Like visiting your Home Church

I didn’t grow up Christian, but for those who did, the experience of leaving home and eventually returning to visit, including a Sunday morning spent in your home church, is probably familiar. For most everyone I know, they left home to go to college, so in theory they became more educated, and along the way they generally became less conservative, began to enjoy a different style of worship, and generally identified less and less with their home church. Returning brings a mix of emotions, from peace and security that carried over to childhood, to trepidation and anxiety about being accepted after having changed so much, and maybe some frustration or bitterness that the home church hasn’t changed. It’s a weird combination of joy and fear and nostalgia.

That’s what I felt last night listening to the Mixtapes last night at Patton Alley. That music was my safe space when I was in junior high and high school, and the alternative and punk rock of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s gave me permission to stop caring what other people thought, to become my own person, and choose the type of life I wanted to live. Listening to a lot of my old favourite songs last night, none of which I had heard performed live before (and the band was awesome and did a fantastic job), was my version of visiting the home church. The nostalgia brought a mix of peace and joy mixed with sadness and loss.

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Tennessee Mosque Building Site Burned

Construction had just begun on a worship center for Muslims in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, when arsonists decided to play vigilante and draw the nation’s attention. The arsonists soaked several pieces of construction equipment with gasoline and lit them, destroying one of the pieces of construction equipment and damaging others.

There are a few points that strike me as alternately ridiculous and hopeful.

Spike in Hostility

The center had operated for years out of a small business suite. Planning members said the new building, which was being constructed next to a church, would help accommodate the area’s growing Muslim community.

“We unfortunately did not experience hostilities for the 30 years we’ve been here and have only seen the hostility since approval of the site plan for the new center,” said Sbenaty.

The Muslims here are not newcomers to the community. They’ve been there for thirty years, working and serving and living amongst everyone else. A generation has been raised there.

And who committed the terrorist act? Who burned stuff? It wasn’t the evil Islamic, it was the Christians.

Muslims Support Sharia Like Catholics Support Contraception

“They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group,” Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area, told The Associated Press.

Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators who recently wore “Vote for Jesus” T-shirts and carried signs that said “No Sharia law for USA!,” referring to the Islamic code of law.

Sharia ((I’m not sure what a good source about Sharia would be, so I can’t refer you anywhere to learn more about it. Normally I’d point to Wikipedia, but their article has several warnings up top that it might not be balanced, so I suspect people have been vandalizing it to project their fears and incorrect assumptions into the article. Read it with reservation, and feel free to comment below if you have any questions–I’ll be happy to answer as in-depth as I am able.)) is the Islamic law that supersedes a nation’s law. Iran is founded on Sharia law, making it a theocracy, and many worry that Muslims want to quietly and subtly establish Sharia in non-Muslim countries so they can take over those countries.

Switzerland banned minarets because they were symbols of Sharia to the Swiss, but mosques, worship centers, and Muslims in general are still allowed within the country. What’s more, not all Muslims view Sharia the same way. For some, it is a law for the individual, much like a Christian might hold themselves to the laws of the Bible. And where the Sharia contradicts the United States law, many ignore Sharia.

It’s the inconvenient part of the scriptures that no longer matches our day-to-day life, so just like Christians ignore laws against wearing cloth made from multiple types of fabric or some Catholics still use contraception despite the Pope’s edicts, many Muslims ignore the parts of Sharia that would make life untenable in the USA.

We don’t assume Christians are murderous, cotton-blend hating psychopaths. We didn’t blame the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on a conspiracy hatched by Jews and Christians to kill all shellfish. So why do we assume, with absolutely no proof, that all Muslims want to overthrow our government and institute a theocracy?

This Country Wasn’t Based On Our Christianity

“No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don’t want it. I don’t want them here,” Evy Summers said to WTVF. “Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity.”

If the pilgrims were to see us, they wouldn’t claim us as Christians. We would be heretics to them in every sense of the word.

People go on and on about the founding fathers, who had complex and varied approaches to faith, but we don’t seem to look back any further these days. Yeah, our country was founded (in many ways) by Christians. But they also built in a protection of other religions–without that protection, the Quakers would have had no place in New York, and the Catholics would have never been let in the country.

People aren’t setting fire to Jewish synagogues, so why are they setting fire to Islamic mosques? I could advance some theories, but I’ll keep quiet on that point for now. ((Here at the end, let me share my own frustration-filled assumptions. There are always insecure, ignorant, hateful people in this world. Quakers, Catholics, Irish, Jews, Blacks, etc. have all been targeted by these type of people. Muslims are just the latest and currently easiest target for their hate, and their hate is based on insecurity with their own beliefs and superiority.

It’s a conflict of religious theory. The Christian stance is that their religion is Right, but Islam came along after Jesus and said Christians got it wrong. And if Muslims are living comfortably in our neighbourhoods, working and raising families and worshiping as they wish, what does that say about their religion? Perhaps there’s something worthwhile there after all…

But that thought is anathema. Easier to spew hate and burn stuff than answer for your own faith or lack thereof.))

So what’s hopeful about all this?

The ATF, FBI and Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office are conducting a joint investigation into the fire, Anderson said.

Our national authorities take this stuff seriously. During the Civil Rights Movement, there was state and federal sanction, or at least looking-the-other-wayness, about hate crimes and such. While we may have some vitriolic senators and representatives who parrot the ignorance of their constituents, we have institutionalized protections for people who have been targeted in these ways.

I am confident we will come through this period of gross stupidity and the people trying to oppress others will move on. They’ll die out, get over it, or forget why they ever cared.

But that’s little comfort for those who are suffering now. For them we should pray that they be kept safe, protected, and free.

Pray for our neighbors, both the hate-mongers (that love would fill them and change their actions) and for the oppressed.

Where Does My Help Come From?

I suppose I know what the hymn means, but it didn’t feel right to me. Maybe I misinterpreted the song, but I feel like my heart was in the right place.

I don’t know what the writer meant
who wrote,

I lift up my eyes to the hills
Where does my help come from
My help comes from the Lord
Maker of Heaven and earth

but I know, oh God, my help
doesn’t come from mountains,
from idols or altars.
It’s not sent in gratitude or trade.
Sacrifice matters less when I can’t atone
for what I’ve done.

My help comes from you
who dwells on no mountain,
whose house sits on no hill.
Maker of heaven and earth, you rest
on the seventh day, not to sate
your weariness, but ours.
You recline not on a couch
or bed, but on the very stars.

We can’t conceive, oh God,
we can’t capture you with our minds,
our imaginations.
But I know you’re not there
on that mountain.
I know because you’re here
with me.

Redefining 100%

The doctor said I’ll never be 100%,
my broken clavicle holding me back,
slowing me down–can’t raise
my arms, my hands, can’t lift
as much, but God,

I can still raise my hands to you
palms open, waiting
for you to take them, biceps
lifted clear of fallen sleeves,
fingers pointing at your glory.

I can still write my praises of you
eyes closed and fingers tapping
in time to your music, elbows
resting on the chair you gave me,
worship appearing on the screen.

I can still stamp my feet for you,
each beat a prayer entering the floor,
heels bouncing while your strength
helps me stand. I dance
my praise for your name.

I’m not 100%, I’m 150.
And if I have to hold the bone
to lift my arm, I will. If I
must sit to rest, I shall,
but I’ll always rise again to you.

Why I Hate Special Music

We were leaving the Vineyard last Sunday and it hit me: there had been no “special music.” There had not, in fact, been special music any Sunday we’d been there, and I hadn’t missed it at all. Truth be told, it was wonderful.

“Special Music” is that awkward point in the church service where you aren’t actively worshiping or learning, and everyone sits down so they can hear someone or a small group of people (or the whole choir, whatever) sing for a while. It’s generally passive, unless your church is the sort that claps along, and it is not uncommon for this to come during the time of putting-money-int0-a-plate/basket.

Because I love worship, singing, and music (and though I use those three words consecutively, I do not mean to imply that they are synonymous), I always hate times of special music. It feels like I’ve been told to sit down and shut up, to stop worshiping, and to enjoy the concert they’re putting on.

I get that the person(s) involved in the special music aren’t generally that vainglorious, but I do question whether such times are edifying to the church body. Recognizing that we all worship somewhat differently, I think participatory worship is, at the least, the way to go. And though special music is often a bit of a stretch from our usual worship fare, I have never seen any reason that the congregation can’t be participating in it.

Why shouldn’t we be stretched in worship? Why shouldn’t we be pushed beyond the normal songs we sing or know? Why should participation be discouraged as we’re all told to sit down and listen? I’d rather stand, sing, stamp my feet and raise my hands, and worship the Lord.

After all, He’s the reason I’m here, not the music or the singer.

