The Mountain No One Can Climb

Tibet's Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage site for four different religions. Photo by Wikipedia user Heringf

Tibet’s Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage site for four different religions. Photo by Wikipedia user Heringf

Many of us are familiar with the stirring tune “Climb Every Mountain” from the musical The Sound of Music and its repeated insistence that we shy away from no hilly obstacle. But were you to take the lyrics of this song not as a heartwarming metaphor, but rather as a literal requirement, you would find yourself sadly coming up short. For on planet earth today, there is one mountain that it is not possible for you to climb, and it has nothing to do with your physical capabilities.

Central Asia is home to the world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalayas, which run through multiple countries. They present an incredible challenge to the world’s mountaineers, but even the tallest peak, Mount Everest, has long since been conquered. However, in the region of Tibet within China (I should mention that Tibetans dispute that they should be part of China), just north of the Himalayas, lies one particular mountain that is different from all the rest. If you were to ask permission from the Chinese government to climb it, they would deny your request. At no point in modern history has a person ever reached its summit. Continue reading

Scatter Plot: When Sheep are separated from their Shepherds

Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 AD, early Christian catacomb of Domitilla

Early Christian artwork depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd from the Catacombs of Callixtus in Rome. (circa 200-300 A.D./C.E.)

One of the metaphors that tends to be used over and over again in scripture is that of a shepherd and his sheep. From the words of the 23rd Psalm, which many Christians can quote from memory, to Jesus’ statement that he is the “Good Shepherd”, pastoral imagery is very common throughout the 66 books of the Bible. This makes sense, since ancient Israel was a society that raised a lot of sheep. Indeed, you can still find sheep being raised there today.

As described in the New Testament, Christ is the chief shepherd, the head of the Church, and all believers are sheep. This is not meant to be a particularly favorable comparison, as sheep are rather dumb animals. They need their shepherd to guide them everywhere and keep them out of trouble, providing them with food and protecting them from threats. This is the role that Christ plays for the Church. Continue reading

The Greatest of These

Couple_holding_hands_in_Kauai_(7635480262)

Flickr photo by Christopher Michel

It seems ironic that the lives of the 20th century’s two most beloved theologians – C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – should have been so marked by tragedy.  Then again, perhaps it makes perfect sense.  Undoubtedly, it is part of the reason why their stories continue to captivate us.  One cut down in the flower of youth by a tyrannical Nazi regime (Bonhoeffer); one forced to endure the wrenching heartache of personal loss  when his wife died of cancer (Lewis).  Surely it informed their theology, but I would rather say that their passage of these two tests lends truth to the words they have spoken. Continue reading

Aliens and Strangers

The surface of Mars as seen by the Mars Pathfinder vessel. Official NASA photo

The surface of Mars as seen by the Mars Pathfinder vessel. Official NASA photo

I will come right out and admit it: I am not an expert when it comes to scientific topics. I took all the science courses that I needed to in order to graduate from high school and get my college degree, and I got decent grades in all of them, but that should not be confused with the kind of serious credentials required to speak authoritatively on scientific issues. Nevertheless, I have found that the older I get, the more I tend to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, and by that I mean the entire universe.

One day, when my brain decided to make such a diversion from the “right side” to the “left side”, I found myself contemplating the possibility of alien life, as in life that exists in the universe but not on planet earth. It was then that I thought to ask my husband the question, “If alien life was discovered on another planet, would it make you doubt your Christian faith?” Continue reading

Are Allah and Yahweh the Same?

Allah medallion Hagia Sophia Wikipedia Adam Kliczek

The name Allah appears form on this medallion inside the Hagia Sophia mosque/church/museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Wikipedia user Adam Kliczek (CC-BY SA 3.0)

Today, I want to address a question which I have often heard put to myself or others, one that seems to cut to the heart of the world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam.

Is Allah the same as Yahweh?

Allah, the God to whom Muslims pray five times a day, whom they hold as the only true God, and around whom their religious lives are centered.  Yahweh, the God of the ancient Israelites whose name is spelled with the consonants YHWH in Hebrew.  Are these two supreme beings one and the same? Continue reading

Happy Reformation Day!

