Sunday, December 9, 2012

40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Ever Taken

Last night I ran across a compilation of 40 amazing, moving, even tear-jerking photos from throughout history. Go to the following link to see them. Powerful stuff.

Christians and Interfaith Dialogue

So, I just came to the realization that one of my favorite activities of all time is interfaith dialogue. I absolutely love conversing about faith, spirituality and personal philosophy with people of different religions and/or worldviews. Also, as well as enjoying this, I have learned a great deal from such discussion. I am a Christian and very passionate about my faith. I gain a lot from my relationships with fellow believers. However, there is a whole other realm of learning and depth that happens when people who disagree on these things form a friendship and intellectual connection. When I was in high school, for example, this is something that happened almost constantly at school, and it shaped me in my beliefs in some pretty powerful ways. It helped me understand my own faith, and maybe more profoundly it helped me learn how it applies and interacts with the people around me.
Never in my life have I seen a friend "converted". And honestly, this does not bother me. And this is where I will probably lose some of you readers. But let me explain. I think that so often us Christians think of friendship with people of other faiths as a means to an end. Relationship becomes the way to proselytize and change people's opinions. I personally think that this is extremely manipulative for one thing, and turns people off big time, but there are other serious downsides for us as Christians. We have so much to gain from the worldviews, and just plain friendship, of people who do not believe as we do. There is power in people coming together despite, and even through, their differences. And in the end, I truly think that as Christians and friend we have more impact and positive influence on people when we just be with them and not try to change them. And I think that as Christians, we have a particular call to interfaith dialogue. That is part of the great commission at the end of Matthew. Discipleship and community goes beyond and much deeper that trying to convert people. Many Christians may disagree, and that is understandable as their is a tension here. I am processing through this myself still, to be honest. But regardless, I am convinced that interfaith dialogue is incredibly powerful and important not only to those who we are speaking to, but to us as well. Some of the most beneficial conversations I have ever had have been this way. So I encourage you, connect with people and dialogue with them as I have suggested. It is enjoyable, but even more than that, it is an important part of our own faith, striving for God's truth and guidance, and personal spiritual formation. And ultimately, this plays an important role in active, lived out faith.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Holy of Holies and Shallow Modern Worship

So, this is a thought that is long overdo, which I meant to post about 6 months ago. So if it sounds whiny or cynical, that's not me now. Well, no...I'm still cynical.
But anyway...

I started thinking (about 6 months ago before I fell into the deadly sin of blogger sloth-aka having a life off of the internet) about ancient Judaism, with the Temple, with God's dwelling place in the Holy of Holies where nobody but the High Priest dared enter (and even then with fear and trembling). And I started wondering: what would it have been like for that High Priest. What would it be like to go into a place where the presence of God was so powerful that people were known to die by entering with impure hearts?  Imagine how much preparation it would take for someone to be anywhere near able to do that- and I don't just mean Levitical purification rights (that would make a truly riveting post)...I'm talking about emotional, psychological preparation. I mean, it's the eternal, all powerful Creator of the Universe we're talking about here. And as for the final act of passing the threshold... that would surely entail an inexpressible amount of awe and reverence. To be the one person who could literally stand before God on behalf of a whole nation... yep, that's pretty intense.  

In the midst of this somewhat dumbfounded pondering, my mind drifted to something else, which had been on my mind a whole lot then, and even now months later: the shallowness of a great deal of modern Christian worship. And by this, I do mean all forms, but the particular one that irks me is corporate worship songs. So... we sing to the Almighty God, and all we can think to praise Him for is what He has done for us, and how He makes us feel? And even when songs are actually reverent, they have no meaningful content whatsoever?
Ok, I recognize that there are good worship songs out there, but going to a Christian college where I have chapel every day, I have been exposed to A LOT of stuff that is shallow, self centered, and has no real content. (Oh don't get me started on the utter lack of content in modern worship songs.) But, moving on to other forms of worship, there are a lot of the same issues there as well. Prayer is another case in point: we talk to God about what we want, how we feel, and quite often treat Him as a divine vending machine or genie of some sort.

I want to be clear: this is a criticism of myself as much- maybe even more- than anyone else. And I am not saying there is anything wrong with valuing the emotional connection that we have with God, or thanking Him for what He has done in our lives. In fact, I wish I were a lot better at these things. But the point I would like to make is that God is worthy of worship that is deeper, more thoughtful, and reverent than what most Christians (including myself) tend to give Him. Our prayers should go beyond simple thanksgiving when things go our way or 30 second prayers when someone asks us to intercede for them, or the more lengthy prayers we offer when we want something for ourselves or someone very close to us. We should go deeper. And this sometimes means Doing things like pouring the darkest parts of out hearts and minds to God in times of desperation and pain, or journaling to sort through deep issues and asking for wisdom. As for corporate worship, there is usual not much we can do when a song during service is shallow or devoid of content, but we can amend the way we engage in it. We can focus not just on the worship, but also on the fact that it is corporate. Community is o e of the most powerful things about structured worship in a church service. Honestly, most emotionally focused lyrical worship bugs the crap out of me, for reasons I have already mentioned. I prefer liturgy and a more meditative environment, as that is what really directs me to worship and reverence. But in situations such as chapel at my university, when I look around me and really listen to my fellow believers offering up their hearts to their creator, I am deeply moved and directed to God in an equally profound experience of worship. That is just one example of the sort of approach I am suggesting.

And of course, life itself is an act of worship. The greatest way for us to serve and worship God is to not separate out daily life from praise, prayer, meditation on God's truth, and possibly most importantly seeking out those moments in which He makes himself known in our lives.

