ONE of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you. Religious attendance — at least, religiosity — boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for this is not entirely clear.
Social support is no doubt part of the story. At the evangelical churches I’ve studied as an anthropologist, people really did seem to look out for one another. They showed up with dinner when friends were sick and sat to talk with them when they were unhappy. The help was sometimes surprisingly concrete. Perhaps a third of the church members belonged to small groups that met weekly to talk about the Bible and their lives. One evening, a young woman in a group I joined began to cry. Her dentist had told her that she needed a $1,500 procedure, and she didn’t have the money. To my amazement, our small group — most of them students — simply covered the cost, by anonymous donation. A study conducted in North Carolina found that frequent churchgoers had larger social networks, with more contact with, more affection for, and more kinds of social support from those people than their unchurched counterparts. And we know that social support is directly tied to better health.
Healthy behavior is no doubt another part. Certainly many churchgoers struggle with behaviors they would like to change, but on average, regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others.
That tallies with my own observations. At a church I studied in Southern California, the standard conversion story seemed to tell of finding God and never taking methamphetamine again. (One woman told me that while cooking her dose, she set off an explosion in her father’s apartment and blew out his sliding glass doors. She said to me, “I knew that God was trying to tell me I was going the wrong way.”) In my next church, I remember sitting in a house group listening to a woman talk about an addiction she could not break. I assumed that she was talking about her own struggle with methamphetamine. It turned out that she thought she read too many novels.
Yet I think there may be another factor. Any faith demands that you experience the world as more than just what is material and observable. This does not mean that God is imaginary, but that because God is immaterial, those of faith must use their imaginations to represent God. To know God in an evangelical church, you must experience what can only be imagined as real, and you must also experience it as good.
I want to suggest that this is a skill and that it can be learned. We can call it absorption: the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health.
For example, in one study, when God was experienced as remote or not loving, the more someone prayed, the more psychiatric distress she seemed to have; when God was experienced as close and intimate, the more someone prayed, the less ill he was. In another study, at a private Christian college in Southern California, the positive quality of an attachment to God significantly decreased stress and did so more effectively than the quality of the person’s relationships with other people.
Eventually, this may teach us how to harness the “placebo” effect — a terrible word, because it suggests an absence of intervention rather than the presence of a healing mechanism that depends neither on pharmaceuticals nor on surgery. We do not understand the placebo effect, but we know it is real. That is, we have increasingly better evidence that what anthropologists would call “symbolic healing” has real physical effects on the body. At the heart of some of these mysterious effects may be the capacity to trust that what can only be imagined may be real, and be good.
But not everyone benefits from symbolic healing. Earlier this month, the youngest son of the famed pastor Rick Warren took his own life. We know few details, but the loss reminds us that to feel despair when you want to feel God’s love can worsen the sense of alienation. We urgently need more research on the relationship between mental illness and religion, not only so that we understand that relationship more intimately — the ways in which they are linked and different — but to lower the shame for those who are religious and nonetheless need to reach out for other care.
This post was written by T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God." For the original post with comments, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/opinion/sunday/luhrmann-why-going-to-church-is-good-for-you.html?_r=1&
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself prays for us with groans that words cannot express.
When we are alone, when our private terrors have left us without the ability to speak, when even the simplest of prayers ["Help!"] is more that our weary hearts can muster - those are the times we need God's Spirit most of all.
It is life itself to know that God pays attention to us. The Spirit of the Living God is with us and is attentive to our weakness. God does not shame us for our weakness. Our weakness is not a bad thing to God. Our weakness is simply a reality. The Spirit's response to our weakness is to help us. God is on our side. The Spirit knows us and loves us. God knows the pain that crushes us. God helps us in our weakness.
In those moments when we have been silenced by life, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays with groans for which there is no language. When we are not able to pray we can find comfort and hope in the promise that the Spirit is praying for us.
