Articles by myself, BRF Larry Woodsmall, Keith Giles, Michelle Everett Wilbert, and editor’s letter from BRS Jessica White.
Everything changes except God
Articles by myself, BRF Larry Woodsmall, Keith Giles, Michelle Everett Wilbert, and editor’s letter from BRS Jessica White.
Happiness, gratitude, joy: Words that are bubbling through social media, in publications and in books currently on the best selling list. As Christians, how can we be concerned for these, while serving Christ fully?
There is no wrong in being happy, feeling grateful, or looking for joy. The real concern for Christians is that we displace our dependency on and faith in God while seeking these pleasures. While all measures of such positive emotions must be, in some way, a gift from God, we are concerned principally with receiving these graces directly from God, and not from our own selfish pursuits.
I could not avoid Victoria Osteen’s words on happiness and God. Many Christians were shocked, or at least troubled, by them. Here is a quote from the broadcast, purportedly Mrs. Osteen’s words:
“I just want to encourage everyone of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.
“So I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
Of course, there is a huge problem in that first sentence. Yes, obeying God, when we are doing it, in an important way, is for God. It is for “our own good” in another way, but certainly not to make us happy, as in having pleasant emotions. Eventually, obedience to God will give us happiness, and more, but first, we must pass through a lot of negative emotions. The fear and uncertainty is to cleanse our spirit of sin and our inevitable loss of God when are main concern is to seek our own happiness. Obedience to God does not change God, or make His life easier; God does not need us in that way. We please God to walk in His way, which is the way that leads to peace, true love, and spiritual maturity. Obedience to God is to further the very real goal we have with Him, to “build His Kingdom” by keeping temptation and sin at bay.
Does God take pleasure in our happiness? The Bible would seem to say that God takes pleasure in our obedience, as we pray, study His word, and follow His commandments. Happiness as in seeking pleasure, in pleasing ourselves, even if it costs others peace, happiness and comfort, is not according to God’s will. That kind of happiness is merely selfishness, a childish desire to meet our whims and petty desires.
There could be a married couple, where the husband has taken money committed to supporting the family, and purchased something that fulfills a desire he has had, something like a sports car, or a cruise. He is incredibly pleased with this, but his wife is appalled. The money had been meant for education, or a new house, or their retirement. The husband is happy; the wife and family can share this new experience and perhaps they will get some pleasure from it. Still, the husband’s immediate happiness and anticipated pleasure has robbed the family of some security, or even thwarted a plan to improve the family’s life overall. A car or a cruise would not be a bad thing in itself. He didn’t buy anything dangerous or illegal. yet the family will suffer longterm for his decision to make himself happy.
Does worship make God happy? Many times, God condemned Israel for their empty ceremonies. Paul admonishes the churches for being more concerned about putting on a show and having a feast than in praying and expressing gratitude to God. The people attending these ceremonies and gatherings may have been very happy in that experience. They may have been even ecstatic, dancing and singing, crying out in unknown languages, overwhelmed by the excitement and attention.
I Kings 9: So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”…
The wind, earthquake and fire whirling around Elijah were not God. The still small voice that whispered directly in the prophet’s ear was God. Elijah was expecting the quiet voice; the excitement was something else. The noise and shaking were a response to the presence of God, but not God.
Happiness is like that. Pleasure is one thing God uses to drive us closer to Him, to announce His presence. Humans, though, have corrupted that pleasure, and we can find it in things, places and sensations that God would not give to us. The pleasure of sin is short-lived. It will fail us. Seeking pleasure in consumption, in gaining power, or in idleness is sin. It will, in the end, ruin us for God’s ultimate purpose, which is to bring us to Himself.
Even attending church and enjoying what seems innocent and enlightening can separate us from the love of God. If we turn our attention to those who claim to be teaching God but are only teaching about themselves, we will fall into sin. We will share the hubris – destructive pride – of those who misuse God’s name to gain the pleasures of this world.