My Art

As a follow-up to the last post, after speaking about my artistic passion, I must show some of my work. This is not anywhere near all of my stuff, but it is what I consider some of my best.
Enjoy, but I will warn you: if you even thing of stealing my ideas and violating copyright laws I will KICK YOU IN THE SHINS!!!!
Anyway, here it is...
 1st piece in a series on Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"


 The following 6 prices are a series on the biblical story of Jonah.                                   

  From the biblical book of Daniel...

Daniel's vision of a man with skin like topaz and bronze, eyes like fire, surrounded by flashes of lighting. Actually, this is the inspiration for this blog's name!

The mysterious hand writing on the wall to predict the fall of king Nebuchadnezzar. "Mene mene hekel veparsin."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What it Actually Means to Avoid the Appearance of Evil, in Light of The Life of Christ

Growing up in the Church, there are various phrases that I constantly have heard, which I now know are completely faulty, and the result of taking scripture completely out of context.

One of those terms is "avoid the appearance of evil". Essentially this is used to urge "good Christians" to not do anything that may make them seem like they are sinning, pretty much so that they can maintain a flawless reputation. Ok, so I have some sarcasm going on here. I am aware that this is generally well meaning advice, but it completely misses the point for a couple reasons.

First, that is not what the text is even saying: in Greek, the phrase should actually be rendered something like "abstain from every form of evil". And in the broader context (Paul writing a letter to the Thessalonian Church about proper interpersonal conduct within the community), the passage is talking about living purely, and avoiding things that are clearly not of God. So, this verse is not trying to tell people that they cannot comfort a member of the opposite sex in a time of need for fear of  "giving the wrong idea" to other people, or that a Christian cannot be in a bar or club for fear of people thinking they are going out and getting wasted (granted, judgement and moderation is needed in all things).

And there is something else that completely blows the typical interpretation out of the water: the life of Jesus. It is very clear that He took no pains to avoid "appearing" as if He were doing something wrong. Indeed, he was often accused of sinning when He hung out with prostitutes, "sinners", traitors (tax collectors, as they were seen by their fellow Jews), and lepers (Jesus would have been considered ritually unclean because of contact with a diseased person). And the irony is that it was the people who were avoiding the appearance of evil who were condemning Him- the religious leaders who "drew a fence around the law", so that there was no chance of even looking like they were sinning.

An even more poignant example of Jesus' disregard for maintaining appearances is His dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well. There are a number of fascinating things going on there...

1. Men were strongly discouraged from socializing with women who were not their wives. (And some of the most conservative teachers of the Law even discouraged that!) This was especially frowned upon when they were alone.
2. Samaritan women were thought to be unclean from birth. Jesus would have been thought to be violating Mosaic Law.
3. In Jewish Literature, the meeting of a man and a woman at a well was often associated with romance. And some ancient accounts show that even asking a woman for water could be interpreted as flirting with her.
4. This is probably the most obvious: the people of her town would have known of the woman's promiscuity. Seeing a man talking to her would undoubtedly send "the wrong message".

My point in all this is Jesus cared much more about reaching "sinners" than He did about seeming like one.

As Christians, we need to have the same approach. We need not to guard our reputation at the cost of another person's well being. And, sometimes, trying to seem pure is a greater sin than seeming like you're sinning.

We don't need to avoid the appearance of evil. Rather, we must avoid evil itself.

Candlelight Easter Vigil at a Greek Orthodox Church- A Poem

As mentioned in my latest post, I had the wonderful opportunity last weekend to attend an Easter vigil at a Greek Orthodox church. And, for my poetry writing class, I ended up writing a poem about it. I thought I would share it here, and that someone may appreciate it. So, here it is.

Candlelight Easter Vigil at a Greek Orthodox Church

Christ gazes down on me,
an icon on the domed ceiling
and the room goes dark,
like His tomb.

The gathered saints hold candles,
illuminating their worship,
reflecting from the angelic
robes of the priests.

A chant echoes prayerfully:
“Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison”
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

I smell the rose petals and
bay leaves, strewn across
the floor, left over from
a ritual this morning

The scent of melting beeswax
mingles with the incense smoke
as it floats, with a blessing
toward the believers.

This place smells like
it is truly a house of prayer

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Experience at an Eastern Orthodox Easter Service

It is about 3:00 in the morning, and I just got back from a most wonderful experience: a candle light Easter vigil at a Greek Orthodox church. Yes, I just got back. At this point, many people would be ready to judge me as crazy for enduring a "long and boring, emotionless cermony-ridden service". And, having grown up in a very "low church" environment, I probably would have thought the same myself a couple years ago. But this is most certainly not the case. It was absolutely beautiful and inspiring. 

The candle lit darkness filled with the melodious chanting of hymns such as "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those within the tomb bestowing life", and the accompanying Greek translations is a scene I will not soon forget. The mood of the room was contemplative, prayerful, and everything was full of tremendous symbolism. It was extremely different than the highly emotional worship I am used to, but no less powerful- in some ways more, in fact. There is something profoundly impacting about an experience that has a great deal of background and tradition. And what especially struck me was that it truly felt like a place of prayer- and it smelled like it too, with the scents of incense and beeswax candles.

This experience was very profound for me. One of the main reasons, I think, is that recently my faith has come to a place where emotion has taken a backseat to intellect and practicality. God uses my mind to communicate with and guide me much more than He uses my emotions. This has even come to a point where emotionally driven corporate worship does not resonate with me, and does very little to help me worship God. I clearly see God move in many other ways, but this is not one of them. The Eastern Orthodox service gave me a refreshing opportunity to engage in a worship experience that was not emotionally driven, and as a result inspired me tremendously. And it gave me a deeper understanding of what it means for God to "inhabit the praises of His people"; even though this was a radically different environment and tradition from what I am used to, I could tell God was there.