I need to be reminded when I feel so absolutely alone
that you know my pain,
you know my weakness.
When I come to the end of words,
when my mind is full of confusion,
help me to remember that you pray for me.
When I am overwhelmed with despair,
when I want to give up,
when I want to run away in fear,
it is only your presence,
gentle, powerful Friend,
that gives me hope and strength.
I need your help today.
I need you to pray for me.
Copyright Dale and Juanita Ryan
National Association for Christian Recovery
Last month I heard a prominent leader of a national movement of mostly white Christians give a talk in which he compared his group’s beliefs to various other Christian groups (including more ethnically-diverse groups). While extolling the virtues of his group’s beliefs he proudly proclaimed, “We have the best version of the Gospel.” Now I’m not interested in busting any one person’s (or group’s) chops, and in fact, I give him a lot of credit for saying publicly what many of us say behind closed doors and in our hearts. But as a minority group member sitting in the audience, I found his statement to be unfriendly to diverse voices.
Most blatantly, the statement violates the metaphor of the interdependent and multifaceted body of Christ. How can a gospel that is mostly (if not entirely) interpreted and articulated by a homogenous group of people (in this case, white, well-educated males) be the “best version”? But in a more subtle way, his statement sent a clear and powerful message to all of the diverse people in the room (e.g., women, people of color, people without advanced degrees, etc.). No need to join our movement; we don’t need diverse voices. We’ve already got the best version of the Gospel and we only needed white, well-educated men to figure it out. Diverse people need not apply.
Again, this guy simply said aloud what a lot of other people say privately or inwardly. But whether we make such audacious statements aloud or not, people of all cultures run the risk of alienating diverse people if they mistakenly believe that their homogenous group has basically figured out how to think, worship and live.
We might say we want diverse people to participate in our group but we are often too enamored with our own culture (e.g., our version of the Gospel) to invite diverse people to influence it. Rather, than actively seeking input from diverse people, we require them to assimilate to and bow down to the dominant culture. This approach might work to attract people who look diverse (in terms of race/ethnicity, etc.) but it will repel people who offer culturally-diverse perspectives.
Non-majority members who attempt to exert diverse cultural influence are often ignored — or worse, silenced and shunned. How dare they try to change our little utopian culture? we ask ourselves. How dare they challenge our perfect version of the Gospel? HOW DARE THEY?
I think we adopt a defensive and uninviting posture towards diverse others when we idolize our cultural group identity. When this happens, minority group members are not truly invited to participate in the community as valuable members of the all-inclusive we. Rather, they are invited to participate in the group as them—subordinate group members and second-class citizens.
Is cultural idolatry the source of this problem? If so, how do we avoid it? If not, what is the problem?This post was written by Cristena Cleveland. For the original post with comments, go to: http://www.christenacleveland.com/2013/05/we-have-the-best-version-of-the-gospel-diversity-repellent/
BE HOLY.BE A MAN.
On a recent Sunday morning, I was having breakfast when I turned on my t.v. to watch a well-known local church’s broadcast. As I came to the right channel, I was greeted by the image of stage lights and a multi-piece band. Instead of what would normally be an opening praise song, the band started into the Bon Jovi 80′s classic, You Give Love a Bad Name. After the initial shock wore off, I double checked the channel I was on. Sure enough, this was the church service I was looking for. As the song finished, a member of the pastoral staff came out from behind the stage. After making a somewhat crude joke about hot flashes, he announced that the morning’s message would be on arguments in marriage. The staff member exited the stage while the band started into a worship song. With the band leading the church in two worship songs, I was left asking myself, “What in the world just happened?”
In a way, it is understandable what the church was trying to do. They wanted to get the congregation focused on the message by using a song containing the message’s theme. It is a common practice that many churches utilize today, traditional and contemporary alike. In either case, the music is tied in with the sermon topic to provide a theme for that day’s service. This method of planning worship services certainly has benefits, including the reinforcement of the sermon. However, there is an inherent danger in using this method every time a worship service is planned.
The TV broadcast mentioned above demonstrates an extreme in worship planning. This church is somewhat known for using secular songs related to the sermon as a call to worship. In this instance, they turned to a rock song whose lyrics speak of being hurt in a relationship. This song’s theme directly related to the sermon topic for that morning. While the very thought of a secular song being used in a worship gathering is enough to cause controversy in some circles, the danger this congregation is flirting with goes much deeper than the use of one song in a service. This church was so focused on reinforcing the message that, while externally polished, the intrinsic quality of worship was sacrificed. They did not make time for prayer in their service and placed little emphasis on Holy Communion.
People are intrinsically designed to connect with God on many levels. Scores of people have been impacted through the centuries by hearing powerful sermons and homilies. Additionally, innumerable hearts have been led into God’s presence through mighty hymns and contemporary worship songs. These hymns and songs have been the catalyst for outpourings of the heart onto God and have fostered many times of prayer. In worship, there must be a balance of what I call the Spoken Word and the Living Word. The Spoken Word is hearing a sermon/message/homily preached from the Scriptures and receiving from it. Some traditions would call this, “The Word Proclaimed.” The Living Word consists of coming to God in prayer, singing from the heart, and taking part in Holy Communion, e.g. the “hands-on” part of worship. This would be the more experiential part of worship where a congregation would be actively participating in the service.
A healthy church knows what it is to give equal weight to the Spoken and Living Word. A vital church also knows that there are instances when the Holy Spirit will direct that one be given more emphasis, e.g. more time, over the other. However, churches that consistently give one more priority over the other run the risk of not only robbing their members of a full worship experience in the presence of God but also presenting an incomplete picture of Christian worship to unbelievers. The fact that we believe in and worship a God that is alive is what separates us as believers from other world religions. How we worship our Lord communicates to the world what we believe. A church that has unbalanced worship conveys its lack of spiritual depth, and no matter how flashy we try to be in our church services, unbelievers are not as spiritually and intuitively naïve as we sometimes think they are. They can tell when something is not right within the church walls, and they will run from it. People are looking for something more than another message to tickle their ears. They want something that is real and that they can experience for themselves. A church that focuses only on its sermons robs people of additional ways to encounter the Living God and also robs God of other ways to speak to people. Going back to the church mentioned above, their use of a secular song at the beginning of their service took time away from the opportunities to commune with God through prayer or worship music. Because they desired to emphasize the Spoken Word, the Living Word suffered by having reduced time.
Let me conclude by posing this: what is the first question you ask when you plan worship? Is it, “What is the sermon about this week?” Are all aspects of the worship service being consistently and intentionally united with that week’s sermon topic? Are the prayers prewritten to match the message? Are all the opening and closing hymns/praise songs being chosen simply because the title/lyrics relate to the sermon? Or is the first question asked, “Lord, how should we worship you this week?” Is substantial time being spent in prayer over what hymns/songs to use? Is there a time of spontaneous prayer set aside to allow the Holy Spirit to direct the hearts of those in attendance? Your congregation, and even the entire world, depends on the first question asked in worship planning and how it is answered. May we all have the spiritual sensitivity and courage to ask the right question and follow the Lord in our worship no matter where He may lead.This post was written by Chase Franklin of Seedbed. For the original post with comments, go to: http://seedbed.com/feed/unbalanced-worship-overemphasizing-the-sermon/BE HOLY.BE A MAN.
The young man told me an unbelievable story. He was telling me about an activity that was popular in his college dorm. It was called "hogging."
As he explained what this activity was, it became clear to me that this young man was engaging in a very sinful and demeaning sexual activity. By many standards, his behavior was considered deviant and misogynous.
Clearly, hogging is when a man purposely seeks out an overweight or unattractive woman to satisfy his sexual appetite. Many times, it is a game, a form of competition that men do to see who can have sex with the largest woman. It is not unusual for a group of men at a bar decide to "spice up" the most overweight or unattractive woman or it occurs when it is close to bar closing and a man decided he will "settle" for this woman rather than go home alone. This type of behavior is disgusting, despicable and wrong on so many levels.
This young man was starting to feel a twinge of guilt for his behavior. The night before he was involved in a "rodeo" where his friends hid in his bedroom and took pictures of his sexual activity and then jumped out and surprised the woman, humiliating her and telling her it was all a competition. This last encounter ended with the young woman breaking down in tears, angrily crying hysterically and threatening to call the police for sexual assault.
It's disgusting the path that sin takes in men's lives. The desire to seek sexual thrills coupled with competition makes men stupid. This selfishness leads to treating people like objects, forgetting that other people have needs and feelings as well.
His behavior reminded me of a section of the Bible where Paul is speaking to first generation Christians: "Don't you know that wicked people won't inherit the kingdom of God? Stop deceiving yourselves! People who continue to commit sexual sins..." Then Paul reminds them that even though they have engaged in sexual sins, that they have changed... "That's what some of you were! But you have been washed and made holy, and you have received God's approval..."
This young man didn't have a Christian heritage on which to build, just like these first generation Christians. He thought that what he was doing was "normal, what guys do." Fortunately, the Holy Spirit was speaking to him, letting him know that abusing women and seeking sexual thrills and competition is not "normal." And he was listening...
God takes pleasure in uprightness, in those who seek to please Him before pleasing their own sensual desires and selfishness.
This young man changed for the better. He is now walking in righteousness, seeking God's will for his life. He is forgiven. He is now made holy. He is receiving God's approval.
God changed this young man.
Allow God to change you.
BE A MAN.
CBS/AP) LOS ANGELES - Joe Francis, founder of 'Girls Gone Wild,' was found guilty Monday of misdemeanor counts of assault and false imprisonment stemming from a dispute with three women after a night out at a Hollywood club in 2011.
Officials said after a two-week trial, a jury convicted the 40-year-old man of three counts of false imprisonment, one count of assault causing great bodily injury and one count of dissuading a witness. He faces a maximum of five years in prison. A hearing to schedule his sentencing was set for Wednesday.
Francis met the women at a club in 2011 when they were celebrating a college graduation. Francis led one of them out of the club by the hand into his limo. According to prosecutors, the other two women followed him and their friend thinking he was going to give them a ride to their car.
Prosecutors said Francis took the women to his home, when he tried to separate one from the other two a dispute broke out. Francis grabbed one of the women by the hair and throat and slammed her head into the floor.
After an investigation, the district attorney declined to file felony charges in the case and referred it to the city attorney, who filed the misdemeanor charges.
Francis is the founder of GGW Brands LLC, he filed for bankruptcy in February listing more than $16 million in disputed claims.
Neither Francis nor his attorneys could be reached for comment.For the original post with comments, go to: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57583219-504083/joe-francis-founder-of-girls-gone-wild-convicted-of-assault-and-false-imprisonment-report-says/
BE HOLY.BE A MAN.
"We're gonna put our money into a computer rather than marriage counseling." This was a statement from a man with a rather troubled marriage. "I don't think counseling is going to help us any. We can spend time together in front of the computer and find good resources there." I looked at his wife and she, in a rather pie-eyed fashion, gave her tacit permission towards her husband's solution to their many marriage troubles. He proceeded with a rather lengthy story about how a new, more powerful computer, would be the solution not only to their family woes but also the difficulties in his marriage. "We will gather around the computer as a family and make our computer a place of bonding, we'll become stronger if we invest in that rather than counseling." I attempted to protest but he had won his wife over to his point of view. They cancelled their remaining sessions and I never saw them again.
Do you think the computer helped this marriage? A computer is amoral. It is neither evil nor good. It is what is done with the computer that brings in the morality.
I have been able to watch this man's behavior from a distance and unfortunately, his life has fallen apart. His wife divorced him. Several things transpired that she could not live with: 1) he used the computer for watching porn, 2) he used the computer to develop relationships with numerous women with whom he had affairs, 3) he was arrested for having sex with a patient, 4) he was also arrested for domestic violence and 5) he lost his medical license.
The computer also affected his children. One of his children became addicted to pornography (from the same computer), another was charged with sexual molestation and must now register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, the rest of his children have completely cut him off, wanting nothing to do with him.
I'm not saying that if they had continued in counseling that everything would have been perfect and these problems would not have occurred but I think it is ironic that the very thing he convinced his wife would solve all of their problems seriously contributed to his moral failure and the subsequent behavior of his family. I'm also not saying that the computer was his main problem. His main problem (in spite of claiming the name of Christian) was old-fashioned selfishness. He was not allowing God to transform him.
I'm writing this to you to ask you a few questions:
Into what are you pouring your time, energy and money?
Have you convinced yourself that possessions will bring your happiness?
Or have you invested your life into accountability, honest relationships and seeking God's will for your life?
God is very clear about His will: It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
I have heard that this man is now trying to repair the damage he has done and is trying again to live a life that is pleasing to God. I find that encouraging.
Please pray for him.
BE A MAN.
If I go to the heavens, you are there; If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
Sometimes life is hell. That's how it feels. It feels like we have taken up residence in hell. Sometimes the darkness overwhelms us. Sometimes we hurt so much that we can't imagine experiencing joy or peace ever again. Sometimes we seem to have 'made our bed ' in a place that God has deserted, a place from which God has turned away.
But the psalmist says 'even if I make my bed in the depths, you are there'. There are no genuinely God-forsaken places on our journey. There are no places unfamiliar to God. It is a difficult and painful journey, but our lines of support are not stretched thin. God is not at a distance. God is with us.
If God is with us, we can travel through those dark times in recovery, those times in hell. If God is with us, we can hold on through the difficult emotional and spiritual roller coaster of recovery.
No matter where I am, Lord
you are with me.
If I am up, today.
You are here.
If I am down.
You are here.
If I am very, very down.
You are still here.
If I am very, very, very, very, very down.
You are here.
Even in the terrible times when I am in the depths, you are there with me.
Your presence is a ray of hope
in the dark times of my recovery.
Copyright Dale and Juanita Ryan
National Association for Christian Recovery
Today, I woke up and started my normal routine. I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, and started to prepare to take a shower. In the midst of brushing my teeth, I hear a knock on the door and I hear a tiny giggle. I know it is my son behind the door, but I also hear the water running in the other bathroom so I know that my wife has started preparing his bath. Somewhat curious, I decided to open the door. There, giggling and standing in front of me, was my stark nude 2 year old son yelling “I’m a naked kid Daddy!” There is nothing cuter than a toddler rump.
Of course I laughed at this situation. I then thought about it on a different level. My son has no shame and does not recognize the concept of private versus public. He has nothing to hide and he does not feel vulnerable in front of us. He is filled with innocence and purity that is powerful despite the fact that he is too young to comprehend.
When God created humanity, this posture was the intention. Adam and Even had the awesome opportunity to live with God, speak with Him, and live in relationship with no barriers. Sin ruined this relationship, and shame, guilt, and depravity entered the scene.
When we talk about the concept of prayer, God wants us to communicate with Him in the way that humanity did at the beginning. He has not changed. He is the same loving Father. We have changed.
What would happen if we abandoned what we thought of ourselves (our unworthiness, shame, guilt, our past) and simply allowed ourselves to be vulnerable before our mighty yet loving God?
It all comes down to trust. Do we believe that God desires to communicate with us? Communication is a vital part of any relationship. This is why we were created.This post was written by Rev DeCrastos. You can find the original post with comments here: http://other-words.net/2013/05/07/exposing-prayer/