Archive | December, 2013

Exploring the reality where more than 80% of church members may not be Christians

A long while back I read a Slate article expounding on the conclusions reached in the book Forbidden Fruit, written by a sociology professor and consisting of several comprehensive surveys that were conducted with young adults about their views on sex and religion.  While 80% of teens who identified as evangelicals believed they should wait for sex until marriage, the number who actually put this into practice is a lot smaller.  Only 16% surveyed consider their religious beliefs as extremely important and actually appear to practice what they believe.

Based on what I read, 1 out of 5 evangelical teens don’t even believe sex outside of marriage is wrong.  80% say they do, but roughly 60% of them don’t really have the strength of their convictions.  That leaves only 16% of the demographic of evangelical teens that a truly devout Christian teenager might have anything in common with.

I’m of the view that these numbers probably mirror the state of Christian churches as well.  Imagine picking a church at random and realizing 80% of its members are either apostates or frauds.  To clarify, I regard   You might think you can still find camaraderie within the 20% who take their beliefs seriously, but there’s a caveat to consider here as well: I found when seeking out this 20% they tend to be of the very legalistic sort.  There is a fervor to their beliefs that the rest of the 80% don’t have, but they also exhibit a cold, arrogant, detached personality reminiscent of the ancient Pharisees.  Sadly, I’ve made the mistake of believing these were the real Christians and initially sought their company out in the past, desperate to find people who believed as I did, and perhaps within that circle finding a wife who loved God and sought to live a life pleasing to Him.

Instead I seemed to exist in this weird murky area where I wasn’t sinning enough for the nominal Christians, but I was sinning too much to be accepted by the legalists.  The remnant of believers that I might actually have anything in common with was indeed a lot smaller than the 16% who consider their religion “extremely important,” because it doesn’t screen out for those who take a pharisaical/legalistic  approach to their Christian beliefs.

Note: there’s been some confusion regarding these labels in the comments.  To clarify, I regard hypocrites/frauds as those who pretend to be perfect Christians while either hiding or simply ignoring their sins.  Legalists are those who aren’t so two faced, tend to be more “learned” so to speak, but they lack charity and have a smug sense of self-righteousness.  The real Christians are those who sin, but they acknowledge their sin, and they try to do the best they can to live as holy a life as possible.  They don’t pretend to be perfect, but they strive for it, which is a key difference.

Presuming that most churches have a predominating mix of apostates, frauds and legalists, should I still give it a chance, as long as the preaching itself is good?  It should matter more what’s coming from the pulpit than what the makeup of the congregation is, right?

I have two issues with this: one is that the message from the pulpit tends to define the audience.  People aren’t going to stick around for preaching that pricks them to the heart and convicts them of sin, unless they are willing to lead sincere Christian lives.  More often than not the nature of the congregation will reflect what’s coming from the pulpit.

The second issue has more to do with my introverted (INFJ) personality.  For most people, the disingenuity that exists in many church members is something they can merely observe, but for people like me it’s something that we actually feel.  We don’t merely observe it;  we sense it as well, and with that level of sensitivity comes a great deal of agitation and oppression.  Sitting in for a sermon, I can sense the spiritual wickedness around me in ways that others can’t (others more secular would call it bad energy or vibes).  It is painful to endure and there is no relief from it until I finally leave.

The only exceptions I’ve found was when attending prayer meetings.  I did so a few times at a church boasting over 1,000 members, and while I had no peace sitting in for Sunday sermons, attending the men’s prayer meeting was a different experience.  The nature of these meetings tend to draw the most devout, sincerest Christians from the rest of the congregation, and it was then that I could finally enjoy true fellowship with other believers, even if it was in a limited capacity.  I did find it very telling that despite a church of over 1,000, only 3 people showed up to pray the last time I was there (4 when you include me).

As important as church is, I can’t accept that God would require me to subject myself to agonizing oppression and despair every Sunday just to fulfill my obligations to the body of Christ.  For others this level of spiritual sensitivity is switched off, enabling them to function even in the midst of evil and being in a position to reform the churches from within.  Such does not seem to be the case for me.  That’s why I relate more to John the Baptist and Elijah than I do the likes of Paul, men who dwelled in the wilderness and separated themselves quite physically from the rest of the civilized world.  It was probably the only way they could cope with the wickedness of humanity without going insane.

My experience with prayer meetings makes me wonder if there’s a middle ground to all this that I could pursue instead.  I could attend bible study or prayer meetings rather than participate in Sunday services, though these tend to require you be vouched for by a regular member of the group before joining, which I can understand.  Other times it’s over the top, such as barring people from signing up for ministries to feed the hungry until you’ve been a regular member of the church for at least 6 months.  To set up such roadblocks just to perform charity work is something that’s offended me to no end, and rather than play by those ridiculous rules, I’ve chosen instead to do any charity work independently and directly, without dealing with the oversight of churches and groups I have no reason to trust with my time or money.  Sad, but as I’ve written so many times before: it is what it is.

