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The Clanging Cymbals of Religiosity

“I hate all your show and pretense—

   the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.

   I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.

23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!

   I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,

   an endless river of righteous living. (Amos 5:21-24).

It seems that as I continue to go about a life that is hopefully Christ-inspired, the more I hear a particular phrase used with increasing levels of force, and apparent disingenuousness; "I'm not religious, I'm a Christian."  While the phrase has been uttered plenty of times by people whom I have no doubt reflect the meaning of the phrase in their lives, sometimes I get frustrated by the hypocrisy of certain people saying it.  It makes me fear the reason why it hits home as much as it does.

Countless times, the individual making the claim seems to be more interested in their self-image as a good church-attending Christian, who seems like a decent person: they say all the 'acceptable things', they avoid the 'big' sins that the nasty people of the world give in to, they are recognized as a good conversationalist and hard worker, and appear to have the holy person routine down to a tee.  Despite this, they often come across as having an air of self-righteousness, due to their avoidance of the aforementioned, particularly shameful sins.  They often seem to be quick to pass judgement on others and possess a striking lack of tolerance for the shortcomings of others (particularly non-Christians).  Although they are quick to correct people on their doctrinal views, and condemn them of sin, they tend to overlook their own reading of the Bible and have little concern for those who are hurting or suffering under injustice.  Rather, they enjoy their own comfort.  A good week's worship is fulfilled by and culminated in belting out a few hymns on Sunday morning; evidence that they are part of their Christian community and a decent fellow, who tithes, doesn't cuss and always looks presentable.  This is the extent of their 'worship.'  My inclination is to identify this as religion, and more emphatically, hypocritical religion.

However, the main reason I think it bothers me so much, is that I can identify specific periods of my life where I have reflected such an attitude.  I have often placed far more emphasis on the 'show and pretense' of my so-called acts of service, and have neglected to acknowledge a Christ-like concern for the downtrodden and oppressed.  Instead, I have been guilty of shouting those 'hymns of praise' as loud and as noticeably as possible, content in maintaining that image of a religious individual singing God's praise.  And yet I'm reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:1; 'If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.'  I have no doubt that many of my songs of praise have effectively been droning, lifeless dirges, devoid of a true spirit of worship.  For the absence of worship as an all encompassing, love-fueled lifestyle, inevitably renders our hymns and religious deeds, wholly redundant.

It is this convicting reminder of my own foray into self-idolizing religion that is antithetical to true Christianity, that causes me discomfort when I am faced by hypocritical Christianity, where priorities are well and truly misplaced.  It is my capacity to fall into a religious lifestyle akin to the Pharisees, that makes this quality irksome to me.  And yet I am sympathetic to how easy that way of life is, hence why there are so many of Christians who fall into this category;

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.' (Matthew 23: 1-5).

I have been guilty of this condemnation, but this is my take on how to overcome being a 'clanging cymbal.' A worshipful life goes far beyond religious self-image and rule-abiding.  Without the humility of true righteous living and a godly concern for justice in our communities such worship cannot thrive.  This may mean you don't say the 'acceptable' things.  It may, or rather does, require you to associate with the 'unacceptable' people.  You may need to get messy; appearance isn't everything.  You also need the self-awareness to realize that a judgmental attitude chokes true worship; the first pit-fall into Pharisaic behavior.  It is only then, in adopting a loving and humble attitude, that the songs of praise that you sing to God will not smack of falsehood and pretense.  They will be a sweet sound, regardless of how tone deaf you are, as they come from a place of true worshipful intent.

Friedrich Nietzsche commented that, 'I cannot believe in a God that wants to be praised all the time.'  Although there are numerous points of disagreement between myself and old Freddie, I agree with him here.  I cannot imagine a God who demands continuous songs of praise from us; an endless pretense of religiosity that merely exists to declare our own self-righteousness and to reassure God that, yes, we believe in him and are ticking all of the comfortable boxes.  Instead, I conceive of a God that demands our continuous worship.  This may involve sporadic moments of 'praise', but adheres to the broad definition of the term.  We worship Him through our love of others, through our concern for justice in our communities, and our ability to get uncomfortable.  What good is there in singing about His love, if we go to no trouble to actively reflect it ourselves?

It seems I need to be reminded of this frequently.

“God save us from religion.” David Ennings

Three of a Kind

I was pretty darn excited at the prospect.  I was jittery, fidgety, static's enemy.  Salivating may be slightly too far, though if I was that would more likely be down to the chocolate brownie I was feasting upon.  It was good, quite fudgy and not overally cakey.  The event proposed, more importantly, was a round-up of friends to have a viewing marathon of the original Star Wars trilogy, as despicably there were two members of the group who had yet to see them either properly or at all.  It was the jobs of the two resident geeks to rectify this issue ( the other fellow in question would probably shake off this label....I do not care!).

Having been a Star Wars fan (of the obsessive elite) for about 15 years or so this was a real treat. I had seen the movies back to back by myself but not among friends ( and girlfriend, for in this case she was one who did not quite get the details of the series).  Despite being unwell, it proved to be a fantastic viewing experience, as the movies always are.  While the girls enjoyed chatting through them ( many a glare, and exclamations of 'Significant bit!' came from my direction) and giggling at funny looking alien people.  It was their opinion that Princess Leia got progressively more attractive throughout the trilogy.  I did not particularly feel the need to jump into that discussion.  However, when they continued to call Han Solo 'a total ass', I felt the need to jump in.  They ahhed at the suspected moments, essentially anytime Chewbacca wasn't growling or whenever an Ewok was on screen.  They questioned whether Grand Moff Tarkin's cheekbones were real, and why Yoda was fun one moment and then being all annoying and serious and helping (in their words) 'Lee get his car out of the swamp.'  I was fairly patient throughout, pretty much to allow me to enjoy the festival of nostalgia and space explosions for myself. 

However, the inevitable raised its head throughout the marathon.  The questions I knew would force their foot  through the door.  Actually some of them I didn't expect. 

'Where's Jar Jar?'
'Where's the guy who's face looks like a moon?' (still haven't quite worked that one out)
'Is this the one with the race in the desert?'
'Ewan McGregor in this one?'
'I can't wait til Mace shows up, he falls out a window y'know.'
'Is Parkinson in this one?'

My head was in my hands on several occasions.  However, all of these things hit home a very simple and probably obvious observation.  The original trilogy is infinitely better than the prequels.  Now, I'm sure that most Star Wars fans have already made their views on this years ago, but it dawned on me somewhat last week.  You see, just as the original trilogy were part of my youth, so too were the prequels, even though a later part.  So they too hold a certain amount of nostalgia for me, probably why I have defended them over the years.  Rewatching the original trilogy simply emphasised to me how simply fun they are (even with the darkness of Empire...I love saying that!).  There was no moment of the first three (in chronology of release date) that made me squirm or cringe at all, every second is utterly captivating.  Even though I sat through A New Hope eagerly anticipating the beginning of Empire, I still enjoyed the entire movie experience.  The same cannot be said for rewatching the prequel trilogy.  I did not sit watching The Phantom Menace shaking with nervous excitement for the beginning of Attack of the Clones. 

Now, I do not want to let this make me sound like one of the elitist geeks, for I am not one.  I am not even an elitist or snobby movie fan in the least.  A great movie experience for me is found just as much in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen as Forrest Gump.  I know, I have problems.  Nevertheless, I find that there are plently of things to enjoy about the prequels.  Duel of the Fates.  Christopher Lee. Liam Neeson.  Over-the-top camp Palpatine moments. Jango Fett. All Revenge of the Sith battles.  There are plenty of things that make those films enjoyable.  But having had several years without seeing them, and allowing myself to go back to them, the points that don't hold up so well are accentuated even more.  Jake Lloyd.  Hayden Christensen (sometimes).  Battle droid dialogue.  All 'romantic' dialogue.  Cheesy lines.  I could say Jar Jar, but that would be too easy, and to be honest it isn't a factor that particularly bothers me.  There would've been a time when nothing in those films would have been a problem to me, but with space to breathe, there are plently of cringe moments to be found.  This allows me to see just how enjoyable the original trilogy is.  For all the  complaints made against Return of the Jedi for perhaps being a little bit 'too cuddly', I consider it to be a perfect trilogy.  Besides we all know Boba doesn't really die in the Sarlaac.  A perfect trilogy.  The prequels - not quite.  For what they are, they are fun, but the experience of watching them back to back is NOTHING like watching the best trilogy ever. 

Speaking of Boba, we watched the DVD versions as opposed to the VHS Special Editions, thinking it would be easier for the girls to follow, being more consistent with their portrayal of the Emperor and whatnot.  My one hang-up - why did they replace Boba's original voice for the more prequel friendly New Zealand Jango voice? Surely his helmet could somehow distort his voice so it's different from Jango's?

Little bit of the elitist in me I suppose.

The Narrow

Revelation's a funny ol' book, isn't it? In it's content and modes of interpretation? Most certainly.  More personally though, it seems that every time I read from it, there's a completely different interpretation that pops to mind, or perhaps a new potential understanding of application for the Scripture that I receive.  Suppose that's the same with any passage to an extent, but for me Revelation 3 always seems to bring something else to mind everytime I read it.

Within the septet of oracles, it's always Revelation 3:14-22 that gets my head gears a-turning (apologies to any Union Theological students who may somehow be reading this, for you may be sick looking at said passage!)  While there is A LOT to say hermeneutically regarding the passage, that's not something I want to go into too much.  These are parts of Scripture that I find allow themselves to reveal truth by just breathing in the text and reflecting a bit on what they say, with every exhale producing some awareness or application for it.  Coming to it this time was no different.  Try as I may, I couldn't find any new meaning or understanding by simply 'thinking harder'.  It took some quiet reflection and time away from the passage for me to realise something.  It always happens at the weirdest times, no?  Invigilating a GCSE paper, feeling pretty bored, my mind went back to verses 15-16;

'I know that you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other!16 But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth!'

Thinking more about it , I started to wonder about the context of these 'lukewarms.'  By the sounds of it, they're in a pretty serious situation, and one that I don't always hear too much spoken about.  Yes, people talk about the following verses with Jesus seeking invitation at the door of their lives with promises of refining them, but the situation they themselves are in is often not emphasised enough.  These people are described by the risen Christ as being 'neither cold nor hot'; neither hostile towards, nor with blazing passion for their Saviour.  Lukewarmness?  Brings to mind connotations of indifference, complacency, contentment with something that has the potential to boil over.  And yet, Christ would rather these Laodiceans be cold or hot than their present condition.  Jesus would rather these people have a cold relationship with him than be in a lukewarm state? 

luke·warm  adj.
1. Mildly warm; tepid.
2. Lacking conviction or enthusiasm; indifferent

When you consider the second definition it makes more sense, doesn't it?  When people claim to have no relationship with Jesus, at least there is honesty, and a sense of self awareness of that person's place in life.  From a pastoral standpoint, this can have its benefits as there is no ambiguity and you don't have to second guess your assumptions of the spiritual needs of the person.  However, Jesus does not want his church to be populated by those lacking conviction or enthusiasm; Christ expects them to be his living body, not a lifeless corpse.  Their situation is so lukewarm, that Jesus threatens to vomit them out.  While there are many scholarly intrepretations centreing on this being an allusion to the water systems around this area of Asia Minor or even of table practices (wine was both taken as either cooled or heated, but never tepid), it is more important I feel to focus on the immediate reading.  He will spit them out.  Here we see an image of rejection, of such distaste that Jesus cannot withstand them anymore in this condition.  Some may see this as harsh but in reality, this is a church, who by the sounds of it have forgotten what it means to be the Church.  The Living Body.  Instead they have settled for complacency over burning passion and serving and they are in this situation.  Jesus'  imagery of rejection is not to be viewed in such a negative light, as he welcomes them back to be purified by him, to live by his standards as the church stood.  And all this time he has been standing at the door, gently knocking anyway.  Not too harsh I would say.

Sometimes I wonder whether the Laodiceans did change their practice and status as the Church.  I consider their salvation, and whether they ever did reach the Kingdom in their lukewarmness.  After all, being spat out by Christ is a pretty vivid and condemning image.  In the middle of invigilating that exam, for whatever reason, I viewed Revelation 3 in the light of Matthew 7:13-14;

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

The gateway to the Kingdom is narrow.  When did you last read in a travel guide; 'it's a great place, but it's wild hard to get to, and of those who booked, not that many have shown up.'  This tells me something about the all-or-nothing relationship dynamic we must have with God.  Not many can find the narrow doorway and enter in.  I wonder how lukewarmness fits into all this.  Not living by a standard that actively seeks the Kingdom presently and living for it, but complacently living through this world with eyes and desires on all that it offers.  Jesus invitation is universal.  It is wide.  But the way is narrow and only a few enter.  Not by limited admission, but simply because not that many find it.  Personally, I believe that these two passages tell us that there is no excuse for lukewarmness in this life.  I don't go by the way of thinking that we are saved through our deeds.  I believe it is by faith.  But faith by definition must live also as the Body.  Faith works.  Faith must work.  We can look around and see coldness in the world.  And yes, we can see hotness in the Church; blazing, flaming desire for serving and following Jesus.  Yet there is also lukewarmness as well.  I've been guilty of my times of complacency, yet still keeping  up with a 'Christian' label lifestyle.  Christian by title is not enough though. 

I don't know what relationship lukewarmness and entering the Kingdom have, but from the description in the text and the narrow means of entry, it doesn't seem too healthy.  We are the Body, not its corpse.  It is our responsibility to maintain it, and see it blossom and not wither.  There are a lot of so-called Christians out there.  But if few enter the Kingdom, we must all show that we are seeking the pathway in our present lives.  Neither cold nor tepid.

Strange how these thoughts come at the weirdest of times....

God bless =]

Having a somewhat nervous disposition can pose its problems now and again.   Sometimes in obvious places. Sometimes not.  One place you may not have considered is your standard coffee shop.  A place of potential energy, caffeinated wonder....and social doom.  An exaggeration?  Probably.  But do not underestimate the potential awkwardness that may dwell within the walls of this hyper-space.  Get the pun? Pretty geeky if you do.

Case in point.  Upon entering the coffee shop in question with one fair Miss Watson, I ordered a mocha and a hot chocolate, the former for me.  After being told to take a seat and our beverages would be brought to us, I anticipated a splendid chitchat benefited by some chocolate enhanced granulated stimulants (makes it sound a bit illegal.  Clarification; coffee is not illegal).  Minutes passed, but I assumed that it was due to an extra meticulous creating of my drink.  I clung to the hope I had.  We searched for reading material to ease our restless selves.  One old newspaper, several magazines which were for the more elderly of persons.  No matter, I thought, for after fifteen minutes our drinks should soon arrive.

Twenty-five minutes.  Not a coffee or hot chocolate in sight (apart from every other table but us).  Thoughts ran through one's head.  Being the two youngest people in the shop, was this a generational attack?  Were we to be martyrs of the modern age of chocolate-y drink afficianados?  I corrected my paranoid ways.  It is at this moment that the male present must make a decision.  It is expected of him.  I'm a different sort of male though.  I am a geeky male, hence confrontation is simply not quite my forte.  Do I approach the counter? And if so, how do I enquire as to the whereabouts of our drinks?  Gruffly? Fake apologetically?  Creepily?  Who's to know?

Swamped with decisions, I instead decided on a joint effort from the two of us.  We make seemingly nonchalant arm movements.  Obvious enough to attract attention, yet subtle enough to not seem contrived.  An overthetop scratch of the neck, a cartoonish style yawn and stretch, and at one point me randomly standing up and straight back down again.  Foolproof you must be exclaiming, but I must disappoint you. It will take more than this. 

At this point, a geek will mutter. How could they have forgotten us?  I scan the room and notice several members of staff tucking into their lunch.  How do I react to that?! Do I approach them at their lunch and inform them of our absent purchases?  Afterall, we are now approaching thirty-two minutes.  Just as I begin to raise myself out of my chair to make some attempt to retrieve our rightful liquids, our drinks are brought to us. We receive apologies, we had been forgotten about but they were sincerely regretful.  Naturally, I responded with complete surprise, without irony or sarcasm; 'Oh not a problem, we hadn't noticed it was that long.'

Finally our treasures had been secured.  As I raised the cup to my face I notice a terrible thing.  Foam, on a mocha?  A similar response comes from across the table, made by Miss Watson, something was not right.

I received a cappucino, and Becca Watson, some odd hybrid of excessive chocolate and a tiny amount of coffee.  Considering the mental strain I had just experienced we silently drank our mistakes.  I never have liked cappucino.......

Am I allowed a personality today?

How often is it that we witness theatre within the bounds of modern Christianity, especially regarding what is considered to be 'serious' or rather really, really 'genuine' Christianity? While we can bash all we want about traditions of the past that we may or may not be in favour of, do we find ourselves living in a templated version of our faith, especially when we are presenting it to others.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the nature of prayer, and of some of the methods that are prescribed to us by 'higher' powers or spiritual self-help books or from whatever source. Sometimes we can find it hard to find individual personalities within a person's relationship to God and how they choose to show it. Even by saying 'choose' I'm not quite getting across my intended meaning; rather should we not consider their method of prayer, praise, Scriptural intaking methods to be an immediately spontaneous reaction to their relationship with God that fits their personality? This of course bears in mind the fact that in truly dying to self we allow the more negative aspects of our personality to fall away and attempt to reach the original character that God intended us to be, which is fundamentally what we are, if it wasn't for that blasted sin! See, sometimes humour is needed in life =]

