Like Jesus

“You smiled at me like Jesus to a child.” ~George Michael

I’ve read the Bible more times than I’d care to admit, and definitely more than people who only know me tangentially would surmise. That’s because I hardly ever quote it, because you would never find me anywhere near a church, and because I don’t go from door to door proselytizing. Someone asked me the other day if I was religious, and I found myself saying no.

“I’m spiritual. Not religious.”

What’s the difference? That’s the simple part. Religious means tied up and twisted with organized religion, and whether or not the church I grew up instilled in me strong principles, I don’t think I’ve ever been religious. When we’re young our parents push us in certain directions, or we feel like we should follow those paths because of them, but one thing that always stuck out to me about faith was that it’s a personal thing. So, no matter how many people push you in a direction, it’s not your “way” unless you independently choose it.

And I have chosen more than once, since I’ve become an adult, to avoid organized religion. I’ve seen how so many faiths have no separation from the wide world, how often they don’t adhere to their own teachings, and how deep the divide is between members of the faith. I’ve seen the bickering and infighting, the dissensions and jealousy, and the ostracizing nature of many organized religions when it comes to those who are not “of the faith.” Continue reading “Like Jesus”

A Silent Prayer

A silent prayer
Thoughtfully applied
Yet condescending
In its attitude
Tearful in solitude
And full of pity
This sweet salvation
Attuned melancholy
Wistful in its keening
Yet serving purpose
On bended knee
Eyes turned inward
Like spinning plates
This delicate balance
Light across lips
Tender in supplication
To a supplicant god
Who cannot hear.

Sam

Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Questioning

faith-does-not-eliminate-questions-but-faith-knows-where-to-take-them-589980I guess we all go through our lives thinking that others know what we’ve gone through, assuming that our experiences are tacked up on our faces like so many notices on a board, or at least we don’t really think about where others come from so we assume the same when it comes to them. Regardless, the time comes when we get close enough to another person that we feel the need to explain, when all the questions come, the excitement of getting to know another person’s history.

When I first met the woman who would become my wife I remember the first question was, “What exactly is Seventh-Day Adventism?” and I had a hard time answering it past the obvious “We went to church on the seventh day instead of the first.” Then I really took the time to think about it, something I realized I had never truly done before, and the answers weren’t coming easily. It made me think of that quote I’ve often used on others: “Always question everything because the answers might surprise you.” So I dug deep and I told her Seventh-Day Adventism is the belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ, in the faith that God never changed his holy day, in the confirmation of the miracle of immaculate conception, and in the promise that God will come again to save us from ourselves.

Of course that seemed like a pat answer, like one I had rehearsed more than once, like propaganda from God-fearing folk to explain Him to the unwashed masses, and it felt like mud coming from my mouth. But it was the answer, for better or for worse, because it was what I had heard time and again while going to church, the “party line,” if you would. So when I thought about it, really thought deeply, it was all I could come up with, which was a sad commentary not just on my upbringing in the church, but also on my lack of understanding and depth of something I was supposed to be expert at.

It wasn’t about others from the outside asking questions. It should have always been about me asking questions from within, so I wasn’t merely going through the motions. But I had been going through the motions, toeing the “party line,” and understanding exactly nothing. I realized I needed to do some research, some real research, not just going to the SDA website or simply listening to the pastor preach it from the pulpit. It had to be real to me so that I could make it real to someone else who hadn’t been there with me from the start, who hadn’t gone to Sabbath School, and church every Saturday, and Vespers every Saturday night, and Vacation Bible School every summer. So I went back to the beginning, for me anyway — my mother.

Say what I would about my mother, I could never deny her complete devotion to the church, but I had never asked her any of the questions that I should have growing up, back when I was blindly following the religion by rote and not by faith. When I went to visit her one time while I was back in Philadelphia we had the talk we probably should have had when I was younger, and I asked her pretty much every question I never knew the real answers to, the ones that were most difficult because they were most essential. You have to understand, it physically pained me to admit that I didn’t know, to let anyone else know that what I had in the church had been built on shaky ground, not on a true understanding of my faith.

That’s what it comes down to, she told me by way of an answer to my biggest question, the understanding that even though it’s a religion it’s at its base about the individual, not the collective. Seventh-Day Adventism, according to her, is a connection of individuals who believe in God, who believe that he will come again in glory, but who also believe that their individual connection with that God is paramount above all else. It’s not about the song and dance, and no one else need know where you stand, because God knows, and that’s all that matters. It’s not about being demonstrative, even though many Christians believe that “works” are most important. It’s about the questions and the answers, and not from you to others, but from you to God. Wow, that blew my mind, to think that the whole time I thought it had been about appearances when it should have been the exact opposite.

And I knew I had to start living what I preached, that I had to question everything, whatever I built my foundations on first and foremost though, because building on shaky ground is never a quality proposition, and not understanding where you come from and what makes you YOU is inexcusable.

Sam

Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist Archive

The Space Between

11-wharariki-beach-the-space-between-b“But this time, Jesus, how can I be sure I would not lose my follow through between the altar and the door?” ~Casting Crowns

There is a space between spirituality and religion. It is the space that I inhabit.

