And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Apologetics


Depending on whom you ask, Christianity is either an impotent, dead religion or a frightening one. Jesus is either an anemic, namby pamby Sunday school hero with an insipid smile (“There, there, it will be alright one day.”) or an outraged avenger ready to turn to ashes everyone who sins.

The far right hasn’t done Christianity any favors in the United States. Christians have been lumped in, unmercifully, with the gay-hating, women-controlling, gun-toting racists, and I have to speak up and say: enough. Christians have enough baggage without all of that! We’re a mess, collectively, but we came by it honestly. Don’t blame us for hate or prejudice or bad fashion sense! Christians don’t hold the monopoly!

What is a Christian, bottom line? Aside from Westernization. Aside from politicization. Aside from denominationalizing. Take Christianity to its simplest terms, and what do you have? I submit to you, that you have nothing to fear at all. Nothing to hate. Nothing to despise or legislate against. Nothing to be intimidated by. Take away a Nativity scene on city property, and you only underscore the fact that it DOES mean something.

Christians started being called Christians in the 1st century. Christians, as in “little Christs.” People who followed Jesus of Nazareth, a.k.a.  the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. He was, he said, God born of the flesh. He performed miracles. He taught tolerance, forgiveness, love, service, outreach. Scary, eh? Only to those who want to be intolerant, hateful, selfish, and exclusive.

Jesus taught that belief wasn’t enough. He asked people to follow. It wasn’t enough to think he had good ideas, not enough to acknowledge that he knew what he was talking about. Not enough to say he was a prophet or a good teacher. Put it in practice. Give the words your hands and feet and mouth. Anyone can say they believe, but will they follow? Historically, only a small percentage do. And they do it horribly. I say this from experience.

The problem with religion, any religion, is that the name and the practice can be far removed, but constantly united in perception. You’re a Buddhist, and I know what Buddha taught. If you say you’re a Buddhist, I may decide you’re a bad one, if you don’t adhere perfectly to Buddha’s teachings…or I may make the leap so many make and decide that Buddhism’s bad because YOU are.

That old saying, that bumper sticker of a saying, is actually true:  Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven. Forgiveness is the crux of the matter. Christians believe that Jesus Christ, perfect man and God-made-flesh, died in place of all others, past, present, future. God bled for our collective sins, thus perfectly paying the penalty. We believe that, and rejoice that when we sin (which we do, all of us, with alarming regularity and varying degree) we have an advocate with the Father, the Creator form of God, the punisher. When we sin, Jesus steps up and says, “Wait…I already paid the penalty for that, remember?” and our lives are spared, eternally-speaking.

It’s not a license to sin, but when we do, we believe that there is forgiveness available. And because we have this wonderful news that we can be reconciled to God, that we don’t have to feel guilty and miserable in our wrong-doing any longer, we like to talk about it.

Which would be great, if that’s all we talked about. Unfortunately, over the years, Christians have become more comfortable butting into everyone’s business. It’s not enough to try and manage my own sexual temptations – I need to address yours! It’s not good enough to simply try and follow the teachings of Jesus; I need to tell you what is wrong with your life instead!

And so, there is a misconception, which is the fault of Christians, in my opinion. It’s unavoidable, given that every Christian is a sinful, wretched excuse for humanity living in a world of other non-Christian sinful, wretched excuses for humanity. People need the true message of Christ, the reconciliation available by simple belief and commitment. But the message has deteriorated into something different.

Biblically, Christians will be increasingly despised, until people will actually think they are doing God’s will to kill Christians (John 16:2), substantially more serious that prohibiting prayer at school or nativity scenes at Christmas. Hopefully we’re a few centuries away from that, but if we think, even for one moment, that it can’t happen? That it won’t happen? The only way to put off such a mindset would be a return to the basic teachings of the Gospel. Forget the Tea Party. Forget Pat Robertson. Forget misogynist racists who wouldn’t recognize an act of grace and mercy if it sat on their faces.