How often do we recognise a 'scene' of Christianity? Considering that the notion of culture has been brought to my attention recently, is there anyway that we fall into a Christian sub-culture trend of ideas, that we inherit from a Christian bookstore rather than Scripture itself. Honestly, I think there are and I've been as guilty as anybody else in the past, perhaps even recent present. Or even the present. Isn't time a tricky thing? I have been trying to distinguish what parts of my mannerisms within a more 'churchy' environment are dictated more by what we may consider being the norm within Christian circles, and how perhaps occasionally I allow my God-given personality to be somewhat silenced by this 'act of Christianity.' How often do I wear the hypothetical t-shirt of 'Hey, I am so a Christian. Like I am soooo serious about it, and I will tick any box required of me to prove that you could use a bake tin template of me to cook your own little batch of ready to go believers!' This isn't as cynical as it may seem, again its just important to have a sense of humour!

I have thought about it and there are mannerisms that sometimes seem a little put on my part. Obviously it needs to be weighed up on what is acceptable in a congregational context that won't outrage others e.g. I will not be removing my shirt in the middle of praise and screaming 'Yeeeeeeoo', as for one that is not my personality, and two nobody really wants/needs to see that. But I do have an instinctive and spiritually motivated way of reacting in worship ( using the term worship in the true meaning, being the way of life which will inevitably include praise). If this does not quite fit into what everybody else is doing does that make it wrong? While I have faced much criticism for finding spiritual wisdom and insight within the lyrics of As I Lay Dying and Underoath songs, I don't think it is. What it signifies is that there is an intrinsic matter of personal taste involved, much like anything else. Perhaps I react differently to what is around me; one instance is that for whatever reason, no matter what the sky appears like on any given day, I have an awareness of God in that, much like when I walk by the sea. I know that when many look to the mountains they experience awe at God's creation, but I find it more in the aforementioned phenomena. Once again, I believe that our personality is wired into how we respond to God in our lives as believers and how we serve Him. If a method 'works' for one person ( be that a quiet time, or a certain way of reading Scripture) should I force it to work for me even if I feel it doesn't? In my view, no. If a walk is what connects me to God more than sitting in my room quietly, then I would consider that to be a part of my personality, and therefore God's way of reaching to me that may not be the same for another.

That has also led me to consider our 'theatre of prayer' that can be found among believers. I'll give you a snippet from Kyle Lake who puts my exact thoughts into words regarding the matter;

'And of course, how should you pray? Address God as 'Father God'? Begin by thanking Him for five to seven things or for people around you? Use the word 'just' a minimum of twenty-five times? At the beginning of each new phrase or sentence, address Him again as 'Father God' (to ensure He hasn't forgotten who is being addressed)? Staple every ending with 'In the name of Jesus we pray?' .....more emotion greater number of words?.....increased volume equals more meaning?'

His observations are funny because often they are very much the case. Sometimes we feel so conscious of living up to what is expected from having a relationship with God and how we should interact with him, that the results frankly sound scripted and often a bit disjuncted. The problem is not the sincerity of the belief of followers, but rather the level of comfort of allowing themselves to be true to how God has made them. Read Psalm 139. God knows every fibre of our being so much more intimately and perfectly than we ever will. He knows our personality and thoughts because he formed them, we are specifically made by Him to have an individual and unique relationship with Him. That means He can tell when someone is trying to tick all the boxes to adhere to a more religious or obviously Christian way of doing things. It is not my instinctive response to breathe more heavily or say 'Lord' seventy-three times in prayer, and yet sometimes I find the need to do it. If I didn't use the phrases 'healer', 'Almighty God' of the dreaded word 'just' would that in any way change the sincerity of my prayer or how God receives it. I say no. I have my ways of addressing God which change from moment to moment, depending on experience, emotion or level of consciousness! But God knows who I'm talking to.

I strive to be the real Jonni Davidson. The one that was created in that secret place and who was divinely made in a way specific to God's plan for me. Maybe I'm not the 'best' public prayer, with the widest vocabulary or expression, but if I am true to my spiritual reactions to what God is stirring within me I do believe that He is pleased. He loves the fact that I am being me, because He loves me. He doesn't love the act but the person. I seek to be the me that God created.

God bless guys!



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