Advertisement

Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Thriving on Spiritual Abuse

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Hurricane River original painting of river running through mountains by Steve Henderson

As we grow through life, it’s easy to get bumped and bruised by rocks. But we don’t need to have them thrown at us. Hurricane River, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Years ago in my little town, there was a restaurant that was known not for the quality of its food (above average), the ambiance of its surroundings (cheap chic), or the professionalism of its staff (non-existent). It was famous, and wildly successful, for the way it abused its clientele.

Advertisement

From one week to the next, customers never knew what they would be charged for — at the manager’s whim, butter pads cost 15 cents extra, and then they didn’t. Coffee refills were endless — oh no, that was last week; now it’s one refill, grudgingly allotted.

One customer, who frequented the place daily for more than 25 years, ordered two slices of toast every morning, sometimes being charged for butter and jam, other times just for the jam. Because the toast consisted of yesterday’s leftovers, every day’s breakfast looked different: one day her “two” slices of toast was one piece, cut in half. Frequently it was burnt.

To get it, she had to listen closely, because the staff yelled out, “Hey, Emily! Your toast is ready!”

Advertisement

This Business Model Works

Such was the business model, and judging by the way the mismatched tables and rickety chairs were filled to capacity, people loved it. The worse they were treated, the more they flocked in.

I can’t help but think of many churches when I remember this restaurant, now mercifully closed, and while I saw, and avoided, the flaws in the restaurant, I confess to spending all too long being abused on a spiritual level. It’s normal somehow, maybe even chic, to be scolded from the pulpit into how we allocate our giving; channeled like sheep through a chute into a Sunday School class we’re not really interested in, but have no alternative to attending (that is, if we want to see people that day); politely ignored when we offer a suggestion; passed over for spiritual promotion to the coveted deacon or deaconess status because our attendance rate — especially at that Sunday School class — isn’t stellar.

Advertisement

Week after week, we sit in the pew and passively accept yesterday’s toast, cut in half, possibly burnt, rushing up to the front to get it when someone yells out, “Hey, You — Toast’s ready!”

It’s Not Quirky — It’s Wrong

It’s a funny thing, but when certain people get relaxed enough to talk about their church, they frequently complain, which is what we did one day to a visiting friend. We thought we were just discussing quirky, odd aspects of our weekly foray into the brick building, but she heard it differently:

“Why do you subject yourself to this type of abuse — and it is abuse — every week? If you can’t change things, and no one listens to anything that you say, why don’t you leave?”

Advertisement

We weren’t ready to hear that, and after all, she didn’t attend church at all so what would she know? but her word, “abuse,” resonated in our minds when we stood in the unheated stairwell, talking to a woman whose sister had just died, because all of the heated rooms — a cavernous sanctuary and an entire basement — were devoted to 20 adults in two Sunday School classes, and 25 children downstairs. There was no place allotted for unsupervised fellowship.

Chief Joseph Mountain original oil painting by Steve Henderson

It’s cold out in the church stairwell, in February. Chief Joseph Mountain, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Advertisement

Another time, we remembered the word “abuse” when the Norwegian Artist and I took a walk (no problem there) in a snowstorm, because our two younger kids actually wanted to stay for Sunday School (if they memorized the book of James, they earned a free trip to the Fun Park; when we suggested doing something like this for adults, the pastor looked deep into our eyes, nodded warmly, and said, “That’s a GREAT idea!” which stopped, right there). The only option for parents awaiting their children was the sheep chute into one of the two adult Sunday School classes.

Small Things Are Big Issues

These seem like such small, unimportant details, don’t they? But a series of small, unimportant details — over organization, micro managing, leaders standing aloof, poorly concealed control mechanisms, charging for a pad of butter — add up, to the point that one wonders,

Advertisement

“Why am I doing this? I know it’s not all about me, me, me, but isn’t there supposed to be a point — and a good one — in assembling together? Don’t we attend church because we believers need each other’s — and not just the leadership’s — support, fellowship (unstructured), and time?”

“That’s what small groups are for!” we were told. “In the middle of the week, we sit in a circle in someone’s house, and you get to listen to an approved leader read the lesson out of a four-color magazine published by our denomination!

“Or better yet, we’ll discuss the latest book, The Missional and Purposeful Life of the Driven and Manipulated Christian Drone!”

Advertisement

Oops. My humanity is showing.

But that’s what church is, or is supposed to be, full of that raw humanity represented by a group of very imperfect believers who assemble together because we need each other, not programs, not pop-Christian books, not supervised fellowship activities in line with proper group dynamics. And this church is supposed to belong to us — the individual believers, who should have some say in how it is run without being conversant in Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s worth wanting something worthwhile, demanding it, seeking it, and, if we can’t find it where we are, taking the small narrow path that we keep finding in front of our feet.

“Hey, you! Your toast is ready!”

Advertisement

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I try to “go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (Luke 14: 21)

That’s you, my friend, and it’s I as well. Who more to care about the disenfranchised and unimportant of the world than those who are ordinary nothing people themselves? Please, please stop looking to big names and loud leaders to tell you how to live your lives in Christ. Please, please look to Christ Himself.

Posts similar to this one are

My Church Is Being Stolen!

Advertisement

How to Be Great, Important, and Significant

The Misfit Christian (my book for those people who are honest enough with themselves to admit that they feel left out, and being left out doesn’t mean that you’re a loser. No one will know if you buy it, go ahead and cover it with a brown wrapping so no one can see that you’re reading it — but if you feel like an outside zebra, do something about it, for goodness’ sake. And the first thing you do about it is admit the truth to yourself.)

 

Advertisement

3 Reasons America Does Not Need — or Want — Prayer in Schools

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Prayer takes place within the heart, and whether we are in the midst of a forest or a classroom, we can do it — without yet another government mandate. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

Christians, like all humans, fuss about things, and a central fussing point of the last many years is prayer in schools.

Advertisement

“Our country is falling apart because we no longer have prayer in schools,” people say, emphasizing the point with 2 Chronicles 7: 14 —

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

All our problems? It’s because we no longer pray in schools.

When Did We Do This?

Given that I’m more than a half-century old, and at no point, in my school years, did we pray in schools, I’m not sure when these halcyon days of Christian piety were supposed to exist, but whether or not they did, there are three major reasons why we Christians do not need to — and probably should not — agitate for prayer in schools.

Advertisement

Governed by Men, not God

1) We are not a theocracy. The passage in 2 Chronicles is addressed to an ancient Hebrew people, who ran their government with God as their head — something that the contemporary state of Israel does not do, much less the United States.

But because we have this mistaken notion that we are a Christian country, with Christian roots, we keep hammering away for the external actions, like prayer in schools, that used to be foisted upon children, whether they were Christians or not.

“Everyone should be,” proponents sniffed. They sniff the same thing today.

As God’s people, Christians are not hampered, at all, from fulfilling the command in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, but they do not need to do it in the schools, or in government buildings (how well does mandated, corporate prayer in a secular setting work, do you think, given that Congress still opens with a diluted form of it?), or even in their churches: It is imperative that Christians pray individually, in their homes, and sincerely — not relying upon the public arena where we applaud the speaker’s spirituality:

Advertisement

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” (That’s how our politicians pray.)

Anytime, any place, all the time — prayer is a lifestyle activity, and you can do it while you’re fixing your hair. Figurative, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson available at Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon.com, and others online retailers.

Advertisement

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6: 5, 6) We can do this anytime, any place, and without anyone seeing or knowing — an important factor as our country tightens its control over the populace and slides moves more and more into the confines of a police state.

Do you want a government employee — and that’s what public school teachers are — inserting him- or herself into the spiritual life of your child?

There Are “gods” and God

2) We do not all believe in the same God. People like to point to our dollar bill, which has, “In God we trust,” emblazoned across the back. To the left is a pyramid with a disconnected, all seeing eye and the  motto Annuit Coeptis (loosely, “Providence favors our undertakings,” which is a great motto for a country with the primary goal of making money) and Novus Ordo Seclorum (New World Order — do you like that one?).

Advertisement

So . . . if this is the God who said,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” (Deuteronomy 6: 4)

do you think he approves of pagan symbolism (the pyramid, the “eagle” on the great seal that functions more as the mythical Phoenix rising) in conjunction with, “In God We Trust”?

What God are we talking about here?

If we’re going to turn this into a 12-step program and say any God, or Goddess, just so long as we feel like it’s a Supreme Being, then we dilute the prayer into nothingness, and we may as well set up an altar to an unseen god at the head of every classroom. (Acts 17: 23)

Do we expect an atheist teacher to pray “in Jesus name”? Do we insist that Christian children bow to Allah, or Muslim children worship Christ? As Christians, praying to god, any god, violates Deuteronomy 6: 4.

Advertisement

Meaningless, It’s All Meaningless

3) Prayer becomes a meaningless ritual. Saying the words does not activate the heart, and whether we mumble our way through grace at a meal, or rattle off a generic prayer at the beginning of the school day, we are in danger of honoring the One True God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him, in which case we worship Him in vain. Our teachings are but rules taught by men. (Matthew 15: 8-9)

Prayer is a conversation with our Father, and as such, it is a privilege, an honor, a joy, and a very serious undertaking. “Our Universal Father or Mother, we honor you,” doesn’t cut it.

We don’t need prayer in public schools. We need individual Christians praying, all the time, within their hearts.

Advertisement

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage individual Christians to grow in their relationship with Christ by praying, meditating upon Scripture, and reading the Bible for themselves.

Posts similar to this one are

I Was Born in Babylon

The U.S. Is Not a Christian Nation — and It Never Was

Advertisement

The Misfit Christian (my book, available at Amazon.com in paperback or digital format. The closer you try to follow Christ, the stranger you will seem in many contemporary churches. If you feel out of step, this is the book for you. If you are not a Christian — but are a seeker who is unimpressed with the Christian culture, this is also the book for you. If I weren’t a Christian already, nothing about the system I see now would encourage me to become one.)

 

Advertisement

Accidents Happen, but You’re Not One of Them

posted by Carolyn Henderson

What a beautiful surprise. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

In case you’re wondering why my typing is all off and squiggly, I cut my finger last night while I was slicing bread. Like most accidents, it happened quickly and was definitely unintentional, and yes, I know that it was my fault for not paying attention to what I was doing.

Advertisement

Give me a little grace, here.

Accidents happen, all the time, but the major time they don’t happen is when we’re talking about people, as in unplanned, sometimes unwanted, pregnancies. Our last child, Tired of Being Youngest, was a surprise, quite a surprise, I might add, but at no time did we consider her an “accident.”

(Interestingly, all four children have unique birth stories: Eldest Supreme was the One We Welcomed Despite Our Being Poor, Unemployed College Students; College Girl was the One You Say an Extra Thank You for because She Had a True Knot in Her Umbilical Cord and Could Have Pulled it Tight Anytime; and the Son and Heir was Our Great Gift after a Miscarriage — not a “Replacement” as he observed as a prescient seven-year-old.)

Advertisement

Last but Not Least

I, the youngest of five children, was apparently the only planned one — an intriguing piece of information my mother let slip once. The Norwegian Artist, also the youngest child, was the one his mom just Had to Have, even though the three existing were more than enough by conventional standards. (Years later, the Norwegian Artist was the only perfect stem cell match for one of his siblings who had an especially virulent cancer.)

When it comes to people, there are no mistakes, no accidents, no blunders, gaffes, or literal misconceptions. While the time or place may not be right, the parents not ready, the situation bleak indeed, the person in question — this miracle of life that only God can breathe the life into — has a purpose and a place in life, no matter how long or how short that life may be.

Advertisement

Precious in His Sight

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some days when I wake up and say to God, “What on earth could you possibly use me for? I’m not famous, I’m not rich, I’m not influential, I’m not brilliant, and I’m not particularly skilled at using sharp knives.”

And then, it’s as if He whispers,

“Yes, but you’re mine. I created you, and I love you.”

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” which means that, even if I, or you, don’t feel particularly useful to our Father, we are, because He made us that way.

Advertisement

Let yourself go and rejoice, every day, in the knowledge that God the Father loves you — deeply, deeply — as His beautiful child. Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Psalm 139 is especially beautiful:

Advertisement

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well . . . All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (vs. 13-14, 16)

Socks Take a Long Time to Knit

As a knitter, I can assure you that it takes a lot of time and skill to create something out of two little sticks and some yarn, and when you are done, you are proud of, pleased with, and careful of what you have created with your hands. It is precious to you.

And we are precious to Him. No matter what your birth story is — whether you were planned or not, sought after and prayed for or wished that you didn’t exist, one Person always wanted you to be:

Advertisement

The One Who created you.

God has designed you to do good works; good, valuable things; unique, unusual things that only you can do. If you don’t know what they are, don’t worry. Just walk with Him, talk to Him, lean into His love and be secure in knowing that you are the cherished, beloved and treasured Child of the King.

Thank You

Thank You for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where one of my central messages is that God uses ordinary people. Like me. And you.

It’s something easy to forget in a culture that worships people as idols.

Posts similar to this one are

Child of God, You Are Dearly Beloved

Advertisement

How to Be Great, Important, and Significant

The Misfit Christian — my book, written by a misfit, for all the ordinary, misfit Christians out there

 

Advertisement

I Was Born in Babylon

posted by Carolyn Henderson

While you are part of your environment, you are separate from it as well. Aphrodite, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art.

The 6th century, B.C., was a tumultuous one for the Hebrew people. Always beset and troubled by enemies, the Jewish state, barely holding out in the territory of Judah and its capitol city, Jerusalem, was finally and fully conquered by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C. The land was emptied out, and the people were transported, as exiles, to Babylon. They stayed there for 70 years.

Advertisement

It’s not like this was a surprise coup: that’s what the prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the rest, were all about — throughout Hebrew history, they warned God’s people that bad things would happen if they didn’t do what they were created and designed to do, which is submit themselves to and follow God. This means adjusting not just one’s lifestyle, but one’s way of thinking, to God’s commands.

Living, Not Just Looking, Different

But the people consistently didn’t, preferring, instead, to follow the gods of the nations around them, customizing their beliefs so that they would fit into their religious culture. It’s a bit what Christians do today — I mean, how many times have you heard, “How are Christians any different from the culture around them? They look the same. Except on Sunday morning.”

Advertisement

We have this mistaken notion that Christianity is all about not swearing, or not drinking, or not getting body piercings, or saying the words “praise Jesus!” or wearing long, unattractive skirts in the name of modesty, or being a member of the Republican party, or eating — or not eating — particular things. We look to external, lifestyle choices as evidence of our belief in Christ, but what truly makes us different is how we think on the inside — we seek humility, mercy, grace; we bite our tongue when someone insults us because we don’t need to add to their hurt by our riposte; we rest in God and admit our weakness; we recognize that we ourselves are powerless, but the God we believe in is not.

Indeed, our most difficult “job” is invisible: we use our will to say that we have faith in God.

Advertisement

A Culture of Deceit

Culturally, it’s confusing, because we have all been born in a particular region or country, surrounded by a set of beliefs that is ingrained in us from childhood. It becomes difficult to disassociate ourselves from these cultural mandates. In my own country, the United States, it is considered savvy and smart and wise to “never pay retail,” because the level of deceit and deception is so normal, and so outrageous, in our business culture, that paying retail generally means that you’re getting ripped off. This is why stores and online sites always put a red line through the initial price, assuring us that we’re getting what we want “on sale!”

