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Monday, March 26, 2012

Religious v. Relationship

Pulling one out of the archives, after various conversations about my Independent Study: seeking to see and learn about Jesus from different perspectives, just like studying the Gospels. It does not substitute an independent relationship with The Father. This post is almost a year old and there's several more where this came from. Anyway, here it is, unedited, unchanged from it's original version circa May, 2011, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I'll probably dig back into the archives to post a few more soon.

Religious v. Relationship

Thoughts cross my mind when I see the several denominations and practices all under the umbrella of Christianity. I drive passed another church and wonder what it would be like to fellowship with that congregation or denomination. As Christians, we have so many degrees of Christianity.

To the outsider surveying religions generally, Muslims or Jews appear very religious because of their visible adherence to a strict set of rules. The five pillars of Islam mandate a Muslim to pray five times a day at set times a day. The Jews believe salvation can be bought by works.

In contrast, Christianity contains a wider spectrum of religious practices due to people breaking away and starting their own sects. For Christians, we have varied interpretations of what is Christianity and therefore various rules we abide by resulting in several denominations.

Sometimes I see statements such as “Christianity is watered down” because we are all diverse in our practice or adherence to our beliefs and what we prioritize after the first two commandments. I’ll also see people quoting Ghandi “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians.” That’s one of the most incorrect statements documented. There’s no way you could like Christ, without liking His Christians.

We’re all going to church with the same end goal; to be in Heaven together with the Father. You can pray five times a day or 50 times a day and other people may or may not see what you’re doing. For Christianity, what matters is your heart. Therefore, denomination or intra religious debates puts our focus on a topic we are not qualified to judge.

Many times we want religious rigidity.

“Christianity is always less of a set of rules and more of a heart posture.” - Tolu Akande

God will look at the heart of all Christians at the judgment seat. We cannot gage how connected anyone’s heart is to the Father. We cannot judge someone’s heart or intentions for what they are doing. And though works are good and needed, our works will mean nothing if our heart was disconnected to the Greatest One of all, the Greatest love of All!

Deliver us from mere routine and religion. We don’t need religion. We need relationship. An intimate relationship of our heart seeking the Father’s heart and the emotions and attributes of Him.

“So what if I know all the language, so what if I sing all the songs, if my heart’s disconnected from the Greatest One of all.” –Caleb Andrews

“When we pursue religious acts without pursuing the knowledge of God, we are also in danger of becoming Pharisees.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunday Reflection: Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago

I didn’t get the memo: today must be Africa Day or International Day, I thought to myself as I entered the Trinity United Church of Christ sanctuary Sunday morning.

What a beautiful sight. The entire choir, of about 100 people, was robed in various traditional West African attire.

I took a quick picture. This was President Obama’s church and after the youtube incident, their policies on recording or taking pictures have tightened.

Anywho, I couldn’t find my folks. I thought it would be fairly easy to spot them, with the mindset that this is an African American church so all I have to do is look for the people with outstanding headties and colorful cloths.

The occasion: my little cousin’s baby dedication. Funny enough, all of us 16 deep, wore English attire, save my mom, aunt and a friend with a blendable Ankara skirt under an English top - a style many of the Generation-Y have adopted. However, almost EVERYONE else, the choir, the pastor, the assistants, had on traditional attire. 

I went downstairs and decided I'd better get a seat because the church was filling quickly. I ended up walking in behind two of my friends.  Judy, I didn't know today was African Day.  "They wear this every Sunday."

I sat in awe and amazement. I couldn’t help but to think about how life would be had there not been slavery. Seeing that my analysis could go further, thinking “well, they supposedly brought Christianity to Africa,” I let that go and continued focusing on the choir. There was even a man shaking a shekere. We have one at home. I go to a “Nigerian” church and we don’t even use that.

This was so amazing to me.  At brunch, someone in our group said “I felt more African in this church than in my own church!” Sounds like a conversation with the Pastor is forthcoming.  Although, I will say at our church, traditional attire is encouraged every first Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday.

I really liked the emphasis on turning the hearts of the father to the children and the children to the father. There were about 8 children dedicated to the Lord yesterday, each wearing white.  The assistant pastor read the parents vows.  Then, the pastor came up to each group. One parent would say the first name, the other parent would say the second name, and the rest of the group was tasked with saying the surname. 

Funny enough, my cousin was the only “African” name, which caused the Pastor to pause to ensure accurate pronunciation.  The pastor dedicated the children each individually, in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  Then the mother would place a bracelet around the child's wrist.  After that the father’s take their children up to the pulpit. An assistant comes in and places salt, vinegar and honey in each child’s mouth via q-tip. Then the father’s hold up their children in unison, facing east, north, west, and south with a very powerful Lion King-esque style music playing in the background. It was so beautiful!

I wish my eyes could take pictures. I wish I could take pictures with my eyes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Independent Study: Perspectives of Jesus

If I enroll in an institution seeking another degree, I believe it would be in theology.  I say seeking a degree to distinguish from casual extra learning – like an accounting class here or a music class there – which I eventually plan to take, among others.

Lately, for almost two years now, I have been mesmerized by the various traditions, denominations, and sects of Christianity.  My research thus far wholly consists of primary research.  This means if I ask you several questions about your church, do not take offense, friends, I really just want to know!  I but I think an actual experience trumps what I”ll read online although I might cross-check a few things with a credible site

For example, I recall a recent conversation with a friend and an African American lady we just met at a Whirlyball event for a huge church called Calvary Church of Naperville.  In her attempt to describe the denomination and church practices she says: “are you familiar with the Church of God in Christ?  My friend was, I was not, or so I thought.  “Well, it’s just like that, except it’s white people.”

I’m thinking: Oooh “Cogic!”  Okay we’re getting warmer, I’ve driven passed C.O.G.I.C. parishes in the south but other than that I haven’t the slightest clue.  So I thought correctly, I’m not familiar, just as (un)familiar as the several other churches I’ve driven by at times wondering how things go on the inside of that church or amongst that group of worshipers.

Well yesterday at the Trinity United Church of Christ, this teacher-pastor, Reverend Otis Moss III, broke so many things down with clarity, in such a short time, for me (and everyone else of course but I was definitely a target for that message) and I was taking copious notes.

He began with the allegation (or fact – depending on your experience with other Christians) that “the actual practice of Christianity today, has little to with Christ.” Many of the 30-and-under crowd claim there is a disconnection between the Jesus of love and those that are representing Him, daily, here and now.

Then, he transitioned into the admonition that membership of a church or denomination does not equate to having a relationship with Christ. A denomination is history, practices and rituals. And every denomination has a different perspective of Jesus. Nonetheless, your denomination does not lead you to Christ.

Following his Bird’s eye exhortation of several denominations, such as the evangelicals and traditions, such as Pentecostal (note: it’s not a denomination – popular misconception) he moved on to the 4 portraits of Jesus from the Gospels.

I’m really motivated to step up this independent study!  I’m not too sure what the plans are for my findings in the long run, possibly sharing with others somehow.  For now, I want satisfaction in knowing the history of my tradition/denomination/group and deciphering between the intended practice and beliefs and what’s been added along the way and for what reasons.

We should all know the history behind our respective churches and why we choose to worship there, besides the obvious – which may not even be so obvious.

I implore you to seek this knowledge for yourself too. Learning how various groups, especially your own “group,” perceives the Man, Christ Jesus, also strengthens your perspective of Brother Jesus.
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