How to be Real? Want to be a whole person? Here’s some thoughts.
Bible offers nourishment to the soul
Growing up, I remember my parents telling me that it would be good for me to read my Bible.
My Bible had a soft blue cover and it appeared more worn than it should have — because all I did was bring it to church and then bring it back home. That ride in the car — in an elementary to middle school student’s hand — must have been torture on the pages. I’m pretty sure it was missing the last few pages of Revelations, as well.
I realized that my parents were happy when I read the book, and I was starting to hear more references to Scripture in Sunday school, so I decided to read something. My first choice, because my name is Daniel, was obviously Daniel. I read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego more times than I can count. Finally, I now know how to pronounce the name Nebuchadnezzar — at least I think I can. But I never really wandered out of that book at that time because the Bible was so big. It intimidated me.
So like many people, I relied on the stories told by my Sunday school teacher to make up my biblical worldview. I knew about Jonah, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and a lot about Jesus and some about Paul and his letters. But the stories weren’t connected. I still didn’t have the big picture.
I was 15 years old when I first believed in Christ, and my whole world changed. In faith, I picked up the old tattered Bible and began to read stories outside of Daniel. The gospels were my starting point, and I moved into Paul’s letters.
To be honest, it wasn’t until college and seminary that I cracked the Old Testament beyond Genesis. I peeked here and there, but it was a world I did not understand until some professors took the time to explain that world to me.
Now I read Scripture like it’s a good piece of fresh bread. It fills me up and gives me energy for the rest of my day. Each time I read through a book, I see something new. My world changes as I understand God’s story in the past and how I am connected to this world that really isn’t so different from my own.
I see Abraham today in a man leading a family that is struggling to survive. I see Joshua on the battlefield leading troops and making a home for the people of the world. I see Isaiah in a woman on television speaking against our excesses and injustice. Like in the gospels, Jesus’ disciples currently surround us. And the spirit of Paul and the early church of Acts are in the people who care for the sick and help those who have fallen somehow, telling them the good news of the kingdom of God.
Great stories of people grappling with a holy God are wrapped in the Scriptures. You don’t have to go to seminary to learn to love them. Simply open the pages and begin to read. Add a quick link to Wikipedia and a study Bible from the bookstore, and you can learn to immerse yourself.
The exploration is much better than any fantasy or sci-fi book I have ever read. The suspense holds you as you hear the world cry out for a savior. God is and was in conversation with his people in the world. That conversation is an important one for us to own for our time and for ourselves.
Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.
A basic question I wrestle with (not in an angry way) is: Can non-religious people be good without believing in God? That’s a tricky question because it seems that religion and belief have been around as long as people have, and that goes back thousands of years. Careful study and long books going into the ether or our past are everywhere, but I have always been more concerned with the practical end of things. So my question is more like, “In our age, now, can people be good without believing in God.” That clears up the miles of tape we would have to unravel, and keeps the conversation on a playing field that anyone can jump into.
Also – to have answer this question, we also have to somehow define what it means to be “Good”. Read Plato, and you will see this is also a very well studied area going back beyond even the ancient Greeks, and so there are lots of books and careful studies into what is Good. For our sake, Good is the best state of something, so in the moral universe, Good means being most moral or “righteous” taking a word from the dictionary, especially in consideration of one’s relationship with others, and how one treats other people. For example, if one takes care of oneself, and in the abundance of their health, work to help others live happy healthy lives, they are a Good person. In contrast, one who only takes care of oneself, and uses their health to harm others or themselves, could be considered a Bad person. I like focusing on the good however.
One last qualification before I talk, people have varied view of what religion is. My simple definition of religion is “What people do in response to their belief in something spiritual”. Ex. God
The other day I read a tweet from the Dalai Lama that read, “I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.” So again, we have the question, “Can people be good without religion?” (@dalailama on Twitter, also check my favorites for this specific tweet @dannonhill) I believe, like the Dalai Lama, that it is true, that living completely without religion, a person can temper themselves, and seek what is good. These righteous ones will have triumphant times, seeking to do what is best, and succeeding likely to be celebrated by their community if the community is also good. They will also have times of failure, where even when they tried to do what is good, they failed, and by oversight, or by a moment of selfishness, the good was not accomplished, and they either live with a bit of shame, or are chastised by the community (again, if that community is good). Individually there is no problem.
Practically I do see an issue, and it involves the big picture. Not all people seek to do what is good, and it is a fact that many people only do what is good when other, more powerful people impose a code that imposes punishments for doing evil. For a society to flourish, every person has the right to property and the good use of that property to make a living. If someone steals that property by force or treachery, it is a crime and is punishable in some way. Thief’s are generally not considered Good people because they take what is not theirs, harming someone else, for their or anther’s gain. There are usually officials appointed to punish such crimes. Considering that a thief is not likely to walk into the courthouse on one’s own honor, a force greater than that of the criminal’s power has to be on hand to go and get the thief, and hold them until the authority can enact a judgment and punishment.
A problem arises, practically, when culture goes bad, and there are more bad people (or the bad people are stronger) than good people in a society, and things go downhill. This is the superman/batman/superhero story. The police are overwhelmed, the cities have few resources, there is alot of crime, and they feel powerless to stop it. So somehow a stronger force has to be developed to push back and restore order. Superman is the ultimate in this genre, because he is practically impenetrable. He has an Achilles heel (Kryptonite) for drama purposes, but all in all, he beats the bad guys, upholds the good, and the Good (Justice) is restored. Thank God for Superman, but in real life, its ordinary people who pool resources to overthrow the Bad who want to destroy and bring about chaos for their own selfish gain or entertainment (I’m thinking of the Joker in The Dark Knight – pure evil). Basically, to sum all this up, Men and Women must become like Gods, and wield great powers to overcome the non-good.
I’m still stuck a bit about why religious folk (like me) have the audacity to claim that religion, or belief in God is a requirement to be a good person. Putting aside the proselytizing impetus, it sticks in the minds of many, that religion somehow makes good people. Is that true? Of course there have been many people who have used religion to do evil, and people who continue to use the guise of faith to use the bonds of trust as a sort of club of power to destroy those of true belief. Reading about the Crusades, you see a major military struggle posed in terms of a Holy and Religious struggle, which was as much about power and control of regions and the wealth as it was about reclaiming Holy Land. People who run faiths can be bad people. That’s certainly true.
But what about the many people who have started out in bad circumstances, who developed a bad lifestyle, who have turned to religion for personal reform. Its easy to discount God because some of God’s followers have misused the keys to God’s Kingdom, but its plain demonizing to generalize every religious person as a potential Hitler. So many Christian folk in the Methodist tradition, whose commitment to social justice would shame many, have committed their lives to righting wrongs in society because they have read about God’s desire for Justice and mercy and love. So their faith has made a positive difference, and they would be discouraged to listen to a cynic stating that their faith leads them to do evil. Many in all faiths, have not wielded God’s power in vain, and have fought even the injustices within their own faith. Christians fought Christians to end slavery in England, and it was the moral activists who lit the flame for the fight that would end it it in the states as well.
Lets return to the individual stories of redemption and turning from a lifestyle of wronging others and oneself. It is not uncommon for someone desiring to do good, but who is habitually harming others, to turn to a religious community to find a way to end the evils that destroy what good they are holding onto. I once listened to a trucker in Georgia, who talked about how his life was falling apart, and who sincerely desired to spend time with his daughter. He was on the road frequently, and it was clear that he was a womanizer on the road. His wife was divorcing him, and he wanted to find a way to rebuild a bit. Somehow he sensed I was a Christian, and he changed his tone of voice and talked about how he needed to get God. He needed a fresh start, and wanted it so badly. I listened and ended up encouraging him to give the Bible I had in my sidebag to his daughter, encouraged him to stop womanizing in a delicate way, and to get his own Bible to begin a strong relationship with God. I haven’t been able to follow up with him, but I’ve seen the tail end of stories like his in churches as I grew up. Christians give testimonies of how they became believers, and the stories often start off with stories of doing wrong, doing terrible wrong, and how God put them on their knees and they walk with God on their shoulders teaching them the right path – a righteous way. Some may see these people as weak, because they could not do good on their own, but without God, these people would be stuck in addictions, continually destroying their own life and the lives of others to satisfy their lifestyle whether with drugs, sex addiction, mean nature, violence, manipulation, etc. Something about God helps some people do good.
