Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Christianity Is Not a Political Party

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We have two sets of friends that we have always wanted to put together in the same room:

Set A is classic U.S.A. Republican party, and they worship George W. Bush. The world ended on the day he left the White House, and if they believed in saints, George would be greater than Peter.

The World Traveler inspirational Santa Claus painting with globe at North Pole by Steve Henderson

Most of the world consists of ordinary people, who have more in common with one another than we have differences. But for the rulers, it’s important that we focus on our differences. The World Traveler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Set B is pure Democrat. They don’t need to believe in saints, because Barack Obama is equivalent to, or greater than, Christ.

Ironically, we think they would get along famously together, as long as one didn’t mention the name of their respective human Messiah. So focused is each set on the marriage of political beliefs with God’s way of doing things, that they can’t separate the two.

Conservative versus Liberal

On a surface level, one can see how this comes about. Set A points primarily to the Republican’s platform against abortion, as well as its “tough stance” against “bad people” (the definition of which is flexible, depending upon what Fox News says that week). Speakers, political leaders, and celebrities receive the stamp of approval when they announce their belief  in God, country, and the pledge of allegiance — and they regularly attend church. This latter activity, I find, is a major component in whether or not a person is considered godly and worth listening to. (Rumor has it that people in the Democrat party attend church as well, but it’s not the same thing, somehow.)

Set B points to government programs designed to help the poor, about whom they accuse Set A of not caring. (Set A assures them that the money trickles down from the wealthy corporations — many of which Set B supports but pretends not to — and makes it into the hands of the poor.) Set B is against war, but curiously accepting of the fact that it is continuously raging, and does not push its leader to actually do anything about ending strife.

Both groups snipe and snap at one another, and we’re always told that nothing can get done or is getting done because of partisan politics, but somehow, life for the ordinary person never really improves, regardless of who is in power. At base, both parties look sort of the same: rich, powerful, and alienated from the masses.

Religion Marrying Politics

In Acts chapter 4, the apostles Peter and John appear before the Sanhedrin, consisting of the “rulers, elders, and teachers of the law.” (4: 6) The high priests, Annas and Caiaphas were there, and we find the same (politico-religious) crowd that delivered Jesus to the Roman authorities in Luke 23. In other words, despite being overtly religious, these people had power, or access to power at a secular level, and they used it.

Lady in Waiting inspirational oil painting of woman in shawl by purple lavender sky and Victorian House by the sea by Steve Henderson

Our own people” — these are the ones who matter to us, and for whom we wait. They are not disassociated, distant members of some religious or political faction. Lady in Waiting, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART.

Upon being released,  Peter and John “went back to their own people” (4: 23) and quoted Psalm 2: 1,2:

“Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.” (4: 25, 26)

I find the term, “their own people,” telling, in that Peter and John, despite being Jews, did not associate themselves with the politico-religious leaders, but with the new followers of the Way — Christians. Set apart and disenfranchised from the Jewish leadership sect, the followers of Christ were not represented, or even cared for, by either religious or state ruling classes. Top Jewish leadership, however, worked cunningly and well with Roman rule, for the mutual benefit of each.

The Kings of the Earth

The losers, as usual, were the ordinary people.

Another term of interest in the passage above is “the kings of the earth,” who on more than one occasion are interpreted in less than stellar light. Revelation 17: 2 tells us that “. . . with her (the great prostitute) the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” 

It’s not much of an extrapolation to deduce that the “kings of the earth” are its leaders –religious and secular — and they do not, actually frequently don’t, follow God. It doesn’t matter whether you call these people kings, emperors, governors, satraps, presidents, congressman, priests, religious speakers, financiers, CEOs, partisan talk show hosts, Republicans or Democrats — the kings of the earth rule — or think they do. In actuality, they are under the King of Kings, whom Christians follow, and it would be wise for us to recognize that what the “kings of the earth” propound and what Christ says, are at frequent variance with one another.

The Republican party is not the Christian party. Neither is the Democrat. They are political systems, set up by men, and ruled by the kings of the earth. Regardless of which party we ascribe to – if any — or corporate news media station we insist upon tuning into, we must remember that we have more in common with fellow Christians than we do with members of any human-based organization. One of the goals of the kings of the earth is to divide us from our shared fellowship in Christ, and encourage us to set upon one another, as opposed to asking, “What are those kings up to?”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where today’s post was prompted by a Christian on Facebook who asked, “How come the news media doesn’t tell us more about the Christians being persecuted in Iraq?”

Because the news media, my dear friend, is run by the kings of the earth. But it’s supported, financially, by people who think that it’s seeking, and telling, the truth.

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Longing for Success

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If you want people to read an article you write, or watch a video you post, just make sure that the title has the word, “Success” in it. (I know. I just did that. Did it work?)

Fortunately, I am not attracted by these headlines that really reel the readers in, (preferring, instead, articles with photos of celebrities without make-up), but Success Articles abound:

Lady of the Lake inspirational oil painting woman by mountain lake in gold fabric skirt by Steve Henderson

Successful people are not necessarily found in corporate boardrooms; those truly successful in life value different things than money, power, fame, and name. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

The Bill Gates Plan: Five key attributes of the Successful Person.

Superstar Managers: How They Achieve Success and Become CEOs

13 Secrets to Success: Steve Jobs Still Speaks

Wisdom from Linked In

It’s not hard to find these — just pop onto Linked In and look at the top 5 stories, most of which have a minimum of 50,000 views. One time, I wandered over just to see what the writers were actually saying, which is, predictably, not much:

Successful people are confident, and powerful, and pro-active;  focused,  intentional, and dynamic; and they have a winning way about them. They have broad horizons and a sense of ownership that drives their thirst for excellence.

What’s intriguing — a little sad, actually — about these articles are the comments beneath:

“A pro-active approach to engaging a positive outlook on one’s horizon is top notch and essential!” — the implication strongly being that, not only does the commenting person agree with everything in the article, she or he actually got something out of it. (While one hopes that the people reading, and understanding, these success stories are not responsible for the middle management of others, I have a strong, sinking suspicion that they are.)

It’s Not a Sin to Want to Eat

For an ordinary person, wanting to be successful — as in, having more money than one needs to cover the rent, taxes, insurance, utilities, fees, a bit of clothing now and then, and adequate food — isn’t a sin. Anxiety about the future is a common attribute to mankind, and that God promised the Hebrew people a “land of milk and honey” is particularly telling:

We need to eat, and a place to live, and it’s increasingly difficult — in a global economy run by outrageously affluent people who are unwilling to share — for the average person to do this. So we flock to the Success stories, written by and about human raptors who make money off of the those who read and follow them. Do we honestly think that they truly want us to join them?

Shore Leave inspirational oil painting of rowboats on Columbia River by Steve Henderson

When the voices we choose to listen to tell us that we need and deserve a yacht, and they’ll tell us how to get there, we might overlook that God has already provided us with a boat. It’s small, but it’s a boat. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed, open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Yeah, I guess we do.

That’s why the prosperity preachers continue to make it: if the people in the pews would stop writing the checks, it would be interesting to see how long the Power Verses of Prosperity continued to work for the pulpit-holders promoting them.

But we’ll probably never know — because the people in the pews won’t stop writing the checks.

Follow the Master, not the Master-Mouth

As Christians, we are never promised prosperity, and indeed, because no servant is greater than his master (John 15: 20), we might keep in mind who our Master is, and how He lived (and died). While this seems a bit of a downer — I don’t want to be crucified any more than the next person does — it keeps our focus on God, not mammon, and our trust in His knowing what is best for our lives. It may not be a new car — but an old one, that runs, is a blessing that we will miss if we are constantly agitating for the Success that the world promises.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” Isaiah 30: 15 says, which should be comforting, because we don’t have to be pro-active and dynamic and intentional and powerful and confident — everything our corporate culture (which has infiltrated the church, and not just prosperity churches, by the way) insists that we must be.

Actually, what we have to do is more difficult — in that verse above, repentance is the only “active” movement we can take; resting, being quiet, and trusting — while they seem passive — are astoundingly difficult things to do. We can’t succeed at them without God’s help and intervention. But to get that, all we have to do is ask.

The rest of the verse provides an interesting twist:

“. . . but you would have none of it.”

The Hebrews looked for strength and assistance from Egypt, the very nation that had enslaved them earlier and from which God rescued them, because they were impressed by its wealth and confidence and splendor and pro-active, intentional way of doing things.

The corporate world is Egypt, my friends. How do we think that it will answer our prayers?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. It is remarkably difficult separating what our individual culture calls truth from actual truth. The best lie is one that is 95 percent true.

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Alone But Not Lonely

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I live in a society that is desperately afraid of being alone. So alarmed are we of solitude that we define normalcy by how many groups we belong to:

“I go to church, Sunday School, and small groups.”

“I volunteer through our Give-Back-to-Others program at work.”

Ending the Day on a Good Note original oil painting with 1940s inspirational girl taking off hat next to gramophone by Steve Henderson

It is normal and healthy to crave time to ourselves, and with God. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original painting by Steve Henderson.

“I belong to many civic organizations, and we do good things for the community. I am even a leader in some of these groups.”

“I have a lot of friends, and I get together with people all the time.”

And the crowning achievement:

“I am a people person.”

Our most signature sign of failure as a human being is the diner in the cafeteria or restaurant — be it a school child or professional adult — eating alone, and I will never forget a friend in college describing his reaction to the situation this way:

“I want to stand up and shout, ‘I have friends! I’m not a loser!’”

Not a Loser

Alone means lonely, and lonely means loser.

But is that true?

Because we are never, or rarely, alone, and when we are we have ear buds in or the TV droning, silence is a novelty, but it is only in and through silence — away from the noise and the chatter and the distractions — that we are able to think, meditate, reflect, ponder, pray, and . . . listen.

The Bible talks about the still, small voice of God. In context, you’ll find it in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah, after an especially stressful time (Queen Jezebel imposed a death sentence on him), runs away to God’s holy mountain, a 40-day’s journey away.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks. Elijah responds with a viable argument, but not the deepest truth within his heart.

Grazing in the Salmon River Mountains inspirational oil painting of deer in meadow by Steve Henderson

The top of a mountain is generally a solitary, peaceful place, and our soul communes with God there. Grazing in the Salmon River Mountains, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face, and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

“Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19: 11-13)

Activity, Noise, Distraction

I’m sure that Elijah, like the rest of us, preferred the noise and the activity, because as long as they were going on, he could pretend he didn’t hear anything else. He could drown his problems, or bury them, in distraction.

So often, when we finally decide to leave a situation — a bad relationship, a job, a friendship, a church fellowship — we immediately fill in the space that it used to take. One morning, we change our Facebook status from “In a Relationship” to “Single,” but by late afternoon, we’re “In a Relationship” again. In the old days, before we provided online details of our breakfast menu, people passed on gossip the hard way —  one by one:

“Did you see Eleanor with Ebenezer at the restaurant last night? I don’t even think her divorce with Edgar is final!” Sports crazy fanatics that we are (oh, more group activity!), we even have a term for this: rebound. It’s rarely considered a wise, ruminative, introspective move: how could it be?

Our Worship of Extroverts

We worship extroverts as normal; introverts as weird. And yet when it comes to thinking, is this a quality we associate with someone who is always in the midst of a crowd of people?

Light in the Forest inspirational oil painting two women girls with candles Celtic in woods by Steve Henderson

In silence we are able to think, meditate, pray, and . . . listen. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

Speaking of being in a crowd of people, this is a good description of Jesus, who was constantly followed about by just about everybody — his disciples, the blind, the lame, the scribes, the leaders, the hungry, the sick, and the relatives of the sick — and yet throughout the gospels, we are repeatedly told, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5: 16)

He sought solitude — because it was the best place to meet God — away from the voices, away from the noise, away from the distractions, away from the advice. A situation we consider bad — being alone — is something Christ made a regular part of His life.

We too can do this.

If you are leaving something — a person, a place, a thing — don’t be so quick about finding a replacement. Rest, instead, in the thought that you are not alone — you are NEVER alone — because God is with you, He hears the cry of every child, and responds to it.

Quite often, quite quietly.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am spending this middle part of my life unlearning all the stuff that was crammed into me in my younger years. In the process, I am slowly, yet firmly, finding the God of love, grace, mercy, compassion, and understanding that the Christian religious establishment promises, but doesn’t teach.

Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship — but in pursuing that relationship, you have to leave the religion behind.

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How Long Will We Let Other Christians Call Us Dogs?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Those of you who have lived with, or through, a fifteen-year-old girl know that adolescents of this age generally fight self-esteem issues. Call it hormones, peer pressure, society, or fat days, 15-year-old girls need a lot of love and reassurance that they are beautiful, beloved people.

Ruby inspirational oil painting chihuahua dog on pillow by Steve Henderson

Dogs are wonderful creatures, but it’s never a compliment, as a human, to be called one. Ruby, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

When one of our progeny was 15, in the midst of this exact stage, she was called a dog by a speaker brought in by our church. The speaker, who earned a generous living by organizing church mission trips through an International Church Mission Trip Organization Agency, gave a group of young people the Gary Smalley Personality Assessment Tool Test. (The young people were part of a church-induced “mission trip” to a Christian camp that was looking for free counselors for the season.)

Is Your Child a Dog?

Based upon this one-page sheet, in which participants score themselves from 0-3 points on whether or not they are a “problem solver,” “optimistic,” “adaptable,” “analytical,” and 72 other attributes, human beings — in this case, insecure, emotionally fragile adolescents — are labeled Lions, Beavers, Otters, or Golden Retrievers.

It’s all very pseudo-intellectual, scientific, and psychological, which is why so many Christians accept it as valid — more valid, say, than the astrological signs or the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. I mean, the latter are heathen and pagan and all that, but anything Smalley propounds, or Kevin Leman and his birth order “science,” or Tim LaHaye and his four temperaments (is there something about Christian fads and the number four?) come pre-blessed because these authoritative leadership-types theoretically impart wisdom from “Christian psychology.”

Roaring, Ravenous Lions

Perhaps it will be no surprise to you (it wasn’t to us) that the dynamic, overbearing speaker was a LION, as was the strong, extroverted yet deeply meditative pastor of the church responsible for bringing the King of the Beasts in. (As an aside, dynamic leadership Lion types might note that not all references to the animal are necessarily positive, with 1 Peter 5: 8 coming immediately to mind:

“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”)

Our daughter, who according to Leman’s birth order wisdom should be a natural leader (a LION) with a strong need for approval from anyone in charge (like a dog, now? Did I give birth to a knock-off chimera?) returned from the meeting subdued and vaguely depressed.

Lilac Festival inspirational oil painting of toddler girl with hat and dress picking flowers in the garden by Steve Henderson

All human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made, and they resist being categorized and classified. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“According to this test,” she said with a rueful smile, “I’m a dog. And not just any dog — I mean, I could handle being a Doberman or an Alaskan Husky — but I’m a Labrador Retriever.”

At the time we owned a Labrador Retriever: she was servile, submissive, obedient, docile, and acquiescent — in short, everything church leadership looks for in the majority of its congregation — and we had certainly never associated these attributes with our creative, funny, independent, spirited, stubborn, gorgeous firstborn.

Psycho-Garbage, Christianity-Style

“This is psycho-garbage,” we told her. “If it makes you feel any better, in the Chinese Zodiac you’re a Dragon, which does seem to match up with your morning personality.”

But the damage had been done, and while years have gone by and our daughter, and we, have moved on and away from Churchianity and the Christian Establishment Culture,  you always do remember being labeled as a dog. How this message has insinuated itself into the gospel of Christianity is baffling, but not really: it’s there because people allow it to be there.

Christian sisters and brothers: if you find yourself sitting in a pew (or interlocking chair) and given a “Christian Personality Test,” you don’t have to take it, any of it. There is nothing impolite, impolitic, rude, or wrong in standing up, excusing yourself as you work your way to the aisle, and walking out. What is rude, and wrong, abusive, insulting, and . . . evil, actually, are the people with the audacity (or, to be charitable, misguided ignorance) to think that they can label individual human beings and squeeze them into one of four boxes — whether it’s based upon your birth order, your birth date, or any series of questions that someone, who sells a lot of books based on the concept of the day, has set up.

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” Psalm 139 tells us. “When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I am not a Lion, a Beaver, an Otter, or a Dog. A Mama Grizzly, now — I can see a few similarities.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I weep, sometimes, to see so many Christians associate faith with a blind, submissive attitude toward anyone who sets himself up as an authority. If we must label ourselves, let’s be Bereans (Acts 17: 13), who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

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