months!
I didn’t lose my cool, but I did get a little angry with him because his intentions are wrong. He also happens to be a skinny dude already, so to lose weight on top of his already skinny frame would put his health in jeopardy. God I really hope he doesn’t start fasting.

After work, I took time to invest more time in prayer with God. I slowed myself down both physically but also spiritually, to get in tune with myself, to find my center, but also express from the truest parts of me what’s been going on to God. It seems in my times of connecting with God by way of prayer, life seems to pause and slow down in a good way, and given that prayer is communication to God why wouldn’t I want to talk to God!
I also was a bit tired so I also took a nap. Truth to be told, I am a big fan of naps; if I take a 40 minute nap I will be set for the rest of the day. And so, I napped for a while, and then I received a text from my bro Tim if I’d like to join him for Prairie Fest (local shindig in our town) and out of flexibility and wanting to hang out with him, I did! Because of some unforeseen events that came to be we got there later than expected, and yet I rolled with it.
I do find myself to be a very flexible person when it comes to plans in the heat of the moment, but if something is scheduled in advance and that day comes and the event is cancelled, I am thrown for a loop and I take it too personally. Still, being flexible in life in community was a bit difficult for me due to small waves of hunger pangs that engulfed my stomach.

But life rolled on and then it was time to eat! I was thankful to God for life in community as well as the salad I had, which nourished me and sustained me. My mind and heart returned to my center and I was able to brush off the bad vibes I had for things not turning out like I thought they would, and gratitude burst forth from every atom of my being.

So with all that being said, community / flexibility were my keywords on the second day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Provider of Community, for friendship and fellowship with people I love the most.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

P.S. Here are some pretty great links I found:

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Ramadan
Ramadan Etiquette Guide: How to be a Non-Muslim During the Holy Month
5 Ways Fasting in Ramadan Improves Your Faith

I am torn between grief and rage

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Last week at the small group I attend I found out from a guy who serves at the soup kitchen I used to that one of the regulars was murdered. He was shot down in cold blood.
This guy was no stranger to me, for he was a regular. He was hearing impaired, and so we’d communicate by writing notes to each other. As we got to know each other better, I found out that he loved birds (he once brought in a photo album of his budgies). He also had a sister that he did a lot of activities with.

It grieves me that he has passed away & it fills me with rage given the circumstances of his passing. I’ve both emotions under control but I admit it has taken a bit out of me because he didn’t deserve to leave this life like that. When our time is up, that’s that, but really? Gunning someone down in cold blood? It bothers the hell out of me when people take the lives of others; whether in times of war or 1:1 scenarios like these I can’t shrug it off easily.

I’m going to have to wrestle this one out with God, she and I need to talk it out…strongly and honestly…with one another. I hope I get some peace from this tragedy, I hope his family gets some peace as well.

~Nathanael~

Getting naked with the neighbors

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Disclaimer; no actual removing-of-the-clothes nakedness took place. But rather, removing-of-social-norm-bullshit as to what to talk about and what not to talk about.  There was conversation, there was healing, there was life in community in many shapes and forms. To God be the glory!

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Earlier this week my bro invited me to hang out with him to watch the first U.S. game of the World Cup. It was a great game! The first goal by the U.S. in less than 30 seconds from the start! We went back to his place and shortly thereafter “the neighbors” (as they are, but I am not putting out their names.) invited us over to hang out with them, so we did.

They introduced us to their kids, their friends and their kids, and we hung out with them…to 2am in the morning! But here’s the thing, we…”the neighbors”, my bro, and I…quickly transcended the social parameters of what to talk about in the early stages of friendships and relationships. I have described this before in my posts as “transparency begets transparency”, the notion that sometimes people in our lives open up if we make the first move. That we, so guarded in our thoughts and feelings with those around us, almost knee-jerkedly respond to how-are-you’s with “fine” and “good” answers, and yes sometime it is fine and good, but sometimes isn’t all the time.

I bring up “naked” because I like the imagery found in Genesis 2:25

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame”

Naked…no shame…While there is probably truth to them being naked in the no clothes sense, I also grasp that it also means being honest, being transparent, being visible warts and all and being comfortable enough to open up on that level. Sure, Adam and Eve probably didn’t have a lot of “dirt” on them as we do some…many years…later, but still, they were naked and felt no shame.

My bro and I hung out with “the neighbors” and this beautiful thing happened. They wanted to know of our lives, what we do, and it got personal and I admit I was skeptical/panicking/worried when it started going this way. I want this in my life, but I get scared about being not liked after I open up, I get hung up on my own issues and I keep people at a distance- especially people I barely know, but I gave in with hope and internal prayer, I jumped into the deep end of the pool. And you know what? I didn’t hit the bottom, I didn’t crack my head open, I survived and I found myself floating.
I also realize that my bro and “the neighbors” were floating too, that they experienced the deep end of conversation and it was alright to bare a lot and they felt no shame. It was true and authentic life in community, and maybe paired with the shared desire for connectedness that’s why we invested life with one another until the wee hours of the morning.

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We left and I shared with my bro that I have not connected with my neighbors like that at ALL (and I’m approaching nearly a year of being in my apartment), and I had some reasons why, but I also know that I am a factor into that as well. I bring this back to me before I dispense the advice of living and being in community with those around you because I need to be the change I want to see, I need to foster the community I want and hope for the best. I occasionally ask people who have a good sense of living in community what they do, how they do it, et al. because I realize I have good ideas but I can always glean more from others (that’s what I love about learning). It is my plan to be more diligent in fostering community with those around me, both in my subdivision but also within my church. I know I can do it, and having the propensity to be a part is half the battle. My bro and “the neighbors” spoke to my mind as well as my soul, it was invigorating and I look forward to once again jumping into the deep end of the pool, to be naked and feel no shame, with my neighbors in community.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael