Archives for category: Spirituality

I mentioned earlier that I helped out with Vacation Bible School at church this week. While the overall experience was positive there was one very surreal and disturbing moment toward the end of the week.

Toward the end of the evening the children’s pastor had everyone sit down and get very quiet. Which is not easy in a room full of 300+ young children but they did reasonably well. He then began explaining in simple terms that we were all sinners and that Christ died for us. That all we needed to do was to ask him to come in to our hearts and we could go to heaven. Then I heard the command: I want all heads bowed and all eyes closed.

From years and years of sitting in fundamentalist churches, revivals and rally meetings I recognized those words. Instantly I felt a strange creeping sensation inside of me. He’s not going to lead these children in the Sinner’s Prayer is he? Sure enough he began reciting the lines and having the children repeat the prayer in their hearts. When he was done he encouraged the children to talk to their leaders about “the very important decision you made tonight to follow Christ.” None of the children in my group approached me – they’d moved on to a discussion of which Power Rangers show is the best.

Call me strange and old-fashioned but I’m not sure what the point was in leading young children in the Sinner’s Prayer. Did they really understand it? Are they prepared to leave all and take up their cross and follow Jesus? Do they even know what it means to be a sinner in need of forgiveness? Maybe yes but I remember how I was at that age and I certainly had no clue.

This smacks again of cheap evangelism. Of “fire insurance” as we used to call it – getting someone “saved” as a way of simply preventing them from going to hell. Of emotionally manipulating someone (in this case rather small and impressionable someones) into making a decision without them being fully aware of what choices they are making. Is this truly the path Jesus wanted us to follow? Is this the way to bring young people into God’s kingdom?

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I’ve been late getting my post out this week. The reason? I’m up to my armpits in 3rd graders. This week is Vacation Bible School at our church. I’m in charge of six 8 year-old boys and have been staying very busy most every evening. The week before VBS I’m filled with dread. I complain that I like my children and dislike everyone else’s. And then I get into the middle of it and find that I’m having a great time and genuinely like the children. Once my brain recovers I’ll have some quasi-intelligent things to say.

And a quick follow-up to my previous post on Promise Keepers. The event has come and gone and I did not attend. While I’m sure it would have provided near-endless material for me to blog grumpily about, I decided in the end that it would be best to sit it out.

They’re already asking men to commit to going next year. *sigh*

There are events in our lives that mark a turning point – our life goes in a different direction afterward. Often we realize the importance as the event is happening but occasionally it doesn’t become clear to us until much, much later. This story falls into the second category.

The first weeks of my freshman year of college were bewildering and unsettling for me. I was overwhelmed by the activity around me, I was homesick and I was overwhelmed by the internal pressure I felt to change the world. In my narcissistic head I believed college was my field to cultivate and I was prepared. Sometime in those first weeks I was flipping through the student newspaper when I saw an advertisement for Planned Parenthood. That was the first domino to fall.

I began composing a letter to the paper. I no longer have a copy of it but it was full of fire, passion and conviction. I railed against Planned Parenthood as an “abortion mill.” I bemoaned the loss of so many unborn babies. And I implored the paper to stop accepting advertisements from such a sinful organization. And I sent it fully believing I was doing the Lord’s work.

You see, at that time you could have found me squarely at the crossroads of self-importance and fundamentalism. It had been drilled into me during the later part of high school that if someone I knew went to hell it was because I let them down. If there were babies being murdered and I didn’t do anything about it then I was a participant in the crime. I would listen to the lyrics of Baby Doe by Steve Taylor and cry as I realized that I did bear the blame and I did share the shame. It was up to me to do something about it.

So I sent the letter fully expecting that the paper would read it, the Planned Parenthood ads would be pulled and I could move on to my next conquest. I was unprepared when they published the letter.

In retrospect I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t have published it. The writings of a religious whack-job certainly had entertainment value. Suddenly my name was known everywhere on campus. I was recognized as an uncompromising crusader for righteousness. Everyone I passed who looked at me knew who I was. They might not have liked me or what I stood for but by God they knew who I was.

Actually that was all in my imagination. I wanted it to be true but I suspect most people forgot about the letter if they read it at all. But in the next issue there were two responses to the letter – one from a Planned Parenthood representative and one from a professor. Both debunked my letter’s assertions calmly and reasonably. I didn’t mind. Someone really did notice my letter and I was itching for a fight. I would respond publicly in the paper with my magnum opus and demolish the strongholds of evil in my college town once and for all.

I began writing my follow-up letter. I was intoxicated with the sense of power. I would spend hours in the library researching Planned Parenthood, abortion procedures and crafting my words carefully. I would imagine the accolades I would receive from fellow Christians when they realized what I had accomplished. Several days later I had finished my masterpiece and I was prepared to unleash it on the world.

I never sent it.

For weeks afterward I was disappointed in myself. I had a chance to do something great and I let it slip away. I initially attributed this to cowardice and tried to mentally move on to something else. But over time it became clearer and clearer to me that my little crusade was not holy. I realized it really had little to do with God and mostly served as a way to maintain my inflated ego. I quietly burned the unsent letter and went on with my life. Once in the library I gave my name to the lady behind the counter and she responded “Oh so you’re the infamous one?” I mumbled something and left as soon as possible. Other than that I tried to forget about the letters and move on.

In retrospect this was one of the most important moments in my life. It clearly marked the beginning of the end of my adolescence and the start of maturity, both emotional and spiritual. Had I sent that second letter my life could have taken a frighteningly different course. By the grace of God it turned out differently.

I still occasionally struggle with grandiosity. Part of that is how I’m put together and part of that is the unhealthy influence of my early faith instruction. However it’s become less and less prominent as time has flowed on. I’m twice as old now and I recall the incident with embarrassment but also with enlightenment. As I’ve become more whole, I’ve sought to develop a healthier faith. It’s become important to me to put away childish things.

Yes, yes. I know. It’s Wednesday so why am I posting?

Maybe you’ve read about Jerry Falwell ranting against the Christian Alliance for Progress. If not, it’s pretty standard stuff. But the truly enjoyable part for me was reading the comments from his followers. My favorites are:

You are preaching aposticy [sic] Cedar Falls, IA You are preaching aposticy [sic]. You cannot claim Christianity. You are lying to people and even if you gain in this world, you lose eternity which is for everyone who accepts Jesus as the one and only way to redemption. I will pray you find your way for you are truely [sic] lost. What really matters in this world is Jesus and not politics.

Especially when your politics don’t agree with the religious right.

Homos [both sic and a sick word] are disgusting Jacksonville, FL You cannot be labled [sic] “Christian” if promote gay rights. Romans 1:26-30 states that homos are the only buncg [sic] that God ever gave up on. Homos are disgusting, God even called them an “Abomination.”

Why is it that these people always know how to spell abomination even if they misspell everything else and cannot form a coherent sentence?

I’ll stop now. The rest are just as fun. Trust me.

Sitting in our adult Sunday School class today we were in a discussion of how the Christian is to strive not to be conformed to the world. Suddenly one of the ladies spoke up that all she had been hearing about for the last week was the new Harry Potter book. She remarked that children on the news were lining up to get the newest book. She was upset that there were Christian families that had actually bought Harry Potter books and let their children read them. She ended her commentary with the statement “I wish ministers all across the country would band together and start preaching against this Harry Potter.”

Because, you see, it’s Harry Potter that is responsible for the downfall of the formerly Christian United States. Not families struggling with divorce, poverty and violence. Not the replacement of true Christian moral authority with Christian political authority. Not any one of a hundred different legitimate worries. Nope it’s a bratty English boy with a scar on his forehead. Sadly her attitude is relatively common among conservative Christians (see “Is Harry Potter Harmless?“)

How many of the people who get their panties in a bunch about Harry Potter have read the books? I’m not certain but I can guess the number is astoundingly low. If they had, they would read about the bonds of family, the importance of fighting evil, the struggles of growth and maturity and, above all, the need for friendship. Scary stuff indeed.

I suspect most people focus only on the magic in the books and react with a knee-jerk fear. I’ll never forget a conversation with a fellow church-goer about going to see The Lord of the Rings movies. He talked about how he wouldn’t take his daughter to go see it. “Oh. Well she might be a bit too young” I replied. He looked me in the eye and stated “No. No one in our family will go see them. They have sorcery in them.” I informed him that they were fantasy books written by a Christian but the discussion was effectively over at that point.

The sad thing is that the “preaching against this Harry Potter” cements in the secular mind that Christians are pushy, uninformed and more concerned about people being exposed to the wrong things than actually loving and living sacrificially.

And for what it’s worth, I liked The Last Temptation of Christ more than The Passion.

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