Posts Tagged ‘ religion ’

Seeking Meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about God lately. What I believe, what’s real, what’s true, etc.

So therefore I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity and the Christian Church.

Recently, Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. For those of you who don’t know, Rick Warren is a megachurch pastor.

It’s tragic. It’s sad. Suicide is never something that should be taken lightly.

But it’s led me to think about this habit Christians have about assigning meaning to apparently meaningless events.

His suicide certainly had a cause– chronic depression. But was there meaning in his death? Maybe. Maybe not.

We can’t know.

Last summer, I almost died. Two weeks ago, my brother almost died. He was within a millimeter of instant death. (I hyperbolize a lot over here, but that is not hyperbole; I’m being literal.)

Was there meaning in his accident? My friend asked me. He wanted to know that if God is a loving God, why did he let my brother fall off that ladder?

I don’t know.

I don’t know why I almost died last summer. I don’t know what the physical cause was, and I don’t know if there was a metaphysical purpose. I DO know that I’m a better person because of it. There’s something about a near-death experience that puts the entire rest of your life in perspective.

When I die, I’ll probably greet death like an old friend. After facing death, nothing is really scary anymore, except the prospect of losing people you love.

After my brother almost died but didn’t in a crazy inexplicable miracle, I feel like nothing can depress or stress me out anymore, because my life could almost have been so much worse.

Maybe that means that there was meaning. But was there meaning to the bombing at the Boston Marathon today? I don’t know. All I know about that is it’s a tragedy, like so many other tragedies that seem to be piling up lately.

Christians are so afraid to admit that they don’t have the answers to some things, and that is a massive problem with American Christian Culture.

Is it inconceivable to think that maybe, just maybe, God is too big, omnipotent, omnipresent, multi- and pan-dimensional for your little human brain to explain? Is it inconceivable that you cannot possibly look at an event and answer the question, why? Is it so impossible to accept that you cannot know, simply because of the biological limitations to the human mind?

Maybe there is meaning in apparently meaningless events. But due to my extreme lack of pandimensional perspective, I hesitate to assign it.

Sometimes stuff happens and there’s nothing you can do about it but deal with the consequences.


Why Christians should Tip

As anyone in the service industry can assure you, Christians are very stingy.

Every barista dreads the days when women’s bible studies come into coffee shops, because even though they all (usually) order demanding drinks, all that you get in the tip jar is a whole lot of nothing (or maybe a gospel tract if your shirt is a little lower cut than someone thinks is okay.)

Okay, yeah, I sound a little bitter. But I feel like I have a right to be, because I’m a Jesus follower and no barista or waiter would ever guess it. Why? Because I tip really well.

Wait what.

Why is this the case? Why does this happen? Why, oh why, are women’s bible studies so annoying?

Jesus said to love others more than you love yourself. I understand being a good steward of your money and all, but a really good way to demonstrate love and appreciation to baristas and waitstaff is to tip well, especially if the service was good.

Having a condescending attitude and asking us if we know Jesus after looking pointedly down our shirts is not a good way to demonstrate love.

Let’s face it, Christians– ya’ll (we) have a pretty crappy reputation in this society, and honestly, if you (we) can’t even tip a barista when there’s a whole bunch of you ordering your drinks at once, I can’t exactly say you (we) don’t deserve it.

Repairing the crappy reputation will be a long difficult process because I’m inclined to believe it’s because our priorities are screwed up (image is more important than Jesus) but I’m not going to go into that today.

All I’m saying is that you can start a trend by tipping your baristas and waitstaff.

How about we start by letting people know that Christians are generous?

And I promise you, no one cares about how many sponsor children you have.

Start at home.

Christians, tip your baristas.

Some Spiritual Blips

Every experience is one more step toward trading one’s youth for wisdom.

That was an epiphany I had while pondering some of Donald Miller’s thoughts.

I’m glad I didn’t start reading Miller’s books when people first started telling me to. If I had read Blue Like Jazz when I was 15 when I first heard about it, I wouldn’t have taken anything away from it. “Oh yay, goody,” I would have thought, but I wouldn’t really have been needled by his thoughts like I am now.

Needled in a good way.

The sequence in which I’ve been reading books about Jesus or Christianity or Church has been really beneficial. Each book I pick up, I’m glad that I read the other books before it.

I read unChristian  when I was finally coming to terms with my struggles with traditional, denominational church. I can’t do denominational, formulaic church– it severely handicaps my relationship with Jesus. Then God brought me to the Ragamuffin Gospel, which helped me recognize that my struggles are indeed with church, not Jesus. This one kept me from giving up on Jesus based on how poorly his followers represent him.

Then Summer gave me a copy of Sense and Sensibility, which helped me make sense of my relationships with my sisters, both of whom are more important than any church.

Just as I was reaching the low apex of my relationship with God– frustrated with myself and my lack of understanding and wisdom, discouraged about my relationship with God, and lacking social connections– God brought me Through Painted Deserts.

I put off reading it for like a week. “I need to finish The Shack,” I said, but finally I gave up and gave in. I admit I partially started reading it out of guilt– it was a gift from my dear friends Pat and Mandy, and I wanted to read it so I could talk with them about it.

Also, I think I knew in the back of my heart that it would challenge me and needle me.

Which it did.

At first I was like “Donald Miller’s writing style is so much like mine,” but then it switched to “Why didn’t I think of this first?” because one of my biggest fears (as a Hargrove) is unoriginality.

Then, finally, I just finished Blue Like Jazz yesterday morning. Miller’s candor and honesty are so, so refreshing. Most Jesus followers that I’ve met would not be able to air their doubts, share their journey, and chronicle their conclusions like Miller did/does, much less publish them.

However,  I can admit that I agree with Miller without having thought of these things first, because I’m realizing that learning from from people who are wiser than me doesn’t make me unoriginal– it helps make me wise.

And that’s when I imagined trading all my youth for wisdom in one shot, and that’s how I came to the conclusion that life is one long string of experiences which ultimately cause us to trade our youth for wisdom.

I never want to be so drunk on youth that I don’t consider the wisdom of people who know better than me, though.

Church, Inc.

Picture this– you’re on a road trip, and around lunchtime you reach an unfamiliar city. On the main strip, you scope out potential spots for a delicious lunch. The familiar signs greet you; McDonalds on the right, KFC on the left, followed by Burger King, Jack in the Box, Carl’s Jr., Starbucks… Need I list anymore?

Looking for more tempting culinary offerings, you turn off onto a nearby side street. You seem to have found Church Row, and the familiar signs greet you; Nazarene on the right, Baptist on the left, followed by Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodists, Foursquare, Pentecostal… Need I go on?

“But Bethany,” you may think, “Why are you comparing Christianity to corporate fast food chains?”

How, dear reader, are they so different?

People go to McDonald’s to satiate their physical hunger, and they go to church to satiate their spiritual hungers. However, the fare they receive at either location is just a temporary fix for their yearnings, and they find they’re hungry again far sooner than they ought to be. That’s because our formulaic churches and fast food joints are too McDonaldized to fulfill our true needs.

The religion of Consumption is tied inextricably to McDonaldization of anything.

For example, most protestant churches try hard to be “relevant to today’s culture,” featuring a pastor who doesn’t wear church clothes and cracks jokes from the pulpit. He (or she) will probably also make at least one pop culture reference per sermon, and the worship team will probably be mostly young adults with a 30-something male with spiked hair singing passionately into the microphone.

This is a wonderful example of the Predictability characteristic of McDonalization. (Predictability- Standardization and uniform services. “Predictability” means that no matter where a person goes, they will receive the same service and receive the same product every time when interacting with the McDonaldized organization. This also applies to the workers in those organizations. Their tasks are highly repetitive, highly routine, and predictable.)

I present to you this thought: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

Since when is giving people exactly what they expect not conforming to the patterns of the world?

Most denominations are moving into the digital age. No worries about that– I don’t expect people to live like fossils. Most churches have email lists of prayer requests which they’ll send out to any members who asked to be on the list.

This eliminates the need to pray one-on-one with people, and perfectly represents another characteristic of McDonalization– Efficiency. ( the optimal method for accomplishing a task. The optimal method equates to the fastest method to get from point A to point B. Efficiency in McDonaldization means that every aspect of the organization is geared toward the minimization of time.)

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,” but how are we doing this by sending out emails that people probably don’t even read?

Digitization of church interaction also exemplifies the Control aspect of McDonalization – standardized, replacement of human by non-human technologies.

Whether or not you realize it, your immersion in the culture we live in has made you a Consumerist.

Whether or not you realize it, your religion is probably the religion of Consumption.

Whether or not you agree with me, the fact that you’re surrounded by Consumerism colors your view of spirituality, and the protestant church caters to that wholeheartedly, making promises about what they can do for you and how they can change your life– you, the customer, the consumer of their product; Jesus.

Jesus is not your product.

I am reminded of the cyclopian Bible salesman in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? He expounds on how there is a great deal of wealth to be made in the Good Lord’s Service, but exemplifies the very principles the Gospels are against.

Jesus preached love. What does our McChurch have to do with loving people? Nothing.


All church is in 21st century America  is a club for people to go and pat each other and themselves on the back for how good they are at being good.

Is there room in the church for real, broken sinners? Ladies and gentlemen, I was raised in church. For years I went to church and I have enjoyed it at times. I have been to several different denominations.

Never have I been in a church in which people are truly able to share their struggles without being ostracized. Gross people aren’t allowed unless they’re there to be fixed, and if they won’t be fixed, they’re gently excluded from the “inner circles” of good people until they finally get the message and go away.

This is probably why I have never been able to stay at any one church for more than a few years. Eventually I come up against a struggle that is too gross to share with the shiny church people who have it all together.

If I told church people the things I struggle with at home alone at night, they would need to fix me even more than they already do.

Yes, I am broken. No, you may not fix me.

When was the last time you saw the ugly side of McDonald’s?

Is one of these things not like the others?

Corporate ideology and our religion of consumption, whether or not we acknowledge it, is ruining Jesus Christ for us. I struggle with not becoming jaded with Christianity– how about them apples?

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-30)

The only difference between church culture and corporate America is that the people I’ll meet in Wal-Mart won’t ostracize me from their group for publishing this blog.

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