When I saw Victoria Osteen’s words on God and happiness, my first thought was, “Tell that to the martyrs.” These witnesses of the faith did not serve God by being happy. My guess is that they were often unhappy, as they were imprisoned, hunted, interrogated or tortured, and then killed. There is no real pleasure in that. I believe, too, that those who are martyred for faith often had an incredible, indescribable joy. They received the best gift from God in that, a consolation that they were close to Him, in His presence, as they found courage in the Holy Spirit. They had the peace that passes all understanding even as they were in pain, hungry, wounded and frightened.
Joy is not just happiness. Happiness can be as fleeting as eating an ice cream cone on a hot, sunny day. Happiness can be the mere moments we lose our concerns and worry while watching a comedy or reading an exciting book. There is nothing wrong with that kind of happiness, as long as we don’t think that is all the happiness we need. That kind of happiness becomes addictive, and we need more and more to even begin to feel happy in it. True happiness never takes from others, or puts our own pleasure above theirs. Mere pleasurable happiness is not going to lead to joy.
The joy we find in God is not something we can turn on and off. We can’t go shopping for joy. Joy is like stepping into a beautiful lake to swim, at the right time of day, and finding that is the right temperature, the right depth. The same lake may not yield that pleasure of rightness every day; we can even go and merely sit on its shores some days. Yet it is always there, and when the great confluence of grace and heart meet, God and His loving, humble creature, we are bathed in those joyful waters.
Victoria Osteen’s words on happiness may have been careless, spoken more in enthusiasm and a desire to please than in a wickedness to turn us from the way of God. Personally, I ignore anything Joel and Victoria Osteen say. Their way of living and their public presence do not seem, to me, to be the way to God. Their speeches and sermons are empty words. Don’t be deceived, but do not treat them with contempt and hatred. Don’t be envious of their success, as it is merely worldly. All pleasure that is not of God is a millstone around the neck. Praise, fame, admiration, riches and possessions are a puff of smoke in eternity. Many follow these people and have made them rich. But to say that is the reward God has given them is to say that those beloved of God who professed Christ in pain, poverty and death are wrong, and we know this is not truth.
My friend and sister, Karen!
Originally posted on Voice of American Women's Rights:
When I began to write this blog, I thought that I would have a great deal to offer. I am not so sure any more. I am overwhelmed by the ways in which women continue to be oppressed in the United States. In many ways, I hold back because of my anger at the continued mistreatment of women.
Today my daughter celebrates her thirty-first birthday. At her birth, I did not think that she would have to continue to fight for the basic rights that should be inalienable; but she does and I do. I get tired of the struggle and wish to pass the baton, but it would seem, for the time being, I must run this race.
In 1971, Rep. Bella Abzug had Congress designate August 26th as Women’s Equality Day. This particular date honors the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the…
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This is the link to my article in the YOKE webzine for this month. Browse through the several contributions by writers from varying denominational backgrounds and theological views.
Zondervan is all into publishing niche Bibles. Not just different translations, but Bibles for different markets, from women who are looking for some guidance on family life, to teens who are hoping to have some questions answered. Niche marketing sells, especially when well-meaning family members have decided that Someone needs a Bible.
I doubt if any teen would choose this as their Bible. If anything, it might appeal to a younger child looking forward to their teen years. The problem with anything marketed to “teens” is that what appeals to that demographic shifts like sandbars in a hurricane. They are never where you think they should be, and their interests, speech patterns and priorities change so quickly that by the time anything aimed at the demographic is published, they have moved on.
The Zondervan Teen Study Bible has a very evangelical outlook. It draws parallels between the lives of biblical figures and what modern teens might be experiencing. Honestly, I think that is a bit of a stretch. here’s an example, from one of the “Instant Access” sidebars, this one in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 2: “You know that prayer is important. Everyone knows that. But it’s not easy to find the time, Jesus was so busy it was hard for him to find time too.” First, it has a very superficial understanding of prayer, as some activity we shoehorn into our day. Second, it suggests that Jesus was just tearing around the countryside, being busy. Possibly, these are two viewpoints with which many theologians would take issue. But they are presented as facts in this sidebar.