Wittenberg All Saints Church, The Theses Doors, Wiki AlterVista

The “Theses Doors” at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther purportedly nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on October 31, 1517. Photo by Wikipedia user AlterVista

It is October 31st, a day which in the United States is associated with Halloween, a celebration that mostly involves dressing up, pigging out on candy, and covering the neighbor’s yard with toilet paper and smashed pumpkins.  However, did you also know that October 31st is Reformation Day?  What is Reformation Day?  Allow me to explain…

Nearly half a millennium ago, on October 31, 1517, a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg in Germany drafted an announcement of an upcoming university debate and posted it to the door of the local church, which in those days served as a kind of town message board. This is the kind of everyday occurrence that normally gets ignored by historians, except that the man’s name was Martin Luther and his announcement contained a list of “Ninety-Five Theses” that laid out what he believed were necessary reforms in the Catholic Church. As it turns out, the typical story of Luther authoritatively attaching his list of demands to the church door is likely apocryphal and based mostly on the account of his friend Philip Melanchthon, who may or may not have actually been in town at the time the event was supposed to have occurred. Continue reading

Two Overlooked Biblical Heroes

Martha and Mary Magdalene, 1598, Carvaggio

“Martha and Mary Magdalene”, circa 1598, by Michelangelo da Carvaggio

 

Both Martha and Thomas are often viewed negatively by Christians, but when we look at their lives more comprehensively, there is a lot to be admired.

For those of us who have grown up in a Christian family, Bible stories have been drilled into us from birth.   Children’s Sunday school classes are often filled with a colorful cast of biblical characters who become examples of virtue and vice.  These stories, brought to us in full-color flannelgraph (the prime storytelling medium for evangelical Christian children prior to the advent of Veggie Tales), introduced us to heroes such as Joseph, Moses, David, Esther (her story doesn’t mention God by name but is still much beloved for its entertainment value, practical lessons, and female protagonist), and Daniel.  They also brought us a wide array of villains: Pharaoh, Goliath, Ahab, Judas, etc.

These Bible stories can be a double-edged sword for the people included in the narrative.  Only a small portion of a person’s life is actually recorded in scripture, with the majority happening “off stage”.  However, since we are talking about the Word of God, whatever details show up in the text are sure to be highly valued and endlessly repeated.  It could be that your best day gets immortalized, but it is also possible that the biggest mistake of your life will be the thing for which you are forever remembered. Continue reading

The Hard Life of an American Christian

Photo by Flickr user Flickmor

Photo by Flickr user Flickmor

When we recently began a study of the book of Esther at my church, our pastor attempted to make a connection between his audience and the characters in the story by using a couple of rhetorical questions.  First, he asked us if we could identify with living in the capitol city of the world’s superpower.  Since our church is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., the answer was obviously “yes”.  Second, he asked if we could identify with being a persecuted religious minority, to which there were several nodded heads and muted grunts of agreement.

Except for me, of course.  Sitting there in my seat, I said, “No.”  It wasn’t loud enough for anyone but my husband to hear, but still I said it.  Why?  Because as a member of an evangelical Christian church in America, I do not feel like a persecuted religious minority: not even close. Continue reading

Thank God Heaven Is Not Like America

NYC 165

The Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants to New York City and the United States.

Right now, you are probably attempting to guess just how I am going to favorably compare Heaven to America.  Which aspect of American society am I going to say is too sinful, too unfair, or too degraded to measure up?  Or could I perhaps be going a more ironic route, venting my frustration about the current trends of reality television, blood-constricting pants, or “twerking” that I happen to believe will not be present in the great beyond?

Well, let me first say that this is not a plea for my life to be free of Miley Cyrus: a Google Chrome extension has already been created that will go a long way toward achieving that goal.  Neither am I going to be complaining about the uptick in gay marriages, the inability of any of our politicians to get along with the other children in the sandbox, or the state of the roads in Michigan (which are paved with anything but gold).  No, what I intend to talk about is immigration. Continue reading

Can Christians “Get Lucky”?

Kok Leng Yeo

The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) is thought to bring good luck in Japan. Photo by Kok Leng Yeo

Have you been suffering recently from friggatriskaidekaphobia?  Or perhaps I should refer to it as paraskevidekatriaphobia, the other name by which it is commonly known?  Of course, in this case, the word “commonly” means “those who spend too much time reading Wikipedia”, which I’m sorry to say includes myself.

For those who lead a more balanced life when it comes to Internet usage, I can tell you that both terms refer to the fear of Friday the 13th, that most unlucky of days.  Have you ever wondered why this day is considered to be unlucky?  I did, which was why I looked it up on Wikipedia, and here is what I discovered. Continue reading