Recapturing the Awe

Lent is here. It’s a big deal to the faithful, the biggest deal of all.

Fasting. Prayer. I don’t think I need to get into what Lent is. How about we chat about what Lent isn’t?

Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake.The purpose of fasting for 40 days (Eastern tradition) or giving something up for 40 days (Western) isn’t to make you miserable. It’s to provide focus and clarity.

The Resurrection is the central tenet of Christianity. If it were false, if it never happened, all would be, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in vain:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

–1 Corinthians 15:12-18

So yes, Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection, is a big deal. Millions, like St. Paul himself, have died for it. This is why the Lenten period is so important. Continue reading “Recapturing the Awe”

Life Matters: Merry Christmas!

Everyone: Merry Christmas!

Even if Christianity isn’t your thing, have a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family.

Christmas and New Year’s are about new beginnings. As my priest said last night, we are all born with a hole in our heart. On Christmas we celebrate the coming of the one who can fill that hole.

I was feeling cranky for various reasons the last few days, a bit out of sort. But you know what? It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. Life matters.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Just like Easter, this season is brimming with the joy of life…

…God Almighty coming to Earth, carried by a young virgin who will come to be known as the Panagia–All Holy–and the Theotokos–God-bearer.

Christmas is as much about her, the bearer of life, bringing God into the world for us and for our salvation.

I dunno…it’s beautiful, at least to me. Is it getting dusty in here? Where’s my handkerchief…

Merry Christmas everyone!

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

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And check out my Instagram here.

Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist

If pious, globe-trotting, gun-wielding demon-hunters aren’t your thing, this review won’t mean anything to you. But if the are, I think you’re going to enjoy Vigil.

Vigil by Russell Newquist continues the tale he began in War Demonsalthough is more of a side story than a direct sequel. Michael Alexander, the hero of the previous book, is nowhere to be found. Instead Vigil features Peter Bishop, the bearer of the sword of St. Michael, and his demon-hunting friends in pursuit of the dragon that terrorized Athens, Georgia in War Demons. This dragon absconded with Peter’s girlfriend Faith. Or at least the girl Peter wouldn’t mind being his girlfriend.

Tracking the dragon to a small village France, Peter and his friends discover that the church in town covers dark, ancient secrets. And I don’t mean the kind of dirty laundry that tends to pile up in small towns. I mean actual, literal dark and ancient secrets that threaten more than just the down. While Faith tries to keep her head in the dragon’s layer, Peter and his comrades fight a desperate battle while under siege in the church during the traditional Catholic Easter vigil. Unfortunately, the church’s old priest is not quite as Godly as one would hope, and threatens to sabotage the whole operation . . .

Author Russell Newquist
Russell Newquist

Yes, as in War Demons, Christianity plays a central part in Vigil‘s story. And like in that book, as well as the other Tales of Peter Bishop short stories, Russell is able to pull this off because the religious elements are a part of the story, and the book is not preachy.

And you know what? I see what Russell is trying to do here, or at least I think I do. And I approve: Continue reading “Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist”

I Am Bad At Praying

Praying woman

Meditation, “mindfulness,” solitude . . . whatever you want to call it it’s good to be alone sometimes. For me, I like to pray.

Except, and here’s the thing: I’m pretty bad at it.

I don’t mean the actual act of prayer. I mean at being able to focus.

You know how it is trying to shut your mind off? Even in pre-Internet days, human beings had a lot going on in our heads. Now, with all of the gadgets and distractions literally rewiring our brains, it’s impossible, isn’t it?

It sure feels that way to me.

God doesn’t lay out strict methods of prayer that have to be followed or else. That’s not how He works. In fact, Jesus Christ himself tells his disciples that when they pray, to pray what is now known as The Lord’s Prayer.

the-lords-prayer_1280x1024-black

Seems simple enough, right?

