Saturday, January 26, 2013

Backwards and Inside Out

One of the primary questions that I have been struggling with the couple of years has been, what does it mean to be a Christian when the popular thing to do is be Christian?

Let me explain.  Christianity is based off of the teachings, life, and resurrection of Jesus.  This man named Jesus lived roughly 2000 years ago, and was a social outcast to the government and the way of life at the time.  He broke many social, political, and religious codes, and was eventually crucified for it.  He claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah.  Many people decided to follow him throughout the years, and from that spouts Christianity.

Christianity was founded in the Middle Eastern region (therefore making Jesus a Middle Eastern Jew).  It was seen in a negative light because it broke with the religious tradition of the region, whether that was to pledge allegiance to the government or to Judaism.  Christianity was viewed as a form of atheism because these new followers were renouncing the other gods.  Many early Christians were killed because of this and became martyrs.  Others had different reactions such as monasticism, or a fleeing away from the world.

Eventually, Christianity was okayed by the government thanks to Constantine.  From there we have this complicated entangling of church and state that can be seen by the Catholic church, the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant Reformation, and the Church of England to name a few instances.  What is of primary importance in this case is to notice that the heart of Christianity lied in Western Europe, which was the center of the world at this time.  Eventually it moved to the Americas and a few other countries with the spread of imperialism.

Now there are many sects, or denominations of Christianity.  The primary ones today can be most vaguely classified as Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.  Christianity is the world's most popular religion.  It is growing widely, and is especially predominant in countries that are developing or not as well off as America and Western Europe.

What got me to thinking about this today was reading for my Sociology of Religion class.  In this class we are looking at religions around the world, how they change over time, and the development of them.  I am just a few class periods in and I am fascinated!

The question I posed above is rooted in the fact that in many places in Western Europe and the United States, Christianity is thought to be the primary religion of the land.  However, when Christianity was founded, as shown above, it was not the cool thing to be a Christian.  This religion was founded upon being the outcast of the society.  It was founded on being set apart and not like the world.  The idea of a "Christian nation" is in many ways a juxtaposition to the Gospel itself.

What struck me about my reading (Stephen Prothero's God is Not One, 2010) was the statistical numbers that were presented (I won't get into the nitty gritty of those in here, but they are in that book if you are curious).  What is striking is that while Christianity is growing in third world countries, which according to Prothero is due mainly to the Pentecostal church, it is diminishing in Western countries.  Many more people in Western countries are denying any faith in God whatsoever, and are affiliating themselves with atheism or agnosticism.  These are some of the same countries that have identified themselves by their Christian roots.

This information is common sense to many people.  What strikes me about it is the way that the Christianity in these so-called "Christian nations" works.  For hundreds of years there has been this we-are-better-than-them mentality that white people in Western parts of the world have had.  We can see this throughout history in the colonization and discovery of the America's, the European imperialism in Africa, and the containment policies of the Truman Doctrine.  Throughout history, a focus has been made on trying to get others to be like us.

I would argue that this mentality is very much still alive in America, and even so in the American church.  With the modern way of missions, this is evident.  People in Western, "Christian" countries are generally disconnected from missions.  Not that they don't see the need, or advantage of them, but they are often less directly affiliated.  More often than not, and I am guilty of this, we just give people our money and expect someone else to do something with it to benefit the hurting and the oppressed.  Now don't get me wrong, this is good and money is needed, and in fact, Jesus calls us to give of all our possessions to follow him, BUT missions is more than just donating money.  It is working hands on with people, and showing them the love of Christ directly through our lives.

The longing to make people like us continues when we give people money to buy things and to make their churches spring out more like ours.  Really, one of the most constructive forms of missions is helping people learn how to do these things on their own with the resources that they already have available to them,

So much focus goes into American Christianity helping people in countries in Africa and Latin America and such.  But what is fascinating to me is that we are trying to "fix" these places to have more of an American ideology of the world.  Really, Christianity is sprouting there and declining here.  Maybe we are looking at this backwards.  Maybe we need to look at what they are doing, and see how that can impact us.

Just some thoughts.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Looking in the Mirror

When I die, or even when I live, I want for people to be able to look at my life and say with certainty that I have lived in a way that truly exemplifies a love for Christ and freedom that is found only in Him.

Right now I don't think I'm doing that.  Something needs to shift.

"No matter what I do, I can't change the fact that I'm handicapped.  
But I can change the way I react to it"
-- Dr. Alan Lefever

We had a guest preacher today in church.  He was having trouble with one of his hands, and eventually he started to talk about it.  He said he suffered a stroke as an infant and it left him deformed.  Up until this point he was talking about how we all run a race in life, how we are all part of the body of Christ, and how as the church we need to lift each other up.  

One of the most important musical influences on my life was a middle school band teacher of mine.  She taught me the flute, a love for making music, and always encouraged me, even when I quit band for choir in 8th grade.  Unfortunately she passed away from cancer during my freshman year of high school.  One of the many things she taught me when she was my teacher was that you are only as strong as your weakest member.  She spoke of this in context to band, but today when I was listening to this sermon, I couldn't help but think of this as well.

So yes, as Christians we are to help those who are hurting.  One thing that Dr. Lefever said that I thought was particularly powerful was that as Christians we should not just talk about the hurting, but talk to the hurting and to help them through that.  So often as Christians it's easier to do the other thing.  It's hard to see the pain that someone is hiding.

It is always exhilarating for me to see people who have been able to overcome their physical limitations.  I guess for everyone it is in some way.  Seeing people overcome those limitations serves as a role model for how we can overcome little things that are thrown our way.

But for me, it hits close to home.  See I am physically handicapped.  I was born with clubbed feet, and thanks be to God I was fortunate to be born into a family that could afford the medical care so that I could have surgery on my feet when I was an infant and to be able to run and play and dance today.  I still have side effects though.  I can't really go on my toes at all, my feet are super flat, my calves are tiny, and my feet get worn out very easy.  People think that this is a big deal... but really, most of my friends don't know unless I tell them or if they happen to glance at the scars up and down my ankles.

I think this is what has helped me in life.  When you have a disability, you know nothing else.  It is the way life is, and you learn that nothing you can ever do will change that.  I remember telling people about my feet in elementary school, or telling my ballet teachers so they wouldn't get on my case about not being able to go into a perfect releve.  I knew that I was never going to be a dancer, or really an athlete of any kind.  And that was just something that I accepted.  It is what I know.

A few years ago I randomly lost all my hearing in one of my ears.  This was difficult, but over time I adjusted.  And I really do believe that knowing how to react to difficulties from when I was young helped me to have an optimistic view of my ear problems.  There are certain times when I talk about it more: such as conversation in a busy area, or dinner with a group of friends.  However, my disabilities aren't who I am.  Sure they are important to who I am in forming me into that person, but they do not decide who I am.

I guess I could let them decide who I am... but what's the fun in that?

If we're only the sum of our parts, then we are only the sum of the parts of our spiritual body as well.  And because of that, we all need each other.  We need to pull up others that are hurting.  And I am fortunate in that I have overcame things just by living the life God gave me, that will hopefully help me to relate to people down the road.