Advertisement

Enter Christianity, where we are told to be wise stewards of our money: for the most part, we come across as cheap. We want other Christians to give us their services for free, and because we can’t have any effect on our cell phone company or city utilities or medical magnate, we chip down at the little guy — the independent businessman who runs a small shop: “He’s too expensive,” we sniff. “I’ll buy it (a lesser product, mass produced and cheaply made) at the Bargain Mart.”

Our dance, as Christians, sets us apart in a place of light, warmth, and love. Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART.

Advertisement

That’s our culture — but the true place of which we are citizens, the Kingdom of God, tells us to use “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.” (Luke 6: 39). You’ve probably heard that verse before — it’s preached all the time from the pulpit, admonishing people to tithe. But we’re not encouraged to live our lives by it, blessing individual, ordinary people with our generosity.

How Do We Do This?

So how do we resolve our dilemma? How do we live as Christians, without being overly influenced by the negative, worldly aspects of our culture?

Tell yourself this: I was born in Babylon.

Advertisement

Within the 70 years that the Israelites were exiled in a foreign, evil, reprobate, godless, militaristic, pleasure seeking, idol worshiping country, a lot of children were born. And though they were born into this country, they were not, and never would be, Babylonians. They were God’s people, living as strangers in a strange land.

So while they shopped in the Babylonian malls and watched Babylonian TV and paid Babylonian taxes and interacted with Babylonians on all levels, they lived as God’s people, worshiping God daily, reading His words, following His commandments, separating out the essence of what it means to be His, from what it means to live in Babylon.

You Were Born in Babylon

Advertisement

What this means for you, and me, is that we are not forced to accept the norms of our country as our own — we don’t have to live large, charge big, buy bulk, and consume with abandon. Jeremiah told the exiles (and they didn’t want to hear this):

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters.” (Jeremiah 29: 5-6). In other words, live your lives quietly and reasonably, settle in and be a part of where you are, but always maintain your separateness to God.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  (Jeremiah 29: 7)

Advertisement

This means that if we say, “God Bless America,” it’s not because our love of country is intrinsically related to our Christianity. You can love your country, and not say the Pledge of Allegiance (we owe one allegiance only, and that is to God). Do not confuse your love of country with your obedience to God — and recognize that sometimes, and it will become increasingly so, the demands of our country, our government, our bureaucracy, and our culture, run counter to the commands of God.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

Posts similar to this one are

The U.S. Is Not a Christian Nation — and It Never Was

Advertisement

Make a Difference, Every Day, as a Christian

The Misfit Christian – my book for the Christian, or seeker, who feels out of step with contemporary religious culture

 

Previous Posts

Apathy Is Worse Than Anger
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” Revelation 3:15 The Biblical book of Revelation, despite assurances from those who make movies about it, is a complicated book, and there is ...

posted 7:39:59am May. 01, 2015 | read full post »

How Do You Spend Your Sundays?
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) I know a number of people who work on Sundays. One of them, a waitress, described a recent interaction with a diner, a church-goer who was ordering ...

posted 8:30:13am Apr. 29, 2015 | read full post »

If I Were Taller, I'd Look Thinner, and Other Bible Truths
"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" Matthew 6:27 I ran into this verse the other day, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never seen it before. Oh, I've seen one like it -- my New International Version ...

posted 10:22:15am Apr. 24, 2015 | read full post »

Christian Sheep: We Can Learn from Goats
I'll never forget the first time I milked a goat. My best friend from college, whose degree was in animal husbandry but who more importantly kept goats and milked them herself, was convinced that my family needed two of the animals, because ...

posted 11:21:08am Apr. 22, 2015 | read full post »

It’s a Secret, but Many Christians Do Distrust God
"Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 We all approach life from a certain world view. And while the dictators of politically correct doctrine decry bias as a bad thing, it's really just a realistic ...

posted 10:39:06am Apr. 17, 2015 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.