Some religion, some meditation, maybe a little philosophy...

Digging into My “Archaeological Study Bible”

My family does much of our shopping online.  To assist with this, most of us have Amazon wish lists. A couple of years ago, my middle daughter, Jeanne, found this bible on my list and bought it for me.  The concept is to add historical information about the locations, society, culture, and customs of the biblical stories.  I had put it on the list as a whim, without any conscious plan.  In the beginning, I was just randomly leafing through it or using it for reference.  

However, this past Lenten season, I made a commitment to read the Easter story in each of the gospels and compare them to each other using a Lenten devotional book I had found. I chose the Archaeological Study Bible because I wanted to expand on the usual stories.  When the forty days were up, I had become so immersed in the background information, I decided to extend the commitment and read all the way through all the gospels.  To make it more manageable, I set a goal of one chapter a day.  Unavoidably, there were days when I didn’t make that goal. However, I always picked it up again within a day or so and stayed with it. When I finished the gospels, it just seemed natural to read through The Acts. 

Currently, I am on I Thessalonians, chapter 2.  I’ve never really read the letters deeply.  I’m not overly fond of a lot of Paul’s attitudes. However, I just can’t seem to stop and the background information does help me to better understand where he was coming from.  I still find myself flinching at some of his statements, but he was a product of his times dealing with situations and attitudes that we are not exposed to ourselves.  I am trying to develop more sympathy for him.

I am finding some disturbing parallels. One of the things that I love about study bibles is the explanations and historical background they give at the beginning of each book.  In the introduction to I Thessalonians, I have underlined this: “Watch for practical advice on living the Christian life within the context of an immoral culture that is hostile to Christian values.”  I tell myself we aren’t there yet, but I fear we are getting closer all the time.  

Between those who insist every word of the bible is fact, spouting hateful attitudes and slogans, twisting Christianity to fit their own agenda; and the rising atheistic culture that treats God and the bible as mythical, I feel surrounded by threats. 

I started my theological quest several years ago so that I could gain the expertise to counter both sides.  I believe that the whole bible is God inspired but, not all fact.  Much of it is allegory or metaphor, examples of how things could have happened.  Some of it is outmoded: We do not stone people anymore for relatively minor infractions nor cast them out of society due to skin infections. It was written in the terms people, at the time, could understand; but it is still true.  

The people living in bible times did not have the knowledge necessary to accept scientific explanations so the story was told in a way that they would be able to accept.  I do believe, if we dig deep enough, we can translate it into modern terminology that makes sense.  That is what I am trying to do.  My “Archaeological Study Bible” is showing me a path to that end. 

Once I finish the New Testament, I plan to start with Genesis and work through the Old Testament in the same way.  Other than the basic stories we are all taught, I’ve never had much patience for that part of the bible.  There seems to be too much anger and violence to fit with the loving Father that we are shown through Jesus’ words.

Many of the notes embedded in the gospel text discuss how much of Jesus’ teaching referenced Old Testament writings.  I’ve never given them more than passing thought.  My goal is to connect the two in a meaningful way.  From time to time, I intend to post my thoughts here.  I hope you will find them helpful in your own quest to a deeper spiritual relationship with God.

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Studying Prayer

I have always felt comfortable talking to God in private.  I speak to him as though to my own father, as we should do because He is our Father.  The bible tells us in many places that God expects us to reach out to him: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  It tells us “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6.

However, I am not as confident of my ability for public prayer, even when it’s just offering thanks at family meals.  I stand aside and leave it up to others.  I cannot imagine serving as an Elder and praying in front of the congregation.  I feel this is a weakness.  God told Moses: “Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” Exodus 4:12.  He wants us to be able to witness for Him to others.  I feel that public prayer is one of the ways we witness. 

So, as part of my Lenten commitment, I began a study of how to pray.  As I discussed in an earlier post, I started with Lord, Teach Me to Pray by Kay Arthur.  When I had finished the book, I still was not satisfied, so I moved along to Living the Lord’s Prayer by David Timms. This one breaks down The Lord’s Prayer line by line and discusses what it meant at the time and how it relates to our world today. Timms says that our “spiritual formation must percolate through every aspect of our lives.”(p 23 of Kindle version) He explains how he feels a proper understanding of The Lord’s Prayer, as a teaching tool not a rote recital, can be a springboard toward the transformation of our lives.

While I found the book interesting, it still hadn’t helped me formulate oral prayers.  So, I went on to Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name by Bryan Chapell.  Easter has come and gone.  I am about halfway through this one.  It has been helpful.  Well, they have all been somewhat helpful, just not conclusive.  One thing that Chapell mentioned in passing, as though it were common knowledge, is using ACTS as a framework for prayer. I had never heard of this and left the book to ask Google what it was.  

Google, as usual, offered me many choices.  The one I chose is called Prayer Central, a website devoted to Prayer and Devotionals.  In case you haven’t heard of it either, ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  This is something I can work with.  The website listed several other prayer models as well.  I’ve bookmarked it and plan to make visits there part of my study.

I am still reading Praying Backwards.  I am finding it the most helpful and engaging of the books I’ve used.  If you are looking for a better prayer life, I recommend that you start with Praying Backwards.  I like the idea of making sure you put Christ first, even when praying or maybe it should be especially when praying.

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Taking Stock

Terri McCarty Jones, a friend of mine from church, recently asked a series of questions on Facebook:

“Just curious. How many of you feel that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing with your life? Do you have a career or a calling or a combination of the two? Is there something else you wish you would have done other than what you are doing now? What factors charted your course?

Working with the high school CYF and knowing they are going to be going forth into the world and making decisions that will impact their futures makes me curious as to how many of us are overall truly satisfied with what we are doing with our lives. I’m sure some of you took a circuitous route to get where you are now while others seem to have known from childhood the path to take. Any wisdom shared will be greatly appreciated!”

I found it an interesting topic for conversation and decided to present it to a wider audience.  I personally, wanted nothing except to be a wife and mother when I was a teenager.  I said no when a friend of my mother’s offered to pay for me to go to college.  My mother thought I should be a teacher, which was her dream that was interrupted by the Great Depression.  Her friend had no children and was well off.  I had always made good grades in school and they thought I should have a career.  I wasn’t the least bit interested.  Instead, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I got married.  Two years later, I graduated just one month before the birth of my first son.  

I was set on the path I had planned for myself and even the divorce that came ten years and three children later didn’t alter that goal.  I found a job, but I also started shopping for a new husband, almost immediately.  Wife and mother was what society told me I should want to be, when I was growing up, and it was all I could see then.  Why waste all that time and effort in college and building a career, to just turn it off when I got married?  Why not just get married and be done with it?

Back then, even girls who went to college were expected to be looking for husbands along the way.  We were fully indoctrinated to be wife and mother.  Things have changed somewhat since then, but we still hear a lot about “biological clocks,” the search for “the perfect mate,” and the new goal of “having it all.”  

While those of us who grew up with limited expectations may be looking around and wishing we had all the possibilities that are now available, things today are much more confusing for young people.  That includes boys as well as girls.  In those “good ole days,” young men were expected to follow in the footsteps of their elders.  If they couldn’t manage a college education, their father, uncle, or family friend would get them a low level job with their own employer, so that the youngster could “learn a trade.”  I suppose that still happens to an extent, but attitudes are much different than they used to be.

Today, young people feel a pressure to decide for themselves what career they want.  A daunting task for someone whose biggest decision to date has been what to wear to school and which movie to see on the weekend.   They are told, “You can be anything you want to be, if you are willing to work for it.”  It sounds good to those of us who had limited choices.  I’m sure, it can be scary to someone who is faced with that broader decision.   I have watched many young people try to decide which way to go and they tend to fail.  They will, mostly, give up on their “dream job” and settle for what they can find in the real world.  There just aren’t that many positions open for Rock Stars or Ballerinas.  Major league sports teams don’t have room for every child who loves to play.  Fashion designers are few in number and far away from middle America.  In the final analysis, most kids have to “settle” for something along the way and “find themselves” later.  

There came a time when I realized that I wasn’t really cut out to be “wife.”  It required a level of submission to the needs of a partner that I couldn’t accept.  I gave up that dream.  Mommy isn’t something you can resign from, but it is a temporary job.  The day comes when those precious little toddlers become rebellious teenagers who don’t want or need a “mom” hanging around all day.   You still maintain the title, but the duties become more or less honorary.  

As a single mother, I had found jobs I could do.  None of them were my “dream job.”  By the time I found what that could have been, the children were more important and the two were incompatible.  It is very difficult to become a Systems Analyst, who travels to distant parts of the country for weeks or months at a time designing and setting up new computer systems, with youngsters in school.  

I turned my attention to more sensible jobs, still within my field of interest, and went on with my life.  Eventually, my lack of formal education limited my opportunities for advancement even in those positions.  So, I retired from my “job” and went back to school.  More than 40 years after I graduated high school, I finally found a use for college.  

It was while taking basic requirement courses, that I discovered my true passion, a love of writing.  I had always loved to read and was in awe of the ability of some writers to tell a story.  While I never kept a formal journal, I knew that I sometimes needed to put my thoughts down on paper.  I always found it easier to write than to talk.  I just never considered making it a career.  My English professors were very encouraging.  Even those courses that weren’t really about writing required essays, term papers, and research.  I came to love research.  It’s still one of my favorite pastimes.  

I may never become a paid author, certainly not a well-known or “best selling” one.  But it doesn’t matter.  I am retired now.  I get by financially.  More money would be nice, but it isn’t a goal.  I just like writing.  I now spend my days between “mothering” my great grandchildren and writing: blog posts, a prayer journal, plans for a couple of novels that will probably never see the light of day.  It doesn’t matter.  The joy is in the creation of words, sentences, paragraphs, pages of text.  The telling of the story, true or imaginary, is the thing.  

So, I guess my answer to the above questions would be: Yes, I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my life.  It is a combination of a part of my original goal and what I found along the way.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to make different choices when I was young.  

In college, I also discovered a love of Physics.  I’m not sure I have the mental acuity to have made it a career but, if I had been exposed to it in high school, I might have accepted that opportunity to go to college.  Even if Physics didn’t work out, I might have discovered my love of writing in time to have made that a lifetime career.  Either of those possibilities would have made my life very different. Better?  There’s no way to know.  But, I can’t wish for it.  After all, that would wish away my five children, all my grandchildren and my precious greats.  I can’t even wish away my two failed marriages for the same reason.  

My life went as it should.  I didn’t know when I was 15 how it would turn out.  No one can.  All you can do is the next thing.  Expose yourself to as many paths as possible.  Take the one in front of you, but watch for side branches.  You never know what you’ll find along the way.

How about you?  Join the conversation.  Leave a comment below.  

 

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Categories: For Your Consideration, Inspiration, Meditations, Memoirs | 1 Comment

Mourning with My Privilege

I thought I was done with the Privilege topic, but then I read about the churches being attacked in Egypt.  This is Holy Week.  We’ve gone to worship every day and twice on Maundy Thursday.  Not once did any of us worry that we might be targeted.  I know that Muslims, Jews and even Black Christians in this country can’t always say the same.  I am grateful for my Privilege in knowing that I can worship in safety.  On this Good Friday, as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, I pray the day will come when all God’s people will have such Privilege.

As part of my Lenten commitment, I’ve been reading “He Chose the Nails”  and “On Calvary’s Hill” by Max Lucado.  Lucado emphasizes the fact that Jesus knew, even before He started His ministry, how it would end.  I am wearing black today as a symbol of my mourning for the fact that I fear, if Jesus came back today, we’d kill Him again.  After all, He was a Middle Eastern religious fanatic who taught that we should all be living by God’s law.

He was executed by the method of the day because of fear and political expediency.  The fact that he expected it and was prepared to sacrifice himself doesn’t alter that fact.  For more than 250 years, His followers were also persecuted and killed by the popular methods.  In the middle ages, Europeans, professing Christianity, killed thousands to “free the holy land” from the Jews and Muslims who had always lived there.  Today, we have leaders promoting discrimination against people for their religious beliefs, just as those early Christians suffered under the Romans, the Muslims suffered during the Crusades, and the Jews suffered in Germany during World War II.  

While I may not always agree with the teaching of other religious organizations, including some Christian ones, I fanatically declaim their right to hold their beliefs in peace as long as they allow others to do the same.  Whether or not we agree with them, we have no right to judge, only God is supposed to do that.  

