Religion As A Spectrum

When I first sat down to write this blog post I had come to the realization that regardless of what you believe, belief often exists on a spectrum that can actually tie people of different faiths closer together than those of the same spiritual background. But as I explored this idea more I came to the realization that as much as I’d like to believe that religion is a spectrum, scripture tells me the unpopular message that I should be totally sold out to God or not believe in him all. 

While talking with a friend who is Muslim, I discussed the idea that in many ways, though I am Christian, I might feel closer to a Muslim who is religious than a Christian who isn’t that religious. At my current stage of life I am growing in my personal walk with God but have encountered countless people who have told me that religion is good, but not if it becomes too important in our lives.

I’m reminded of the guy from a dating app who warned me of his aunt who never got married because she was so religious and spent all her life serving God. Or well-meaning friends who see completely following God as a loss of sorts because of what could be understood to be rigid rules within Christianity.

The idea that I could connect with a Muslim more than a less religious Christian was crazy to me at the time because for a long time I held schemas in my head of what it meant to be a Christian versus believing a different faith. And to me, there was no way that I could really connect with others of different religious backgrounds.

The idea of connecting with someone of a different faith was first planted in my head years ago. I was hosting a GIG or Group Investigating God with a college friend and most weeks our group consisted of the executive team from the Atheist/Agnostic club at our college. During our last meeting I invited a Muslim friend and was surprised by how my Muslim friend and I defended faith and the existence of a God, though to us this God was different. Because to believe at all is to share something beautiful in common, compared to a person who does not believe in the existence of anything.

But before we can really look at the intersection of faiths, let’s look at how I personally define what it means to be a Christian vs. a Muslim.

Defining a ‘Christian’ 

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First, we encounter the argument of how you choose to define what it means to be Christian. For the purposes of this post- I’ve indicated how I categorize someone as almost a “baseline” Christian. I realize that you the reader may have a different definition of what being a Christian means.

And even as I tried to define a “baseline” Christian I wondered if it was fair to say that they tithe because I’ve heard that very few people actually do this. Then there are people who love God but regularly miss church.

Defining a ‘Muslim’ 

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I asked a friend how she defines a Muslim and she indicated the above and clarified that she also considered that recognizing one God, the day of judgement, and believing Mohammed is a prophet is enough.

The Intersection 

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You can see above how the intersection between how “close” you can feel to someone who also holds faith, even if they believe in a different God. That is compared to someone who is a different faith but isn’t as religious.

I was honestly super proud of this realization until I realized that I was missing one important fact.

God Doesn’t Want Christians On a Spectrum 

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To follow and listen to God’s word instructs me of the fact that God doesn’t want Christians on a spectrum. Thus negating the entire that a spectrum could even exist. 

Revelation 3:15-16 New International Version (NIV)
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The reality is that Christianity cannot exist on a spectrum because scripture instructs that you must either you are completely sold out for God or you should not believe in him at all.

The danger of our society is a culture in which people decide that they are kinda sorta Christian. This is a topic that was spoken about this past Sunday at my church.

It also begins to become easy to think that giving 10% is a lot if you surround yourself with other people who don’t give at all. But God’s standards for serving him are radically not in relation to those in our lives and instead is revealed in his word.

As I grow as a person and in my walk with God I am also learning to respect the journeys of others and realize that though scripture is clear, we might still be on a spectrum of belief. But while on this spectrum, I think we cannot deny the command from scripture to avoid at all costs, lukewarm Christianity.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Can Christianity exist on a spectrum? Is my definition of following Christ too rigid? 

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You can become anything…

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In the age of perfectly chiseled bodies, bleached relaxed ombres and reconstructed noses on celebrities as a norm- I am constantly reminded of the scene above in the graphic novel American Born Chinese. The protagonist told a woman that he wanted to become a transformer, to which she replied, with words that have haunted me since I first read it more than two years ago, “It’s easy to become anything you wish […] so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” On my blog, my social platform, I bear my heart out as I admit to constantly struggling with valuing vanity more than virtue- with unknowingly sacrificing important values in trying to become someone or something that I realize I never wanted to become.

