The Danger of Trying to “Fit In”

You are not faithful to God. Don’t you know that to be a friend of the world is to hate God? So anyone who chooses to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.
James 4:4 (New International Reader’s Version)

Since the dawn of humanity, we have tried to fit in with the crowd one way or another.  We will do anything to avoid the dreaded FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.  We will change our personal style in clothes, music, politics, even career to be part of some “in crowd.”  Many of us will change our very persona-especially trying to nab a certain person for romance.  As I said earlier, we will change our career plans to jobs (that we would normally avoid like the plague) just to fit in with people we think are cool.  This fitting in starts in school while we’re a  young age; we try to fit in with the other kids.  It later manifests in adolescence through sports, certain clubs; or on the negative side, gangs.  In college, it’s joining a fraternity or sorority.  In adulthood it manifests even more since we’re job and mate hunting.

However, trying to fit in can manifest itself in deeper ways: many of us trade for what God made us to be.  You were called to be single so God can work with you, yet to fit in with family and married friends you marry and have a family.  You were called to be an artist, yet to fit in with your “professional” friends you get an MBA and slave work for Corporate America.  You were called to live in the low-rent part of town so you can minister to the locals, yet to fit in with your “bourgeois” pals you go in debt to your eyeballs and buy a “McMansion.”  God has called you to spend time with Him/Her so you can grow, however you try to fit in with your social media pals and go jet-setting all over creation.

Some of us even walked away from God Him/Herself, shutting our selves from Him/Her so we can fit in with our social circles.  This is dangerous-period!  Tonight’s Scripture is a punch in the gut for those trying to “fit in.”  James, who was Jesus’s sibling, warns us that being a friend to the “world”-the ego-driven, illusory, transient, shallow realm that all about us-is being unfaithful to God.  In fact, James minces no words when he wrote that friendship with the world is being God’s enemy.

And the sad part is that no matter how much we do fit in, it will never be enough.  We will continually compromise those things that God has for us.  No house, money, sex, position, social circle, status, etc is worth the trade off.  We will lose what God made us to be as the world swallows us up more and more until we are completely taken over.  And in the end, Jesus’s question will ring in our ears:

What good is it if someone gains the whole world but loses their soul?  Mark 8:36 (NIRV)

Trying to fit in with the world conflicts with what God desires for us and our lives: a fuller, deeper, and eternal abundance.  In fact, I daresay that God wants us to stand out: to go against the “world’s” status quo.  To let God shine though us so that our divine humanity can be seen by all.  God created us to be unique individuals and live that uniqueness through what we were given.  There we can be true representatives of the Realm of God in the world.  We can let our lights shine so people can see our good works.  We can be truly human, instead of trying to “fit in.”  And who know?  We may turn around and liberate those caught in the “fitting in” trap.

Trying to “fit in” is dangerous.  Let’s instead be what God created us to be.

Peace.

(Image by Me: Adirondack chairs, West Orange, NJ)

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The Devil and American X-tianity

and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan
Revelation 2:9(b) (New King James Version)

American X-tianity made a deal with the devil, if not sold its soul.  From as far back as the Puritan days, this perversion of Christianity has done everything contrary to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.  We all know the many evils in this land the American church endorsed; how many suffered at the hands of this “church” as well.  We could read over the many clergy who had the chance to stand up for righteousness; however due to race (White) and gender (male), decided to craft doctrine that had lasting impact.

Today, we see this deal with the devil in full bloom.  Groups like the Moral Majority and its ilk have freedom to influence what goes on in the public square; and tried to influence what happens in Washington.  We have pastors who endorsed racism hidden behind “Scriptural authority,” yet Jesus would have never recognized such authority.  We have clergy who support the “squatter in chief” currently occupying the White House despite his un-Christian attitudes towards women, non-Whites, the poor, etc.  What’s even worse is non-White clergy who have been co-opted into preaching trivialities to the people instead of truth to power.

Jesus expressed this to John in Revelation in the above passage.  Jesus warned John-and those of us in the Boardinghouse of Faith-that there are those who say they’re of the faith, yet are of the “synagogue of Satan.”  What Jesus warned was that there are those who’ve embraced the devil and follow his/her practices, ways, attitudes; yet have the nerve to say their in the faith.  To Jesus, those who say they’re of the faith yet act like the devil is blasphemy to him.

Now the devil is also a shrewd businessperson-even better than Trump.  He/she will let these X-tians run rampant as they had for the last 400 years-especially now that their boy Trump is in the Oval Office.  Satan has American X-tianity in his/her pocket.  For American X-tianity, things could not get any better…

…Until Satan presents American X-tianity with the bill.  As I said before, Satan’s a shrewd businessperson who will collect.  Oh, I know some of you will say that Satan has no power in over the Church, however that’s for those who follow Jesus the Christ.  However for this American perversion from Christianity there will be no protection.  These men and women will be of the “reprobate” mind that Paul warned of (ref. Romans 1:28).  They will lose all sense of who they are and will quickly tear themselves apart before the eyes of others.  The nation they tried to “create” with their influence will collapse under their feet and they won’t be able to escape its fall.  They will cry out to God, yet it will too late since they rejected Him/Her.  It will be a sad time as a potential witness for Christ ends up a dead victim with Jesus’s pronouncement ringing in its collective ears:

 See! Your house is left to you desolate
Matthew 23:38 (NKJV)

American X-tianity will be dead and no one will miss it.  It will be a part of American History that many will want to forget.  I wish I could have a different outlook, however history will bear me out.  We’ve seen how religion that has been co-opted by empire with die out when empire dies out.  I predict that this “dark age” of American X-tianity’s running the show will soon die out as this perversion of Christianity dies out as well.

The devil and American X-tianity: something to think about.

Peace.

(Image: Abandoned church in Hewitt, New Jersey)

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Stop Crying!

Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.”
1 Samuel 16:1 (New King James Version)

A backdrop to tonight’s Scripture/post: God had just rejected Saul as king of Israel.  In the previous chapter, God commanded Saul to turn the kingdom of Amalek into a parking lot-killing every living thing.  However, Saul decided to spare the best sheep and oxen of the Amalekites; and the Amalekite King, Agag.  Bad idea, Saul.  God was not a happy camper and (through the prophet Samuel) served Saul notice that his king days were over.  Samuel was upset with what happened and mourned over the whole deal.

Now we come to our Scripture.  God’s asking Samuel how long will he pine over the rejection of Saul.  Then God commanded Samuel to fill his horn with oil and head to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem so God can pick a king from one of his sons.  And as you know, God eventually selected Jesse’s youngest, David to be Israel’s next king.

When we look at Samuel, we may tell him to get over the rejection of Saul.  We may tell him that Saul would have wound up a lousy king after his affair with the Amalekites.  However, when I looked at Samuel I saw us: how many times we mourn over something or someone that we need to let go and move on.

How many of us still pine over that past love because they were good in the sack, despite the fact they were wishy-washy in their affections towards us?  How many of us pine over that lost job that might have paid a good salary, yet almost killed us with long hours and adversarial coworkers?  How many of us pine over leaving the “old neighborhood,” despite the fact that it was changing for the worst?  How many of us pine over the “good old days,” despite the fact they were some of the roughest times of our lives?

Like with Samuel, God’s telling to stop our crying and move on.  We need to move on if we’re going to progress and live.  Samuel had to move on from pining over Saul so he could be used to anoint David.  We need to stop pining over that “ex” and enjoy the fact we have a loving spouse and a family.  We need to stop pining over that killer job and enjoy our restored health and peace of mind.  We need to stop pining over the “old neighborhood” and enjoy the benefits of where we live now.  We need to also stop pining over our glorified past and enjoy the present we’re blessed with.

Many of us today still cry over the past, much to our detriment.  We must stop our crying and move on so we can enjoy today and move on to the future.  If we keep mourning over the past, we’ll find ourselves regressing.  We’ll wind up behind in life whilst the present moves on without us.   We could lose out on today’s blessings.  Many of us wound up divorced, sick, broke, socially crippled, bereft of opportunities, etc because of crying over our past.

It’s time for us to stop crying over a lost past and move forward.  God has great things for us today that we can enjoy.  Remember, we can’t drive forward if we’re constantly looking in the rear view mirror! And nothing else, tomorrow’s not promised to us!

A little food for thought.  Peace.

(Image: Abandoned house window. Baptistown, NJ).

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An Analog Lent

Okay folks, which is which? Analog or Digital? Hmm…

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (New International Reader’s Version)

Good evening Dear Readers.  I hope you’re having a blessed Lenten Season; and that God is leading you to where He/She is calling you to.

Tonight’s post is a somewhat personal one to me.  You know I am a photographer, and have been one for about 35 years.  Like many of my age, I started shooting with film back when film was still popular.  However in the interim, I’ve watched digital technology come on the scene and change the photographic landscape within less than 20 years.  I too started using digital (and still do).

It was also during those “in the meantime and in-between times” we saw vinyl records (I still have mine) give way to CDs and then streaming music.  We also saw printed media give way to Kindle® and other e-books.  Within less than a generation, we saw “analog” media (film, printed matter, vinyl/tapes) give way to digital form.

However, we’re seeing a resurgence in analog media.  In photography, film is making a comeback through a renewed interest by new photographers and encouraged by older ones.  We see a renewed interest in vinyl albums as pressing vinyl once again is in vogue.  Even publishing is seeing a resurgence in printed books and other media.  Last week, I heard a podcast on The Art of Manliness website with author David Sax discussing his new book, The Revenge of Analog, which was a very interesting interview.

In my field of photography, we see countless online “film vs. digital” debates to fill the Library of Congress (I’ve given my two cents in a couple).  As I read these debates, and listened to the above podcast, it dawned on me what was going on: we want tactility.  We as human beings want something we can touch; something that can engage our five senses.  With film, I can hold negatives and see my finished images burned on to them by light and chemical processes.  When I listen to vinyl, I can hold a disc and enjoy the act of putting it on a turntable with needle to play; enjoying every crack and “imperfection”.  With a book, I can hold it in my hand and feel the pages with my fingertips-feeling more connected with the writer. Plus, we can slow down and spend time with these: taking time to capture and develop a photograph; the process of playing a vinyl album; and the time to sit and slowly enjoy a book.

Tonight’s Scripture could have been taken out of our contemporary yearning for analog.  John wrote about how God’s Wisdom became flesh-became “analog.”  When this Word, Jesus was on Earth, we could touch him with our hands.  We could hear his words through his breath on us.  We could smell his odor after traveling all day on the hot and dusty roads.  We can connect with him through his healing, his teaching, his eating with us, his living among us.  God became analog for us.  God slowed down time and space so that we and Jesus can fully engage each other.  Even after the resurrection, when Jesus told Thomas to touch where the nails were in his flesh, we had a tactile…an analog experience.

Today it doesn’t matter what medium people use.  The fact is that we need an analog experience-a God we can touch and hold.  We don’t need the digitized sermon snippets or Scriptural “word bites” we see on social media.  No, we need the “Word made flesh” in our age; a God we can hold onto and truly experience in our digital age.  We need this experience not just for Lent, but for all times.  And then we can share that experience with those who need it the most among us; and we can show the Word made flesh and know that he still dwells among us.

The Word made flesh for an analog Lent: works for me.

Peace.

(BTW, both images above were taken by me October 20, 2016.  The top image is the digital taken with my smartphone.  The bottom is the analog taken with a Minolta Maxxum 7000 on Kodak Portra 800 film).

 

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Perversion at Lent

22 Jerusalem, your silver isn’t pure anymore.
    Your best wine has been made weak with water.
23 Your rulers refuse to obey the Lord.
    They join forces with robbers.
All of them love to accept money from those who want special favors.
    They are always looking for gifts from other people.
They don’t stand up in court for children whose fathers have died.
    They don’t do it for widows either.
24 The Lord is the Mighty One of Israel.
    The Lord who rules over all announces,
“Israel, you have become my enemies.
    I will act against you in my anger.
    I will pay you back for what you have done.
Isaiah 1:22-24 (New International Reader’s Version)

In light of recent budget cuts by the current administration affecting programs that benefit millions in this country, this post was written.  It’s a shame that we have people who profess to “know” Christ marching in lock-step with such indiscriminate use of power.  A review of the last two months of Donald Trump’s presidency (if you want to call it that) shows a man who does not care for the people he swore to govern-save those in the 1% income group and his family.  We’re seeing a president that is totally out of control: perversion of power.

If we look at tonight’s Scripture, we see our current government situation in it.  We see a total perversion of power.  In ancient Israel, God warned through the prophet Isaiah about her perverting power.  God listed charges against Israel that He/She could read against America today: rulers siding with the corrupt; catering to special interest groups; not caring to those who are struggling.  The parallels are staggering.

As we continue on into Lent, we need to recognize this perversion of power.  We must first be sure we’re not guilty of this: be it in our homes, jobs, churches, or social circles.  We must not abuse that which God has entrusted us; and exercise this power justly.  Plus, we must be sure not to condone (or endorse) such perversion-directly or indirectly.  We must pray and ask God to alert us to this.  If we’re guilty, let’s pray that God will change our hearts.

After we rid this perversion in ourselves, we must speak out to perversion of power in the larger community-especially to those in power.  We can preach, blog, social media, vote, petition-whatever it takes to bring this sin to attention.  If we are to be the salt and light Christ calls us, we must be serious.

For you see, God warned Israel-and us-that He/She will pay back in kind those who perverted power; since they will become God’s enemies.  And trust me, none of us would ever want to be on God’s “shit list.”  No matter how powerful we are-even the President-God will deal in kind.  Those in power will end up being on the bottom rungs, the marginalized, the humiliated.

Perversion at Lent is something we need to be on our spiritual guard for.  We need to see and call it out for what it is: individually and in the greater community.  For if we don’t, God certainly will.

Peace.

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Humility at Lent

My neighborhood.

15 He sends his command to the earth.
    His word arrives there quickly.
16 He spreads the snow like wool.
    He scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He throws down his hail like pebbles.
    No one can stand his icy blast.
18 He gives his command, and the ice melts.
    He stirs up his winds, and the waters flow.
Psalm 147:15-18 (New International Reader’s Version)

If you’ve been looking at the news today, you will see that a snowstorm is pummeling the Tristate (NJ/NY/CT).  In fact as I write this, snow with sleet is coming over my town of Plainfield; which will later turn back into snow before exiting tonight.  Mass transit has been either running on modified service, shut down, or soon to be shut down.  Roads are pretty abandoned as schools and offices are closed; and others (like me) work from home.  Power outages are the concern for the Jersey Shore and Long Island.  Don’t let my photo above fool you; it may look “tame,” but far from it.  We have our area governors issuing bans and other storm-related edicts.

As we dog-sled through Lent, we’re getting a lesson in humility.  We’re watching tiny snowflakes falling from the clouds and banding together thanks to cold ground temperatures. Factor in the wind those little flakes, can shut down an entire metropolitan area, and dictate to us what do do and where to go.  Nature is powerful when She wants to be and is not afraid of our little attempts at controlling Her.

Today’s Scripture text is calling Israel (and us) to praise God-reminding us of His/Her goodness and power.  The text also reminds us of God’s power through Nature.  In fact, the passage used is relevant for the weather here in God’s Country.  We’re witnessing God’s power through His/Her acts of nature: wind; snow; hail (or sleet); icy blast…God ain’t playing.  We as human beings need to recognize that it’s not about us: God is still in charge.

However, let’s remember God’s goodness.  Despite all the shit in our world (or today’s weather), God has been good.  He/She still has kept us collectively and individually.  In my case, God has kept my family and I safe in our home, warm and able to keep in touch with others.  I have my health and strength and creativity.  Many of us who are reading this post still have many blessings that others in this world wish they did have.  And God has been good to us when we sure as hell didn’t deserve it.  Again this should remind us that it’s about us: God is still in charge.

We need to realize God’s power and goodness should make us humble, not in the groveling “what a worm am I” sense.   We’re not the “center of the universe” as some want to think.  We are vulnerable to Nature and to God’s will-like it or not.  When we realize this vulnerability, we will be develop a sense of humility in our relation to the greater scheme of things.  We also need to realize how dependent on God we are. This is important for Lent since Christ spoke of his vulnerability and dependency on God.  This humility will not make us weak, instead will make us human and wise….

Teach us to realize how short our lives are. Then our hearts will become wise.
Psalm 90:12 (NIRV)

In our age of rabid nationalism, ethnocentrism, and chauvinism, we need humility.  For in the final analysis, we’re all vulnerable-like it or not.  Maybe if we learn humility, not just for Lent, we’ll be human and wise.

‘Nuff said.  Peace.

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Seeking at Lent

Scripture reference: John 4:1-42 (Jesus and the woman of Samaria)

Tonight’s passage is a well known one.  I won’t rehash the story since you’ve probably heard it a zillion times in a zillion different ways and in a zillion sermons or meditations.  And I know this story is probably being worked over for Women’s History Month.  However, my focus for Lent is the Samaritan woman herself.

The Samaritan woman had the notoriety of having five husbands, and shacking up with a man during the time of the narration.  We “enlightened” moderns look at this woman with pity and scorn at her situation.  However we forget that the Samaritan woman is really us; and I say “us” because like her, we’re seeking.

First, the Samaritan woman was probably seeking for some emotional fulfillment with her going through six men.  She married over and over again looking for someone to fill a “void”; and was trying with her current partner.  Before we get judgmental, how many of us go through people-be it friends, lovers, spouses, partners, etc looking for some fulfillment?  We sometimes go through sex partners like we do changes of underwear trying to find that “someone” who’ll fulfill our needs.  And if not people, what about things?  Who reading this hasn’t gone from job to job because it didn’t fulfill us professionally?  Who hasn’t moved through more towns than a concert tour, looking for that place that touches us emotionally?

Second, the Samaritan woman was also seeking validation-like us.  She carried a double-burden in the validation department.  First, she was a Samaritan-a ethnic group looked down by Jews for their intermarrying with local peoples while “pure” Jews were in exile.  Second, the woman’s sexual (let’s just say it) reputation has distanced her from others in her community.  In fact, it’s common knowledge that water was drawn in the early morning whilst it was cool.  The woman here came out during the day when it was hot (think Las Vegas or Phoenix) when she could be alone. We too seek validation-especially when our past or some “sin”marginalized us from others.  We will do anything to receive validation-even at the cost of our self-esteem.  Or if we can’t find that validation, we will be alone and cut ourselves off.

Last, yet just as important, the Samaritan woman was seeking answers that could not be answered in the ordinary.  When Jesus offered her water from which she’ll never thirst again, girlfriend thought this offer will spare her going out to draw alone- or to ease the pain of her seeking validation.  Yet Jesus saw into this woman’s life and knew she was seeking more than what life had given her.  Heaven knows we’re doing the same in our day.  We’re quickly-and painfully-finding out that life is not giving us what we thought it would and many of us are now seeking.  Who’s to say that God is not calling us to something bigger and better than what we were handed?

At the end, the Samaritan woman was able to end her seeking.  She found her answer in Christ, where she found fulfillment, validation, and her deeper questions answered.

Lent is a time for us to ponder on what we’re seeking.  Are we seeking fulfillment from the transient things in life (including people)?  Are we seeking validation from those who marginalized us; or if we’re not validated we withdraw?  Are we seeking the answers to questions that cannot be easily furnished?  Are there other things we’re seeking?  As we seek, let us look to God for guidance and help, so like the Samaritan woman we too will find what we’re seeking.

Peace.

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