It’s the little things…

Today is a reminder of why a work from home job would be so glorious. For some odd reason only two of the phones in our office here have an audible ring. The other broke or got static-ky, so before I came in, my thoughtful coworker co-opted my phone and set it to ring audibly. At full volume.

Which I wasn’t aware of until I sat down and it suddenly rang again, making me jump 20 feet up in the air.

We also have an issue of uneven climate control. The section behind us apparently gets too hot and stuffy during the winter, so my coworkers there thoughtfully leave the door between our two sections wide open in order to let outside air in. Except for some reason, the cold draft actually snakes around the hallway and hits my desk at full speed, a slightly unpleasant experience when it’s less than 20 degrees out. So I go up and close the door… and they open it again, then wrap barbed wire around it to keep it open. (!!!) Fortunately I have a bolt cutter, so I just snap that off and close the door, but they must have a supply of it stashed somewhere because it gets rewired again. One of these days I’m going to replace the knob with a lock and throw away the key so it can’t be opened again, but I halfway suspect they have the jaws of life as well and would simply rip the door out permanently, so probably best not to tempt fate.

And so the dance goes…


Ready to throw my Keurig out the window

Remember when I said I finally joined the world of the hoity toity by getting a Keurig machine? Yeah, that might have been a bit premature. I’m already floundering here with the Keurig Vue V500 and wondering if these particular machines really are that sucky, or if I just need to find a different model. The tea was weak, the hot chocolate was AWFUL and a normal coffee brew was just, meh. I also can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that the water tank needs to stay half filled (!!!) for it to even work, meaning I get to pour liters of expensive and unused filtered water into the drain.

Am I missing something here? It seems like this particular model suffers from several design flaws that wasn’t an issue with the previous generation of K-Cup machines, so maybe I need to give those a try instead?

My review of Pukka’s Promise: Interesting read and containing important truths about dog care

Grand Tetons at Sunset

Visiting the Grand Tetons in 2011.

I just finished the book Pukka’s Promise, written by a dog owner in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, whose research on prolonging the lives of dogs literally takes him all over the globe.  In many ways he leads a charmed life, living on the outskirts of Yellowstone Park and enjoying front row views of the Grand Tetons, majestic and towering mountains that pierce the deep blue sky with their curiously jagged appearance.  The kind of life I wish I could someday live, though I would probably prefer to be just a little bit closer to civilization.

The book meanders back and forth between regaling us with anecdotes of his adventures with Pukka (and how he eventually came to find him) and a recounting of interviews with dog experts, touring facilities where dog food are made, visiting shelters, rendering plants, veterinarian hospitals, universities, breeders and more, clearly going above and beyond to sift through and dig out as much knowledge as he could find that could unlock the secrets of how we could increase the lifespan of dogs.

Much of what he concluded mirrored my own thoughts and suspicions regarding some of the myths out there regarding dog care, but it was nice to see my views confirmed by a well studied dog owner who clearly did his homework.

As thick as the book was, the conclusions could actually be condensed to a single paragraph:  choose the parents of the dog you want wisely (by exploring their pedigree and learning about important factors suchs as the coefficient of breeding), keeping the dog away from environmental pollutants (such as PFCs), providing excellent nutrition (a mostly carnivorous diet as natural, low glycemic and grain-free as possible), avoid over-vaccinations, and lastly, look for alternatives to neutering and spaying.

That last point is the one that surprised me, as I always presumed sterilization improved the overall health of dogs and reduces the risk of disease.  As it turns out, the actual truth may be a bit more muddy.  While spaying/neutering reduces the risk of certain cancers relating to the sex organs, it actually increases the risk of other diseases such as hypothyroidism.

It seems the push to neuter/spay dogs is really more about population control than it is about their health.  I always thought neutering/spaying whatever dog I owned would be a given, but now I’m not so sure, especially in light of the fact that there are alternatives to preventing unwanted breeding, such as tubal ligations.  In the case of tubal ligations for female dogs, it is unable to procreate but still retains its sex hormones, hormones that a slowly growing number of studies indicate might actually improve the dog’s overall health.  At the very least, the debate on this wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as I originally thought.

Overall I definitely recommend this book for dog owners, even if the author did have a tendency to anthropomorphize his dog to an almost absurd degree.  Roughly 1/3 of the book revolves around conversations he has with Pukka, and yet as weird as it is, I kinda get it.  Humans are social creatures as well, and even the most introverted of us need to connect with others for the benefit of our health (which means I’m probably not long for this earth).  In the absence of people who are either too incompatible or too busy, I could understand why it would be so easy to fill the void left by the lack of human bonding with the one thing that has all the time in the world for us: dogs.

If I wound up doing the same thing (and let’s not kid ourselves, we all know I will), I’m ok with it, provided that at the end of the day I understand that I am in fact talking to a DOG, and in the best interest of its health it still needs to be treated for what it is.

Taking stock of one’s life

Someone close to me recently endured a horrible and tragic loss.  I try to find the words, something, anything that could help mitigate the pain he must feel.  I don’t know what to do except to continue being a friend, to show through thick and thin that I’ll be there for any support and comfort he needs.  For it to come during this time of year too, there are just…  no words.  I feel helpless, like watching a horrific accident happen and knowing there’s nothing that can be done to stop it, except to pray mightily and believe God will hear and answer it, even if it may not be the answer I’m hoping for.

Life is too short and precious and something I take for granted.  I’ve wasted it obsessing over the small things, ignoring the big things, ignoring moments I should have seized, and letting fear, uncertainty and doubt rule my world.  If I were to die today I would have virtually nothing to show for it.  And how could I die really, if I never lived?

I hope in the new year to come, I learn to value and be a good steward of the life God has given me, to face my fears, and finally break down the walls I’ve erected that have hindered my capacity to love and care for the well-being of others.

So whereas I face this Christmas with a great deal of sadness, I hope from that will come a wellspring of renewed hope, and joy in knowing death for those of us who believe is only the beginning, not the end.

Christmas in Brooklyn? Fuhgetaboutit! #LoveThisCity #CBias

As part of a promotional bit I’m doing for Mastercard’s Priceless (a loyalty program offered exclusively for Mastercard holders), I made a trip into the city during a busy Sunday afternoon just before Christmas.  And by city I mean New York.  And by Sunday I mean last year (this is kind of an old post).

One of the secrets I’ve learned when visiting the city is to hit downtown on Sundays to avoid the crowds.  Downtown includes the financial district which is a veritable ghost town during the weekends, making me feel like I have the city all to myself.  It’s one of my favorite places to go then, particularly because I’m right near the waterfront, affording me gorgeous views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River.

It’s probably for these reasons that I always tend to gravitate towards going downtown instead of hitting up Times Square or Central Park.  There’s also another reason though.  How many of you have ever seen those gorgeous photos of the Manhattan skyline that includes all of downtown plus the Statue of Liberty?  Ever wonder what vantage point these photos were being taken from?  It should have been obvious to me, but for the longest time it never occurred to me that they were being taken from the Brooklyn side of the East River, until one day when I stumbled onto Brooklyn’s Promenade and saw it for myself.

Brooklyn Promenade and Fence

It only took me 30 years to find this place.

After downtown, this is probably the best place to go during the evenings.  My general routine is to either drive or take public transit to the financial district, then walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to visit the Promenade.  They are still renovating this area to convert it into a full fledged city park, but most of the grounds are accessible and includes one of my favorite ice cream haunts (The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory), along with plenty of eateries to choose from (and of course, what else, Starbucks).  The famous Grimaldi’s is also right here if you’re in the need for some touristy trappy Brooklyn pizza, and finally the River Cafe, one of those places you only eat at if you’re looking to propose to someone (because the food is going to cost you almost as much as the diamond ring will).

If I’m here, I usually wait for the sun to go down and I’m eventually rewarded with the kind of Christmas lights you can enjoy all year long:

Manhattan Skyline

Very Christmas-y… #LoveThisCity

So how does Mastercard fit in?  They have an attractive loyalty program called Priceless that offers generous discounts (and sometimes freebies) for travel oriented cardholders, usually tailored for those visiting or frequenting major cities.  Though I usually check out the offers for New York, they also have intriguing offers in Chicago and Los Angeles as well (with more cities on the way, including international.)

Ice Cream is the new health food sign


Some of the offers look pretty generous too, with my favorite being the cupcakes deal.  (Don’t hate.)  I’ve always liked these kind of discounts, and while they tend to be oriented towards business travelers, it’s still basically taking luxury items or services and price breaking them to make them more affordable for those of us in the lower upper middle class traveling on our dime.

Brooklyn Bridge and Lights at Night

The costs to dine at River Cafe here: $200+. The cost to enjoy the this view: PRICELESS

Thanks for reading.  Remember, if you ever visit New York and you want to see the best possible view of Manhattan’s skyline, the Brooklyn Promenade is where you need to be.

Disclosure:  I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias®  and MasterCard #CBias #SocialFabric #LoveThisCity

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