Tag Archives: Christianity

Bridging the Gaps in My Faith

…from a recent phone conversation…

Me: So what has your faith life been like recently?

Amy: Oh, I’ve been enjoying two churches, believe it or not!

Me: Really?

Amy: Yeah, I have really been enjoying [Church B] because the pastor does a great job at presenting the message, and I also enjoy all that they are offering.  I still go to [Church A] because I have been going there for so long, but I also just enjoying all that [Church B] has too!

Me: Wow, that’s really cool Amy!  In fact…it sounds exactly what I have been doing recently too.

I have been ecumenical and inter-religious ever since high school.  I have attended Christian groups, and some Christian services.  I am a Christian-Catholic, and unfortunately that’s a huge difference between Christians.  In college, I was the Public Relations Officer for the Muslim Student Association because they needed someone willing to do the communication, and I befriended a few Muslims.  I admired people in general who were willing to have passion behind their faith.

Passion dictates so much of what we do with our beliefs.  Those seeking out more from their faith are struck with a sense of passion.  Those involved with their faith community are energized with passion.  Read the poem at the end of this blog that further emphasizes this point.

eastside worship space

eastside worship space

Passion seems to seek us, and strikes, leaving us desiring more.  It struck me with my first attendance at Eastside Christian Church.  My housemates were already becoming regulars at Eastside.  I only heard about this church through them.  I never was able to go with them due to prior commitments.  Sometimes the commitment was to go to my own Catholic service while everyone else went to Eastside.  Then, one Saturday, as the group was about to leave, I just said, “Hey, I think I’ll join you.”

It was the music.  It was the professionalism.  It was the vibe of high energy and enthusiasm that the community gave off as you entered their worship space.  I was intrigued.  By my second visit, I was hooked.

Passion also can turn into fidelity that withstands the test of time.  This is not always the case.  I have been passionate about many things like USC football, or Angels baseball, but in the end, my passion was only as good as the team’s winning streak.  Yet, when passion was sustained for a long period of time, it then has loads of potential to become fidelity.

I have been passionate for my Christian-Catholic community for a very long time.  I got the love-bug for my Catholic faith when I was in high school.  It carried me through college, and even lead me to consider becoming a priest. (Read the blog post, “Not a Wasted Decision” to learn about my process of discernment in joining and leaving the priesthood path.)

I have shared with other Catholics about my current trend of attending two services a week for the last 3 weeks.  Some wonder if I am wavering in my Catholic faith.  I believe that’s a valid concern, but a concern I don’t have for myself.  I actually attend Catholic Mass almost every day, and have been doing so for the last 5 years.  I love so much of what the Catholic church offers…

But lately, even that hasn’t been enough.

Eastside is a well-run Christian community.  They have plenty of things to get involved in, and their services are just darn invigorating.  If praising God is supposed to be fun, don’t you think it would be invigorating too?

It is unfortunate that when I do attend a Catholic Mass, most of the time I find myself among the “walking dead.”  “Dead” meaning no passion.  Just enough energy to show up.  But I’m not sure if they know what it means to be in love with God.  I find myself singing love songs to God all by myself.  Imagine that!  Sing a love song about someone so loud, in public, and see if you don’t feel a little awkward.  That’s the same feeling I get singing at a Catholic Mass.  I have been yearning for more passion for a little while now.

Listening to my friend Amy speak about her own faith journey was comforting.  I bet there are plenty of us who are part of a couple of faith communities for the sake of trying to sustain the passion.

Passion.  We know when we have it, and we are certainly almost like another person without it.  I believe that my current church attendance at two different churches is more about sustaining my faith than changing it.

What about you?  What do you find lacking in your faith community?  How can you bridge the gaps you encounter?

“Nothing is more practical than finding God” by Pedro Arrupe, SJ

Nothing is more practical than finding God

That is, than falling in love in a quite absolute,

Final way.

What you are in love with,

What seizes your imagination,

will effect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

What you will do with your evenings,

How you will spend your weekends,

What you read,

Who you know,

What breaks your heart,

And what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love; stay in love, and it will

Decide everything.

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Recommended Book: Following Jesus

Following JesusFollowing Jesus by John Shea

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is deceivingly thin! But true wisdom does not need many words.

What you will find in this book is a manual for how to be a disciple of Jesus according to scripture. It has a broad subject, but John Shea narrows the concepts down to nine chapters, averaging 12 pages each.

This book was definitely amazing because it opened my mind to deeper understandings of Christian living. In many ways, that is a rare event because of all the theology I have soaked up for my Masters Degree I completed only a year since reading this book.

One example of insight was when John Shea brought up the story of the Good Samaritan, and asked readers to type out the story or write it down on a sheet of paper, and then keep it with them. The reader should re-read the story occasionally through the days and weeks, and hopefully the question, “How can I unconditionally love my neighbor in this instance,” will come up as a guiding principle in our speech and actions.

I never had anyone tell me to do that with scripture. Simple, yet profound!

The best part is that you do not have to be a theologian to read this book. The hard part is whether people will try to whiz through the material or prayerfully read it. I found myself doing both, but I went back and re-read any parts that I speedily devoured.

One more hard part is that although John does not write as an academic, his thought-process is very learned. Not everyone will easily digest his wisdom.

Here’s a quote to ponder on as well as to get a sense of his writing style.

“Spiritual knowing works like the physical heart. The heart…pumps blood throughout the body. After the pumped blood has circulated throughout the body, it returns to the heart to start the process all over again. Again and again, the heart gives life to the entire body. Our spiritual center…pumps life into the whole mind-body organism, renewing it over and over again. In order for the mind and will to stay filled with life, they have to return to the spiritual center and then go out from it again…. Spiritual knowing happens when we open to the flow of life in the center of our being and it enter and elevates our minds and wills.” -p.89 (Second printing edition, July 2010)

View all my reviews

The Preference Test

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

I had the privilege to attend a beautiful and well-organized “Day of Faith” at the old Crystal Cathedral, now called ”Christ Cathedral” in Garden Grove, CA.  It was a day filled with public prayer, speakers, faith testimonies, and beautiful art of sight and sound.

Catholics can be one of the shyest types of religious people to share what their faith is all about to anyone.  One speaker, Fr. Peter John Cameron, encouraged Catholics to not be so shy during the “Year of Faith,” but instead invite people to experience the joy of believing.

He said that in some ways, just proving that “there is a God” is hard enough for Catholics.  Fr. Cameron proposed that maybe Catholics could use “the preference test” developed by another priest he knew.  The test is only six questions, and shows what Christians believe and gain by their faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s a test that asks the basic question: What would you prefer?  Forget what you think is true, what you believe, what you have been taught.  Answer the questions according to preference.

Preference Test:

Question 1: Which do you prefer to believe?

When someone you love dies, they are dead, and that’s it.  You will never see them again.

Or

When someone you love dies, they somehow live on, and you have the possibility of seeing them again because when you die somehow you will live on.

Question 2: Which do you prefer to believe?

Your limitless desire for happiness will be answered continually forever.

Or

Your desires will last for your biological life and then your desires and you will be destroyed by death.

Question 3: Which do you prefer to believe?

You are loved.

Or

You are not loved.

Question 4: Which do you prefer to believe?

There is a God who created all of reality and who loves you like a father and who wants you to exist.

Or

Life is accidental, outside of what you see and touch there is nothing that cares if you exist.

Question 5: Which do you prefer to believe?

Your value depends on your abilities.  People who have greater abilities than you are more valuable than you.  When you lose your abilities your value will diminish.

Or

Your value comes from the fact that there is a God who wants you to exist.  He loves you like a father, and so even when your abilities are not the best and when other people don’t think your valuable, He still loves and values you.

Question 6: Which do you prefer to believe?

God exists, but in this life, He can never be known.

Or

God exists and can be known and experienced in this life.

Christians have lots of good news to announce, more than what other philosophies, even other religions promote.  But the question is whether Christians can be clear and concise in their beliefs.  And one way to be clear is to present the good news in contrast with the underlining bad news of Agnosticism and Atheism.

Week of the Darkness versus the Light: Death

In honor of this week of Halloween, and remembering the departed, I will post about themes that deal with the battle of darkness versus light.  This post’s theme: death.

What I always find deeply ironic is how many Christians I know are afraid of death, or feel sorry for someone who has died.  Yet, there is a firm belief in Heaven.  So what gives?

Photo Credit: Wallpaper 4 God

There is a deep attachment to our world that is not conducive to what Christians have faith in.  Why would any Christian be worried about another Christian who has died?  The only good reason to be worried is the answer to this question:  will a person be granted access to Heaven, or has the person done unspeakable things and will go to hell for it?  This question is reason enough for worry, nonetheless, I don’t run into people who are concerned with it.  The concern about the dead tends to be placed about the tragedy over someone not living any longer, or the fact that we have to now live without the person.

These thoughts are not Christian.  What is Christian is the certitude that there is an afterlife.  It is Christian to hope that God’s mercy is deeper than anything we can imagine, and therefore, a soul does have a real chance of getting into heaven.  To help that soul reach it’s destination, we pray for the soul.

I am not arguing against sorrow and mourning.  In fact, I have seen how people have not properly recognized the importance of grieving.  I have noticed when people are not sympathetic enough.  They don’t offer consolation, but instead, empty statements.  “It’s okay, it was her time to go.”  “God works in mysterious ways.”  “Don’t cry, everything will be ok.”  Statements are not what people need in their time of distress.  Presence, listening, and crying along with someone are some of the supports people need.

This simple reflection on death is more about recognizing how we understand it when we are not in distress.  Why would a Christian think it is sad for someone to pass on into the afterlife?  Is not the Christian message to the world that it is not trapped in a meaningless life cycle, but that we are given an opportunity to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through Christ?

Since there is an afterlife, Catholic theology promotes praying for those that have passed on as well as asking those who might be or certainly are in Heaven for help.  That only makes sense if we can communicate with the dead.  No, you don’t need to have supernatural powers or bust out magic to start talking to the dead.  Prayer is already that special way to connect with those that have transitioned from this physical reality to the spiritual.  It is that simple.  Just don’t believe your going to get any concrete communication back…after all, it would freak you out.

St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “O Death, where is your sting?”(1Cor 15:55)  In the letter to the Romans, he goes on to further explain this crucial soteriology (theory of salvation; Rom 6).  Christians do not need to fear death or be saddened by it.  It’s natural to feel that way, but alas, there is much to hope for!

Go, and celebrate with others this Good News: humanity no longer is a victim of death; death has been conquered, and we have the opportunity to make it a transitional event versus a final event of our life.

God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.

In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.

Amen.

Week of the Dark versus the Light: Demons

demon 002 (Photo credit: lola___lullaby)

Welcome to the week of ghouls and ghosts, saints and souls.  It’s a significant week in the Catholic Church, and a significant week for Christians and Pagans alike.

I’ll be doing posts on all things eerie and saintly to play off of the festivities of Halloween that have occurred all month.

Today’s question: Do Christians believe in Demons?  Mostly yes, with some exceptions.

In the Christian world, demons are fallen angels because of the Gospel stories of Jesus casting demons out of people, and the story of the fallen angels found in Revelation 12: 7-9.

And yes, the Catholic Church still does exorcisms, but not as often as you would think.  In fact, you could say that Christian churches, especially those with a strong charismatic mentality, do exorcisms quite often.  Exorcisms will be another post.  But for now, just know that Christians feel that there is a supernatural negative power that is trying to destroy our souls, and an exorcism is a way of ridding that power over a particular soul or object.

But going back to demons, some Christians don’t believe in them because some get the idea of “belief” and “faith” mixed up.  In theology, to believe something exists doesn’t mean you like or trust that thing or person.  Belief means to acknowledge something is true.  Like believing in the theory of evolution, or believing that lots of studying produces great grades.  Having faith in something or someone means you are not only giving that object an acknowledgement that it is true, but that you are trusting in that object.  I have faith that a marriage can last 40 years long.  I have faith that prayer heals everyone in different ways.  I have faith in God, and I believe there are demons.

Demons are powerful.  After all, they were angels.  They do supernatural acts that do affect us on Earth.  But the most powerful thing they can do is the most subtle: to hide themselves through dressing up their powers as desirous and tempting.  It’s tempting to be upset and release anger, or to eat sumptuous food and already feel full but eat anyway.  A good way to mark the power of evil is to know what the seven deadly sins are.

Side note about Satan, the head of all evil.   He is a fallen angel too.  In the same place of Revelation 12:7-9, we read that he lead those angels who decided to rebel.  Angels were practically perfect spirit-beings.  Yet, through their choice, they all were thrown out of the Kingdom of Heaven.  And their choice is very different from our choices.  We don’t see into the future, and yet for the fallen angels they did and still chose their path.  It gets heavier in thought and explanation about all this, but it does suffice to say that Christians trust in God’s justice, and trust that God has never condemned anyone or anything to an unjust punishment.  After all, God is Good, God is Love.

In the mean time, we really do have a battle against demons.  It’s called “spiritual warfare.”  But with God, the faithful have nothing to worry about since demons can never inflict harm on a soul.  “Holy Fear” is for God who does have power over souls, and will condemn souls if justice demands it.  That’s scarier than what any demon can do!

Sorry, We’re Playing for Keeps (on our Soul!)

Ok, so not all horror movies have great theological themes to it.  But have you ever wondered about those movies that do have religious references to it?

In this case, “Paranormal Activity 4” has the typical religious and supernatural references about the spirit world that you would find in movies featuring paranormal activity: witchcraft, demons, and possession to name some of the main ones.

Granted, when I saw the movie, I didn’t feel enlightened.  I was out for a good spook.  I went with friends, and we all have a good laugh at each other’s lack of tolerance for fright.

But I started thinking about a homily I heard at a Sunday Mass a few weeks ago.  The priest said that in some areas of the Gospels, Jesus tries to emphasize the harsher reality of the kingdom of heaven….it’s not “easy” to get in.

I can talk about this subject of salvation and what theologians call “soteriology” (the theology of salvation) for a whole month…and I may only get a decent chunk of it blogged about, but not the entire explanation.

Yet, there are some things to consider, and worthy of dialog and feedback.

In “PN 4,” and from what I remember of the other movies in this franchise, the strongest theme is about demon possession.  The demon basically haunts a family, and the deeper story is that it’s trying to achieve the goal of possession so to do whatever its other goals are.  The audience is aware of the demons’ motives as much as the characters are….basically every one is in the dark.(pun intended)

In Christianity, there is a story of possession as well.  But we don’t call it that when it deals with Jesus and a person’s relationship to him.  We call it the path of salvation.  Jesus has offered the possibility of salvation, and on a very basic theological level, the person needs to at the very, very least, have faith, hope, and love in Jesus.  A complete surrender to him.  Like a possession.  But we don’t call it that because Jesus continues to give the person “free will” until death, which then the soul transitions from the physical realm to the spirit realm, where all sorts of stuff happens.

So, if I’m a follower of Christ, and I know what he’s asking of me, it would seem so simple to just follow along, right?

Well, maybe for someone like Mary, Mother of Jesus, yes, but even the strongest in faith, like St. Paul, struggled.  So if he struggled, you bet most of us disciples are far from getting this discipleship right.

But here’s the scary part: it’s not a game.  It’s for keeps.  God is guiding His disciples to an eternal promise, but needs us to do enough surrendering so that we do inherit such a promise.  The opposite path doesn’t lead to God, but to a total loss.  We are either God’s because we choose to keep ourselves as holy as we can and offer it up to God, or we are on the path to become Godless, and therefore lifeless.

“PN 4” does have some spooky moments.  I know I would absolutely hate to be caught dealing with a demon! Yikes!!  But the reality is, we all deal with demons, who are playing for keeps.  And they don’t need to be eerie.  They dress up as whatever our desires are.  And tempt us.  A spooky thing would be to view our life in a movie theater, and ask, “Wow, how close was I to letting myself be possessed by disordered desires?”  Or even get to the parts where we hopefully say, “Dang, I’m sorry for letting myself give in!”

May we humbly ask God for forgiveness, and the foresight to see and avoid the demons of temptation around us, all the time.

Christians For Change

So often we think of Christians as the radical right.

But that is certainly not the case with these 2 prominent Christians.

Krista Tippet has a great podcast on spirituality and all things that propel our minds to go beyond what we know.

This “On Being” episode worthy of your hour. The men speak about their own ways of promoting Christians to what Jesus did, that is, to go out and be with those different than us.

The link will take you to the podcast library of “On Being,” and choose the podcast from Sept 20, 2012 titled “The Next Christians.”

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/dignity-difference-sep-13/id150892556?i=120680083&mt=2