Learning How Little I Know

study_5932cWhen I decided to register for the Religious Studies program at WKU, I was looking for classes on other religions.  In my somewhat arrogant opinion, I knew all I needed to about Christianity.  I did register for a class called Christianity last semester, thinking it would be an easy A.  When the main subject matter turned out to be about the writings of the early church and the format mostly group discussion, I dropped it.  The readings were difficult and time consuming.  I have a strong dislike for group projects.  I decided I wasn’t going to get enough new or important information from it to be worth the time it was taking.  I am 70 years old.  I’ve attended church all my life.  As a child, our family didn’t just offer thanks at the dinner table.  We had a daily devotional time before we ate every evening.  When my children were growing up, I taught Sunday School and Bible School.  I haven’t memorized the Book.  I cannot quote chapter and verse for random scriptures, but I know what Christianity is all about.  Do you see where this is going?  

Recently I decided that I wanted to make this blog about my spiritual journey.  Not exactly a theological thing.   Not a preachy thing or a missionary thing….more like a witness to the world kind of thing.  I feel I have something to say.  You can agree or disagree, I won’t get upset.  I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone else to see God the same way I do.  I do feel called to try and explain my own experience and where it has led me.  

As a part of the process, I had begun reading Bishop Spong’s, Sins of Scripture, but I got sidetracked.  I began to research the differences between the mainline denominations.  As a result, I have come to the humbling conclusion that I know very little about Christianity.  I know about my own denomination, the church where I grew up.  I know what I’ve come to believe over the years through various study groups and my own personal Bible study, but I know very little about other churches and what they preach.  I know a little bit of the history of the church.  Maybe more than the average person, but not all that I should.  

So, this summer, I am doing independent research and study.  I have purchased several books and I’ve been doing a lot of reading.  At the moment, I’m working on The Dovekeepers, a fictional story about Masada that I borrowed from the library.  I had heard about the refugees from Jerusalem who barricaded themselves into Herod’s stronghold and held off the Roman Army for three years.  Who chose, at the end, to die rather than surrender.  It’s usually thought of as a Jewish story.  The thing is, in 70 BC, Christianity was considered a minor Jewish sect.  So some of the people at Masada were probably Christians, they just weren’t answering to that name yet.   In any case, those early Christians definitely lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and fled as refugees into the surrounding deserts.  To understand ourselves, we need to understand the founding fathers.  Understanding them, requires learning about their history.

I also have The Life and Times of Jesus by Michael J. Ruszala and I plan to review Zealot by Reza Aslan, (a different look at the Historical Jesus) and Kissing Fish by Roger Wolsey both of which I read earlier this year.  But I’m also looking at the differences between Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians.  My Disciples of Christ denomination has roots in all three of them.  I didn’t think there was much difference between the four of us, not like Catholics, Mormons, Pentecostals or dozens of other versions of Christianity.   Maybe there isn’t, but what there is seems critical.  I knew there were people who believe in predestination, but I didn’t know they think God has condemned some of us to hell even before we were born.  These people think there is no hope for the rest of us.  No matter how good we are or how sincere our faith, we cannot be saved.  

I will be delving more into things like this during the next couple of years.  Whenever I have some time to spare.  I also plan to read more of the textbook from the Christianity class I dropped.  At some point in the future, I must also take The Life and Teachings of Paul, although he is not one of my favorite people.  He took over the mission of spreading the word at the foundation of the Church.  Even though I disagree with him, at times, there is no way to understand our roots without taking his viewpoints into account because of his widespread influence.

This is my journey.  I began my courses so that I could speak with authority regarding the connections between all religions.  Before I can accomplish that, I feel that I must come to terms with the disconnects in my own faith family.  I promise to make, at least, one post a month on where I am along the path.  I hope you will find it an interesting trip.

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Searching for the Past

daddyduringWWII-1It’s the anniversary of D-Day and everyone seems to be putting it front and center.  I don’t remember them doing this last year or the year before….I’m not sure I remember it ever being such a high priority.  Maybe it started because of old men with brittle bones indulging is past memories like the one who convinced officials to let him do a re-creation of the jump he made 70 years ago.   Maybe it’s because someone realized those heroes are almost all gone.  I’m not saying it isn’t that important or that we shouldn’t honor those who fought there, just that people seem more involved this year than previously.  Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing.  WWII was definitively “good against evil,” a situation that isn’t always as clear in today’s wars.

All the hullabaloo, plus Father’s Day coming up, got me to thinking about Daddy.  He would have been 101 on the 16th of this month.  He passed away in November of 1979 from lung cancer.  There are times when I miss him still.  Today is one of those times.  I want to talk to him about his service.  He never spoke about that time and I never asked him about it.  Now, I wonder what it was like for him.  Since he never talked about it, I can’t be sure where he was stationed or how involved he was in the fighting.   I do remember one thing he said about the war, “Don’t move when you can be still, don’t stand if you can sit, sleep and eat whenever you get the chance.  You never know how long it will be before you have the opportunity again.”