Jesus. He was either who he said he was, or he was a scam artist. There’s no middle ground. If you don’t believe, but seek real Truth, have the backbone to dig deeper. If he’s God, follow him. If he isn’t, find someone else who shares the same decency and holiness he preached. Stop the hatred and intolerance. For God’s sake. And your own.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2012
Permission to reprint with acknowledgment of source.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Value

I was at a large Orlando mall over the weekend, the kind that has top end stores catering to the wealthy, or at least to those who behave as though they are. People like me can often find affordable bargains when there's a good sale in such stores, or discover small items that stay in the single or double digit price range. But then there are the $500 shoes, the $250 purses.

I know, I know. I am underscoring my middle-classedness by regarding these as outrageously expensive. At the top of the food chain, there are folks who might turn up their noses at such prices as proof of lower quality. For them, it's the Christian Louboutins for $6k or nothing.

As if.

Maybe at some point it is relative... you make $100,000 a year, and buy more expensive gifts but still at about the same percentage as someone who makes $30,000. I don't know. All I know is that this year, Christmas will be on a diet.

Which brings me back to the question of pricey items. Are shoes that cost more than I will make substitute teaching this year that much more comfortable? I think not. Comfort is probably a low priority when you slip on a pair of  high-dollar stilettos. It's all about the designer... but if your friends don't recognize Louboutins as Louboutins, the magic is lost.

A friend of mine recently attended an event in North Dakota, where the Bakkan oil fields have turned hand-to-mouth farmers into overnight upper class elite. $65,000 a month for oil rights. My friend said he happened to talk to the local Chevy dealer and commented that he bet the guy was selling a lot of new trucks. "Mostly Corvettes," the man replied. "We're the national top seller."

A few years ago, buying a new truck would be a big deal to folks who now have to have, have to drive, sportscars. Hmmm.

There was a vendor selling pocket knives. Diamond-studded pocket knives. Thousands of dollars for something that not only no one needs, but can hardly be used for the purpose for which it was manufactured. Pocket knives cut things, whittle, open things, peel apples, for heaven's sake. Would you risk popping off a diamond to cut a good stick for marshmallow roast? Who even wants one? People who have so much money all of a sudden that they feel they have to spend it. Novelty items. It's just money. Well, how about saving it? Or giving some away? Helping someone out?

Obviously, if you've made a lot of money, it's yours to do with as you please. Not my place to judge or question, but I do wonder if getting rich quick tends to tinker with one's sense of value. Value is, in a nutshell, what someone's willing to pay for something. It may be worth a million dollars to one person, not a thin dime to another. Value is subjective. You might spend $3000 for a pair of shoes or for a fancy pocket knife. I'd rather find something more in the $20 range ... or better yet, someone's cast-off $20 shoes at Goodwill for $3.99. Or at a yard sale for a buck.

I heard a teacher speak of human life one time, saying that God values us so much that the death of Jesus in our collective place was the only fitting ransom. A person will give his or her life to save a loved one, perhaps... not so quickly for a stranger, unless we're talking true heroism. To save the life of a scoundrel? A murderer? Our enemy? The world's better off without them! But we are all scoundrels to one degree or another, and yet highly valued by our Creator. He wasted Jesus's life on us, and yet it wasn't a waste at all, not in his eyes. He values us that much.

What we value, we sacrifice for. Countries that value education pay teachers better than those that do not. That just makes sense. People who value freedom appreciate those who fight for it, or they enlist themselves.

Which fits today, because this is Veteran's Day. I have brothers-in-law who are veterans, my father and father-in-law, a daughter, loved ones, friends and neighbors, all veterans. I am so thankful that they are recipients of honor on Veteran's Day and not Memorial Day. So thankful they survived their time as Marines or in the Army, Navy, Air Force, so thankful for their choice to serve our country. I value their commitment and I value them. Our nation values the military, and should, for without it we wouldn't have a nation to begin with.

I've gone all over the place, Christmas shopping and whining about overpriced trinkets and Jesus and veterans, but so what? That's the point of a blog called "For What it's Worth"... to some, these rambling words aren't worth much and to others, they are. All a matter of perspective. A matter of what you happen to value, but I'd leave you with this thought:  Who loves you so much that no distance is too far to travel to be with you, that any time away from you is too long? Who would die for you, but even more than that, who would live for you?

In other words, who values you? To whom are you a precious treasure? And who is a precious treasure to you? Have you told them lately? That's so much more important than finding the right gift for them at the mall, at any price.


(c) Ellen Gillette, 2012