Archive for April, 2010

In a field of vibrant wildflowers, I was a dandelion. By 10 it was obvious that my Cuban nose and pre-Julia Roberts red hair was leading me to a comfy seat on the bench of life. In a Christian school, the “in” crowd was still pretty much the same as it was in any school—and is now—the ones who can actually make contact with the kickball, the ones who chat with the teacher during study time, the ones who had obedient hair.

I was plagued with allergies and an average academic brain. My hair brought untold torture—it was curly AND red. When I finally learned how to restrain most of it, my brother called me a rabbi.

My personality matched. I had been having adventures with demons in my bedroom since a young age. Most of all, I just did not have the skills that could catapult me into any type of relationship with a boy or an adult. I was years behind the others, and I hung out with two other girls that shared the same social seat. If John Mayer had been around back then, we might have realized that we were “bigger than our bodies “gave us “credit for.” We hadn’t reached our peak.

My powerlessness is what probably attracted me to the Pentecostal church after college. Baptists are focused on salvation and knowing the words of the Bible by heart. Pentecostals were into what was going on in the spiritual universe.

By the time I did my first mission trip to the Caribbean Islands, the fiction book This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti had taken the Christian world by monsoon. It was a story of a town struggling with sinful people. It showed what happened on earth (what we see) as well as what happens in the “spiritual realm” where demons and angels battle it out with shiny swords for the souls of the people on earth—reminiscent of the religion that preceded Christianity where Zeus and Poseidon fight for mortals.

Having already “seen” these demons, I was very taken with learning how I could get rid of them.

Once you catch on to the demon vs. angles philosophy, so much can be done. I heard stories of demons residing in antique furniture, where people in my church had to get rid of it. A girl violently allergic to strawberries bought some and put them on her kitchen floor and stomped on them claiming the victory of God’s power over the allergy demon. I had a favorite bracelet from Hawaii that a woman said might hold Hawaiian god power. It was a sad day when I cut it off.

Although there is constant talk of the violence in the Islamic scriptures, the Bible is filled with motifs of war, and the need for Christians to gird themselves and prepare for battle. Amazon shows 220 titles with “Spiritual Warfare” in them. For a wimp like me, it is easy to see the attraction to this power that could be mine.

Now everybody and everything contained the power of demons and angles—and they were all after me. I had never been so popular! The power that came with this knowledge was heady.

The verse in Matthew that says “Stand Thee behind me Satan” sunk into my vocabulary. Jesus’ disciple Peter, after Jesus foretold his death, said, “No, that can never happen to you!” Then Jesus replied with the Stand Behind Me command.

If you are churched, you know what power this command has. Just go to a potluck and have a friend come up with chocolate cake and ask if you want any. A sarcastically delivered Stand Behind Me gets all laughing.

But in the day to day struggles of things, it can be a powerful tool for a girl who was always powerless. When thoughts of despair came, I could say those words aloud (only God knows what is in your mind; you have to speak aloud for Satan to hear). When things went wrong with money or friends or parents, I could pray those words aloud, harder and harder to cause the angles to have more power over those demons that were fighting in the realm above me.

In Matthew, Peter (who used to be named Simon) had just declared that he gets it—Jesus is God. Jesus was pleased with this and told Peter that he is blessed. Whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Not to mention that Jesus proclaims his CHURCH will be built on Peter.

Then Jesus tells them of his foretold death. When Peter, who must be pretty thrilled over the complements, new name and power Jesus just bestowed on him says—Noooooooo! Jesus snaps right back “Stand Behind Me, Satan.”

Did Peter momentarily become Satan? Or was Satan talking through Peter? If so, what kind of power does that mean Jesus has if 3 verses ago he said that Peter was blessed and the foundation of his church??

I understand the way my Christian friends see me now. I am the one Jesus was talking to. I do “not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” I’ve joined the side of Satan in their eyes.

The battle scenes of demons and angles that I could see in my mind are gone. Although it was a long, fear-filled, worrisome road–it was, as if,  I turned the channel. Poof. Gone. And with changing channels (or cable providers et al) I have blossomed into a career person, mother and wife with goals and (hopefully) a kind heart.

That is why I am rereading all the things that made so much sense to me when I was younger. I want to read it without the visions of supernatural beings fighting for my soul. I want to read it without fear that God knows my thoughts and Satan is ready to lunge at me.

I want to look at it anew from a confident place where my nightmares are gone, my insecurities have vanished, I look less like a Hassidic Priest…and have no more allergies and see what it can offer me.

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My church never followed the pot luck dinner trend of most churches—where you tested Mrs. Ogilvie’s three bean salad and bragged about your Sunday School teacher’s banana bread. I grew up in south Florida—the land of…service. Even from the early 70s, my combo school/church had a cafeteria tucked into its Fellowship Hall. The warm dinner rolls were to die for; the rest was to die of. One dish consisted of round bologna slices melted into the molds of muffin tins with mashed potato plopped inside with an ice cream scooper.

I consumed 6 meals a week there—five lunches during the school week and one dinner on Wednesday nights before the church service. When I turned into a teenager, I graduated to the youth building on Wednesday nights where we pitched in two bucks to eat pizza. Youth Ministers must consist of cheesy muscles and doughy bones as they must have eaten close to a million pieces of pizza in their lifetime.

On Friday (like the Catholics who were heathens) we ate fish sticks. This was before the “baked” reformation, so ours were fried in butter and had that browned greasy coating that made the stick flexible as rubber once you stood it up in your scoop of mashed-potato-bologna-bowl.

church potluck

Perhaps the fish sticks were to remind of us of the fish and loaves story that we were familiar with. The story went—Jesus took 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread and fed 5,000 people. Every time he broke a piece off, more would just keep coming.

When I read this story in Matthew 14, once again, I was struck by all I did not know. Christians, well people at large, are great at isolating pieces of information.  I don’t remember that the feeding of the crowd happened twice—right in a row. Chapter 15 and then in 16. The same formula was followed. Jesus gets off a boat, talks a bit, then–in the first story–there are 5,000 people who need to be fed. So he gets the 2 fish and 5 loaves and does his thing. Then he gets on a boat and departs. In the next chapter-redo. This time he gets off the boat and there are 4,000 people, 7 loaves and a “few” fish. He does the same thing, then gets on a boat and departs.

The odd part is not just that it happens twice back to back (and only the story of the 5,000 gets any airplay in sermons), but that the wording is similar:

Matthew 14: 19-21

Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up the 12 basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children.

Matthew 15: 36-39

He broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up 7 basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was 4,000, besides women and children.

Once your miracles become mundane, it is time to move on to the water into wine maneuver.

A few years ago Perdue University did a study gauging the relationship between Body Mass Index and the church. It found that the church population had a higher ratio of fat people than in the general population—and at the top of that was the Southern Baptists (think deep fried Hershey bars and butter-laden corn).

The new KFC Double Down

I have always had a prejudice against listening to people’s advice if they are worse off than me. Seeing that obesity is a visual thing, then you can see that this gives me problems. We get flyers in our mailbox all the time with pictures of dumpy white men telling us that they would be the best person to be our 1) doctor 2) preacher 3) political representative.

Unless there is a caption under their name that says “And I have a glandular problem,” it is hard for me to trust that they really know what they are talking about.

As I stick my head in this book every week, I try and curb the thought that it really comes down to—who do I want to be like. Who do I respect? I want it to just be about what I read. I want to be influenced by these ancient words and nothing else. But, I’m not.

I look at people and their actions and I can tell you this: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” doesn’t cut it anymore.  At my age, we’ve all been living life long enough to have worked some things out. If you want people to think that Christ in your life has enhanced it, you need to have good friends, have your bank account in order, be successful in work, be in shape, give to charity, be educated, know your Bible, know world and local news, have a good marriage and live responsibly. Minimum. Otherwise, you have nothing to offer those without Christ except an afterlife that they may or may not care much for.

* I just reread my post after a publishing it a few hours ago and think that the ending sounds really harsh. I didn’t mean for it to be that at all, but still–it’s there. I apologize. Perhaps I should state that it is hard to take life-changing advice from anyone who does not embody the precepts laid out in his/her belief system. No one should take marriage advice from Liz Taylor nor parenting advice from that crazy blond lady with 8 kids.

(There is too much in these chapters to leave it at this. I will write again about Jesus’ sassy quips, paying taxes and devilment.)

Jesus was a rock star, a certified rock star. He shook people up, jumped from town to town leaving people wanting more, upset the law makers and talked in verse.

“Jesus Loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” was obviously written after someone read past Matthew chapter 14, because there is no talk about love or little cute children. There is, however, a man with a sharp tongue that is whipping some uppity-butt.

First thing the rock star does is break the law and go on the lam.  His disciples were hungry and so they picked some wheat—on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, which were sort-of the religious elite and the law makers—stuck out their tongues at Jesus and said, see—they broke the Sabbath.” Again, the fact that the gospels choose to highlight that Jesus broke laws can only go to show that some laws are not the best for the people—and people should take a moral stand toward kindness.

Then he broke the law again by healing a man with a shriveled hand.  Again, breaking the Sabbath. So by verse 14 of chapter 12 of the first book, the Pharisees are said to be plotting to kill him. Jesus took off from there, healing people to his left and right along the way until those Pharisees caught up with him on their Ben-Hur chariots and announced that the only way he could be healing people is that he got the power from the devil.

Jesus rips them a new one by saying that good brings forth good and bad…bad.  You can’t do anything that is good unless there is good in you and the same for the bad. “For by your words you will be acquitted (on the Day of Judgment) and by your words you will be condemned.” Or, in modern day translation—you heartless, mean “Christians” who talk hate on facebook shall be defreinded. Amen.

The pricky Pharisees, like jealous school-girls, taunt the rock star by yelling, “do a miracle. Show us a sign.”

“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!” replies Jesus.

In this generation of gold dust, feathers and priceless gems appearing miraculously whicle praying, I think we might be the winners of that adulterous generation. If you don’t know what I am referring to, please seehttp://www.thegloryrealm.org/index.htm Don’t miss the Glory TV spot.

A strange aside happens when people tell Jesus his mother and brothers are waiting for him outside. To me, this is the most pedestrian thing I have read in the Bible—like Jesus was just at soccer practice and his parents are picking him up.

He says, “Here (waving his hands to his disciples) are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” AND for that rudeness, Mary deserves all those statues of herself around the world.

Then the parables start. We’ve got the parable of the farmer, planting and harvesting, the hidden treasure, the weeds and the plants and the mustard seed.

This is when Jesus sounds like a poet or a songwriter. He stands among the people and talks in, essentially, riddles. His reasoning is that those who are ready to hear will understand what he is trying to say.

Growing up, the mustard seed parable was always my favorite. It talks about the littlest of seeds that grows into a tree. Later in the Bible, Jesus talks about if people could just have the faith of a mustard seed, then that would be enough—and more than most. I had a little gold necklace with a glass container on the end that held a mustard seed –much like the one Angelina Jolie wore containing the blood of Billy Bob Thornton.

My brother loved that parable too.  In high school he formed his first band with some kids at church. They wanted to be called Mustard Seed Faith. They had no money for instruments or music, so they decided to go around collecting, but not until after their small budget purchased them some shirts with the initials MSF printed on them. If they only had more faith, they could have purchased the rest of the letters for their shirts so that people would not have mistaken them for collecting for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

What I never noticed is that the parables were never explained to the people. When I studied them in church and college courses, we dissected them as a whole—the story and the explanation. I have assumed they were a package deal. But now I read that the lay people were never given the interpretation because Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah that people will have to “understand with their hearts.”

The parables are not explained until the disciples come to him and say, “Explain to us the parable (you just told).” Then he goes through them elucidating on the metaphors.

So, basically, the lay people (sinners and unsaved) don’t know what he was saying and…neither did his saved disciples.

Chapter 14 is quite dramatic. In short—John the Baptist gets beheaded, Jesus feeds 5,000 people for free( first welfare program?) and Peter tries to walk on water like Jesus did, but falls in the water and has to be pulled out. Therefore, having lots of faith gets you beheaded, having none gets you a free dinner and switching back and forth from belief to doubt gets you humiliated in front of your posse.

I am still deciding the better deal.