Why is that? (1) God is considered ultimately powerful. If one believes in the notion of God, they are more likely to feel accountable to someone for their actions and would likely want to make things right before they meet Him face to face for Judgment. Those who do evil, but wish to be good, may turn themselves in – which would save society lots of money in apprehending them. Proper punishments assure that they are reprimanded. That would be seen as a partnership between God and civil authorities. God holds all ultimately accountable and has the power to bring anyone to justice ultimately, and civil authorities in the human realm are temporarily given the authority to bring about Justice until that time so that people can live in peace. If human societies become unjust, God has the power to bring whole cultures to account, and the Old Testament in the Bible speaks of whole nations being judged and dismantled. (2) God is a good conversationalist. If human identity is found through talking and processing the story of who we are, then talking with God and believing that there is supernatural help is a way to build a new identity not centered on self, but on God and the community. While God is the judge of the universe, He also would be considered to have unlimited capacity for relationships with His people and if God made you, then who would know you better? Big change is possible in this type of back and forth – especially if God actually exists.
God is actually an extremely advanced thought for a society, and the accountability that faith in God brings, is something that streamlines morality. In a society that believes in nothing, or many Gods, there are many moralities – as many as you can think of. If a superpower other than yourself gives you a code, and everyone is encouraged to follow it, we are all made accountable and authorities are empowered to cooperate with God to bring about the Good in society. A universal God can bring about a universal good more efficiently because he doesn’t have to spend billions to train up a force that could be decimated by an army of evil. If God exists, then a force that no human evil could ever conquer is in control, and we can partner with it and try to do all the good we can.
It would be easy to say that religious people only do good because they are afraid of God, or that they need a psychological Teddy Bear to help the weak cope. I think that is mostly untrue, since people know that most religious writings talk about a God who is good to those who “do good to others” and love other people. I think that religious people are more likely to do good because they believe God is good, and the ultimate role model for living a good life.
Is is possible for one to develop a heart for doing good without religion or a belief in God? It is possible. Will they ever be perfect and always do good? No. We know that everyone makes mistakes despite their intentions, including religious folk whose errors are magnified by their high calling. This is a messy conversation because its so personal, like the cab rider said in Tolstoy’s story called Youth, people want you to keep your thoughts on religion to yourself. But for those who believe, what is good is tied to belief and life is wound in the possibility of a better world. F
or those who don’t believe, I feel there is a huge responsibility that may be unbearable for most, and that tragedy may be more common for those who try to bring about good in a world bent on moral relativity, with as many moral codes as there are persons. You truly will need to have the strength of a god, like Superman, to continually police the world if individuals aren’t able to police themselves.
This is a good conversation though, and we need to be able to speak about it more without the fear of mocking, or sensitivity. Lets speak about it as it is, and works towards something good no matter how hard it is. Though imperfectly, we are all trying to figure out what Good we are meant to do.
Sometimes the world needs a reminder there’s good news
Some countries get a lot of news coverage: Russia, China, England, Australia and Canada, to name a few of the major ones. But Chile? I hadn’t thought much about that nation until recently when news media began focusing on what seemed to be just another run-of-the-mill mining tragedy. A mine had collapsed and rescuers were frantically searching for survivors. It wasn’t until it was discovered that miners had, in fact, survived the collapse and were trapped deep below the surface that it became a different story.
For the weeks that followed this discovery, global audiences watched the news each night to see how the effort to save the men was progressing. The suspense gripped us because we know that people rarely survive these types of disasters. Was it possible the miners could go crazy, like in an episode of “X-Files”? How would their hope hold out? How could they be saved when they were so far below the surface? After seeing how quickly stories can go from bad to worse — such as the Gulf oil spill — one had to wonder what the future held for the trapped miners. We all hoped for the best, but there was a very real possibility this could turn to horror.
Then these men were saved.
A drill reached the miners and created a hole big enough to send down a container to save the crew, one man at a time. Chile celebrated, the families of the crew rejoiced, and the world watched as prayers from across the globe were answered. Who ever thought these hard-working men would have their faces in every home with a television? They’re now famous for remaining patient while waiting to be saved.
I remember someone once saying why the musical group The Carpenters was so well-received at their debut: “The world was ready for something good.” After so much angst, so many failures, so many disasters — from Hurricane Katrina, to the great loss of life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the harm the spilled oil has done to the Gulf — we were all in need of good news.
All bitterness in the past is put aside for now, because the world has found goodness — a reminder of our beginnings, when God made man and woman and felt satisfied with what he had created.
We were made in God’s image and we need reminders that despite the threat of the walls collapsing, and darkness overwhelming us in our ordinary lives, there is something within us that helps us get through tough times. It is in our makeup, and though we have screwed up in the past and continue to make mistakes, we are also capable of great things.
Our faith in a good future is an important thing.
Jesus rocked the disciples, when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
In commissioning them to do greater things, Jesus told them they would perform miracles; they would speak a new message of hope to the world, of a place where God’s goodness is shown, and people work together to end evil and destroy the darkness.
It is good to have heartwarming stories like the rescues in Chile because it gives us hope.
It is also a good reminder to the people of the church that the world is still looking for good things, and the love of Christ is the greatest thing of all.
Prelude: There is a new term out there for the up and coming Generation, and its “Millenial”. Basically anyone born after 1980. We are people who have watched it grow, or have always known of the internet. I’ve read in the book “Me, Myspace, and I” that in contrast to other generations, we are very different. I suppose because the greatest technological advance ever (more people on earth), tech and symbol and communication, and everything are changing more rapidly than ever before. “Change” is the “stability” in my opinion. While people will want more things not to change, culture is leaving those people behind. These same people realize it, and then adapt as well, and they enter the Millenials world. Our technology is people, our stability is change, and our expectations on society and culture are huge. The whole world must change for us, by us, and our energy produces little in tangible goods. Since machines do most of the labor, our generation does not produce warriors, or food, or product on the whole. We consume these things. We produce thoughts, songs, entertainments, and endless ways to escape. That transcendence that we are looking for, produces its own religion. Its not even materialism anymore. That was a scary thing and we are surrounded by its effects. But our religion is “Creation-ism”. We have been told we can do anything, and so we are trying to accomplish the impossible. The impossible to us, is not doing regular work – it is being a star. So we have religious leaders.
Watch this video and read on:
Radiohead and Experience: My friend posted this on facebook today. Its of the band “Radiohead”, an incredibly influential band in my generation. Like many bands, they have symbols to be known by. The dim lights, the technology surrounding them, the sounds that they make which are unique to the experience they provide. And they work hard to create a space that people can experience in their presence. It is an incredibly serious task. It involves who they are (in the lyrics and the sounds their instruments make), it involves the sacred space (the place between the artist and the consumer (where the symbols are given and received and interpreted and appreciated), and there is a transcendence that elevates a person beyond normal existence (one does not experience the world like a concert in normal life). In a world that is less and less religious, Radiohead, and countless other bands, provide a religious experience that changes peoples lives. They leave the concert saying to themselves, “Something” happened here. And they never forget whatever happened to them. They process it and it stays with them for the rest of their life. It becomes a marker, and they try to re-experience it over and over, but nothing is like the real thing- Radiohead, in person.
Religions Ferver All Over: Religion is popping up everywhere. The passion that people used to direct toward God is now focused in other realms. Politics, War Strategy, Patriotism, Charity Work, Entertainment, Celebrity, Family, and many other parts of living as a human in community.
A few hundred years ago, one would have had to go to a John Edward’s sermon to have a life altering experience, or a sermon by Whitfield, or Wesley, or Finney, or whatever missionary roved about. Now the bands move from city to city, popular culture gives meaning to my fellow millenials. There is no pulpit, but there are microphones and synthesizers. And they are listening to the sounds, whether the artists know whats moving through them or not.
I wonder what God is doing with all this? I wonder how much of this is healthy?
The Church and a Response: Some churches are looking at this and making worship services that reach the Gen-X crowd (who were anti-program and institution in nature – think X-Files), and some are moving beyond and seeing that millennials are different and seek more intense transcendent experiences involving light and sound, that convey a moment where they are completely open to receive the Gospel. But their quest isn’t always a healthy one considering how expensive the experiences they demand cost. Think how much a concert ticket costs, and wonder a bit about how much you are willing to pay to go and experience worship of God. Interesting, no?
Conclusion: All things are ultimately in the hands of a great God who will rule over all people with justice and love – and I wonder how it will all mix when Radiohead fans meet up with the peoples of ancient cultures, and all make some show of their appreciation to God for the gift of music in our lives.
New world, new symbols, but humans are still the same. We always need a few basics, even when we want alot of things that distract us.
The easter season is still on us people. My pastor came to me wanting to show this video in service, and I was blown away. It starts off so heavy, but you’ll find it is powerful and well worth it. If you haven’t thought about the power of Jesus, a guy that lived 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, this video may refresh and inspire.
This is absolutely amazing. I love good intentional work like this!
Source: @churchkreatives on Twitter
Okay. So I’m reading a lot of books right now, and so I’m going to list them and tell you why I’m reading them. Let me know what books you are reading and why. I’m geek like that.
(1) The Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (JRR Tolkien) – I haven’t read these since the 4th Grade and I’m starting over. They are so much better this time around.
(2) Speaker for the Dead (Orson Scott Caird) – The sequel to Ender’s Game based on a planet where little porkine aliens have been discovered. Very interesting. I loved Ender’s Game. Tragic.
(3) Dune: Messiah (Frank Hebert) – I’m currently rereading the Dune Series and I am on this book. The second book is not as good as the first but still is intriguing. Such a brilliant and philosophical universe.
(4) How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Gordan Fee and Doug Stewart) – Amazing book that goes through the Bible and gives backgrounds, culture, intros and structure stuff. Good stuff.
(5) Messy Spirituality (Mike Yaconelli) – I am a youth minister and this book reminds me that you don’t have to be perfect to do ministry or be a Christian. Thank God for Jesus.
(6) Genesis and Exodus (Bible, Various Authors) – Our youth group is reading through the Bible in one year. I’m reading it with them, and it is a great journey!
Okay, so what books are you currently reading?
Last Sunday I started a series at Surf Youth Groups called “Better Than Good”. The premise being that being Good is the baseline. We are supposed to do our chores, our jobs, our schoolwork, and keep ourselves presentable for other people (hygiene for those of you who didn’t pick up on that). But that eventually becomes tiresome. We stop growing after we’ve mastered how to routinize our everyday responsibilities. We can be doing “Good” but somehow we know that in order to grow, we need to be and do something “Better”. This is why its titled Better Than Good.
So my last week, our first week in this series, I read portions of Philippians 4, where Paul is commending the Philippian church for their support of him. He was sure that he was able to bear his challenges in life in Poverty and in Wealth, but his load was made lighter by this church who had given to him to alleviate some of Paul’s resume (which in his previous writings, are all instances of suffering for the Gospel). Paul was content to suffer for Christ, and the Philippians did not have to help Paul. Yet they did. They were Better Than Good.
Then, I challenged them to get around tables and talk about how they could be “Better Than Good” in four areas and the results were quite fruitful.
(1) Home – The results primarily dealt with attitudes. They do what they have to, but students don’t always like to do what they have to. Attitude and doing work with joy was a primary gift to help out families.
(2) Church – Here, participation in church worship, and volunteering more in the church community (acolytes, ushering, reading scripture, service, etc.) was highest on the list to help out.
(3) Community – The response to this element was overwhelming. It is obvious that youth are heavily involved in their communities, and they love to think up new ways to serve those who have need around them. From serving those with certain disabilities to doing random community service projects, this category was as infused with thought and energy as you’d imagine. Young idealism is the best kind, and we plan on making these ideas become reality at a Service Oriented Lock-In early October.
(4) Globe – Here, many students mentioned becoming missionaries (short and long term), and primarily thought about poverty relief in other nations. I’m thinking of partnering with a UMC Advance project, and we hope to begin taking an offering soon that would support that adopted project somewhere in the Globe.
So all in all, it was a very successful beginning to the series. Next week we’ll be talking about being “Better Than Good” in our individual lives, so that when we help others, we are giving them a vessel filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and doing God’s will rather than just leading our own (sometimes destructive) paths.
Let me know if you have any questions or have any ideas for me to include in the series (comment below).