I doubt if I would buy this for a teen in my family. Some, who have experience with Bible study and scriptural analysis, might find it useful. It is already rather dated in appearance and tone. I would suggest finding a standard NIV or New English translation, giving it to the teenaged student, and letting them make of it what they will. The evangelical overlay here is pretty heavy-handed.
This is excerpted from The YOKE webzine. The YOKE is the religious order I shepherd. Each month we gather articles from fellows and friends focussed on a them of Christian living. July’s zine is about “Pilgrimage.”
You can see the whole edition, and more about the YOKE at:
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
…And the night-fires going out, and the
lack of shelters,
… the villages dirty and charging high
A hard time we had of it.
…All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different…
The shrine we sought is small, dirty, crowded with hawkers pushing cheap souvenirs in our faces. The food is bad, the water expensive, the rooms infested. The police are everywhere and yet someone’s wallet is stolen. Altogether, the trip is a disappointment, and the pilgrims compensate by getting drunk and noisy on the last night.
And then there are pilgrimages we didn’t expect to make.
A back road between two rural villages is punctuated by an old church, a cemetery, or a tree on a hill. We stop for no particular reason. Inside an old door, through a rusty gate, beside a clear spring we find that divine moment we may have missed when we went looking for it.
The motive for the pilgrimage may vary from pilgrim to pilgrim: The need for an answer or a cure; to escape sorrow or love; ennui or doubt. Will any of these be answered, will any needs be fulfilled? It is a matter of the Holy Spirit whether what is sought is found, and is requested is given.
The pilgrimage, there and back, should change the pilgrim, who hopes for the best change, although what does change may be unexpected.
Did you expect to gain something?
And if you lose something instead?
Were you hoping for an answer of “Yes?”
What if the answer is “No?”
Do you expect to return home satisfied?
What will you do if God sends you on elsewhere?
One never knows at the beginning what the end will be.
Originally posted on For Each Day:
Shouldn’t one’s Bible be easy to read? Yes, of course it should. It can be discouraging for someone to be given a Bible, or buy a new one, and find it is hard to hold and hard to understand. I am, at heart, an Elizabethan, and the early English Bibles appeal to me, right through the King James authorized text. I do understand, though, that the archaic forms of modern English are becoming, at a rapid pace, unintelligible to contemporary readers. The King James version with which many people of my age were raised was written in a dialect of English that was already disappearing fast in Britain, but was retained for that translation to match the form of English used in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Today’s liturgies and worship services, along with modern commentaries on the scriptures, are written in contemporary English. While it isn’t necessary to…
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I am not really a city person. It took two years for me to venture as far as the lakeside in Chicago, even when I worked about two blocks from the waterfront. I don’t go to theatres, clubs, pubs or restaurants. I don’t shop. What am I doing in a city?
Particularly among the people who end up living and begging on the streets. They are addicts, alcoholics, runaways, ex-cons, and con artists. They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, victims and disabled. Some are holding onto life with a tight grip, others are barely holding on with a fingernail. Some have found that street life keeps them out of institutions, as long as they can keep moving, keep a low profile, stay out of legal trouble. Others find that street life regularly sends them to jail or the psychiatric unit, because they don’t move fast enough, or don’t have a low profile, or they can’t stay away from those who lead them astray.
I talked to James on the phone today. James was once a gang leader, a bad character, a dangerous man. Substance abuse, though, left him weak and sick. He walked into a Pentecostal mission one night, and found a new life. It didn’t get him off the streets, though, and since he wouldn’t go back to crime, he begged. then he ended up near dead in the snow. A long hospital stay brought social workers into his life, and things turned around, as he went to a transitional shelter, and then into his own apartment.
James is my principal contact downtown. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He prays with people, gives blessings, and is a source of hard-won wisdom. He still has to beg from time to time, to get en0ugh together to pay an electric bill, or to get some documents copied. He knows I don’t like him to beg. He is vulnerable, with his bad knees, his slight frame, his fragile bones. I thought James was about seventy; his nephew tells me James is two years older than me. the police hassle him sometimes when he has to sit down on the street corner, claiming he is blocking pedestrian traffic or being a nuisance. James is polite, quiet, and helpful. Yet his need and his presence are seen as intimidating to tourists.