Not so much. You see, prayer isn’t about asking God for stuff and hoping you hit the celestial lottery. There is no magic combination of words that will make Him favor you. No, you need focus, a clear mind, and a desire to listen to what you’re supposed to be doing.

There is no magic length, no special formula, no words that need to be repeated in the exact same way at the exact same time ad nauseum, no proper posture or orientation. And it’s better to do some praying, even abbreviated, than none. But I wish I had the patience of the great ascetics of history.

Meteora monastery in central Greece.

No matter who you are or what you believe, the world can be a nasty, brutal, and tiring place. Time spent alone with self is different than time spent in the blue glow of an electronic device. Time spent communicating with the Divine and just listening is truly sacred.

Because listening is hard.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

My YouTube channel is here.

And check out my Instagram here.

Ask A Christian, Part IV: God in the Hands of Angry Sinners

hand-of-god

Do you want to know what’s even more offensive than outright blasphemy?

People putting their own words, thoughts, and beliefs into the mouth of Jesus Christ–the son of God Himself–usually to score some some stupid political point .

This tends to occur when the discussion turns to taxation or government spending on things like welfare, or tax cuts, or other policies like open borders and immigration.

And since you asked, here’s why this boils my blood: Most of the people making these claims hate God, religion, and Christians in particular.

To all of these people, I give a hearty and sincere one-fingerd salute.

finger-pointing2
And I don’t mean this finger.

As Christians, we are warned about false prophets.

Don’t misunderstand me: There are Christians on all side who like to pretend that Jesus is on their side, especially when it comes to their own politics and personal predilections. And they all drive me up a tree, thank you for asking.

But Jesus minced no words when it came to this:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

Matthew 7:15-17

The book of Revelations also describes the two-headed beast that is the Antichrist and the False Prophet:

11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,

14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.

15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

Revelation 13:11-15

There is more in the Bible, of course, but as you can see, misattributing things to Jesus Christ is a seriously bad thing.

Hey, for all you know, I’m a false prophet. Don’t listen to me. I’m just some yahoo with a blog. But I’m also not trying to claim I speak for the Lord! Like billions of us now and before, I’m just trying to understand and live His word as best I can.

As discussed in a previous installment of Ask A Christian, many of these examples involve one trying to wield God as a weapon yet clearly not understanding the context of the verse they are trying to weaponize. Yes, unlike a certain other so-called Abrahamic religion that is in the news a lot lately, the context in the Bible tends to make the Bible look better. Imagine that!

So here are some of the worst arguments that cause my blood pressure to spike every time I see some joker in the media parrot them. For the faithful among you, you have been warned: the annoyance-dial is about to get cranked to 11. Continue reading “Ask A Christian, Part IV: God in the Hands of Angry Sinners”

Ask a Christian, Part III

Man and God - The Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo

I’ve been taking all matters God with a really great group of guys online lately, and it got me in the mood to discuss and, hopefully, explain a few more questions and misconceptions I’ve gotten and been seeing about the faith. And so here we are with the third edition of Ask A Christian.

Hopefully you find this interesting, and even if you still think the faith wacky, well, at least you’ll be better informed.

Let me say first that a lot of these focus on the Bible, which is a difficult book for anyone, devout or otherwise. It’s a collection of several books written by people centuries apart, so misunderstandings about among the faithful and the not. So keep this in mind as we delve into some of these.

“Why do you feel guilt about everything and impose unearned guilt on everyone? That’s sadistic and cruel!”

Well then, it’s a good thing that this isn’t what we believe. Everyone isn’t “guilty.”

See, Christians, at least the Orthodox denomination, don’t believe in “original guilt.” Original sin–the disobedience to God and the fall of man–happened. Christ then redeemed mankind.

The distinction is that man’s nature is fallen. All of us live with the consequences of the fall of man, sure–old age, sickness, death, the darker sides of human nature in all of its manifestations– we are not guilty.

