Tag Archives: Church

NPM ’11: Day 18 – The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (Post #15)

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Photo Credit: lpinc.1988

I’m currently reading Rob Bell‘s new book, Love Wins, which, as you may or may not know, is a dialogue of sorts about heaven and hell, the afterlife, and the nature of God. The book has been the talk of the town for a while now and it gained a pretty significant amount of attention from Christian scholars, bloggers, laymen, etc. even before it was officially released. Now I have to be honest – I’m not a huge Rob Bell fan. Not to say that I hate the guy or have anything against him; I’m simply…indifferent. I mean, I know who he is, am aware of the fact that some absolutely love him while others completely hate him, and have a general working knowledge of his beliefs and teachings. But I haven’t quite jumped on the bandwagon that he’s some heretic, nor do I choose to align myself with his teachings as absolute gospel truth. However, I like a good controversy, especially if that controversy is within the Church, so when I heard that people were freaking out about his new book, I decided I had to read it. I’m only about three chapters in and so far so my opinions are…well, a bit non-existent. It’s too early to say anything at this point. Except I will say right off the bat that the dude uses WAY too much passive voice for my liking! But that’s irrelevant, really. :-) That said, the subjects that Bell addresses in Love Wins have been on my mind, so I figured for today’s poem, I’d post something that discusses the very same topics. Which brings me to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Now I’ll have you know that I don’t agree with Blake’s “point” in this poem (and neither did C.S. Lewis, whom I admire and respect quite deeply and tend to consider a ‘mentor’ of sorts when it comes to my own theological musings and beliefs). But, much like Rob Bell’s book, I think The Marriage of Heaven and Hell generates some interesting and much-needed discussion about topics that many of us would like to avoid all together. And, of course, if you’ve read Blake’s piece in its entirety, you know that this poem is far more than just a poem about heaven, hell, and the afterlife. I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy of the full text at some point. And then, to cool your senses a bit (no pun intended), go on and read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce – an all-time favorite of mine that aggressively and wittily counters Blake’s claims.

So, without further ado, here is an excerpt from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.
All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
A dead body revenges not injuries.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloak of knavery.
Shame is Pride’s cloke.
Prisons are built with stones of law, brothels with bricks of religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of
eternity, too great for the eye of man.
The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
The selfish, smiling fool, and the sullen, frowning fool shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
What is now proved was once only imagin’d.
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits.
The cistern contains: the fountain overflows.
One thought fills immensity.
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.
The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
He who has suffer’d you to impose on him, knows you.
As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
Listen to the fool’s reproach! it is a kingly title!
The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
The soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.
When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!
As the caterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
Damn braces. Bless relaxes.
The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!
Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!
The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands and feet Proportion.
As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl that every thing was white.
Exuberance is Beauty.
If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.
Improvement makes strait roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Where man is not, nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.
Enough! or too much.

Life lessons from an old cliché.

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“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” <– An overused cliché, yes, but it’s true.

Since it was Good Friday and Easter this weekend, I decided to go to the services at Westgate Chapel. I hadn’t been there in, oh, maybe a year? Perhaps longer? But I really wanted to attend church with my family this weekend.

As expected, it felt strange and kind of surreal to walk through those doors again. But more than anything, it felt familiar and safe. For the first time since I’d left the church, I realized how much I’ve missed it. Over the last few months, I have visited a handful of churches, but while I was sitting in my seat this morning, this newfound appreciation for my old church suddenly snuck up and overwhelmed me. I sat there, thinking a number of thoughts, but mostly the following two:

First, no one delivers a sermon like Pastor Alec. I’m sure if he read this, he’d reprimand me for saying that; he’s just the type of guy who wants as little recognition for himself as possible. (I love him for that!) He realizes his role—to be a messenger of God’s Word to God’s people—and does whatever he can to stay within the boundaries of that role…NO self-glory involved. But man, I’m tellin’ ya! I don’t know what it is (other than the obvious anointing of the Holy Spirit), but that man has a serious gift. God has truly called him to preach the Word. And he does an amazing job of fulfilling that calling. So hearing him speak again—and not through an online podcast—was a great delight.

Second, it feels good to be home. Truth be told, this particular thought caught me off-guard. I don’t know, I guess I was just so convinced that I didn’t belong at Westgate anymore. But today, it just felt right to be there.

This isn’t to say that I’m suddenly going to drop my commitment to Westside and come running back to Westgate. I truly enjoy Westside. And I believe that God took me there for a reason. But today served as an eye-opener of sorts; it proved to me that (a) I was harboring bitterness towards Westgate, even though I had convinced myself that I wasn’t. (Denial much?) (b) It also confirmed for me the fact that God has helped me to finally let go of that bitterness. In other words, I guess I finally admitted that I had certain negative feelings towards my old church, and in return, the Lord helped me overcome those feelings. Thus, I felt safe and very much at home again and was able to actually appreciate the service.

Basically, today gave me the closure that I needed in terms of my relationship with Westgate Chapel. ‘Cause that’s really what it is: a type of relationship. And from now on, instead of dancing a dance of avoidance and pretending that Westgate’s a stranger in my life, I can say, “Hello, friend. It’s good to see you again.” This attitude could not have developed in my heart if it weren’t for my absence from Westgate (and God’s work in my heart, of course). So, while the statement is cliché, it nonetheless rings true: absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

P.S. I was able to bring a couple of friends to church with me. That was a lot of fun! They both seemed to enjoy the service, too. =)

On Evangelizing…or not evangelizing

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It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.

How many times have you heard this once-witty-now-cliché statement? I swear, people—Christians—toss this one around like it’s a beach ball! I know I’m guilty of it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about religion. It started out pretty harmless; she was asking about my parents’ arranged marriage and how the hell my parents ended up as a couple. So I gave her the reader’s digest version of my family’s history and my mom’s desire to marry a Christian…how my grandfather very sternly promised her that he’d disown her if she ever made that request again…and how he proceeded to find her a husband who was the farthest thing from a Christian: a Hindu priest in training. (Way to go, Grandpa!)

My friend then asked, “what’s the difference between Hindu and Christian beliefs? Don’t all religions have the same basic foundations of love and treating people how you want to be treated, etc?”

My initial thought was, “Yes.” Because she has a point if you really think about it. But the next thought that popped into my head was this: “It [Christianity] isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship.” And then I wanted to shoot myself, because I’m so flippin’ tired of hearing people say that! What does it even mean? I mean really?

The rest of our conversation consisted mostly of me rambling like an idiot about why I think Christianity is different from all other religions…but you know what? In that process of rambling, I realized how utterly pathetic I am when it comes to witnessing (with my words, I mean). Here I am: a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, Christian school-attending, church-going person, and I don’t know how to witness. I don’t know how to tell someone my reasons for believing what I believe.

Why am I a Christian?

…because God is alive, and I see Him in the world around me.

…because He created me for the sole purpose of worshiping Him, and through worship, I can reach my full potential.

…because I’ve realized the incredible sacrifice that Jesus Christ has made for me.

…because life without an intimate relationship with Jesus is meaningless.

But seriously…how does one convey those ideas to someone who just doesn’t see Christianity as anything other than a religion? How DO you convince a person that Christianity truly is about a personal relationship with Jesus and not merely a list of ritualistic rules or dos and don’ts?

I have no idea. Honestly. I don’t.

I walked away from that conversation feeling rather miserable and wondering if I had failed God. Yeah, yeah, I know I didn’t fail God, but I couldn’t help feeling as though I had. And sure, I can pray for my friend to truly know Christ—for God to have a supernatural encounter with her that will leave her wanting nothing more in life than Jesus, and I will; I will pray. But here’s the thing: it really bothers me that we Christians have become so caught up in our Christian sub-culture…our Christian t-shirts, CDs, and bumper stickers, and our Christianized/sermonized/“Jesufied” church lingo that when it comes to talking to real people with real questions about faith, we just become tongue-tied. I’ve always had this pet-peeve, but this conversation was a fresh reminder of said annoyance.

Now, I know that God is ultimately the One who can speak to my friend’s heart. It’s ultimately not my witticism or excellent rhetoric (or in this case, lack thereof) that will change her mind about God or faith or Christianity or religion. But I still think we could be trying a lot harder. I’ve been at Bible college for five bloody years, and before that I was heavily involved at my church, my youth group, and my Christian school. But have I ever really learned how to explain my beliefs to someone who may be searching, or even just curious? I can’t say that I have.

It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. While I believe that statement to be true, I still rather detest what it stands for, or the overall attitude behind it. And as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t accomplish a whole lot in terms of practical evangelism. At least not in my experience.

So, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, let me close this rant by asking you perhaps the simplest/most complicated question that exists: how do you tell people about your faith?

An Apology

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Dear Blog,

Let me begin by saying that I am terribly sorry for neglecting you these past few months. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I have been dreadfully busy. School consumes my life and leaves very little time for anything else. My social life is almost—not totally, but almost—nonexistent. But that’s okay, I suppose, because I’ve never been an exceedingly social person, anyway.  However, a number of thoughts, ideas, frustrations, and the like have been on my mind lately, and I think it’s time I tap into them. So here we go:

1. Let’s talk about school. I love most of my classes. Like, really, truly LOVE them. Of course, they are challenging and can be frustratingly difficult at times, and the work is insanely time-consuming, but you know what? I’m actually quite okay with that. Why? Because I’m learning so much right now. Aside from one class (which shall remain unnamed), I’m finding the material to be useful, interesting, and worth my money, my time, and my efforts. That, dear blog, is an incredible feeling! So…yay, school!

2. Church. I moved to a new church. Yup. After wanting to do so for nearly two years, I finally went through with it. This was definitely one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. At first, I actually felt guilty for going through with it. I had some issues at my last church, but I’m a firm believer in fighting through life’s difficulties…so in some ways, leaving my former church felt like the cowardly thing to do. (I kept thinking of my favorite quote by J.R.R. Tolkien. He once said, “Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens.” I did not want to be the person who checked out simply because a bunch of problems were staring me in the face. But then there’s the whole “enough is enough” policy, too. How much was I willing to handle? Hmmm….)

Here’s another thing: I’ve never been very fond of “church hoppers.” You know who I’m talking about—those individuals who bounce around from church to church, never really finding a place to call “home,” because they keep finding something wrong with every church they visit. No place ever seems to meet all of the items on their “checklist” of church requirements; perhaps each church doesn’t have the right style of preaching, the right style of music, the right kind of non-Sunday activities, or the people don’t dress “right,” and whatever else. So they become nomadic church-goers.

I hate to think that I even have a checklist, but at the same time, doesn’t everyone? I mean, ultimately, we’re supposed to be at church to serve: to serve our local community, and to serve God through our worship, through our giving, and through our commitment to the body of the Christ. And how can you really do that if you’re primarily focused on what church can do for you? Regardless, though, I think many of us have a checklist. We walk into church on a weekly basis, expecting to “get something” out of it. And so often, when we stop “getting something” from a particular congregation, we just decide to leave. I guess I initially felt guilty for leaving my previous church, because I felt like I was just running away from something that was less than “perfect.” But let’s face it: NO church is perfect. Because churches are made up of people, and people are flawed.

Anyway…plenty more to say about that, but I’ll keep moving.

The thing is, church (at least to me) is essentially about community; it’s about coming to a certain place on a weekly/multi-weekly basis in order to fellowship with others who share your beliefs, people with whom you can honestly and openly share your faith, your struggles, your dreams, your desires. In other words, it’s a family.

And my last church stopped being a family years ago. It just became a building that I went to on a weekly basis. So, after many arguments with myself (and with my mother for that matter), and after a great deal of prayer, I finally did the one thing I’ve been dying to do for years: I left.

I’m now at the Westside Church in Ballard (www.westsidechurch.com), and I absolutely LOVE it!! It’s exactly the fresh start I needed. It’s small, intimate, the perfect mix between traditional and contemporary in its style, and has great pastors who are committed to preaching the Truth in a new, relevant, challenging, and theologically sound manner (okay, so I guess I DO have a checklist). Overall, Westside is full of vibrant people from all walks of life who love Jesus and are there to serve Him. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. No church is. Is it “better” than my last church? No. I think the people at my previous church love God just as much as the people at Westside. But Westside is significantly different than my previous place of worship—not better, not worse, just different. And “different” is exactly what I need right now.

And, amazingly enough, the doors to get involved with music ministry are already wide open at Westside. All I have to do is walk through them! I didn’t even have to go looking for the opportunity; God just dropped it in my lap!

I have to be honest, I was beginning to think I’d never get involved again. At times, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to (especially after my last couple of “ministry opportunities”). But new doors are opening; a new season has begun, and after basically sitting in the background for so long, I think it’s time to step it up and do what God is asking me to do—to lead worship again. It’ll be scary, no doubt. I have many bad memories attached to music ministry. But you know that old saying, “God is in the restoration business”? I absolutely believe He can restore my heart and motives towards worship leading again. If that’s where He wants to use me, I fully believe He can change my attitude. He’s already started, and something tells me there’s plenty more “change” on the way.

3. Family stuff has been…the usual. It’s rocky, unstable, and flat out infuriating at times. I’m now at the point where I just keep my distance. School, in that regard, is truly a blessing in disguise. Yeah, the long nights of homework, lack of sleep, and commuting to Kirkland every day can be a drag, but school keeps me occupied; I’d much rather be there than at home where I have to deal with the constant chaos. And ironically, despite the hellish summer that I had (which caused me to return to school in an already burnt-out state), I’m doing better in school this semester than I ever have! My grades have improved immensely, because I’m applying myself more this semester than I did in previous semesters. And I think the main reason I’m applying myself to this extent is because I’m trying to keep myself busy. Is that good or bad? Whatever. The point is, I’m doing well in school, haha.

4. On a happier note (as far as family goes), we’ll be spending our Christmas in California this year! YEAH! SO excited…I can’t even begin to express my excitement. Can someone say, “Christmas in Disneyland”?! Disneyland is already the most magical place on earth; add Christmas to the mix and BAM! And I’ve never been there during the holiday season, so I’m pretty thrilled about that. And not only does Christmas in Cali mean Disneyland; it also means…Christmas with Ashley!! The last time I saw her was in March, so I’m very excited about spending the holidays with her this year. I’m sure we’ll have a blast!

So, my dearest blog, that’s basically all that’s been going on in my life since August. It is now November, and the end of the year is upon the horizon. I’m looking forward to it. 2009 was, beyond any doubt, one of the most draining years of my life, and I can only hope and pray that 2010 will be better. I’m sure it will come with its own set of challenges—what year doesn’t?—but there’s just something invigorating about starting a brand new year. It’s fresh, it’s new, and it’s a chance to basically “start over” again. And I’m definitely ready to start over.

Sincerely,

Jessica