James needs some help this week, but I don’t have the funds. I don’t have time to get downtown until the end of the week. I will check in with him by phone before I take the Blue Line to Clinton Street. It hurts me that James has to beg, that I can’t help him with his simple and basic needs. It hurt me yesterday that I had run out of money, food cards and transit passes. I gave one person a rosary and a Bible, and he appreciated it, but he needed food and shelter as well.
We are not funded by a denomination or church. We are pretty much on our own. We get some donations, but most of Hermosa House and the YOKE is supported by our own earnings, and we are maintaining two separate residences right now because of, well, circumstances. Our prayer is to be self-sustaining, to draw in enough companions to make the burden light for everyone involved, and have enough to help the poorest of the poor. This is not a situation for beginners, though. We have tried that, and the ones without years of experience in the faith run from the intensity, the poverty, the lack of diversion. We are an order for those who are already deep in obedience to their Lord. We cannot serve two masters, not both God and the world of success, status and wealth. We serve one Lord, and we bar the door to the other one who would master us in His place.
If I could fit out a small, portable chapel that I would push like a handcart, it would be a useful thing. Still, the sacred space makes itself apparent, flows down around us and encloses us when we must call upon God for shelter.
As I left work today, I passed a woman who was seated in a chair just beside the subway turnstiles. She seemed to be hyper-ventilating, and a small cluster of Transit Authority employees surrounded her. Perhaps she had fainted, perhaps she was lost. I had a feeling that their problem was about to become my concern. One of the guards offered to walk with her down to the train. I was just a few yards ahead of them, and he escorted her onto the car where I was seated. She took the seat behind me.
Then she started to cry.
It was more than crying. It was wailing, and praying. She was in hijab, and she was calling out in Farsi. As the doors of the car closed and the train started to move, I asked her if she was ill, if there was something I could do to help. Two young Egyptian girls, also hijabi, sat across from her. I pieced together that she was overwhelmed with the news she had just received that her father had died. She had been at work in the airport, a family member called her, and she was on her way home to tell her household.
What could be done? I could not reassure her; her father was dead, it was terrible news, and no empty consolation would mend that. I held her hand, and patted her shoulder. I told her I understood, that it was the saddest news one could hear. She cried, she wailed, and she prayed. The two Egyptian girls tried to comfort her, hold her other hand, and pray with her, but they did not speak Farsi, and told her in English to be a strong Muslim woman, that Allah could hear her prayers.
She told me what a fine man her father was, that now she was sure he was with Allah, that he was receiving the reward for his faith. I agreed with her, not because I knew, or even believed in the same way, but because that was important to her, to think of her father as a man of great faith, who God loved.
Grief cannot be stopped. Once it starts, it is as inexorable as the tide. It must run its course, the tears shed, the words said, the prayers prayed. It is like labour, one friend told me, and to try to circumvent it will harm all those involved.
I knew which train station she needed to exit at, and the girls were going the same way. I walked her to the door of the car, and made sure she was safe. The girls would see her to the bus. She thanked me for my care and support. I hadn’t done anything but make sure she reached her destination, and held her hand, and murmured soothing words that really didn’t matter in content.
Tourists and other passengers looked at me with curiosity. “Her father just died,” I explained. “She got the news while at work.”
They had watched this noisy and dramatic scene with some alarm; they were all right with having me take charge of the scenario. Two women sitting together, probably sisters visiting Chicago, thanked me for my intervention and praised my Christian compassion. The man in front of me said, “I’ve learned something from you. You were so kind.”
In that loop of eternity, there were four of us caught in a vortex of grief and prayer, all of us women, all of us traditionally dressed. The Afghani woman crying out her loss was simply dressed for work, and covered with a beautiful red scarf. The two Egyptian girls, delicate, big-eyed as icons, and graced with glowing, caramel skin like the light of sanctuary lamps, wore elegant silks. I was in my plain black skirt, uniform shirt, and a black kerchief folded and pinned as a short veil. We were four women of faith, at a crossroads. We did what should be natural to women, and entered an ancient relationship, of comforting the bereaved, and praying out the grief.
