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Monday, June 25, 2018

I can no longer sit quietly by.

I should never have in the first place, as it is not like me.

I haven't written here in a long time. Not since graduating with my Religious Studies degree, it seems. I think I was burned out. And, the election burned me out further. My stress levels rose to a place where I needed to step back and take care of myself for a while. I'm in a much better place now and with what is happening in the US right now (and abroad, but I can speak more to what I know than don't know), I can no longer sit quietly by.

Part of what helped me sit idly by for a while was the fact that I don't watch TV. I canceled cable. The only news I really see is what comes across my Facebook. And, well... I had started all but ignoring my Facebook because I found it exhausting. But, for business reasons, I had to go back in to my Facebook. I was bombarded with news. News I couldn't believe. What? How is this happening? Even less than a month ago, I received a call from ICE to question the where-abouts of my fiance (who apparently was sitting with the agent at the time). This is not ok. What is happening at the border is not ok. There is so much going on right now that is not ok.

So, I've given myself a task of educating myself more on things like Nazi Germany, Fascism, Tyranny, etc. You will see a shift from my usual religion-related posts to pots relating to current events/political philosophy. I can't promise I'll be completely objective, but I will try to remember my academic training. I will strive to use sources that are least biased. And, if I can't I will try to use articles from each side.

I would love it if you will journey with me and promote some intellectual discussions, even debate. I will not, however, tolerate insult trading and otherwise childish comments. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No More Turning Away

In celebration of my upcoming graduation this Sunday, I've decided to post something a little different than what I normally do - something a bit "fun". This is a creative writing piece I wrote for my Judaism class (2/9/2014). It's not about Judaism in the least, but is about how a group of people might create a religion from some text (or other media) that people find after a major (world-wide) catastrophe. In my piece, I chose the album, "Momentary Lapse of Reason" by Pink Floyd as the "sacred text". Enjoy!

To our most honored elders,
I am writing to tell you of our most important discovery in the old city, one which we think will help with understanding our past and assist with organizing our future.
We uncovered an ancient text in the ruins of the old city, but it is more than just a text, it seems to be lyrics set to music. From what we can tell, this ancient volume was written by a man named Pink Floyd. We don’t know anything about this man, as we only have his writings and the music left behind. We were able to find a way to listen to the large black disk that someone in our group believes is called an “album”. The music was very interesting and the words gave us much to ponder. We spent many hours listening to this album, trying to decipher its meaning. Not all of us agreed as to the meaning of the words, but we were able to come to a general consensus. Once we reached our consensus, it became clear to us that this album holds the key to establishing order in our community and will lead our people to live fundamentally good lives. Herein you will find our interpretation of the words and how we believe they will help us to rebuild our nation on the foundation of our ancestors.
The album discusses what life is like when we turn away from each other, whether from hate, anger, greed, control, or simple apathy. The world that arises from such dysfunction toward our human brethren is the kind that led to our ancestor’s destruction. “Dogs of War” are warned against:
“Dogs of war and men of hate
With no cause, we don't discriminate
Discovery is to be disowned
Our currency is flesh and bone

Hell opened up and put on sale
Gather 'round and haggle
For hard cash, we will lie and deceive
Even our masters don't know the webs we weave”

These Dogs refer not to our canine companions, but greedy individuals that think only of themselves and care not how they treat their fellow man or the earth we live on. I have no doubt it is because of these Dogs that we are still digging out of the ruins of past wars and environmental anguish. Rather than be such Dogs, we are told to avoid turning away from the problems of others. We are told to end apathy and ignorance and reach out and help our fellow man and to live together in a sustainable world that we must share:
“No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away from the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It's not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there'll be
No more turning away?”
            In order to accomplish such a peaceful existence, we must believe in our oneness – with our Master, with our Earth, and with each other, as it says in the album, “One world, one soul.” We must also create a life for our people that will help them to recognize this oneness and focus on it, lest they forget and become Dogs. This life must include meditation upon the music and lyrics of the hymns of this album. They must reflect on the words and what has happened before us when men became Dogs of war. They should meditate on the meanings of these words at least once a day, so as to not forget the message, as it says in the album:
“The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land
Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky
A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers
But awakes to a morning with no reason for waking
He's haunted by the memory of a lost paradise.”

We will disseminate copies of the words of the album as soon as we can ready them, first to neighborhood leaders, and later to householders. Until we can replicate the music on the album, we will play it in the main hall of our city throughout the day for any who wish to meditate and or sing to the music (how much better to memorize the words than by learning to sing them?), which is the preferred method. Once copies of the music have been made or musicians have been trained to play, we will send them out among the neighborhoods for the good of our people. We will ask that the people contribute to this effort by helping feed and house the wandering musicians and to send those from their households to learn from this council.
Ritual of meditation will not be enough. Our people must also put the message of love, compassion, and oneness into action. Once a week, we will enjoy community meals together to bring us closer as a people. People should bring what they can to share with their neighbors. Of course we will ask that their actions be voluntary, but we will provide laws in an effort to prevent any from transgressing.
Laws will attempt to prevent Dogs from gaining strength in our nation. The ideal that will back these laws is: do no harm. Anyone who purposely harms their fellow man or the earth will be penalized, so as to discourage this kind of cruelty. If they become greedy, they will lose what they gained through their manipulations. They will be humbled and sentenced to care for others and/or the earth. They will be humbled and brought back to oneness through this system. Greed is the root to many evils. Quenching desire is not an easy task. But with guidance from our Master, we will teach the people of our nation to put goodwill first and desire instead of self-reward, self-constraint. We want our people to understand it only takes only one slip to start becoming a Dog of war, as it says in the album,
“Then drowned in desire, our souls on fire
I lead the way to the funeral pyre
And without a thought of the consequence
I gave in to my decadence.”

Speaking of our Master, it is right and good that we reorient our attention to the sky, as it is apparent our ancestors did before us. We need a Navigator to help guide us. We don’t want to be like the person talked about in the hymn, “Learning to Fly” by forgetting our Master, thinking we know it all and don’t need his help. Perhaps in addition to meditating on the hymns of this album, we need to help our people get in touch with the Navigator of our lives, our Master, again. We need to teach them to spend time in wonder of the skies and help them to get in touch with the eternal one we share a soul with. We should set aside time at the hall to begin teaching about the Master and help the people to understand how our ancestors came to their ruin by thinking they didn’t need the Navigator anymore.
Lastly, and I saved this part for last because it is what we feel is very important, as it is from the words at the very beginning of the album. We must look to our children to understand how we should be viewing the world, lest we fall back into the ways that led to the wars of ruin:
“When the child like view of the world went,
Nothing replaced it... Nothing replaced it... Nothing replaced it...
Other people replaced it.
I do not like being asked to... I do not like being asked to... I do not like being asked to...
Other people replaced it,
Someone who knows what's right.”

We believe this is prophecy that speaks of how our ancestors would forgot to maintain a childlike view of the world, one of wonder, of love, of oneness, and fall into ruin because greed and hate would take over. Yet one day, our Master would guide a people – us – to set things right, even if it seems difficult. We believe it is our duty to keep peace and oneness in the world and by the words of this album and with help from our Navigator, we will succeed.
May the Master Navigator guide us.
Elizabeth and the Council for Peace


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Religious Roots: My Religious Identity as Formed in The Religious Atmosphere of America

Originally written for my Religion in America course at MSU in November, 2013.
*Names and places have been changed to protect my family.