I think back to being in middle school, aka as the worst time of my life. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and as a chubby Indian girl, it’s needless to say that I stood out and hated it. Man, I couldn’t even cut gym class in high school without the gym teachers noticing; all I wanted was to blend in. There was an unwritten social code for fitting in. The uniform was Juicy Couture jumpsuits with chestnut uggs or a tank top with so low pants. The cool look was sleek straight hair and dark eyeliner. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I was one of maybe 10 Indians in the school, I had such a terrible sense of style and the fact that $13 for jeans was a lot for me while other girls spent $100+ dollars on a pair of sweatpants left me longing to be like everyone else without much of a means to become like everyone else.

Back then my mom used to remind me that I wasn’t like “them”- so why try? I wasn’t ever going to be white. But deep down I wanted to be like the other girls in my grade so I entered into 9th grade with Japanese straightened hair that my mother somehow complied to. We were in India the summer before and were able to get a treatment for around $150, a steal at the time. And do you know what happened? People like it. That’s what’s so confusing about doing whatever you can in order to fit in for the wrong motives. You might be rewarded for it. I’m not saying straight hair is bad. The motive behind my decision was the problem. I swear to you, straight hair, getting eyebrows done and growing a few inches can do wonders- but every part of who I was, was motivated by an insatiable and unachievable goal of blending in.

A decade later and I sense traces of my middle school self dictating how I live my life. As I scroll through my Instagram feed it’s easy to value things that are fleeting. During my residency year of teaching, nearly 2.5 years ago when my journey to become a teacher first began, I was asked to create an “image” of the kind of educator I wanted to be. And I’d like to take that exercise a bit further and ask you as a reader of this blog to imagine who it is you would like to be. Who is it that God created you to be? Who is your very best self? Are you making steps towards being that person?

I don’t know who exactly I imagine my best self to be but I imagine someone who is prepared for the obstacles in front of her- confident and strong. I am reminded of the fruits of the spirit and wish to become someone who is slow to anger. I long to be disciplined and kind. Creative and comforting to others, I want to be an advocate and someone who lives a life that encourages others. There are a million traits and ideas to meditate and pray about and as I think of who it is God wants me to be I am reminded of the smaller actions I take that draw me further from that person- forfeiting my soul in the process.

It’s easy to look like everyone else. This blog post is really to anyone else who feels that struggle to sacrifice themselves to bend in. The world doesn’t need another person who dresses and looks like everyone else. The world needs you- whoever it is you were created to be.

 

 

Open letter to those still in the Indian Church

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There are two types of people this blog post is for. First, the older generation within the Malayalee (Indian) church who like myself (as a teacher in a different culture than my own) often lack awareness of cultural differences or the desires of the younger generation to express themselves differently and creatively. Next, the younger generation who needs to go back to God and his words first as a means to better serve our churches.

For Pentecostals (particular branch of Christianity), Acts 2 is a pivotal piece of scripture. The chapter details what happens when the holy spirit comes at Pentecost. It’s some crazy stuff. Vs 2 explains, “Suddenly a sounds like blowing of a violent wind came from heaven.” Then “tongues of fire” came and “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” I remember my brother once pointed out to me that when people are praying in tongues, to the bystander they don’t look happy! People are yelling, crying and praising. It looks insane if you don’t understand what’s happening. And that’s touched upon. In fact people made fun of them thinking they had too much wine.

So now that epic scene has been painted- now imagine my horror when experiencing something very different at a conference this past weekend.

Carefully pick speakers and always think of the Vision

I encountered a book, “For White Folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of ya’ll too” and was captivated as a teacher but also as someone who loves psychology and trying to understand people. I just came back from a region meeting for Indians who are in ‘church of God’ pentecostal churches. Being honest, the Sunday service was dead. In Emdin’s book he refers to Pentecostal pedagogy as a model for teachers. But as I watched a Pentecostal preacher elicit call and reponse to no avail, my heart broke. This pastor poured his heart out to the audience and there we were- dead, as was I as a part of said audience. I felt uncomfortable praising loudly because everyone could hear me. I wanted to be back in my church where my praises mixed with the congregation in a beautiful melody. Some of my church friends had to remind me that the “norm” in my church isn’t the norm everywhere. In fact, today the main speaker reminded the audience that when he was young the meetings were all in Malayalam and the only portion of the message in English was one song. We’ve come a long way. Many people left my church leaving the current youth with a much stronger voice. We used to always threaten that we would leave but when some people actually did, everything was different. People weren’t leaving after marriage or as older adults, they left as college students and young adults. As a result, my service is entirely in English, the speaker speaks English and everything is catered to me, not perfectly, but our pastor tries. He advocates for our youth and makes a lot of mistakes but still sacrifices so much for the younger generation. However, despite my appreciation of my church, this past weekend wasn’t my first “dead” service at a larger gathering of malayalee youth.

Maybe it was that the call and response method isn’t enough? He would call out Amen only to hear faint amens respond back. Or perhaps it was because he asked men of God to imagine how God would use them to speak and women of God to dream of being pastor’s wives. Heck, maybe it was because he was a 60 year old southern white man speaking to a group of young 13–30 year olds. Whatever the reason, the room was hard to work with and I found myself saddened because it was a long time since I attended a meeting like this. I’m reminded of the book I referenced earlier, “For White Folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of ya’ll too” It’s really hard for white teachers, or even suburban minorities to come into the hood and expect to understand our kids, their music, clothing, food and so on. The same holds for my parent’s generation. Our worship sounds different, our idea of church clothing looks different, we prefer Amerian food compared to rice and chicken- we are different. So when you transplant someone unaware of our differences, it will be hard, as it is hard in teaching. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just as a teacher in the “hood” I need to be aware, but my students can still learn from me. And in our churches we are all still unified under Christ, we just need to be aware of the needs of our youth.

The scene I encountered this past weekend was not the scene of holy spirit coming to Pentecost, it wasn’t anything close. In college I got involved with a group called InterVarsity Christian fellowship and at our region gatherings it was a dance party- literally! We would go twice a year and the room would be packed and my worship with inaudible in the room. I could sing and praise in such freedom. The same thing happened at our conferences once every three years called “Urbana”. I felt such a freedom and strength in a room surrounded by fellow believers. The enthusiasm I once felt is drastically contrasted with the overall feeling from the meeting I attended recently. It felt like the preacher was pleading with the audience to offer something to God and we stood their limp and lifeless.

Go Back to the Basics.

The same message would have been very different for the older generation’s audience. Something was missing and I don’t believe it’s as simple as I would like to make it. I would like to just blame the older generation for not be culturally relevant, which they weren’t. But I know it goes deeper than that. What was the difference between the men who were praising on Pentecost and those who stood and laughed assuming they were drunk on wine? Well Peter addressed the mockers , “These men are not drunk as you suppose.” and explained that God had poured out his spirit on the people as he promised. Peter essential threw down the gospel for these people detailing how the world was made perfect, but then sin came in and created a division between Christ and us. Jesus was then sent as the bridge between that division created by sin. “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose…But God raised him from the dead.” Peter points to the first thing we need to do.

Ultimately, so many people fall between the cracks and need to be reminded once again what Jesus sacrificed for us and how much he loves us.

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Looking back at scripture we see how these people respond, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Do you know what that feels like? Even reading those words pierces my heart. This generation needed Peter to remind them that they needed to, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So when I look at my generation, I see myself. A broken person who as a senior in highschool drifted so far from God that I needed to hear what Christ had done for me once again. I was that person who willingly, proudly stood limp feeling power in denying my praises. I was afraid and stupid as the fool who denies God.

Now 5 years later I am a very different person. But I still needed someone like Peter to remind me of what Christ had done for me and pierce my heart.

Yes, our meetings should be culturally relevant. And a preacher shouldn’t have to beg an entire audience to praise God. But looking at God’s word the answer to those on the sidelines who mocked was not anger or judgment but God’s word spoken through Peter explaining all that Christ has done. I believe our generation needs Peters with the ability to stop and minister to our youth.