God in America
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Faithbook Charmaine

"In Christ there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, Democrat or Republican...." Paraphrase of Colossians 3:11

How Do You Imagine God?
God in America and USA WEEKEND Magazine are partnering to explore Americans' images of God.

How do you imagine God? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I no longer "imagine" what God must be like; I see Him with the "eye of the heart."

My Beliefs

My greatest moment of doubt was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Last night I watched a rerun of an old Billy Graham Crusade. While listening to the young Billy preaching fire n'brimstone on TBN, I remembered attending a Graham movie when I was around nineteen and actually NOT going up after his conclusion to accept his gift of spiritual salvation. Perhaps I doubted in traditional theology back then because I was still healing from my parents' divorce and loss of our previously-close family unit. Whatever the reason, I had said "No,thank you," to the Graham Crusade, and believed in God in a non-denominational and interfaith way. Around that same year I sat in on an introductory meditation lecture and again said "No, thanks," only that time to paying what seemed like an expensive fee for a personalized mantra that promised scholastic success through spiritual peace of mind. I told the speaker that knowledge or wisdom capable of so benefitting humanity should be given freely. Who could put a price tag on "universal spiritual truth," especially for students? Those were some "doubtful" days. Eventually I became more interested in both the scriptures and meditation. The 2011 Lent season began with the world weighed down from the fear and trauma of trembling earth, tsunamis and resulting nuclear disaster. As if reports of radioactive waste running into the Pacific or tales of fallout transported on winds from Japan wasn't enough, the evening of March 25 I received a phone call from a non-relative informing me that my "Ol' Dad" had died. I had been wanting to get over to visit with my father and be there for his upcoming eightieth birthday. According to that phone call, he didn't quite make it. I keep thinking Dad could be contacting me again any day now, telling me they got him mixed up with somebody else, that his party is on, that he is sorry for just disappearing... Despite these faith-disturbing events that leave one asking exactly how DOES God "take away the sins of the world," I continue my Lenten observance. As for environmental conditions having effect on faith, I think of the news last week showing three Japanese earthquake victims sitting in a shelter singing Amazing Grace after much of their lives had just been swept out to sea, when they could have been crying that this is not how Jesus is supposed to wash anyone's sins away.
My spiritual life means... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator After some time there is no "spiritual life" separate from the rest of your life. You just have one life, with periods of time reserved for prayer and rejuvenation of soul. But it is all one life. You don't drop the teachings at specific times or places, you carry them with you wherever you go. Of course if sitting in a church pew or a temple you most likely follow more reserved codes of conduct than you would sitting in a bleacher at a baseball field, but your faith is with you at all times. You follow the "Golden Rule" to the best of your ability wherever you are. While there may be secular events, there is no distinct "spiritual life" and non-spiritual life. You are integrated.
My spiritual role model is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator At this point in time I have no one single "spiritual role model." There are many, some well-and-widely known, others out of the public eye. Some people may be examples of an ideal attribute, but not so in other areas where you may notice another exhibiting strength. There are and have been many people with their unique ability or gifts, admirable characteristics, or ministry that I respect. One man may be admired for his long-time steadfast devotion, spiritual knowledge, and self-mastery used to assist others from within a monastic cloister, never really known to the world. Another individual may be an inspiration for contributions to community within secular society. Parents who help humanity but not to the detriment of their own children may also be examples of spiritual accomplishment to others. There are many good people with spiritual insight making positive contributions to the world in a variety of ways, whether they do visibly good works or are quietly contemplative. Most have the common traits of truthfulness and honesty, integrity, unaffected spiritual demeanor; they are highly ethical, sensitive, and have a keen sense of tact. Humble, but light and confident. They have to be confident in knowing what to teach. They acquire that state through God's grace, much seeking, and experience. They seem to possess a trustworthy "discernment" from above.