There is only one God, people.  The fact that others call Him by different names, doesn’t mean it’s a different being.  We have many names for Him ourselves.  In Spanish, it’s Dios; in French, it’s Dieu; in German, Gott; in Swedish, Gudaväsen; in Russian, Boga; all from Christians.  The fact that Islamic nations say Allah, doesn’t make it a different God, any more than Jews saying Jehovah or Yahweh does.  We all worship the God of Abraham.  

We adhere to different teachings, claim different prophetic voices, but we start from the same beginning and we should respect the fact that others could only take the path that was before them as they searched for a relationship with the only God that exists.  We are instructed to go forth and preach the gospel, not to condemn those who do not accept our proselytizing.  Our only concern should be our personal relationship with our Lord, not the correctness of other people’s beliefs.  

Rant over.  I cannot judge those who do not agree with me, even those whose actions are based on obvious prejudices.  God is in charge, whether the majority of people choose to believe it or not.  He gave us free choice because He wanted us to choose to love Him and live by His commandments.  I am sure He is saddened by the state of His world today.  I know I am.

This is not the post I had planned for this week.  That one got bumped to next week.  Come back then.

 

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Privilege Part 3

As Americans, we have privileges that we frequently take for granted or completely ignore.  We can complain, whine, or rant about things we dislike from politics to prices. It may not do much good, but we won’t, usually, be threatened with arrest because of it.  We can vote, but too many of us don’t bother.  We can choose what jobs we want to do, how we want to dress, who we want to have for friends, what religion we prefer to practice or not.

Most all of us have privileges of one kind or another.  Privileges that we take for granted or don’t even realize other people don’t have.  It is part of the human psyche to think our lives are the norm and everyone else has the same benefits that we do.  

We may see other people’s privilege that we don’t enjoy and feel envious.  But, other than the homeless (Who we tend to think are there because of their own faults.), we usually assume that everyone else’s life is the same as ours.   Most of the people we associate with have the same privileges we do.  We seldom think of how different it can be for those outside our circle or even some within it.

What is life like for the couple who aren’t able to have children?  How is the young mother who just got divorced coping with custody arrangements and a reduced income level?  How does the couple of mixed race or religion deal with the prejudices that they run into? What effect does that stress have on their relationship?  What is it like to need to explain to a six year old why some people don’t allow their children to play with her?  

There are so many ways that we are privileged and as many ways that we are not.  When I was younger, the majority opinion was that I was privileged to be naturally slim.  It didn’t feel like privilege to me though.  I knew that 104 pounds at 5’6″ was too skinny, but I couldn’t gain weight.  No matter how much or what I ate, I never gained a pound.  I never had to worry about getting rid of “baby weight” because I weighed exactly the same after my children were born as I did before I got pregnant.  People who have trouble controlling their weight would call that a blessing, to me, it was a curse.

Then, I quit smoking and going dancing on weekends.  I turned 50.  My natural metabolism slowed down and I gained 75 pounds in less than a year.  Ever since, I’ve been struggling to keep the weight off.  It seems there is no middle ground.  But, I call it a privilege that I was able to arrest the gain, have been at a stable size for the past 10 years, and my health is good.  At 74 years old, I take no prescription drugs, have no major health problems, and am not in daily pain.  That is privilege of the best kind.

Your privilege isn’t something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about.  It isn’t your fault that other people have problems you don’t.  They may also have privilege that you don’t.  The important things are to realize your privilege,  to know that not everyone is fortunate in the ways you are, to stop and think before judging others, to believe that your viewpoint and experience may make it difficult for you to understand their actions and reactions.  Check yourself for privilege and then give others some leeway in your expectations.

Wikipedia says that “Privilege is a social theory that special rights or advantages are available only to a particular person or group of people.”  Perhaps that is accurate as far as it goes, but I think whoever posted that page is privileged to have a narrow view of the subject.  

How privileged are you?  I took this quiz on Buzz Feed as research for these articles.  I scored 52 out of 100 possible points.  My results say that I am “quite” privileged.  I am not bragging.  I am feeling very humble.  I count myself privileged in every sense of the word and I hope that I have empathy for those who are less fortunate. 

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Categories: For Your Consideration, Meditations | 2 Comments