              Our communities – especially our families – have a great influence on how we think and believe, as as they are the ones who raise us and teach us, either by words or example. Sometimes the family influence is enough that the child follows in the footsteps of the parent, and sometimes it is enough that they choose another path. Sometimes, as in my case, they allow for an exploration of ideas and beliefs which allows the child to choose without forsaking the past. Although our parents and close family members (and friends) influence our ideas and beliefs, the world around us and current events also can have a great effect. Such events can also steer us towards or away from a belief or religion. 
                Although I found that there I might have ancestral ties to the German Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, not much is well known by my parents about where their ancestors' beliefs came, how strong they were, or how they practiced those beliefs. Thus, I will start my religious history with what they do know first-hand – their parents.       
    On my father’s side, my grandfather, Carl*, came from a Roman Catholic German line that was only two generations removed from Germany. My grandmother, Virginia*, was from a Methodist family that had several generations of roots in America. These two families mixed because my grandmother had a difficult time with her mother and wanted nothing more than to irritate her. Virginia was top in her class, but desperately wanted to get away from her home. So, she set her eyes on the “Fonzie” of her class, my grandfather. Carl was the bad boy that perfectly irritated Virginia's mother. They dated and when my grandmother found that she was with child, they had a shotgun marriage. They married at the clerk’s office, as my grandmother had no intention of converting to Roman Catholicism.  My grandfather was a trucker and spent many days on the road. As such, and perhaps for other reasons, he was a non-practicing Catholic that smoked, drank, and womanized. It wasn't until he fell ill with Leukemia later in life that he slowed down and started wanting a more spiritual life. My grandmother ultimately had an influence on him with her regular church attendance and her nightly bible reading (not to mention the car and kitchen radios were always dialed to Christian stations). Three years before he passed away he joined the church that Virginia belonged to – but it wasn't a Methodist church.
               Later in her adult life, my grandmother took a path away from the Methodist church, and onto one of non-denominational Christianity by joining a Church of Christ in Ohio.  It was my father, David*, who was the driving force behind that change. David had become involved in the One Way Crusades, a spiritual Christian movement that was part of the nationwide Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s[1], in their hometown of Swanton*, Ohio. He was inspired by the movement and joined the Church of Christ[2]. David's enthusiasm inspired his mother, my grandmother (Virginia), to leave her family church and also become a member of the Church of Christ (which my grandfather later joined before his death). It was because of my fathers involvement with this American spiritual revitalization movement that my grandmother became more religious and conservative[3] in her beliefs. My father’s religious influence didn't end with my grandmother.
                David had been attending Toledo University, studying to become an engineer, when he broke his finger in a machine at the wire factory at which he worked, impeding his ability to complete his homework and engineering drawings in an acceptable manner. It was because of this event and his involvement in the One Way Crusades that the members of the church convinced him (with financial support) to attend Great Lakes Bible College in Lansing, Michigan with the purpose of becoming a preacher[4]. My father needed some time to reflect on his beliefs, so saw this opportunity as perfect for him and gave him a potential future, where it looked like his future in engineering had ended.  And then he met my mother.            
    Denise*, my mother, was the daughter of parents that were both born and raised Episcopalian. My grandfather, William*, was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to an Episcopalian family. He met and married my Grandmother, Millie*, when he was stationed abroad in England in 1948. They were married at the registrar’s office, much like my parental grandparents, but for vastly different reasons. Both William and Millie were Episcopalian[5], but the Episcopal Church required a “calling of the banns” for five weeks before a marriage can be officiated in the church. William was to be heading back home to America a week after having met Millie and didn't want to leave without her, so they skipped the traditional wedding.
                Once my maternal grandparents were in the states and they both attended Episcopal Churches regularly and even helped build an Episcopal Church in Lansing, Michigan. They raised my mother, Denise, Episcopalian as well. Like many teens in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Denise was very rebellious; she was a true “hippy”. She turned rebellious in part because of her father’s alcohol use and its influence on her and in part because of a horrid experience she had at the hands of her date when she was 14 – she was raped, not once, but twice by the same young man. (Many people might not realize it, but statistics show that date rape is not a rare event for teenage girls, and it often goes unreported - please see this link for stats on teen violence, including rape). That experience threw my mother into a tail-spin that led to drugs, alcohol, car theft, and even the circus. It also caused her to stop believing in a God and stop attending church with her parents. It wasn't until after she met my father that she returned to church.
                My Parents met on the campus of Great Lakes Bible College in Lansing, Michigan, as it was situated close to my maternal grandparents’ home. Denise and David met while my mom was skipping her high school classes and hanging out on the college campus. My father was still a “Jesus freak”[6] and my mother was still very rebellious and still questioning the existence of God. She started accompanying my father to various Christian activities that he took part in at the college, and with His House Ministries, including handing out Bibles in downtown Lansing. Originally, she participated because she wanted to impress David, and may have even been baptized at the Church of Christ simply because she became engaged to my father, as she had already been baptized in the Episcopal Church. However it started, being around my father and his faith helped her faith in God and Jesus regrow.  After their wedding in the Episcopal Church (as is the tradition for women in my family - we've all been married there), they moved to Ohio, where my dad had already found a job. There, they regularly attended the Church of Christ.
                While in Ohio, as young newlyweds, money was extremely tight for my parents. They became extremely upset with the Church of Christ because when they needed help the most, the church virtually ignored them except ask for tithes. They had no phone, no heat, and no groceries and had specifically asked the church for help in such difficult times. Instead of helping, the only time the church took any interest in my parents, now that David was no longer pursuing a career as a pastor, was to visit them in their trailer to ask them how much they would be tithing. In 1975, my parents were living in Wauseon, Ohio, where they had met and made friends with their neighbors, who eventually introduced them to a man and house “church” that directly changed the way my parents viewed church and religion thereafter. That man was Bill Hinkle.
                Bill Hinkle was a “born again”, fundamentalist, evangelical Christian that had found God while in prison. From the stories my parents tell, he was very charismatic and manipulative, much like the now infamous Jim Jones. Originally, my parents enjoyed their new church and new friends. They enjoyed the fellowship that they found and felt that they belonged. They really enjoyed feeling like part of a family, since they already had their own dreams of communal living, as were prominent in the 1970s[7]. Over time, things changed in a very negative way and they found out what this "church" was really about. Hinkle taught that husbands were to be obeyed by their wives, and that the men must beat and/or rape their wives into submission, if necessary. The threat of violence and rape was frequently used to control the group[8]. After becoming part of Hinkle’s group, my father started hitting my mother. He did this even while knowing in his heart it was wrong, as he often challenged Hinkle on his teachings and didn't really want to be a part of that church, but had gone along for my mother (she desperately needed to "belong"). He didn't even protect her from Hinkle’s threats and the groups’ attacks. When they look back on it now, they realize how young, na├»ve, and needy[9] they were to have been suck into such a “cult”, as they call it.
                After about a year of the new house church and realizing that things were only getting worse in the group and in their own marriage from the violence and abuse, my mother finally decided to get out and even left my father in the process. She escaped back to Lansing with her parents, where she received death threats as well as other threats of violence and rape from Hinkle if she didn't return to the Church. In the meantime, my father also received threats from the group, as well as admonishment for “losing control of his wife”. He did not go back to the Church while my mother was gone, and together, they never went back when she returned to my father a week later. A month later, they decided to leave for Lansing to start anew and get a clean break from Hinkle and his crew.
                Once in Lansing, my parents tried attending a Church of Christ, but my mother had developed a fear of church at this point. So, the pastor of the church came to their house and counseled my mother. From there on, my parents were in and out of different churches because it seemed that every new one they joined, some political issue or scandal would develop within the church and the church would fail. On top of that, my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and attending church while he was in the hospital was nearly impossible for my parents. They eventually decided that they believed that God was everywhere and they didn't need a church to be believers, or even to hold communion. To them, “church” became everywhere and anywhere[10], but “organized church” became nothing but dirty words[11].  For years they were holiday Episcopalians, returning to the church of Denise’s youth, but eventually, they decided that they preferred church from the couch during the rise of televangelism (such as the Hour of Power - Crystal Cathedral) until even that church failed (although it has since been resurrected by Bobby Schuller). Now they are content to believe in God and the Bible, but have no use for the walls of an organized church. This was the environment and the beliefs around which I was raised.
                Because we didn't attend church regularly and church was not a focus of our lives, Christianity for me was always more of a way of life than adherence to a particular doctrine. I mostly attended church with either of my grandmothers and that is where most of my childhood religious instruction took place, with the exception of lessons of faith from my parents.
My grandmother’s (Virginia) church was rather conservative, as Churches of Christ were known for[12] and they didn't like to have children at mass, so I didn't get much from going there, except the feeling that I wasn't wanted. My nana’s (Millie) church was the opposite[13] and I enjoyed going with her. I liked going because I liked to hear the sermon and the stories from the bible. I could always find some way that they were speaking to me. I often thought of Jesus, as I stared up at the crucifixion statue in front of us on the wall. I often thought of what it must have been like to be him; how he was so strong and courageous. I suppose that he was a hero to me. Someone to look up to, to want to be like, but I couldn't worship him like the others did. I honored him, but I usually saved my worship for God. That was where I started to get off track with the rest of my family and with other Christians. I questioned the idea of Christ as God incarnate and as the only son of God. I felt we were all God’s children in a way, that without God, we couldn't exist. I also had a hard time thinking of God as a man. For me, God was this big unexplainable mystery. Although I didn't believe in Jesus as God, I still asked to be baptized "in the name of God" in my early 20s. I believed it was an outward sign of an inward love and I do not regret that decision.
                While I was being counselled before my baptism (as required in the Episcopal church for adult baptism), my priest and I would have wonderful discussions and he seemed very understanding and patient with my questions and challenges. However, it was because of these same questions that I typically wasn't allowed to participate in bible study groups. My priest once confided in me that although he appreciated my curiosity and the way my brain worked, that some, if not many, members of the congregation would be upset by it. I was even banned from my grandmother's adult bible study when I was only a teenager. This refusal to allow questions about what we were being taught didn't dissuade me - it only encouraged me to question things even more.
                 Sometime around 2007-8 I talked to the priest of the Episcopal church my husband and I had moved to because I wanted to ask how we know if we are being called by God (Yes, I believe I received such a call, although I didn't understand it). He suggested I needed professional help, at which point I asked why he was a priest because I didn't sense that he had a calling like the priest of my youth did. After he confided that he chose the cloth as a vocation, not from a calling, and because of how he insulted me, my husband and I decided not to return. Our issue was not with the Episcopal church, but the leader of this particular church.  
Despite the fear of house churches that had been instilled in me from my parents, I felt drawn to a local house church called Journey. I made my husband go with me, as I was nervous about it. He liked it so much, that he asked to be baptized the second time we went. I liked the way in which the church was run, as it allowed many questions from the congregation. Everyone was considered congregate and preacher and the idea was to try to be more like the proto-Christians of the 1st century. Still, I sensed that over time they were getting annoyed with my thoughts and questions, which were still very different from the rest. My husband and I also started having marital problems as I became very ill with Fibromyalgia, and just getting to church became practically impossible for me. I became disillusioned with the new group as they didn't seem to notice that I was missing or try to reach me when I couldn't leave my bed.
In order to reach others while I was bedridden, I turned to the computer and online communities. It was there that I was introduced to a new path. I met someone in a chat room and immediately jumped into my favorite topic: spirituality. We discussed how we believed in our own spirituality and discussed God. I found myself agreeing with everything he was saying, which I found intriguing because I was never a traditional Christian and would often come across some things to disagree on. In the course of our conversation, I asked him, finally, what his faith was. I was surprised when he said he was Muslim. This statement took me aback because Islam was essentially foreign to me.
Since the beginning of 2006, I had read about many religions and mythologies around the globe (because of that "calling" I believe I received), yet Islam was something I knew very little about, with the exception of what was given to us via the news media (which I never quite believed). It was interesting to me that I met this individual, because I was indeed already interested in learning more about Islam. I was frustrated that I didn't know much about this religion that was the second most popular in the world. In fact, the previous Christmas I had even asked for an English translation of the Qur’an for Christmas. My parents laughed at my request though, saying that it was “probably sacrilegious” to purchase it for me. Needless to say, I didn't receive it.
After my meeting with this individual online, I decided it was time for me to purchase the Qur’an and read it for myself.  I found by reading the Qur'an that Islam is much like Christianity. The differences are few, but major. The same things I questioned as a child and young woman were explained in the Qur’an in a way that made sense to me. I was finding myself reading what I already believed. For the most part, Islam was very easy for me to accept. In fact, I believe I accepted it by the time I finished reading the Qur'an the first time. It took me a while before I “officially” accepted Islam by saying shahada with friends. My hesitation was not so much about the faith but about social acceptance, as I knew that Muslims were frequently discriminated against in America[14], and I happened to live in a very rural, white, Christian area. After a time though, I decided that I believed what I believed and social acceptance or lack thereof wasn't going to change that. I did, however, run into such discrimination in the court system when my (now) ex-husband petitioned the court for full custody, citing my conversion as one of the reasons the children should be removed from me. The referee originally granted his request and made several negative comments about Islam in court while defending his opinion. Thankfully, the judge overturned his ruling and we maintained the joint custody arrangement that we were already operating under. 
Even with Islam, I question things. For me, if it doesn't make sense, or if I don’t understand it, then I need to find out why. One thing I like about Islam is the fact that I am told to use the brain God gave me. I am sure that my experience growing up being told not to question things led me to appreciating this aspect a lot.
When my parents found out I converted, they were understandably confused and upset, but over time my parents, friends, and family saw that I was the same person I had always been. (Interestingly, one person who gave me his support from the first was the priest from my youth, who I still refer to as my priest - he said it didn't surprise him that I had accepted Islam). I’m still a loudmouthed, opinionated, liberal woman (I do tend to get a lot of flak from the Muslim community for this fact, but have found refuge in a group called Muslims for Progressive Values[15]).
In conclusion, I can honestly say that my parent’s beliefs and experiences with church has directly influenced me – not to cause me to join or avoid any particular religion, but instead to explore and find what suited me best.  I can definitely say that I believe in God much because of my parents’ faith, but the looseness of structure about that belief is what allowed me to question and seek.

Bibliography

Allen, Tracy. "Bell-Bottoms + Bible = Jesus Freak." The Jesus Movement of the 70s. 2006. http://www.icyte.com/system/snapshots/fs1/2/8/4/0/2840404a2ebe3a3a1c6cfc183fa3b3c4b7105c74/index.html (accessed November 9, 2013).
Chryssides, George. Exploring New Religions. London: Continuum International Publishing, 1999.
Lewis, James R. Cults: A Reference Handbook, 2nd Ed. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005.
Lippy, Charles H., and Peter W. Williams, . "Churches of Christ." Encyclopedia of Religion in America. 2010. http://library.cqpress.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/era/encyra_460.1 (accessed November 11, 2013).
Lippy, Charles H., and Peter W. Williams, . "Episcopalians: Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries." Encyclopedia of Religion in America. 2010. http://library.cqpress.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/era/encyra_745.1 (accessed November 9, 2013).
Lippy, Charles H., and Peter W. Williams, . "Islam in North America." Encyclopedia of Religion in America. 2010. http://library.cqpress.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/era/encyra_1083.2 (accessed November 9, 2013).
Lippy, Charles H., and Peter W. Williams, . "New Religious Movements: Twentieth Century." Encyclopedia of Religion in America. 2010. http://library.cqpress.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/era/encyra_1584.1. (accessed November 9, 2013).
Lippy, Charles H., and Peter W. Williams, . "Spirituality." Encyclopedia of Religion in America. 2010. http://library.cqpress.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/era/encyra_2139.1. (accessed November 9, 2013).
Magee, Malcom. "REL 220 Lecture." East Lansing, September 4, 2013.
MPV USA. Muslims for Progessive Values: Our Principles. 2012. http://mpvusa.org/our-principles/ (accessed November 9, 2013).



[1] “The Jesus Movement is classically characterized by long hair, bell bottom wearing, tract delivering, finger to the sky pointing, Christian young adults on the late 1960’s and 70’s.” (Allen 2006)
[2] “The 1950s and 1960s were particularly heady days for the Churches of Christ. They enjoyed an explosion in numbers” (Churches of Christ 2010)
[3] “a conservative denomination” (Churches of Christ 2010)
[4] “To answer the call for additional ministers” (Churches of Christ 2010)
[5] Anglo-Catholics marrying their own: this is reminiscent of how the English settlers also married their own, rather than mixing with the natives or other protestant settlers. (Magee 2013)
[6] (Chryssides 1999)
[7] (New Religious Movements: Twentieth Century. 2010)
[8] Brainwashing (Lewis 2005)
[9] Young, needy, and disillusioned people were/are often the victims of such cults in America.  (New Religious Movements: Twentieth Century. 2010)
[10] This was a sentiment that was common among spiritualists of the time. (Spirituality 2010)
[11] As was the sentiment of many who have left such cult situations. They became part of the Anti-cult movements of the time. (New Religious Movements: Twentieth Century. 2010)
[12] “a conservative denomination” (Churches of Christ 2010)
[13] “Beginning in the 1950s efforts to link social justice and spiritual reform would diverge as liberal and conservative factions in the church hardened.” (Episcopalians: Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries 2010) – The Episcopal church I grew up in tended to be more liberal.
[14] “Muslims have long faced misunderstanding of and discrimination for their religious beliefs” (Islam in North America 2010)
[15] MPV is a minority group of Muslims that is very inclusive. They include Sunni, Shi’a, Quranists, Sufi, etc. and recognize the LGBT community. (MPV USA 2012)

Click link for photo credit: 
Baptism

A special thanks for all who have stuck by me and chose to love me and try to understand me instead of casting me aside, especially my mom and dad, whom I would be lost without. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Fascinating Journey

A review of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture by Randall Balmer

When I first found out that we were assigned to read MineEyes Have Seen the Glory, I expected it to be reminiscent of Salvation onSand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia that I read in an earlier course. In one way, it was: I found it fascinating. I found myself scribbling down the margins, underlining phrase after phrase and circling words. I thought I knew what there was to know about evangelicals – or at least how to spot them – but I found out that there is more variety to this group of people than I gave them credit for. It is for this very reason that Randall Balmer set out to research for this book – to show the variations that exist within the subculture of evangelicalism that many (like me) thought was monolithic[1]. Although he succeeds in painting a general picture of evangelicals by pointing out similarities that can typically be found across the board[2], he was successful in demonstrating the variety among them as well.
            I learned that although it was typical for evangelicals to be bible thumpers – those who place a huge emphasis on following scripture and the belief that the Bible is infallible – (as I believed they were), that not all believe that the bible is free from errors. Certainly the more fundamental groups – the majority – did, but not all. It reminded me that there are always exceptions. To demonstrate this point, Balmer focused on Douglas Frank[3] in chapter fourteen.
            I was also surprised to learn that some Episcopal churches are evangelical as well. Having grown up Episcopalian, I would never have considered Episcopalians as part of the evangelical subculture – mostly because I was hounded by a few evangelicals who thought so differently than me and because it was so different from my grandmother’s church, which was evangelical. I've always believed that the Episcopal Church in America was pretty liberal. After reading about … it caused me to stop and think for a moment about some members of my old church that could have fit the bill and were surely fired up for the lord[4].
            Some of the groups he visited and wrote about I wouldn't have immediately known were evangelical, as it seems like they are a little more closed off to the rest of society – so I may have just not had any contact with this type to know of them. I am familiar with the Amish from living near Greenville, MI, and I would never have considered them as Evangelical and I've had some run-ins with Mennonites and Seventh Day Adventists, again, without any of the usual testifying/witnessing. My interactions with them led me to believe they were tight knit and kept themselves away from the rest of “us”. To me evangelical meant someone who not only was excited about their born-again status, but wanted to round everyone up to join them – not keep it to themselves. Granted, the Mennonites in Balmer’s study were no longer Mennonites per se (they were born-again)[5], they just maintained the modesty of the culture they grew up with.
            Other of the groups are well known to many who watch or listen to the news, watch television or
listen to AM radio, use the internet (especially social media), and/or pay attention to politics. These are the
evangelical televangelists and leaders of the evangelical mega-churches. I’d be mighty surprised if an adult today hasn't heard the names Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert, or Rick Warren – or even “Crystal Cathedral”.  What I did notice is that he seemed to visit more of the mega-churches that had met decline – the only church that seemed to be thriving was Warren’s. I wonder if that is a good portrayal of the status of mega-churches today or if it was more indicative of something else that I garnered throughout my reading of the book – that the author feels some disdain toward evangelicalism, even if he is or was a member of the subculture
[6].
            I took to the habit of circling words that, I believe, identify his bias against either the group he was studying or evangelism as a whole. Balmer’s distaste for the “Phoenix Prophet”[7] is evident (I believe) by the use of the words he chose in his description of the Capstone Cathedraland of Frisbee[8]. It also appeared to me that Balmer is not a supporter of youth church camps by the way he spoke of it in chapter five.
            Balmer suggested that such camps are a way to keep children “safely within the evangelical fold” which eventually prevents the kids from potentially from experiencing the full drama of being born-again – especially since the evangelical beliefs and lifestyle have been “drilled into them since infancy”[9]. He later gives an autobiographical account of how such camps made him feel defeated and inadequate[10], none of which puts such camps in any kind of positive or ambivalent light.
            Other groups he seemed particularly taken with, especially Douglas Franks group in Oregon. Balmer admits in the epilogue that he probably let it show that Franks spoke for him about how he felt about evangelicalism. To be fair, he does indicate on page seven that the book is a not a “detached and dispassionate analysis”, but a bit of self-disclosure, albeit not an autobiography.
            One group that he didn't cover was Christian Scientists. I thought it odd that he left them out of his study, but he included a half-Pentecostal and half-Episcopalian congregation. The reason I say this is because of my own interaction with Christian Science in the past (I was engaged to a Christian Scientist). I remember the testifying/witnessing that went on there and some of the fundamental teachings of the religion. I thought that they would fit well in his variety show; alas, there was only a passing reference in the whole book.
I think that Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a good book to introduce the reader to evangelicalism as it shows that there is variation within the fold, just as anywhere. Although it may lead to a bit of a stereotype, it helps break down some of them and open the eyes of the reader to the diversity that exists even in subcultures like evangelicalism. Perhaps it will even interest the reader enough to learn more about specific groups written about in the book or to ask more questions instead of making assumptions when interacting or learning Christians (or members of any religion) in the future.  

Bibliography

Balmer, Randall. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. 4th. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006.



[1] (Balmer 2006, 7)
[2] Conservative dress; use of certain phrases like “on fire for the lord” and talking about being “saved”; campaigning or generally supportive of republican or conservative candidates; anti-abortion efforts; emotional outbursts in church or when discussing religion; avoidance of “worldly” things like modern music (unless it is contemporary Christian Music); avoidance of alcohol, adherence to traditional gender roles; and a view that homosexuality is sinful (Balmer 2006)
[3] Douglas Frank believed in a living Bible instead of an inerrant bible (Balmer 2006, 265).
[4]
[5] (Balmer 2006, 229)
[6] In the prologue of the book, Balmer spoke of his fundamentalist youth, including an anecdote about witnessing to a Catholic (because he didn’t consider the boy to be a “real” Christian) (Balmer 2006, 4-11)
[7] This is the title of Chapter 4 which is about Neal Frisbee who is also called the Rainbow Prophet.  (Balmer 2006, 71-90)
[8] “gaudy jewel sitting atop some otherworldly launching pad … overwhelming scale”, “claims of healing” (the use of the word claim here tells me than Balmer didn’t believe that Frisbee had any such abilities – especially since he felt nothing at the healing he took part in),  “frequently boasts”, “antics”, “carnival atmosphere”  (Balmer 2006, 71-90)
[9] (Balmer 2006, 93-94)
[10] (Balmer 2006, 105)