Hold my Hand

The first of many prayers I’m going to post here as a regular feature. While singing “Invitacion Fountain” on Sunday morning, I found myself thinking, “I would follow you Lord, but I need you to take me by the hand…”

“If you lead me Lord, I will follow
where you lead me Lord, I will go.”
I mean it God–I won’t sing empty words–
but I don’t follow through. I’m too weak, too

pitiful to give you my life. No excuse
because you have been my lamp, my light
your Word my guide and map, and after all
I hear your voice. Yet still I fail.

I need you Lord, more than ever. More than
I did before I first heard your Son, I need
you to take my hand, to pull my arm hard,
to drag me behind you as you walk. I feel

like trash asking, asking, never satisfied
after all you’ve done, but I cannot climb,
nor swim, nor even see the stars. Terrible,
terrible, I can’t do this on my own…

Pouring out my heart
in song, dancing my prayers,
I can dream of strength, of crowns cast before you,
and I beg, “Come and heal me Lord, I will follow.”

I will follow you.

Unapologetic

The back porch was screened with bamboo shades that descended along its sides like nature’s blankets, smooth and serenely complacent as if they had always rested there. Little light was available, but we had gone past the point of reading our Bibles and were conversing about something or other. The details of our evenings on that porch are hazy for me, but I recall the long drive west of Springfield to reach their home, the awkward feelings in my throat because I knew so few names, and the hesitant way I would smile at people and they might smile back as we talked briefly about God. I mostly just sat and watched.

My head came up when the associate pastor’s son began to speak about authenticity though. His tone caught my attention, and as I looked up, my eyes met his where he was staring at me with a fierce intensity.

“Yeah, some people go up to the front to pray, I guess. But I think there are some who go up there just to show off. Just to be up front so everyone thinks they’re holy and great. It’s all just a show,” he spat derisively, words clipped in a harsh staccato beat.

I felt my world drop out from under me. He was talking about Sunday mornings, where there was a weekly altar call for anyone who felt the need for prayer. They would go up front and those who felt led to do so would join them, praying as they knelt together. God regularly asked me to step forward and pray with people, so I did, but from that moment forward I would question myself and God. I didn’t want people looking down on me or thinking me a phony. I didn’t want to be on the outside yet again.

For the next six years I would struggle with singing in worship, praying with others, or even talking about my faith. I have not overcome that poisoned barb, and for the last six or more years I feel like I have been shrinking away from God.

There was a family with whom I ate lunch after church on Sundays, and one day I mentioned talking with God. He and I have had a very communicative relationship since long before I was Christian, and my salvation experience was similar to that of Saint Thomas, where God was very direct in convincing me of his authenticity. The response from the father of the family, a pastor, took me off guard however. He was jealous and upset. “I have served God for over 30 years,” he said, “and He has never spoken to me! So why would he speak to you?” he asked. From that day on, I would be hesitant to share my faith with others.

The time has come when I must learn to be the man God has made me. God has gifted me extravagantly in a variety of ways, with my health and intellect, my various skills and talents, and with spiritual giftings that He would have me use. I fail God daily when I do not do so.

I have been apologizing for the last six years for my relationship with God. Every time I failed to confront a friend who sinned, I was apologizing for my God’s commandments. Every time I failed to go forward and pray with someone, to raise my hands in worship as the Spirit moved in me, or to seek out the devils that plagued those around me and confront them in power, I failed my Lord. I am done apologizing for my wonderful God or my relationship with him. It is time to be honest.

A friend of mine replied with disbelief when I shared my testimony with him, “I’m sorry, but this just falls outside my worldview.”

“Then you will have to expand your worldview,” I stated, “because it is true.” For those of us who express belief in God Almighty, it is no stretch to believe in angels or devils. And if you can believe in God, his angelic servants, and those who turned from God and were cast from heaven, it is likewise not hard to accept that God has gifted his humanly servants in extraordinary ways. Saint Paul writes of spiritual gifts and expresses that all Christians share these gifts. I am not unique in this.

Nor should I be ashamed. God has freed me from sin, though I often wander from God and stumble over it again and again. What would it be like, I wonder, if I were to live free from this fear of judgment as well? If I were to give it up and stop apologizing for God’s gifts?

My primary gifting from God, or the one with which I am most familiar and comfortable, is that of discernment. It is the gift to discern the spirit of things, be they from God, humanity, or Satan. It is applicable in both testing the veracity of teaching as well as spiritual warfare and the testing of spirits, and I have begun expressing it more often. I feel that God has called me to learn more of him and the Holy Spirit, and to become more faithful, for the times ahead.

Therefore I will be bold. If the Lord is for me, who can be against me?