My Faith History

As a child I believed ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator As a child I believed in God enough to say prayers. We didn't attend Sunday school. After first hearing of God on the TV, and asking my mother the challenging question of who God was, never doubting there was One. We were told of the true meaning behind the major Christian holidays, and Dad led a quick prayer at the dinner table on those special afternoons. Back in the mid-fifties children's television programming included saying grace when they sat for snacks, or at least mention of remembering to Give Thanks at some point throughout your day. Public school systems allowed prayer in the classroom and at assemblies. You got God and the virtues even if you didn't go to Sunday School, though not via any one particular denomination.
My spiritual journey has been ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator If we use the analogy of journey, the "path" or today's spiritual "mega-highway" is currently feeling like a bumpy road. "Truth is a pathless land," wrote J.Krishnamurthi. I am a Christian, but think that is an insightful statement. "Work at your tasks [spiritual practices] in due season, and in his own time God will give you your reward." (Sirach 51:30)
I was raised as ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Pretty much non-denominational, with "trickle-down" Catholicism and Protestant influence. Everyone in my family believed in God, though we didn't attend any one particular church. My mother had gone to Roman Catholic grade schools in the Pacific Northwest. Her mother was an English-Irish Roman Catholic raised around Boston; my maternal grandfather was from a large Roman Catholic clan that spread out from French-Canadian Quebec. My grandparents moved west, leaving behind a host of relations that I would never know. Mom and dad were married in a Seattle area Catholic church, though they didn't continue attending after their marriage on account of differing religions. My father's parents were Protestants. Though of different faiths, my grandmothers got along very well, and whenever I saw either of them separately, they inquired as to how the other was doing. I remember my immediate family going for frequent Sunday drives, and once hearing my father spontaneously remark "It is by God's grace that we wake up every day." (In his case "Ol' Dad" doesn't realize how true that is!) Throughout childhood there were allusions to religion, and they instilled enough faith in me to pray, though going to church would have introduced me sooner to biblical persons and parables and other theological beliefs. However, beyond the behaviorial and fundamentals of Christian dogma, theological teaching begins to differ from church to church, and these differences sometimes cause division. Unfortunately, my parents broke up shortly before I graduated from high school, though the basis for their divorce was not directly due to familial religious factions.

How I Practice My Faith

Where and when do you practice your faith? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator A few weeks back I saw a bumper sticker on a car parked outside a recreational clothing and gear store that said "I'd rather be hiking and thinking of God than sitting in church thinking of hiking." (I thought I'd read that quote on somebody's Faithbook page too.) If the "Kingdom of God is within," then wherever we may be, if we are mindful of the spiritual, we can be "praying without ceasing," thus practicing our faith. It may be manifested at any given moment in what we do and don't do, in our inner peak experiences, and in our interactions with others. In the here and now is where I try to exercise my beliefs. I am not always as good at it as I would like to be. As far as an external religious environment, a concrete place created and consecrated for spiritual practices and focus on God supposedly without as many distractions, there are devotional atmospheres dedicated to traditional worship that I appreciate and feel a small part of. Many of the Bible's most significant spiritual occurrences took place in the great outdoors: Moses at the burning bush; Jesus alone in the desert, the Garden of Gethsemane, walking on water, and the Crucifixion, etc. While I cannot imagine America without its national parks and other lakes, rivers, mountain trails and scenic picnic points, I cannot imagine this land without its churches, temples, and synagogues either.
How easy or difficult is it to live your faith? Why? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator There are many directives in scripture that are tough to follow today. For instance, there are more people in the world and on a daily basis we hear or "bear the burdens" of the entire planet, not just the droughts and plagues of our own quaint little village as during the time of Jesus. When Jesus said, "Give to the one who asks of you," his mailbox wasn't overflowing with requests for donations to help fight global disease or feed displaced families across the nation or to help the starving populations in distant lands, or build a library in remote Siberia or send a newly-converted monk from Mongolia to college in France so he can learn English. People in Christ's time only had to deal with natural disasters in their own valleys or those in close vicinity. Today people hear about destruction from earthquakes or flooding in every nation on regular basis. Humanity as a whole now has the means to provide aid where and when it is most needed, but most individual pockets don't stretch that far! Jesus said "Give to the one who asks." Don't you wish it was just one? Jesus instructed, "Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him two." And who is meant by "anyone"? It is wise to be careful of some strangers these days, even though the New Testament book of Hebrews says you may be "entertaining angels without knowing it." A scripture nearly impossible to perfect is Matthew 7:1-3, where Jesus advises people to "Stop judging." Or, maybe it is the one about forgiveness? In sum, "How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to [eternal] life. And those that find it are few."
In my house, the thing that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator What one thing in my house most represents my faith? The old axiom, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," seems fitting here. While there are some spiritual books or other items that I might like more than others, the answer is more of a synergism, there is a synergistic result. Some might call that a type of syncretism (which some Christians would spell "SINcretism," but synergy is more like it. I have enjoyed "The Philokalia" volumes, though realize they were written by and for vowed Orthodox monks, thus I have to "transpose" the teachings to apply them to myself here in this century, as a woman still residing in the material world (i.e., not a renounced monastic).

Religion & the Public Square

Should courses about religion be taught in public schools? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator World Religions might best be offered as an elective, even if religious texts are presented as works of literature. If mandatory, some people would only complain that the required reading of another's holy book (even as literature) is just a way of sneaking religion or another faith into the curriculum and their child's mind. While such a class would be intended to promote understanding, some parents might claim any accidental exposure to theology that conflicts with their own could confuse their child. Prayer is fundamental in all faiths, but prayer in public schools still went to the courts, and for some the subject continues to be an issue.
Is interfaith dialogue important? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Dialogue should enable people of different cultures or customs who mingle socially, at the work place, or wherever they may come in contact, to better understand a "foreign" faith. Misperceptions can make people hesitant in communication or kindness. Symbolism is so often misinterpreted not only within our own Christian denominations, but amongst other religions. For instance, in Hinduism, Shiva is called the "Destroyer," and this sounds venomous to some non-Hindus. But what is to be "destroyed" is the evil on the planet and the unenlightened selfish ego that separates from God, not the good in the world or in any person. Understanding the significance doesn't mean you are not true to your own religion. I don't know if formal "interfaith dialogue" does any more to enhance world harmony than the Olympic Games might. Both may contribute to better relations in different ways and amongst different types of people: Some vowed religious may not like being at a crowded sports event for two weeks, and some athletes may not enjoy sitting at a panel discussion on comparative sacraments.
Are religious beliefs compromised by engaging in politics? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Those who run for public offices, and those who work with them, would better know the answer to that. Only they know when they have had to alter their genuine feelings on an issue or person in order to gain more votes. My own participation in politics is limited to voting in the elections. Sometimes having only two reasonable or realistic choices makes you feel like you are compromising your beliefs a bit, as on occasion you don't whole-heartedly agree with anyone on the ballot. People who knowingly join in on mudslinging that intentionally distorts the true character of an opponent or tarnishes the reputation of his or her family, are breaking the universal spiritual commandment of not bearing false witness. If people resort to inconsiderate or vindictive behaviors in order to push their agenda on others, they have lost sight of their spiritual ideals, and have thus already compromised their religious beliefs. It is not difficult to slip into hypocrisy. That is why the saints of yore warned others to "always keep watch." They were speaking mainly to those men and women who shared the goal of reaching the highest spiritual state, not those wanting to govern a state. But, all people have a spirit and are subject to the same Higher Power. There is no reason a person serving in civil office could not be spiritually gifted. Anyone interested in this topic might enjoy reading Eusebius: The Life of Constantine (Clarendon Ancient History Series, Oxford University Press). The Emperor experienced what could be considered the most significant Christian conversion in history after St. Paul, and apparently oozed spiritual charisma. Eusebius wrote, "...the pronouncements of the Emperor were like divine oracles and not mere words." He refers to Constantine as "the blessed one," and says "...alone of those on earth Constantine appeared as his [God's] agent for good." You could argue that Emperor Constantine never had to run for office and lived in a simpler century, but he did face some comparable rugged oppositions. The teaching of not bearing false witness and loving your enemies does not mean being passive if others would be hurt by something. In some circumstances keeping quiet or taking no action might be the more damaging. (Thanks PBS, for this fun opportunity to sound off.) Charmaine French-Allaka

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Published October 11, 2010

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