Ask most peopleĀ  and they can tell you where they stand on religion. There are 4 options really…

  1. The Highly Religious. These are the folks who go to church every week like clockwork. They are the “names” in the church, the ones who always help out with services, with seeking offering, with outreach. When people think of prominent church members these people always come up in the discussion. They believe so strongly in their own religion that they think people who aren’t in it are going to hell.
  2. The Lukewarm Religious. These people do not believe in going to church in order to commune with God. Sometimes they go for whatever reason, probably for mostly social reasons. They are often mentioned during prayer group and prayer circles because either they used to be highly religious or they’ve been pegged as possibly getting there if they just get more prayer oin their behalf.
  3. The Non-Religious. On Easter these proud few aren’t even in a church, anywhere. In fact, for them Easter is simply about a bunny, if that, and that’s okay with them. Usually the folks who fit here are the ones who have been disillusioned by church and by church folk. They disagree with the teachings of religion so they don’t follow them at all. They may be highly spiritual but it’s their own definition they subscribe to, and it’s their own rules they follow.
  4. The Proudly Atheist. Have you ever noticed that you generally know when there are atheists around? That’s because for the most part they like to advertize, which is just fine. They’re proud of their belief in things other than God. They have no place for traditional religion because it all revolves around God, and that’s not their bent.

Then there’s spirituality, the belief in a higher power, that the soul is more important than the body and needs to be nourished just as the body needs to be nourished. The options for someone who is spiritual are legion. Being spiritual can mean…

  • Aspiring to a deeper understanding of the universe and our place in it
  • Challenging accepted norms about who we are as individuals
  • Focusing on a higher power who can help us grow and change
  • Communing with that higher power as we see fit
  • Nourishing the soul through meditating in some way, shape, or form

Being spiritual is a state of mind while being religious is a state of belief. Religion revolves around a central meeting place for people who share those same beliefs, be it a physical or mental place. Spirituality focuses instead on the individual, and not the group, on redefining as we go along, just us and the higher power, whatever or whoever that happens to be. Keep in mind these are all my opinions. You could be both highly religious and highly spiritual, but I think it would have to be extremely difficult to be both. I think most people do fall in the space between the two.

And I’m comfortable being there. It means I don’t define myself by any church’s rules, but I do commune with God and strive to be better than I am, to understand my soul and my final destination in an ever-changing world that has many more questions than it has answers.

Sam

God is Just Like Me

“Yeah, I found God and he was absolutely just like me. He opened my mouth, looked down my throat, and told me I was thirsty.” -Ed Kowalczyk

I thought I knew who God was, back when I was little. My parents taught me to pray to this supreme being, this ruler of the universe. They taught me that God was always there for me, that He answered my prayers, even if sometimes the answer was no, or wait. And I couldn’t wrap my brain around someone who wasn’t able to be seen, who didn’t speak to me like my friends spoke to me, but they told me that He was my best friend, and that He was to be honored at all times, through my actions and through my words.

The first time I said a bad word I thought God was going to knock me dead right there on the spot. And when I snuck out to the movies with my sister against His teachings, I thought the world was going to come crashing down on my head, because not only did my parents teach me that God was there for me, but they told me that He was also firm.

Of course the Bible did nothing to dispel either one of these primary assertions, either. In the Old Testament the God I saw was unyielding, the firm God that was liable to strike me down for swearing or for sneaking out to the movies. While in the New Testament the God I saw was represented by his “son,” Jesus Christ, who was for the most part non-violent and spoke in a quiet but effective voice. Which one was the real God, the tough one who took no guff, or the one who was slow to anger and who believed in second chances? They were both supposed to be, but I could never reconcile it.

Interestingly enough, no one else could reconcile it for me either. And I asked everyone. What I did get from all the searching was that God is simply unfathomable, in both who He is and in why He does what He does. Simply put, that means don’t question Him or His motives because we will never know. I found it ironic, though, because God supposedly gave us free will, and a questioning nature, but when it comes to Him we aren’t ever going to know. And we should be alright with that. Apparently.

“I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for his reputation if he didn’t.” -Jules Renard

For a while I honestly didn’t know if God existed. I bought into the whole idea that people wouldn’t be dying in Ethiopia or Chicago if there was a God who truly cared about them, that women wouldn’t be raped, and that there would be no hardships in life. If there were a God, and if that God honestly loved everyone as the good book says, then why did bad things happen to good people? And it all came back to free will. Continue reading “God is Just Like Me”

Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Going Home

“There is no past. Only present. And future.” -Theodicus

There’s a saying that you can never go home again, and I believe wholeheartedly in it. Not that you can’t go back to the physical place, but that you can’t go back to how you used to fit into that space. That’s important for a world of reasons, but the biggest one is that there is something to be said for nostalgia, once that distance has been forged, that connects us back to that time period, and to who we were at the time.

So many people have memories of their childhoods, be they good or bad, that they come back to in one way or another. For me that childhood was a solid mix of the good and the bad. But whichever sentiment clouds my memories, it’s safe to say that every single one of those thoughts involves my religious upbringing. In fact, just today I was singing “Jesus Loves Me” while at work, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I was on the second verse.

My mother used to always ask me to go to church with her every single time I went back to Philadelphia for a visit. I could hear it in her voice, too, that emotion that said I was doing a horrible thing saying no, but there was also that feeling of sadness. And I knew that she wasn’t just asking me to go to church. She was wondering where she went wrong, that I would so fully abandon the church that pretty much raised me nearly as much as she herself did.

But what I wanted to tell her was that it was never her, that she hadn’t done anything wrong. Continue reading “Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Going Home”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: