Tag Archives: Christian

Why Care About Those Trees? They’re All the Way in Israel

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I apologize for that. I am experiencing a severe case of “can’t make myself do it”-itis.

This will be short, but I did come across this blog post and it was really intriguing. Ben Irwin tells us that “earlier this week, the Israeli government bulldozed 1,500 fruit trees on a family farm near Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus” (Ben Irwin, May 21 2014). Allegedly the trees were on state land, though the Nassar family – the owners of the land, upon which sits Tent of Nations – argue otherwise. While the Nassars were awaiting a court decision, someone decided to go ahead with the removal and illegally uprooted the more than 1,000 trees. 

Now, the only reason I heard about this happening is because I follow Ben Irwin’s blog and it popped up. However, Irwin believes that if this very situation happened in the United States, everyone would know about it. Why? Because the Nassars and the Tent of Nations farm are evangelical Christians.

Irwin challenges American Christians to think about what exactly the body of Christ means. And though this instance focuses on Christianity, I can imagine the very same reaction (or lack thereof) if this happened to any mainstream religious group. We make lots of noise when someone or their land is threatened because of religious beliefs…but only when it happens at home.

Read Irwin’s post and others he’s written at his blog, benirwin.wordpress.com

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Spiritual Nourishment in 60 Minutes: Worship and the Clock

As I sat in church this past Sunday, I admit to checking my watch. It was baptism remembrance Sunday and each person in the sanctuary was invited to come to the front and be touched with water to remind them of their baptism (or in anticipation, if they had not yet been baptized). It was wonderful but did take a while for everyone to make their way down to the front and back to their seats. We sang the four hymns printed in the bulletin…twice. By the time the ushers were invited to come forward and collect the offering, it was already noon and people were slowly slipping out. I stayed for the remainder of the service but it got me thinking about the expectations about how long worship should be and why religious people have – or do not have – unspoken rules about lengths of services.

In my experiences of United Methodist worship, I can count on one hand the number of times a service ran longer than one hour. There seems to be an unspoken rule in many, if not all, mainline Protestant churches that if your service isn’t over when the clocks ticks past the hour mark, you can’t be surprised when people begin to quietly gather their things and slip out to make those Sunday afternoon plans. Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches often limit Sunday mass to an hour, unless it is a major church holiday like Easter or Christmas. Even Jewish synagogues tend to keep their Friday night worship to 60 minutes, though it doesn’t seem as common a practice as in Christian churches.

When was it decided that we can, no have to accomplish worship in one hour? Why are we surprised when we get out of church “early” or “late”? Not all communities of faith have these constraints on time during worship, in fact many traditions pay little attention to the length of worship and prayer. I’ll give you two examples from two very different sets of beliefs.

Our first example takes us to Arkansas: in college I visited a Pentecostal church on a Sunday morning and spent two hours singings, listening to the pastor, and hearing testimonials from church members who felt moved to speak. No one seemed hurried or impatient; this was just a normal Sunday morning.

For our second example, we simply look to our Muslim neighbors. American Muslims spend however long they need to in prayer throughout the day, and weekly community prayers at mosques around the country can last for 30 minutes or an hour or less or more.

What do both of these examples have in common? Worship and prayer lasts as long as the pastor or imam or congregants feel the Holy Spirit or God or Allah working among them. It doesn’t matter if the service or prayer lasts 30 minutes or an hour or three hours because these faith communities put their feelings of their divine being ahead of their watches and schedules. We sit through sporting events and movies and concerts that are more than an hour. We watch television shows and feel satisfied in less than an hour. So why do we continue to pack our worship into a specific amount of time? I think a lot of it has to do with how busy the average American is every single day. Jobs, school, families, sports, running errands…many of us use those weekend hours to get as much done as we can in our personal lives before the work week or school week starts back again.

But wait…don’t we go to the synagogue or church to slow down and be renewed? Isn’t it a time to step out of our over-scheduled lives and dwell in the sacred and the divine? Where we learn and teach and grow in our relationships with our faith communities? Should we really be annoyed when the service goes over an hour or excited when we get out early? Maybe 60 minutes is all we need to be renewed and replenished, but I wouldn’t bet on the Holy Spirit keeping time.

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Homeschooling Isn’t Just for Religious Nuts or Abusers

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I am in the midst of I Fired God: My Life Inside – and Escape From – the Secret World of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Culta memoir by Jocelyn R. Zichterman. It’s a fascinating book, and there are many things to pick apart and talk about, but Zichterman’s assessment of homeschooling really frustrated me as a former homeschooler. In the Independent Fundamental Baptist church (IFB), many families homeschool their children in order to emphasize IFB teachings. And there are many conservative Christian families – Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. – who homeschool because they feel public education does not provide the moral framework they desire. Of these homeschoolers, Zichterman warns that “the government’s hands-off approach to homeschooling has enabled psychopaths” and led to a variety of tragedies not limited to physical abuse and neglect (I Fired God 148). Zichterman quotes statistics from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics that show “an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of homeschoolers mention faith as a driving force in their decision to opt out of more traditional educational settings” (149). These families attend homeschool conferences and lead literature that gives them “a generous dose of far-right religious rhetoric, biblical spanking, and a culture of secrecy” (151). Zichterman gives readers the impression that all homeschoolers are Bible-thumping, Hallelujah-shouting, hellfire and damnation Christians, many of whom are using homeschooling to further brainwash their children into an isolated society.

This is not true.

Zichterman is making statements based on her experiences of homeschooling, which are valid and constitute a part of the American homeschool community. Yet there are thousands of families who choose homeschooling for non-religious reasons such as limited access to quality public or private education, and mental or physical challenges of children. There are thousands of homeschoolers who do not keep their children at home to abuse them or to deprive them of a quality education and social life. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of homeschool networks around the country ranging from explicitly faith-based to proudly secular and everything in between.

homeschoolchurchOn the one hand, Zichterman is correct in her assessment and warnings: many conservative Protestant Christians pushed homeschooling in the 1960s and 1970s (and today) because of perceived attacks on Christians in the education system. With a heavy emphasis on the home, some conservative Christian families are concerned with what they perceive to be an increasing secularization of public schools and felt they could provide a quality education rooted in their religious values; in some cases, homeschooling is the primary mode for the transmission of religious doctrine. These families are the ones Zichterman highlights, the ones who may use homeschooling to hide abuses or indoctrination. However, they are only ONE branch of the homeschool community.

There are many families across the United States, like my own, who choose to homeschool because they feel the public or private education they have access to is not the ideal environment for their children. I was homeschooled for nine years in a liberal family and am able to function in mainstream society (I do have a college degree from an only loosely affiliate UMC college). We stand in complete contrast to the picture Zichterman paints of the American homeschooler, and I would be lying if I said reading her critique stung a little. Just like Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are just one branch of the Christian community, so those abusive and brainwashing religious nuts are just one branch of the homeschool community. 

So next time you meet a homeschooler – and you will, with more than 2 million of us around the country – don’t assume they are getting ready to spew a sermon. Treat them like you’d treat anyone who went to public or private school (and really, would you be appalled if someone told you they went to public school? I didn’t think so). We might have spent 7th grade focused on Ancient Egypt, and we may have called a family vacation through a dozen National Parks “a great learning experience,” but we still had to learn, we still hated homework (we just had it all the time), and we are just as likely to be as smart as you. We’re normal (mostly) and we’d appreciate if you would take what Zichterman says with a big ole grain of salt.

 

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