He joined the army in 1930, when he was only 17 years old.  It was a career for him.  However, he didn’t get to retire from his chosen job because he was given a medical discharge in the draw-down after the war ended.  He had severe ulcers that eventually resulted in surgery.  The doctors said that 3/4 of his stomach was nothing but scar tissue.  He always said it was from the greasy food served at the boarding house in Mississippi where we lived while he was stationed there before he was deployed.  I’ve always thought it was more about sending his soldiers out to be killed.

He was a sergeant in the army.  He wasn’t at Normandy.  I spent some time over the past couple of days calculating where he would have been on that day.  I know his unit was sent to Italy in late 1943 or early 1944.  I don’t know the exact date, but he was here when I was born and for a short time afterward because Mama told me about the two of us traveling by train to Mississippi when he was stationed there as a drill instructor.   I know he was sent to Italy with his unit when their training was finished, possibly as replacements.  He was there until I was 18 months old.  So, deployment in late ’43 or early ’44 means he missed the main Italian invasion in September of  ’43.  I’d like to know more.  From what I’ve found, it seems likely that he was fighting his way toward Rome on June 6th of 1944 when the allied forces hit Normandy.   

Considering the few facts we have:  

  1. He was a sergeant and a drill instructor for what must have been draftees.
  2. He was deployed with his unit to Italy, probably in early 1944.
  3. He remained in Europe until May of 1945 (I was born in November of 1943 and I was 18 months old when he returned.)
  4. In the military section of a family tree that our mother was working on, she said he was in the 350th Infantry.

It seems likely he was assigned to the 88th Division, 350th Infantry Regiment known as the Blue Devils.  According to the research I’ve been doing, the 88th was the first unit, in which the ranks were filled completely with draftees, to be deployed because they “consistently out-performed other divisions during Army Ground Forces tests.  They are said to  have been one of the most effective units in World War II.  I’ve found a book about the 88th Division called Blue Devils In Italy: A History Of The 88th Infantry Division In World War II by John Delaney.  It’s available on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  I plan to get a copy.  I don’t expect it to mention him by name, but I hope it will give me more insight into what happened to him there.  Who will answer these questions for future generations about us?  We should all be writing memoirs of some sort to provide our descendants with clues about our lives.

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Changing times

Sometimes I forget how much things have changed during my lifetime.  Wednesday, while I was visiting my granddaughter and her family in Richmond, we passed a small two-seater sports car.  I’ve wanted one for most of my life.  It just wasn’t practical when my own children were growing up and I couldn’t really afford one later.  I voiced our standing joke, “He stole my car.”  My daughter and granddaughter said I have too many great grandchildren to buy one now.  As we discussed it, I realized my longing has been compromised.   

My thirty year love affair with convertibles has been contaminated by maturity.  The only way I would own one now would be if it had a roll bar.  I’m not sure when the possibility of a rollover began to outweigh the wind in my hair.  It must have been a gradual thing because I don’t even remember when it started.  Perhaps its a side effect of too many movie crashes or maybe it is part of my recently acquired inability to feel secure in a moving vehicle without a seat belt.  Now, I find myself reaching for one when I sit down in a theater.

I know where that one comes from.  In 1996, I was driving to work one rainy morning.  As I approached the section of road where the parkway becomes a surface street the car hydroplaned.  Luckily there was still a concrete divider between the lanes, at that point, that kept me from sliding into oncoming traffic.  However, that same barrier created a feeling of panic when the left front wheel began to climb it.  I was desperately trying to steer the car back toward the edge of the road so, as soon as the wheel gained traction on the vertical surface, it turned and sent me back across two lanes to jump the guardrail and wind up on the grassy bank beside the highway.  The vehicle landed right side up, but for an eternal moment, I had thought it was going to roll.   It was months before I could drive or even ride in the left lane without flinching.

car-05My life didn’t flash before me.  I didn’t think of things I should have done or told my family.  My only thought was, “Thank God, I fastened my seat belt today.”  Because, up until that time, I seldom did.  When I was growing up and learning to drive, seat-belts only came on airplanes.  Up until that day, I’d always found them restrictive and was leery of being able to escape one in case of an accident.

In those “good old days” kids rode wherever their parents would allow, including the open beds of pick up trucks.  Infants were usually held by an adult to “keep them safe” unless they were asleep in a “car bed” that attached with hooks to the back of the front seat.   It was normal for the youngest children to be allowed to ride up front so the driver could keep a better eye on them.  When we traveled from California to Kentucky in 1967 with three small children, two dogs, and a cat we folded the back seat of the station wagon down, covered the whole area from the tailgate to the back of the front seat with mats and turned everyone except the cat loose to play while we drove.  

Car-seats were designed to raise small children high enough to see out the windows, not to protect them from injury.  In point of fact, one similar to the picture above almost allowed my middle daughter to climb out an open window when she was only about 10 months old.  She got up onto her knees and leaned across to hang her head out like a puppy.  I grabbed her dress and held onto her with one hand while steering the car to the edge of the road with the other.  

As my grandchildren grew up, seat belts became mandatory for children, then protective car-seats.  Child safety locks became standard and electronic window controls made it impossible for little ones to roll down windows on their own.  My great grandchildren will never be allowed to ride loose in a car.  Their mothers and fathers, who fought against wearing seat belts as children, nor I, who didn’t wear one until their grandparents were grown, won’t allow it.   They will be, at least, twelve before they can even ride in the front seat.  It seems as though the safer we are, the more paranoid we become.  I’m not really complaining though.  If even one child is saved, then everything is worth it.

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Sins of Scripture

imagesBishop Spong is giving me much food for thought.  I really don’t believe that God wants us to simply accept everything we are told about Him at face value.  I feel “called” to dig deeper, to study, and also to use the brain He gave me to think about what I find and use the logic He also gave me to decide what is “True.”   I can accept the idea that the men who wrote the books of the Bible were God inspired.  Even the men who chose which books to include may have been God inspired.  However, they were still men, subject to error in spite of that inspiration.  They viewed the revelations they were given through the lens of their own experience.  If you are exposed to an idea or vision outside your experience and knowledge, you must relate it to something familiar in order to understand it.

An ordinary man in 900 BCE could not conceive of a mechanical device that flew.  He would translate such a thing as a giant bird, a dragon, or perhaps a wheel.  The instruction to “have dominion over the earth” was seen as having power over all, not a responsibility to take care of it.  Woman as a “helpmate” became servant instead of partner.  But we, as modern people, with a wider, more scientific, understanding have a responsibility to look at the scriptures and re-vision them in the light of present day knowledge.

The result may drastically alter our religious viewpoint, but it doesn’t have to cancel it out.  Instead it can help us to see through the glass more clearly.  We’ll still be a long way from understanding the Almighty or His/Her plan, but we can come much closer than “scholars” of the ancient world because we begin with a better understanding of the world God made.

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40 Days of Meditation

ascensionI had never thought of the day of Jesus’ Ascension as a holiday until this year.  I’m not all that familiar with Catholic holidays, but I don’t think very many Protestant churches in the United States celebrate the Ascension.  Oh, the minister preaches about it.  We know it happened between Easter and Pentecost, and we don’t deny its importance, but it just kind of gets lost somehow.

This year, probably because of my Religious Studies courses, I feel the need to spend some time meditating on our Christian rituals and holidays.  Several people of my acquaintance have annoyed me with their attitudes about Easter.  They have suddenly discovered that most major Christian holidays match up time wise with pagan festivals and also share many rituals.   Because of this fact, they think the Christian worship is being degraded.  They are re-enforced by the reaction of many conservative Christians who are horrified by this “news.”

Christians who delve more deeply into their faith than childhood Sunday School lessons already know this, have always known this and see it for the irrelevancy that it is.  We know that Easter has nothing to do with any pagan god or goddess anymore.  The word may have come from there originally, but that “god” died with its last believer.

As pagan people were converted to Christianity, they brought their traditional ways of celebration with them.  The people and the new focus of their worship were the important feature, not the origin of the activities.  Christians today, know they are not worshiping Ishtar and the timing of Easter is tied to the Jewish Passover season, not some pagan fertility rite.

As I dug into research to prove my thoughts on this, it occurred to me that we seem to be missing a very important day in our holiday lineup.  The day that Jesus ascended into heaven should be more important to us.  We should be paying more attention to it.  What it represents is a major part of our faith.  Without his Ascension, our hope of an afterlife would be a very different proposition.

There is no way for us to know for sure, at this point, what the actual date is, but tradition tells us it was 40 days after Resurrection Day.  So our Easter season should extend from Ash Wednesday, through the 40 days of Lent, to Easter and then another 40 days to Ascension Day, which is supposed to be on a Thursday.  This year that will be May the 29th.  Like Easter, it will move every year along with Passover.

During the 40 days between Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus did not go into the city or countryside to make new converts.  He spent his time in meetings with his Disciples instructing them on how they were to carry out His teachings.  On the 40th day, they watched Him ascend into Heaven.  Ten days later the Holy Spirit descended on them at Pentecost.

So, I am making a new commitment.  A promise to spend this time studying and meditating on my religion and what it means.  I recently bought a book by Bishop Spong titled The Sins of Scripture.  It seems like a good place to start.  I also have many other religious books that I and my mother before me have collected over the years.  I am sure I will have no problem finding material.  I’ll keep you posted.


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