Monday, April 4, 2016

Reflections on Conversations Past
 2nd in a series of posts

Do You Engage In Idolatry?

Recently, it was suggested that I was engaging in idolatry by posting a specific meme on a page that I administer. I was surprised by the suggestion, as the though had never occurred to me. When comments such as this one are made, I see it as an opportunity  to re-examine my own thoughts, to learn, and to grow. After spending time thinking through my own thoughts and beliefs, talking to others whose opinions I respect, reading scripture, and spending time in prayer, I am ready to share the experience. First, it would probably help to share the image that started it all. 

The person who was commenting felt that the image here consisted of idolatry, and wrote "Second Command do not worship or make any graven image". As I said, I was surprised by the comment, as I would never have considered this idolatry. However, I've also shared in the past that I have no formal training and have much to learn myself.

 I spent some time in prayerful meditation considering this. What makes this idolatry? Is it the figure of Jesus, as represented in crucifixes? If so, does this also mean that statuary with images of Christ, Mary, Joseph and the saints would constitute idolatry? I wondered what my Catholic family and friends would have to say about this? How would one even define idolatry?

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:  

Definition of idolatry

plural idol·a·tries

the worship of a physical object as a god

Merriam-Webster doesn't say that this only relates to items with an actual figure of a person. So, with that definition leading me, I began to wonder where the actual line in the sand is. Couldn't one argue that a cross, a fish symbol, or even a candle could be considered idolatry? Oh my, this could be a never ending list. This is how my mind works, if some images are idolatry and others are not I want to understand the distinction. 

Now I knew what my thoughts were, it was time to discuss this with others. I spoke to several of my Catholic friends, family and colleagues, and to be fair I also discussed it with several Protestant friends, family and colleagues

Without exception, and without any convincing on my part, they all shared the same opinion. 
The image shared in the meme is only idolatry if one actually worships the image, views the image itself as a god. Our world is full of symbols with meaning, this is one of them. None of the people I know worship this symbol, none pray to the crucifix. It is a reminder, a symbol. The crucifix in some churches, the elaborate crosses in others, or the plain wooden crosses in still other churches, all serve as reminders that God so loved the world that He came down in the form of Jesus, His only son. He lived as man, faced and conquered temptation, died on the cross to pay the price for our sins. Well, you know the rest of the story. It is the story of our salvation.

The symbols used by many churches were, and are, often teaching tools. In the early years of the church many people could not read. Hymns, and cantors, were a means of telling the story of Jesus. It was easier to learn the gospel by singing it in familiar hymns, and by repetition. In a similar manner, paintings, carvings, statues helped people to learn and remember the gospels. Even today, when many of us can, and do, read the bible, how can one look at a statue of the crucifixion and not feel deeply moved. How can one look at a statue of Mary cradling the broken body of her son, Jesus, and not feel a surge of compassion for the great sacrifice she also made?

Idolatry does still exist in the world, and it is a sin. It exists in the worship of celebrities, in the worship of money, and in many other areas of our lives. It could also be in religious symbols, for those who don't understand that it is not the symbol itself that is worthy of worship. I pray those cases are rare, and that those people find charitable Christians ready to teach them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Reflections on Conversations Past
1st in a series of posts.

Have you "found Jesus"?

Have you ever heard anyone say "I've found Jesus"? Have you ever said it yourself? Many people, when they return to the church, or to spiritual life say it. Even people who had never lead a religious life, and then had a conversion experience say it. I've said it myself.

Recently, after a move, I've been hearing this statement a lot. It has caused me to reflect on a conversation I had with a friend several years ago. He was talking about a family member who had grown up going to church, and was raised in a family of faith. In young adulthood this family member had left the church, and more importantly had ignored his relationship with God. 

Let's face it, this isn't an uncommon story. Our society is full of temptations and distractions. We place a high value on being popular, on living the good life as depicted by our entertainment industry, our commercialism, our merchandising. Being popular, according to magazine and t.v. ads, movies and television shows, awards shows and music industry seems to require that we wear designer clothes, buy fancy cars, seek a materialistic lifestyle, and attend all the right parties. There are even some instances where drinking and doing drugs is made to seem glamorous. We are human, we all want to be liked, to be loved, it is not so hard to understand the temptation. This, of course, is an oversimplification of societal issues, and their impact on our spiritual and moral compass. I don't propose to solve the great questions of our society, only to express some of my own thoughts and views.

Anyway, back to this family member. For ease of storytelling, I want to give him a name (certainly not his own), so I will call him Jacob. So Jacob, later in life, started to realize that he was not a happy man. All of his pursuit of "fun", all of his possessions, and he was not happy. As he began to reevaluate his life, he came to realize that what he was missing, what he really needed, was God. He returned to church, he began opening his heart to God. He repented, on bended knee. Jacob sought to restore his relationship with God, he started actively learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Jacob started changing his life. Of course, we know it was God who was changing Jacobs life, but God gave each of us the gift of free will and Jacob had to be willing to make the changes.

Today, Jacob is a different man. Through the help of Jesus, Jacob has restored broken relationships with people he loves. He is meeting new people who share his love for Christ. He is living a life of faith. He is continuing to work on becoming a good and faithful servant. Jacob told my friend that his life has completely changed since he "found Jesus". 

I am so happy that Jacob "found Jesus", I am happy whenever anyone "finds Jesus". Jesus will continue to change our lives, He will be with us every moment of every day, He is our salvation.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Every time I recall this conversation, I remember something else my friend said. He smiled with genuine joy that Jacob had "found Jesus" but he was also smiling with amusement. After telling me Jacob's story, my friend told me why he was so amused. He said, "I'm glad he found Jesus, but I didn't know Jesus was lost." 
I had never thought of it that way, but he was right. Jesus is not, nor has He ever been, lost. We are the lost ones when we stray away. He is always there, patiently and lovingly waiting for us to return. He is calling to us, can you hear Him? Sure, it may not be a call like we hear from each other, but He is calling out to us when we stray. I will never again say "I found Jesus". Rather, I will say "I was lost and Jesus found me, He called me back from the dark."

Matthew 18:12 "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?