It was a blessing to minister in that difficult situation, to be allowed inside the curtained enclosure that is hijabi. It did not matter that I am Christian, or that they were Muslim. We were all merely human, merely women, at a time when one woman needs another.
Step up to the plate, and don’t strike out.
I had a bad, disturbing incident on the train yesterday. I have to get to the airport, where I work in a bookstore, very early in the morning. While I like the work and the people at work, the journey in the dark hours is stressful. I get through it by preparing myself the night before, and otherwise not thinking about how difficult this part of my day is.
I was sitting peacefully in the train car, having walked a mile in the dark to the station, in rain and wind. I thought the worst part of the trip was over.
A man got on the car, carrying some grocery items in a plastic store bag. He sat next to me, which annoyed me a bit, as there were plenty of seats elsewhere. But I was near the door, in the first car, and sometimes people will choose to do that if they are riding just a stop or two.
Soon he was fidgeting with the bag, which was set on the floor between his feet. The woman across from me said to him, “What are you doing? Don’t do that.” I gave him a deep, frowning glance, as I wasn’t sure what was up.
A few minutes later, he was fidgeting again. I felt a tug at my skirt hem. My usual work dress is a long, heavy black skirt over a long, dark petticoat. I wear knee-high stockings and heavy leather clogs. I often wear a black cardigan over my long-sleeved uniform shirt, and my hair pinned up under a prayer kapp. Not exactly provocative attire.
The two women sitting in the seats opposite then both said to this man, “Hey, leave her alone!” I jumped up and moved to sit next to one of them. “He was trying to lift your skirt,” one explained.
“What do you think you are doing?” one woman scolded him.
“Don’t act nasty to people,” the other said.
I was furious. I looked at this man intently and said, “You know that is wrong! Don’t do things that are wrong! If you are going to act like that, you can get off this train.”
We were pulling into the next station, and he got up, took his bag, and got off. The women tried to comfort me. I was considerably upset. He seemed to have been looking to sit next to a woman in a skirt, using the bag of goods as a blind for surreptitiously lifting skirts and “accidentally” touching.
This is, bluntly, sexual assault. Purposefully touching a person’s clothes and body without their permission is assault, even if they are not materially harmed physically. It is upsetting, invasive and deviant.
When I was younger, and living in Washington, DC, we expected that during crowded rush hours on the Metro (the rapid transit subway) women would be accosted and physically assaulted by strangers who used the standing room only conditions to fondle and grab. That was twenty-five years ago, and this is still the condition women face in public.
There is a lot of discussion now about the rape culture of cities and universities. Men are still, within a subset of community, encouraged to see women as sexual conquests, and available for men to use without regard for the personal rights of the women.
There have always been people with sexual problems. Forms of physical violence, from forcible rape to “creeping” on the subway, are very public forms of that sort of sexual misbehavior. Maybe we can’t cure everyone with a mental illness, but we should be able to prevent further victimization.
Women are told to watch out for themselves, take self-defense classes, carry a weapon, travel in pairs or groups, stay out of public areas where they might be attacked.
And that doesn’t work. Why should we have to be the ones in charge of the deviants?
Since almost all public perpetrators of sexual assault are men, I am calling this a problem for men to address. Men, take responsibility. Work to make the world safer for women, children and other men.
Patrol subway cars, petition for added police presence, and call out the men who victimize. It isn’t just some weirdo, or homeless guy, or dirty old man. It can be respectable-looking businessmen, college students, proper elderly grandfathers. It can be your drunken best friend. It can be your son or father. Start promoting a culture in which people don’t have to be afraid to go to work.
Yes, we need more mental health care available without someone first being convicted of an offense. We need more therapy groups and fewer jails for people with such mental health problems. Work for them. Write about how men need to step up to the plate and connect. Stop acting as if this a problem women have to solve by arming themselves or staying home.