Prayer

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #24

Seriously thinking about prayer was the tipping point in my religious de-conversion.

I posted about it early and often when I started the Stupid Church People blog. I shared a quote from Karen Armstrong where she writes in “The History of God”:

I wrestled with myself in prayer, trying to force my mind to encounter God, but he remained a stern taskmaster who observed my every infringement of the Rule, or tantalizingly absent. The more I read about the raptures of the saints, the more of a failure I felt. I was unhappily aware that what little religious experience I had, had somehow been manufactured by myself as I worked upon my own feelings and imagination. Sometimes a sense of devotion was an aesthetic response to the beauty of the Gregorian chant and the liturgy. But nothing had actually happened to me from a source beyond myself.

I remember that unhappy feeling when I became truly awake to manufacturing the religious experiences in my life. Then it dawned on me how I had manufactured those experiences for others as a pastor for years.

Religion by and large is a manipulation of emotion, especially in a community or corporate setting. Prayer is used as a primary source of that manipulation.

The podcast we did early on prayer is important because I talk about these feelings openly. The “See You at the Pole” podcast also deals heavily with this subject.

Talking about prayer is a touchy subject because it is so personal to each person who regularly practices it. It’s touchy because pastors rely on it to carry on in front of their congregations as if they have a direct line to God. No one wants to be honest about prayer for fear people will realize the reality of it.

We are just talking to ourselves.

Listen the “Prayer” podcast – recorded October 4, 2005

Emergent Hoo-Haa

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #11

First released on June 21, 2005.

This podcast contains the first ever mention of Tony Jones. Those of you in the church world probably know Tony by now, but if you don’t know who he is I suggest you google him for a frame of reference. Anyway, at this time, Josh and I had very little knowledge of the Emergent Church movement. They were just getting onto our radar, and the leaders of the group were (and are) very active on social media. We quickly found ourselves in their cross-hairs as they were seeking to engage those in a “conversation” about what emergent was and wasn’t.

To us, Emergent was no different than any other church movement in history. It was a new flavor of the church, but in the end it was heading quickly in the same direction as all the rest. And what was that direction? Irrelevance.

I share several quotes from the book “Wineskins”, but none better than this: The Church “continues to brew new wine instead of scrapping the old wine skins”.

Josh and I were so fed up with the church, we didn’t want change or a revolution – but a cataclysm. Sell all the church buildings. No paid pastoral staff and all pastors get “real” jobs. Churches should rid themselves of the “seeker” mentality and stop trying to market to the lowest common denominator. Churches would focus on the poor and spurn building kingdoms to themselves.

Churches and pastors don’t have the balls to be truly biblical. In this way most pastors are no different than I am. They don’t really believe the Bible or they’d lead their churches in the path I describe above. But it’s still a game, a job, a show and a money-grab.

I know these may be hard words for most pastors of small churches to hear. Those that don’t make a lot of money and struggle to get by and do real good work in very difficult places. But even you guys can do better. Actually it’s the small churches that have the best chance to initiate change.

So this podcast was probably one of our finest, because we get to the heart of the matter of what was bugging us about the church. We start to “dialogue” with Tony Jones. It’s starting to get good people. And I’m getting fired up again… so stay tuned.

Are You Gonna Go My Way

In the world of the Christian (particularly the evangelical brand), there is only one way.

Jesus.

Suggest to your evangelical friends that there is more than one way and you will be met with resistance. Strong resistance. Why?

Fear.

If there is more than one way for anyone, then it leaves open the possibility that there is more than one way for the Christian. As Robert Price says in “The Reason Driven Life” when he speaks of the Christian dilemma and the need to evangelize:

I must have certainty! So for me to be sure the gospel will redeem me, I have to believe that you need it too. Hence I cannot be satisfied thinking you might not need it. If I admit that something else might do the trick for you, I have to suspect that something else might work better for me too.

Muslims are just like Christians

CONSIDER: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible’s account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the point of view of Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad’s opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.

“Why don’t you (Christians) lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated. This is perfectly apparent to anyone who has not anesthetized himself with the dogma of Islam.

The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn’t it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn’t it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn’t it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.” – Sam Harris writing in ‘LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION.

Early on in college I had a crush on a girl who was a Muslim. We studied together, hung out together and really got along well. She was not only beautiful but made me laugh and feel very good about myself. I liked her a lot.

But being a Christian, studying for the ministry and being a leader in my church, it was wrong to even consider a relationship with her. One day we were sharing a meal after class and it came to the subject of our religious differences. It was a topic we avoided for obvious reasons, but on this day we were putting our cards on the table. She asked me if I thought she was going to hell and I remember quite vividly telling her that based on what the Bible said, she was. The conversation went on, her trying to convince me to be open-minded on the subject and consider that maybe I was wrong. It never occurred to me to listen to her views on faith, because in my mind there was no debate.

After that night, I saw her around school but we never talked much again. That’s really sad when I think about it.

National Stop Praying Day

You’ve probably heard by now that the National Day of Prayer has been deemed a violation of the Establishment Clause. The suit was brought against President Obama and others by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I won’t go into the specifics since you can read that elsewhere.

It’s my contention that the National Day of Prayer has never been about prayer but mainly about political posturing and in some sense power. Since it’s inception in the 50’s it seems that it has become a way for politicians to massage their religious (predominantly Christian) constituents.

Many have argued with me on this site and others that there was nothing inherently wrong with such things as the National Day of Prayer, prayer at the inauguration, prayer to open Congressional sessions, etc. But I am very excited that this ruling came down and I just hope it stands up through the appeal process (although it is highly unlikely it will).

Regardless of what you think about prayer (I for one do not pray), the idea that our national and local leaders can invoke religious and mystical acts like prayer and encourage us to invoke them in our own lives (either directly or implied) is a scary notion. Read the proclamation for yourself. This part is especially troubling:

I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.

I’ve never understood the notion of a National Day of Prayer. It never made sense. If we don’t allow prayer in schools how is the President allowed to ask the nation to pray on one day in May every year? Some say, “If you don’t want to pray don’t. If you don’t believe in it, then it doesn’t matter.” My response: ”Hell yes, it matters!”

As U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb noted in her ruling:

“The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.”

Our President imploring people to pray should scare you. Why? Can you imagine the outrage if the President invoked a “National Stop Praying Day” where our President says this to us:

I call upon Americans to stop praying on this day. Our freedoms and blessings are a result of our efforts and no spiritual being real or otherwise has any bearing on them whatsoever. This land that we love is not guided or protected by the hand of a supreme being. Give grace to each other and care for each other because that’s where our strength lies, not in the daily intervention of God.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe in the power of personal prayer. I know that many of my friends and readers here do. It’s one thing for the President to state his personal belief in prayer. It’s quite another for him to “call upon” us to pray (or not pray) as well

Happy 5th Anniversary SCP

Although I was away on April 1st vacationing, SCP (for whatever reason) wasn’t far from my mind. I love this site for so many reasons that I won’t take the time to elaborate on them or I would bore you, but all you have to do is read the past five years of posts to see how writing here has transformed me.

I would say it’s been for the better but I am sure some will disagree. And that’s been one of the largest transformations… I just don’t care (as much as I used to) what others think. Blogging, writing and sharing openly your thoughts and ideas can translate into thickening your skin.

This site has also transformed over the past five years. At one point it was a daily place where many joined to debate, laugh and bug each other. Now, a lot of what I write and share on a regular weekly basis can be found on our Facebook Fan Page. But I will continue to blog and post here from time to time. Facebook isn’t conducive to “blogging” in my opinion. Also, this site has some historical value in my opinion and people still find it and comment on posts long since gone from my memory.

But this site will change in the near future. I will be moving to a new look and feel. I am not sure how this will effect the old posts but they will always be available in some form and fashion. It’s time for an upgrade on this old house. I am suspecting that my writing will change as well but that will remain to be seen and you can be the judge of that.

Thanks for a great five years to all of my friends (new and old) here on SCP. Looking forward to the future.

Steve