Church Write-Up: Connection with God and Others

Some items from church this morning:

A. The youth pastor said that, when he is alone for long periods of time, he feels less like himself. I thought of Donald Miller’s personal observation in Blue Like Jazz that, when he lived alone, he would start talking to himself. Speaking for myself personally, it does make me feel better when I am accepted and feel integrated among people. Some suggest that is because we evolved to be in herds, which are places of protection, and we feel vulnerable when we are alone. When I am rejected, I feel as if I am doing something wrong and am thus powerless to change my environment in my favor. Also, talking with an understanding person can change my perspective for the better, helping me to go forward and meet life head on, feeling less like a mistake. But there also is a place for solitude: joking among people can eventually become like eating too much sugar. Plus, there is the reality that not everyone will accept me, as that is life, and many people will not agree with what I have to say. That works vice-versa, too.

B. The pastor’s sermon was about connecting with others, yet he also mentioned barriers to connection. We are self-protective due to past hurts. The impression we give is that we say “I want to be your friend” even as we hold our hand out, trying to prevent that from happening. We were also taught that certain topics in public are verboten, so we wear plastic smiles in public, giving the impression that everything is all right when it is not.

C. The pastor told a story about how, early in his pastorate, he went everywhere he was asked to go. As a result, he felt exhausted. Similarly, in the video that we watched for Sunday school, Zach Zehnder said that we should not grit our teeth and try harder to be generous and forgiving, as Jesus taught. We will become frustrated and exhausted. We need to become connected with Jesus and be with him, then obeying Jesus’s commands will be a joy. Having devotions is like Zehnder practicing his golf game regularly: when he does so, he does better in the game and has more fun.

D. We broke up into groups and talked about devotions. One person said that reading prayers in a book can be helpful. That can help when you do not know what to say to God, plus it can give you an opportunity to pray for people and situations that you may not immediately think about, since they are outside your immediate circle of life. We can also pray to God throughout the day: asking God to send help when we see an accident, thanking God when seeing something beautiful, and giving God our concerns amidst life’s responsibilities. The acknowledgment of value in reading prayers stood out to me, since I recall a teacher who was a Baptist who did not identify with my practice, at the time, of reading a Psalm each day for my prayer time. For her, prayer had to be so much more than that: more personal, more intimate, pouring out one’s soul, being in a relationship, truly connecting with God, and letting God connect with you.

E. Now for some honesty. Many Christians talk as if having daily devotions is the answer to everything, as if they give fuel for the Christian life and transform a person for the better. That may be the case for some people. I am a little more skeptical. I still do them everyday, as I meditate on Scripture. I go through a grid, as I think about what a passage of Scripture may teach about God’s love, grace, sovereignty, presence, and hope (which I define in terms of eschatology and Jesus’s fulfillment). I do that, as opposed to looking to the Scriptures to see what rules I should follow. I feel edified in my approach, but strengthened? I do not think so. Some, but not profoundly so. Maybe stronger than I would be otherwise. It helps, but, for me, it is not the magic key that Christians say it is. People may then say that I am doing it wrong. Maybe I should be looking for rules to follow, but I did that in the past, and I become discouraged because my nature goes contrary to those rules. Complaining to God in the name of honesty is basically stinking thinking. Scripture can be encouraging, but it can also be depressing: there are so many dark sayings, especially about God’s wrath, and, with some stories, it is hard to see much that is uplifting. Then there is a caution on my part about projecting modern Christian ideas on an ancient text, so I am hesitant to apply the presuppositions to the text that many Christians apply. Part of that is because I do not want to be guilty of eisegesis; part of it is because I do not want to become bored with the Bible, seeing the same evangelical message over and over.

F. Another topic that came up in small groups concerned using Scripture to edify others. Here, things do not work out that well for me, either. One can quote Scripture to others and come across as patronizing. Also, while I like reading the Bible, I do not enjoy talking with people about it. I feel as if I have to defend God’s baggage as it appears in the Bible, when that baggage troubles me, too. Recently, someone asked me, because he knew I had degrees in religion, if this is the end of the world, since there is the coronavirus. I didn’t know how to answer that. Some people can come up with glib answers off the top of their heads, but that is not easy for me. Plus, nothing in my education trained me to answer that question; much of my academic education treated the Bible solely as a human document, not as a guide to the end-times. Then, I do not want to tell people what to believe. They have to make their own decisions, based on what makes sense to them.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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