“You always cry ‘out of context!’ when confronted with verses you don’t like. What a disingenuous cop-out!”

Then stop flinging verses at us that you don’t understand yourselves.

This is a multi-layered issue, and could be a post itself. I’ll try to provide a condensed version:

  1. The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. It is a collection of different books written at different times by different people for different reasons. There is Gospel, prophecy, history, myth, poetry, wisdom, letters…so context is required for everything. Which leads into point 2.
  2. Not all Christians believe “sola scriptura,” the idea held by many Protestant denominations that the Bible is perfect and a closed book and that all we need to know, and in order to interpret it, is in there. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, among other, denominations reject this. Even the Bible doesn’t indicate that scripture alone is the final word, which seems to invalidate the idea of sola scriptura, but I digress. I know I’ve opened a can of worms here, but like I said, this is condensed. So there is also tradition and practice, including that by the Apostles themselves. You know, those people who followed Jesus himself.
  3. The Bible, all of it, needs to be read many ways: literally, figuratively, scripturally, and so on. I’ve already written about how not all churches take the creation story literally, and 12th century Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides explained in his Guide for the Perplexed that everyone knew, for example, that the Book of Job is a metaphor. So it’s far more layered than naysayers like to admit.

When those who are trying to disprove Christianity toss random verses around, they’re engaging in sola scriptura-type interpretation without knowing what they’re citing actually means. It’s like tossing out the middle of a random sentence without knowing the rest of the words surrounding it, or what the excerpt actually is trying to convey.

And if you’re upset that there seems to be “an answer for everything,” that’s what thousands of years of serious study and tradition will do. Or it could be that the book is true… Continue reading “Ask a Christian, Part III”

Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Moses Maimonides - The Guide for the Perplexed cover

How does one “review” a dense, millennia-old treatise on Jewish philosophy and religion?

One doesn’t. But what one can do is share insights and particularly powerful ideas and concepts with another.

In The Guide for the Perplexed, written around 1190 in Moor-occupied Spain, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (aka Maimonides aka Rambam) writes to his student Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, to remove some of his confusions regarding certain aspects of faith and philosophy.

The Guide touches on many, many topics including:

  • The multiple meanings of Hebrew words and how to properly interpret the Torah (aka the first five books of the Old Testament)
  • Aristotelian philosophy: what Aristotle got right and wrong
  • Problems Maimonides sees with certain aspects of Islamic theology
  • The nature of God and proof of His existence
  • The nature of evil, and why it exists
  • Divine Providence
  • The nature of angels, prophecy (with a detailed discussion of Ezekiel) and dreams
  • Astronomy (as understood at the time) and the “spheres”
  • The purpose of God’s commandments

And yet instead of seeming disjointed, the Guide has as a constant thread two main themes:

  1. Discerning who God is and what He wants
  2. Achieving perfection, as much as possible, by coming to true knowledge of God

It’s heavy stuff, but it makes you appreciate the magic of the written word, and how one man’s letters nearly one thousand years ago still speak to us today, explaining mysteries and, as the title says, removing perplexities . . . or at least easing them and providing a way forward for further studies and thought.

Moses Maimonides statue Cordoba, Spain

Regular readers of Amatopia know that I am a Christian and don’t shy about writing on religious topics, so if that isn’t your bag, you have been warned. But even though Maimonides was Jewish, there is much overlap between Judaism and Christianity–same God, same creation stories, same traditions, similar rites (or at least the meaning behind them) and much of the same general theology and philosophy about God and man.

Obviously, Christians accept Christ as the promised Messiah and Son of God described in Jewish prophecy and Jews regard Him as a prophet and religious leader, but not Divine.

But the point remains: Christians can get a lot out of The Guide for the Perplexed. And even if you are not Christian, Jewish, or religious at all, Maimonides is a powerful thinker you will get a lot out of reading. Here are eight of my favorite takeaways from The Guide for the Perplexed:

Continue reading “Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed