Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Joyful Debt

This time, let's begin with the video. Although I prefer the David Crowder Band's musical arrangement of this hymn (which you can find on YouTube after you read this post), I chose this video to help you focus on Robert Robinson's lyrics:

During my prayer time with John yesterday morning, Robinson's third stanza started running through my head. "Oh to grace, how great a debtor/ Daily I'm constrained to be!" Whenever I sing this hymn, I think about my debt to God's grace. I remember being 17, reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Matthew 5:8, and feeling horrified by my total selfishness. I knew, just reading those two Scriptures, that I deserved eternal hell for not achieving God's standard. And, 40 years later, I still remember the great relief--the overwhelming relief, really--of hearing that Jesus died for my sin! Indeed, I'm a debtor to His grace.

Most debts, particularly debts that can't be repaid, wear on our emotions. But the more I think about my debt to Jesus Christ, and realize my complete inability to repay Him, the more I rejoice that He actually chose to pay my debt to His Father. Because of His grace, I know His love now, and I will know His fullness when I step into eternity! And, to be honest, I'm glad to have this debt!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Boston, Naturally

The best part about going into Boston with no agenda is...well, having no agenda. Then the only real expectation is that delightful things will happen. And, in Boston, that almost always holds true. Especially in autumn, when the trees display their last colors until spring, determined to give a glorious show before shedding their leaves for the winter.So yesterday, John took videos and photos while squirrels, trees, geese and swans entertained us.

Upon our arrival at Boston Common, we saw a squirrel cooperatively showing off for a small group of tourists (I suspect they know me and John, and think it highly unnecessary to entertain mere locals). Because he had an audience of pretty young women, he allowed John to video him for quite a while!

As cute as he was, however, the trees around the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial captured my attention. I'd noticed them beginning to turn last week, and wanted to check their progress. Happily, I was far from disappointed!

From the Common, we wheeled over to the Public Garden, taking a photo (as best we could) of its entrance.  (Pesky pedestrians!)

To my surprise, the swans (who usually resist any attempts we make to photograph/video them) decided to allow John to take their picture. Furthermore, perhaps because they'll return to Franklin Park Zoo soon, they decided to be elegant in presenting themselves to us. After all, they probably rationalized, John's camera won't bother them again till at least next April!

The geese didn't want the swans monopolizing our attention. If swans are elegant, geese are showmen, to the point of giving John cues as to when to end the video!

I wish I had time to share all the spectacular photos John took at the Public Garden, since the trees put own a show that, quite frankly, trumped the swans and the geese. But I'll show my favorite shots.

I came home having learned that Autumn has its own agenda in Boston. It's best to go with no itinerary. All anyone needs is a camera and a willingness to let nature set the course.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Strange Fire of Christian Yoga

This blog post has been rolling around my mind for over two years, but in greater strength during the past few weeks as I've studied yoga and "Christian yoga" more in depth. I will, in the course of writing this post, link to several web articles, which I really encourage you to read for yourself.

Before discussing the attempt to marry Biblical Christianity with yoga, however, let me remind you of Nadab and Abihu, who were struck down by the Lord for making an offering contrary to how He commanded (Leviticus 10:1-3). This incident showed the children of Israel that God, in separating then from pagan peoples, would no longer tolerate a mixing of religious practices with the worship of Him. He called Israel, throughout the Old Testament, to purity from other forms of spiritual practices. In fact, He often had His prophets (particularly Hosea) describe idolatry using the picture of adultery against Him.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the ceremonial laws and the sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus had been fulfilled through His death on the cross (Matthew 5:17). But, in liberating Christians from the Law, God continues to call us to purity in how we worship Him. In 1 Corinthians 8, for example, Paul explains that even though eating meat that was sold in markets after having been offered to idols wasn't inherently idolatry, it could be perceived as such and therefore lead weaker Christians to incorporate idolatry into their faith. Two chapters later, he makes it clear that Christians must not eat at the table of idols, and then eat at the Lord's table (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). As the spiritual Israel, Christians must retain purity, including purity of worship.

I've said all this because, despite claims that "Christian Yoga" has nothing to do with Hinduism,  I'm increasing convinced that Christians who practice yoga indeed offer their bodies to idols. No, they don't do so knowingly. In fact, they recoil in horror at the mere suggestion that they're doing such a profane thing, honestly believing that they use yoga to worship God with their bodies.

If the physical aspect of yoga could indeed be practiced apart from its Hindu roots, I would probably be posting about this past Wednesday's Boston Adventure, rather than risking the displeasure of Christian friends (many of whom I've known for decades). Truthfully, I'm not fond of being labeled as a "Heresy Hunter" (though I'm getting used to that accusation). But Ephesians 5:8-14 tells  us to both separate from the works of darkness and also to expose them.

And yoga, dear friends, cannot be separated from it's Hindu origins. The Watchman Expositor's article on yoga quotes Swami Sivananda Radha as stating in her book, Hatha Yogao:

When most people in the West think of yoga, they think of yoga as a form of exercise. Too often... there are yoga teachers who teach asanas without an understanding of their real nature and purpose. Asanas are a devotional practice which like all spiritual practices, bring us to an understanding of the truth.... Beyond this there also lies a mystical or spiritual meaning. Each asana creates a certain meditative state of mind.
Christian Research Institute, in it's article, Approaches to Yoga: Hatha Yoga, explains that each asana (yoga position) has a spiritual meaning, and have the ultimate purpose of awakening the kundalini in the practitioner. I just read, on a Kundalini Yoga website, that the kundalini is a coiled serpent (hmm!).  Even if people don't (or won't) realize that these positions are associated with demonic spirits, Satan knows precisely what's happening.

On the Berean Watchman website, J.R. Hall writes in the article, A Stretch Into The Occult: A Christian Response To Yoga, that yoga is "the missionary arm of Hinduism". Although this article is lengthy (and its font is way too small), I strongly encourage people to read it! Additionally, Christian Research Institute has a comprehensive list of articles on yoga and "Christian Yoga" that I heartily recommend.

Nadab and Abihu offered a profane, or "strange" sacrifice to the Lord, but Christians must come to Him in the purity of obedience to His godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7-9 tells us that bodily exercise has minimal profit, in contrast to godliness and contentment. God's Word, taken in context, provides all we need to worship Him, and I believe Christians can best pursue God by staying focused on Him.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Corporate Greed

Okay, yes, part of the reason for this recession really is the big banks and credit card companies taking advantage of hard-working Americans. I do believe it's appropriate to place a certain amount of blame on big corporations. So please understand, as you read this post, that I'm by no means exonerating Wall Street, and that I believe God will deal with profit-hungry CEOs.

In saying that Big Business is guilty, however, I believe corporate greed really comes from us...the people. Myself included. Those of us who live beyond our means, using plastic to make purchases we can't afford. Those who are able-bodied, but would rather get Food Stamps without working than "settle" for a job flipping burgers. 

I know young people who make babies, but don't even try to find work. They can collect Food Stamps and WIC while living (rent free) with their parents. They're online. They have tattoos. They make Status updates to Facebook from their mobile phones. I don't mind Uncle Sam helping those of us who truly need it, or even those who have circumstances that truly prevent them from working full-time. But people who refuse to work, create children out of wedlock and expect government programs to sustain them while they buy all the latest toys...these people are part of corporate greed.

I also know people who have bought houses they couldn't afford.  They'd tell me and John, in broad terms, about their mortgage plans. Though John and I are neither lawyers  nor mortgage brokers, we knew that balloon payments, like most balloons, are destined to burst. Even with a mortgage, it's vital to buy a home that you can afford, and to rent until you can afford to buy.
Unscrupulous lenders (including credit card companies), all the way up to the big corporations, depend on my greed and your greed. We can point fingers all we want, but when we do so, three fingers point back to us. When we start working hard and buying only as much (or less) than our bank accounts allow, the major corporations will lose their power.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Shy Parade

Autumn's finally creeping into Boston, with its vivid array of reds, browns and yellows. It's been a little shy about parading around Boston Common just yet. But yesterday we caught a glimpse of it, tucking itself in the heart of the park, away from the parts tourists generally visit.

Maybe it's not really shy, but instead it's just tuning up. Maybe by the middle of next week, it's colors will serenade the entire Common with its bold crescendos and subtle harmonies.  And I'll be there to watch the music!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Godly Alienation

I've been studying 1 Peter verse-by-verse since May 10, and I've finally gotten through verse 6 of chapter 2! And that's okay, because I'm really digging in to the Greek words and the historical context...seeing what Peter is really saying. The Lord has been showing me, as I work through the dictionaries and commentaries, how His people, because we've been regenerated through His word, are really aliens to the rest of humanity. Not just that we are to be separate, but that, if we're truly born-again and bear the image of our Father, we are by nature separate (holy).

The world draws its nourishment from itself, I suppose. I am tempted, here, to cite specifics. But I think doing so in the context of this particular post would merely be inflammatory because I couldn't take the time to detail how each thing contradicts God's word without distracting myself and my readers from the point at hand. Suffice it to say that people feed on human philosophies (even when they delude themselves into thinking those philosophies can integrate with Biblical doctrine) rather than hungering after (to quote Peter) "the pure milk of the word" (1 Peter 2:2).

But if we truly are regenerated by God's word through the Holy Spirit, there will be consequential implications. Those implications penetrate much deeper than surface things like going to church, sexual chastity and humanitarian actions (as important as all those things are). God actually has "begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Thus, we are intrinsically different from non-Christians.

Yes, we still feel the old temptations, and sometimes fall into them (our pre-Christian natures don't accept death willingly). But I can say, from experience, that I'm really uncomfortable around my own sin. When I pursue it, even if I know only God will ever find out what I'm doing, I know I'm not being who I am. I'm being who I would have been apart from Christ. But the Lord has made me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), with values and desires that, on an ever-increasing level, reflect His nature.

Growing to be like Him necessarily alienates Christians from the rest of world. We can, and should, engage with non-Christians on some level, but our core values can't help but depart from theirs as we feed on Scripture and learn to see things from our Father's perspective. Peter repeatedly hammers home the point that, if we are true Christians, we cannot fit in with everyone else. And why would we want to?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Three Centuries and a Train Ride

Would anyone be seriously surprised that John and I celebrated my birthday in Boston? Of course not! We celebrated Wednesday (a day early) because of predicted rain Thursday, and indeed Thursday's weather was very disagreeable. Our tour-guide friend, whom I blogged about in A Friend in Two Personas, had already gone to California for the winter, but we wanted to do a Freedom Trail walking tour with his son.

Before the tour, we got time to chat with our guide, and enjoyed learning a bit about his 21st Century life. (Usually, we talk to him about his father.) I learned that he's a writer who has written a few  plays, and got to tell him about the plays I helped write and direct in the 80s for my church out in California. By then it was 12:30, and time to step back into the 18th Century, causing our young friend to assume the character of Samuel Grey, a rope-maker in Boston and the first fatality of the Boston Massacre .

We knew, however, that during the first two stops of the tour, guides almost invariably find it necessary to point out multiple negative facts about the Puritans. Certainly, as John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things," and therefore that the Puritans did, in fact, do things out of a flawed understanding of a few passages in the Old Testament. And I wouldn't mind hearing the negatives about the Puritans if they were balanced with positive comments about them. But, to be honest, I feel that the guides generally cross the line into Puritan-bashing, which distresses me very deeply. Anyway, once I explained to our guide that I subscribe to much of the theology that drove the Puritans, he understood why that part of the tour offends me. He had no problem with us picking up the tour at Park Street Church (ironically popping into the early 19th Century for a brief moment).

I'd heard before, but never really grasped, that Park Street Church played its part in American Independence by storing gun powder in its basement during the War of 1812. As a result, the corner of Tremont Street and Park Street came to me known as "Brimstone Corner." I'm pleased to say our guide was neutral, if not mildly favorable about the church's other contributions to American heritage.

My favorite stop on the Freedom Trail has always been the Old Grainary Burial Ground, and I was happy getting back to the 1700s by entering its gates! There, I realized that "Samuel Gray" had his own script for the tour in distinction from his father's. He told us that there is an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 bodies buried there--typically vertical, and in layers. I'd never understood how many people are interned there! It's only about two acres in size, so it doesn't seem big enough to hold so many bodies. Our guide said that  the graves have been "rearranged" twice, so most of the slate headstones no longer correspond to the bodies beneath them.
In the past three years, tourists have begun putting stones and pennies on the gravemarkers of prominent patriots, particularly Paul Revere's grave. Appparently, I hadn't visited Revere's grave in quite some time, because I was quite surprised to see the enormous display of stones and  coins stretching out from his original headstone! As I type this post, I wonder if these little mementos of respect will be cleared away once tourist season ends.

We left the burying ground and followed to the marker of the site where the original Boston Latin School stood. Behind it towers a statue of the school's most famous drop-out: Benjamin Franklin. That irony had never hit me before. Perhaps, on all the other tours I've taken, I'd never really paid attention to the fact that Franklin hadn't finished school. But then, I like going on so many walking tours precisely because I pick up things I miss (or don't hear) on previous tours.

Next, we went to the corner of School and Washington Streets, where we again took a brief detour into the mid-19th Century literary world of Ticknor & Fields, represented by the Old Corner Bookstore.  Luminaries such as Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe and (as I interjected because she's my favorite) Louisa May Alcott spent much time there. 

"Samuel Gray" then pointed out the Irish Famine Memorial outside Borders Bookstore. 

The sculpture on the left depicts the Irish who arrived in Boston, fleeing the Potato Famine. The figures, gaunt and bowed down, wear tattered clothes, representing their condition as they first arrived in Boston.

This sculpture looks toward a second one, this time representing Irish-Americans two generations later. They are well--nourished, nicely clothed and stand tall and proud!

Then  'Samuel Gray" took us back to December 16, 1773 and the Boston Tea Party by showing us the Old South Meeting House. Britain had imposed an oppressive tax on tea, which incensed the colonists. On that fateful night, after hours of  debate, Samuel Adams uttered the words, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." That sentence signaled the Sons of Liberty to march to Griffith's Wharf, disguised as Mohawk Indians, to hurl the tea sitting on the English ships into Boston Harbor in an act that would galvanize the other 12 colonies to push for independence from England.

We then traveled to Spring Street, learning that the waters from the Spring there brought the Puritans from Plymouth to Boston. At that point, we left the tour group (which would have two more stops) to re-enter the 21st Century for lunch at Sam's Cafe Cheers at Quincy Market. We got patio seating, and enjoyed the bunless burger with sauteed mushrooms, Caesar salad, artichokes, red peppers and tomatoes.Once we finished eating, we quickly bought a cannoli at Quincy Market and rushed to South Station.

I managed to eat my cannoli before the first boarding call, so we got to our car with time enough to take this photo before the conductor boarded us. Our conductor, with whom we've been riding all summer and have gotten to know, was in a particularly jovial mood that day, and on learning that we had been celebrating my birthday, he had the entire car sing to me. Then, not wanting John to feel left out, he took our picture with John wearing his hat.

So, I had precisely the birthday celebration I'd wanted, and quite enjoyed each part of it! Whether it's time travel or train travel, I'm delighted. But having both...what more could I ask?


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