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My husband asked an assistant pastor how to handle a suggested Nouwen book in our small group meeting.  One of the first questions I heard from him was, “was it an unqualified recommendation?”  In fairness, people do sometimes read and recommend books, but they don’t always agree with everything in the book or everything from that author.  Unfortunately, this was actually qualified in that the book was recommended excitedly and whole heartedly.  The man in our group shared several concepts openly and offered to let two women in the group be the next ones to read it after someone else outside the group finished his copy.  I believe he even suggested that Christians should read it, and I am sure he said it was his favorite book.  We shared some of our thoughts with the pastor, that the man seemed to really like the book and was sharing it. I did mention the comment the man made stating that the book opened an idea he hadn’t thought of, that Jesus himself was a “prodigal of the Father” because he left and came back. The pastor’s eyebrows twitched a little bit, and he shook his head, “no.”  

The pastor’s advice was not to go all out after this man.  He said that we should actually bring this to the attention of the small group leader.  He suggested we share why we see problems with the author and that it’s not someone we’d recommend reading.  He said that many don’t have the same level of discernment, and some don’t subscribe to the strange teachings but also don’t know the problems with an author’s entire body of work.  He said to assume the best about a person at first, and just trust the leadership.  However, he did say to keep paying attention and if this keeps coming up, to bring it back up again to the leader.  It can also be brought up to the pastors in leadership of the church.  He suggested further we truly befriend this man and if the opportunity arises, we can share with him carefully the problems with Nouwen and why we wouldn’t recommend it as a solid book for Christians to read.  

This is a very big difference than what happened at our former church when we brought up books and teachings that were questionable.  The pastor here acknowledged the teaching from Nouwen was bad (if it indeed was what we were saying it is…he’d never read it before).  He mentioned how many people read popular authors, he has been given books from church members of such authors.  He said how he has personally tactfully told people how the author is in error and he’d suggest they never recommend the book without some qualification.  He personally had quoted authors from the pulpit he doesn’t agree with, but he says he intends to always qualify those quotes as true as far as he sees it but the author has other comments or ideas that are not in line with scripture.  And reading works that are questionable can be a learning experience, but it must be qualified as such.  He says he’s sometimes shocked at what members in our church recommend for reading on facebook or in person, saying that he often wants to say, “What?  Haven’t you been hearing sound teaching in our church for years?  Why would you recommend that book?”  

At least he acknowledged us, and was kind.  He did seem to be bothered by this problem and suggested a way to deal with it and not ignore it.  He actually thinks the leader in our group likely hasn’t heard of Nouwen, and may have no clue about it.  I find this to be a very good thing.  It’s much different than the “oh, that author is recommended and used by many pastors…and we might not agree with everything he says but he has good intentions.”  That was our former church, and that was unacceptable squashing.  We weren’t told not to be divisive, but to proceed carefully.  

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We had a child dedication at church.  I think it’s a great idea though don’t believe a church has to do these as an official ceremony.  It’s just nice to say openly, “I dedicate this child to God.”  I am puzzled as to why we’ve been here 2 years and never have had this type of ceremony.  I wonder if the church is doing it for the first time?  We have had all of our children dedicated, and it was one of my favorite services at church. What I do like about this church is how children are taught.  In Sunday school, they learn directly from the bible and from the mouths of teachers.  It’s a low tech church.  The Sunday school teacher studies his/her curriculum, and then presents it to the children.  The rooms are open with full glass windows as well as glass slits in the door, and you see the children sitting down to listen to the teacher.  Often, a bible will be opened or the kids will be doing a craft.  Coming from a church that used a lot of modern music, videos (like Veggie Tales) and switching activities fast, it’s nice to see a low key, slow paced, old fashioned Sunday school.  The kids come home with either a fun craft or a coloring sheet depicting a biblical scene.  You always know what they learned right away from the papers they bring out.  And,  to top it off, my kids can tell me what they learned hours later.  The ones younger than 4th grade are all going through the old testament in the Sunday school hour and during a children’s church class (I think it’s up through 4th) they learn from the New I think (cannot recall the themes).  The “middle” grades (5th and 6th) learn from a teacher that’s been there for years.  He challenges them to study a book of the bible over the time they’re in the class and quizes them.  He also gives them points for taking notes in the church service.  They can actually win real cash, but even without being near winning, I see kids taking notes during service.  I know mine do.  And the older two aren’t even in his class anymore. One problem I do have is the oldest kiddo falls asleep during church.  I need to figure out how to help him stay awake.  We sometimes bring hard candy, which helps.  Especially if it’s hot cinnamon or very strong peppermint.   I have to admit, song time is slow and long and losses him pretty fast.  (not during songs, but it puts him in that mode right away).  He eagerly volunteers if they need someone to work with the kids because it’s torture to be poked every few minutes to wake up.  And if he’s helping in the kids’ classes, he’s hearing the bible anyway, so I don’t mind at all.   Wish we could get the music to be better paced.  Not “modern” just different.  One particular leader loves to play things really slowly and it makes me batty.  I know a lot of old hymns, and he likes to play them twice as slow as they should be…always has too many measures between verses, and cuts out the chorus when it would help break things up.  I do like singing all the verses of a hymn, this can be long, but it’s nice.  If we’re going to do it though, pick up the pace!  We use the overhead for the music (well, computer generated and it keeps the flow going) and I’d rather books because 1.  we’re looking at the music and I miss seeing music on the page and 2.  It breaks up the songs so you aren’t on a monotone ride that lulls you.  I don’t think the long sets intend to put people’s minds into a suggestive state, but I do see a friends’ point (who visited twice I believe) that it can and does do that.  We have one leader that is more like a choir director, and I’ve noted that though he’s not doing modern music, he is better at the pace and break ups of songs.  It makes it so much nicer.  I just think the one leader has stagnated in his ability and we’re all forced to listen to his style.  It’s not that the songs need to change, but the quality of the music and the organization of the set needs to change BIG TIME.  Have to think of HOW to bring this up tactfully.  Don’t need a stage band, but do need some variety and up beat moments to keep people alert.  Slow music is not more worshipful.

Who is Henri Nouwen

http://www.wayoflife.org/files/54e57520d9bdb070befbdd992cbae139-313.html

 

http://apprising.org/2008/08/12/who-is-henri-nouwen-2/

 

http://grahamintheroom.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/book-review-the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-by-henri-nouwen/

We were tootling along just fine in our schedule at small group last night, when, as far as I’m concerned, a grenade was dropped. One man, prominent in our group, mentioned a book that he said, “is the best book I’ve ever read.” Uh oh. It’s not the Bible, so what could it be? A book on the prodigal son by Henri Nouwen. He’s reading it, and will pass it on to the eager next person in the group. Another woman wrote the title down. I sat there, quietly taking it in. Now I have to proceed carefully. The man is not a bible study leader nor pastor. He’s also not necessarily tainted because he likes this one book. I do think, however, that we need to figure out how to address this so I am carefully taking advice from people I respect. I will not go in guns blazing, but I do not believe we should ignore this. My husband was proud of me, I am usually blasting away when I see a problem. I’ve learned. There is wisdom in silence for a time while we gather information and carefully present the problems with Nouwen.

I opened up my facebook on October 14th and this is what one woman had to say:
“I don’t understand how, when, or why selfishness became the “Christian” position.”

She continued:

“I’m just finding very frustrating that in this whole 99% debate, the “Christian” voices all seem to be saying, “I work hard for my money, therefore it’s mine, and I don’t wanna share, and if the 1% are richer than you, it’s just because they worked harder, so they deserve it more.” It’s just so opposite the teachings of Jesus, and so opposite of how I feel about the world, as a Christian. It makes me sad. Jesus told his followers to pay their taxes, and the only time he ever got really pissed off was at people profiting off of religion. ”

My response:
” I don’t think it’s greed necessarily. Saying that I work for my money and don’t want to pay MORE taxes than I already do is not greedy. And assuming the Christians out there expressing this don’t give to charity is wrong. We actually are struggling, have sought some help. We’ve not gotten help from government programs like we have from who? Christians. I don’t think all the the 99% people are arguing the same things. I think some would actually be able to sit with about the same signs as the tea party people. It depends on who you talk to. I was just talking to someone yesterday who is not a 99%er, and may not be part of the teaparty, but she realized we’re all looking to the wrong solutions. The Church SHOULD be providing more and is NOT. That’s the problem, the government cannot solve it, corporations cannot solve it. I fear for MORE taxes affecting charitable giving.”

I continue:
And I knew this was going to happen a few years back. I began to hear the attacks on the rich from the Obama campaign, and I knew there was going to be a fight between poor and rich that didn’t exist in the way it does today. I find that many of the things that weren’t a big divider before are becoming so now. It’s all part of the plan, I think (whatever that plan is I don’t know…but I think it is part of it). Not that I think there’s a big “left wing conspiracy” but that yes, in the hopes of creating a bit of chaos before an election, we must have some class division. The bible itself mentions in proverbs (I think, I’ll have to look it up) you no work, you no eat. (very loose and free translation, forgive me). Now, I’m not assuming the 99%er crowd doesn’t work. Just that the concept that getting to have some prosperity from hard work is NOT a sin.”

Another facebooker responded:
“Christ said in Luke “Blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of heaven” and tells the rich young ruler to give away everything he has to the poor before he can follow him. Christ told everytone to pay their taxes, in a time when a tax collector could take every penny you had if he wanted to. Christ never said pay your taxes until you feel like you’ve paid enough, he said look Caesars head is on this coin, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. So take your dollars, and give to Washington what is Washington’s. Aren’t you blessed to live in a day and age when there are laws that keep a tax collector from walking into your home and taking every penny you have? Praise be to God! And actually, A LOT of the 99%ers leave the protest to go to work, one of the faces of Occupy Wall Street is a public school teacher who is there all evening, sleeps there 3 or 4 nights a week and has not missed a day of work since this started. Most people I know here at Occupy Portland do work and they are not there 24 hours a day. And the ONLY person I know at occupy Philly who does not have a job outside the home is JA (the original poster) and I would argue that to say see doesn’t work is insulting to billions of christian women who have devoted themselves to raising children in a home fo Faith for the last 2 millenia!”

“Yes, it’s true Erin, it was because the rich young ruler wouldn’t admit he was a sinner and imperfect. He knew the man’s heart. IT was not about being rich or poor. The society he was living in was much different than our representative form of government. And because we DON’T have to pay those taxes yet, we are free to express frustration with people trying to get more taxes to redistribute the money people have worked and saved for. The bible contains many examples and exortations to work and to save…how the ants are wise in saving for the winter. Yes, I know many work…they have to pay for the things they find to be important for them just like those of us who don’t happen to agree with their particular philosophies.”

Other facebooker replies, “I would suggest you read ANY of the Church Father’s on that passage, you seem to be taking your interpretations from 20th Century America and ignoring what 2 milllenia of Christians have believed that passage to mean. it is the height of American Prosperity arrogance.”

To this I replied, “I know many are trying, just like tea partiers, to make America better. They are expressing their freedom to speak. Some are downright crazy, but I’m sure that’s not all. The squeaky wheel syndome, I guess, when it comes to media attention on that. But I do think there is much more going on than just the tax issue. Biting the hand that feeds you is only going to hurt our economy. Regulation itself imposed by our government can often have consequences beyond which we cannot see today. Every law has many consequences we do not count on. All the best intentions, but this could turn out to be pretty ugly for us regular families relying on jobs…because those corporations are the ones that hire most of us. And they are the ones that support even the government with the current taxes they have. So when the economy is bad, even govt. workers suffer. More taxes on the corporations, more regulation…it has to be WELL thought out and looked at. Because no one is going to give the people better when they are giving more to the government. The tax burden is always passed on to the public.”

And I added further:

“Jesus names several commandments, and that arrogant man claims HE met them all perfectly. It was about HIS sin, it’s in the text. Mark 10:17-31 in context. It’s about him “trusting in riches” not in God. He thought he was perfect enough, and could not give up what he truly trusted in. It was not about giving up riches, it was about giving up his misplaced trust.”

Other facebooker reply:

“i interpret scripture in light of Christian Teaching and Tradition, I do not rely on my own intellect to interpret God’s Word, because I am not equipped to do so. If you feel that you know more about scripture than the Church Fathers, that is fine, I do not.”

My reply to the attitude given:
“Hey, I got my teaching somewhere. I didn’t make this up whole cloth. And I’m not attacking JA for her opinion directly, nor you.”

Original poster:

“If you look at some of the numbers, it’s downright scary. We are in a recession, and the super-rich just keep getting super-richer. Meanwhile, hard work isn’t enough anymore. Our parents’ generation told us to go to college so we could have a better life. They said, don’t worry about the loans, you’re investing in your future. Then, when the job well dried up, they said, Oh, too bad, I guess we were wrong about that whole education thing, have fun with your debt. Yes, I should take responsibility for my own choices (even though the pressure to go to college when I graduated from high school was insane). But when student loan interest rates keep rising, and you can’t just take a job at McDonald’s because it doesn’t pay enough to make loan payments, let alone pay rent, and people are dying because they can’t afford health insurance, yeah, I think I am entitled to be a little ticked off at the establishment.
And frankly, I’m tired of the argument that Christians should be helping by giving to charity, not supporting social programs, and that churches should be the ones feeding the hungry and housing the poor. Why on earth do you want all that responsibility? Can your church afford the millions of dollars that national social programs cost? Mine can’t. And as much as this nation pretends to be a Christian nation, if we were supposed to run the entire social safety net based on the tithes of church-going Christians, it would be woefully inadequate. The entire country – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Pagan, you name it – needs to work together to make things better.”

My response: (and what I meant by own community is it’s own responsibilities within the body)
“Each church has it’s own community, and my church does work very hard to help and meet as many needs as it can…but Jesus also mentioned the poor will always be with you. He was seeking people to follow Him, and to serve when they could. The focus was on serving Him first, then meeting the needs within the body, then beyond. And trust me, JA, I am aware that church people are NOT perfect, and not all “our” ideas are perfect. As a Christian, I do know there IS selfishness, and greed…many examples. But I do think the bible does provide the Gospel despite us.”

Original poster said:
” I don’t want to play the Bible verse game. For every verse you find praising posterity, I can find another condemning wealth. That side-steps the whole point. The point is the general attitude portrayed by “Christian” pundits in the media: That somehow, poor people deserve to be poor, and that they are stealing from me if they need help. Which is decidedly un-Christian.”

My response:
” I personally was making that point about the “bible verse game” myself in quoting the ones showing prosperity itself is NOT an evil. What is wrong with people is not an opinion about how our government handles this, it’s about sin. And yes, you have a point in that greed is not okay. Pride is not okay. The problem is with sin and NOT with whether you support one political agenda or another.”

Original poster:
” And if a “Christian” is railing against the lazy welfare leeches who steal his tax dollars, I have a REALLY hard time believing that he is going to let his tithe money support them, either. That’s where the “Churches should be feeding the poor, not the government” argument really breaks down for me.”

My return:

“I do think it’s possible that if I heard someone arguing that way when someone is in true need, not just purposely not working and “working the system” we would agree.”

Original poster:
“No, prosperity itself is not evil. But the love of money is the root of all evil, and the fact is that in the United States, very few people get rich without exploiting somebody else to get there. And the Bible says that it’s harder for a camel to fit through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter heaven and Jacob sent his sons to ask for food from Egypt. It’s okay to need help. But because we have this mindset that working hard to earn everything we need in life is the only good thing, we are tricked into not even accepting help when we need it.

My response:

“Yes, I do not think when needed help is above us. We’ve asked for it. But I don’t blame corporations NOR my government because I have need a times. Sometimes we cannot HELP our circumstances, and sadly, sometimes our circumstances are a result of our poor money management. We have experienced both…
We do have a bit of pride and don’t LIKE to accept help, we’d rather be the ones giving actually. But yes, we’ve accepted help and no one in the church has ever suggested (to us anyway) there is anything wrong with it.”

Now, I know my ping pong with these women was not the best, but I did try to redirect a bit. The original poster was dead set on saying Christians are selfish. True, we can be selfish. Some of those who represent the church aren’t actually Christians anyway. But it wasn’t about defending the church for me. It was about trying to explain they are using the bible incorrectly. Note how they picked out verses to say the rich in America should pay more taxes. Well, it doesn’t say that people should pay MORE taxes in the bible, just that we should pay the taxes asked of us. And the point of the mention of money is often to draw our attention away from money and toward Christ. Money is the root of all evil because people pursuit it rather than Christ. Whatever solutions we come up with for America are likely going to be practical and political. Using scripture to back us is dangerous and better be used correctly. I think, if we look at our nation, a large part of the failure in the country is greed within the hearts of individuals and families, not just in the hearts of CEO’s. It’s evident we’re going through more than just a readjustment, people really have a wrong idea of the bible, and the meaning of Christ’s words.

I hope I did something good in engaging others in this topic. I do feel it might be a fruitless effort! These women only want to use Christ as a means to an end. It’s just the same with many.

I do know the church cannot be the “social justice” branch of the world either. I do think some of the jobs our government does would better be handled by the church if and only if the church follows it’s role given by God. I do not believe the church is in the world to make it a better place, though I do think because of the church, God has blessed the world in many ways. I think those who are true believers do, because of Christ and His sacrifice, often do wonderful things and reach out to help those who live and work around them. It’s the natural goodness that comes from the heart of God. But, it is not a mandate for us as believers to fix all of society. Please correct me where I am wrong, I do believe the first place the church is meant to serve and help is within it’s own body. Going outside is secondary.

Rewarded

This Sunday, I had been lamenting the weeks we’ve missed church due to summer activities we volunteer for out of town.  Well, we went to church and it was a wonderful sermon from the gospel of John.  The pastor spoke of our Lord and the crucifixion.  Remembering his death, the love he had for the thief, the promise of paradise, the horror of our sin, the power of Christ to give up his own life, the prophecies fulfilled in the events, all of it was powerful in one sermon.

Cannot Wait

We’ve been volunteering for a family friendly canoe livery “ministry” on a river one state over, and it has taken our family out of church for many weeks this summer.  Though I still am not “clicking” and feeling involved in church, I still cannot wait to get back.  This weekend we are home and not on the road.  Hope they don’t think we’ve abandoned them.

On another note, we have so many kiddos and some are growing up.  Because of this our week nights are getting full with activities.  This is only allowed because we homeschool the bulk of the kids and get to be with them most of the time.  It does mean though that weekday bible study with other adults is next to impossible.   Even if both parents are home, we loose our older kids as baby sitters.  So this means we loose out.  I think this would be the one way we could get more involved and get to know people better.  This getting into the local body is so hard.  At least the people of the church are still very kind to us and go out of their way to make us feel welcome.  Is it too terrible I wish there was a better building layout so there was more time and a better place for face time on Sunday morning?  Not a coffee shop, but just some place to sit down and have pot luck meals?