Thoughts on the Physicality of Christianity

I was in Michigan over the weekend for Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the Sabbath, heard some thought-provoking messages, and had some interesting discussions. One of these messages (and related discussion) touched on the role physical actions play in our Christian walk.

By itself the message I heard  would have prompted many thoughts on the subject, but taken together with a book I’ve been reading it’s quite a chunk of spiritual meat to chew on. I’ll probably write more about this topic when I’m not functioning on ~5 hours sleep and a chocolate hangover, but those are my thoughts right now.

Blocking the Light?

In the message I’m referencing, the speaker talked about Passover symbols (foot washing, bread, and wine) and said “the physical acts are irrelevant” but we keep them because they’re good reminders. That wrinkled my eyebrows a bit, but I thought I’d keep an open mind and hang in there to see where this went.

It went to Colossians 2:16-17: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” He took this and defined shadow as the absence of light, and then called the holy days that we were gathered to keep “blocked light.” The next place he took the analogy was back to the Passover, asking, “Why would Jesus partake of a shadow that’s blocking the light?” The message then jumped to saying that since “He wouldn’t do something like that” the words must function on another level, as in Luke 22:18 referring to our communion with the kingdom of God inside us today rather than an actual event in the future.

“Shadows” by pwjamro, CC BY via Flickr

Obviously I’ve oversimplified his points, but you get the basics of what I want to cover. The crux of his message rested on the idea that “the physical acts are irrelevant.” That led to talking the implication that because holy days, sabbaths, etc. are described as “shadows” they may distract us from living in the Light. But the word for “shadow” in the Greek can mean two different things, much like it can in English. You have the physical absence of light in the sense of “darkness and gloom,” and you have the metaphorical sense. For the Greek word skia (G4639), that means a foreshadowing of a full and perfect image not yet seen clearly. You have to infer the meaning from context. And when the context is discussing Sabbaths that are a key part of God’s covenants and saying that they point to Christ, I have to go with the metaphorical meaning as most likely.

Embodied Liturgy

Then on the other side of the spectrum we have the book I’ve been reading called Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith (between this and Fill These Hearts, I’ve been reading a surprising amount of truly fascinating Catholic theological works lately). I haven’t yet finished this book and it’s a deeply academic text that defies easy summary. One of his main points, however, is that humans are primarily lovers (“I love, therefore I am” rather than “I think/believe, therefore I am) and that we require embodied liturgies to aim our desires in a correct direction.

While my church does have many physical things we do as part of worshiping God (like resting on the Sabbath day, the Passover symbols, and water baptism) this particular view of physicality in worship was new to me. He seems to be prioritizing physical acts of worship over learning theology and understanding doctrines, which makes me uncomfortable, but the idea of doing what God tells us to just because He says so before we understand why does make sense. I also find the argument that we should engage with God on every level — including emotional — very compelling, especially in light of the many scriptures talking about the role of our hearts in our walk with God.

Balance

I’m thinking something between these views is probably closest to right. Yes, the physical isn’t the main point because it’s largely there to teach us more important spiritual lessons. Focusing too much on physical is one of the things that got the pharisees in trouble — you need to have a right relationship with God or it doesn’t matter how good you look on the outside or how closely you keep the letter of the law.

Still, the physical is vitally important. God created us as physical beings full of desires that He tells us to direct toward Him. If the physical didn’t matter, God wouldn’t spend so much time telling us what to do and what not to do. The state of our hearts is of paramount importance and we’re supposed to control our thoughts, but that results in physical actions. And if we’re in a right relationship with God, we’ll be walking in Jesus’s footsteps (including the physical things He did, like Passover) and keeping His commandments.

What about you? any thoughts on the role physical actions should (or shouldn’t) play in our Christian walk?

Covenants 101

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of covenants. Studying this subject for the past three weeks, though, has taught me the truth of Paul’s words: “if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). Covenants are so much deeper, so much more entwined with the plan of God than I’d previously realized. And so I went back to the beginning to review covenants (today’s post) before diving deeper into the subject (next weeks’ posts).

The relationships God establishes are consistently described through scripture as covenants, so to understand how God relates to people we have to study the principles of godly covenants. Hebraic understanding of covenants in the Old Testament forms the basis for understanding what a covenant between God and man involves. We need to understand that before we can even begin to get into the New Testament because Christ’s covenanting work (and the NT writers’ discussions of that) grew out of the covenants recorded in the Old Testament.Covenants 101 | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Signs of Covenant

If you read anything on covenant history in Biblical times, you’ll learn that covenant agreements involved the establishment of a relationship between two parties, an agreement on terms/promises, and sealing the covenant with some sort of sign. For the covenant with Noah, this sign was a rainbow (Gen 9:13). For most major covenants, though, the sign involved blood. Continue reading

Books That Tell Truth Through Lies

As I was going through blog posts in my inbox yesterday,  I noticed two of my fellow bloggers were writing about reading recommendations and lists. Juni Desireé was posting about the top 10 books on her reading list for this year, and Socratic MBTI offered three quick recommendations for “enriching” books to read. In the past, I’ve shared a couple lists of my own, including my favorite fantasy books, but that was way back in 2013 (I’ve been blogging that long!?!). Sounds like it’s time for another recommended books post! Fiction That Tells The Truth

Books That Tell A Truth Through Lies | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’m taking the title of this post from one of my favorite ideas — that even though “fiction” is defined as imaginary or untrue it is, in fact, a vehicle for telling the truth.

“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” ― Tim O’Brien

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” ― Albert Camus

“A fiction writer weaves a fabric of lies in hopes of revealing deeper human truths.” ― Wally Lamb

That’s my favorite kind of fiction. Any good story can teach you something true about yourself or other people, but truly great stories are going to get at a “deeper human truth” than is often isn’t possible in any other form. Child-labor laws would have passed in Britain without Dickens, but would it have happened as quickly if people hadn’t read Oliver Twist? Would the phrase “Catch-22” have entered our vocabulary if Joseph Heller wrote an essay instead of a novel?

Many books exist to share truths or make us think about something we’d otherwise overlook. One of the more famous is 1984 by George Orwell, which I’ve never actually finished reading (I know, I know — I’ll go hide in the corner now). Many others teach us truths seemingly by accident while telling a story. Here are just a few examples :

*note: there will be spoilers for all these books.

The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien insisted his The Lord of the Rings trilogy was not allegorical or inspired by his personal life, but I think we can at least say that his faith (Catholic) and his history (serving in both World Wars) influenced his writings. It’s a classic battle of good verses evil that set the stage for every epic fantasy adventure written since.

Just in case you’ve escaped reading or watching LOTR, the formerly-vanquished dark lord Sauron has come back into power in Middle Earth and is attempting to regain control of a magic ring that will let him subdue all lands and people under his power.  Though there are great warriors involved in the fight, the final victory hinges on two little hobbits from the middle of nowhere who hiked a very, very long way to destroy the ring.

By taking us outside of our own world, Tolkien shares universal truths about what makes a real friendship, the sacrifices required to do the right thing, and the importance of resisting evil even when it seems hopeless. One of the truths that hits me the hardest when reading or watching Lord of the Rings is how helpless we are to resist evil on our own. Frodo was incredibly strong on an emotional and psychological level and he carried the ring longer than any other character could have, but he still couldn’t make it up to Mount Doom by himself. Sam carried him the rest of the way and Frodo still wouldn’t have destroyed the ring if Gollum hadn’t fought him for it and carried it into the fires when he fell. Even heroes are susceptible to evil’s pull and they can’t overcome alone.

Mockingjay

I’ve read the whole Hunger Games book series and just watched Mockingjay Part II this past weekend. Suzanne Collins grew up learning about military history from her father — a Vietnam veteran and history professor. She didn’t go the history professor route herself, though, instead majoring in theater and telecommunications, then earning a master’s degree in dramatic writing.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay all take a good, hard look at what the article linked above describes as “necessary and unnecessary wars.” They quote Collins saying, “If we introduce kids to these ideas earlier, we could get a dialogue about war going earlier and possibly it would lead to more solutions.” In this case, the writer approached her storytelling hoping to convey truths about and get a dialogue started on ideas relate to war.

My mother, brother and I were talking yesterday about how Mockingjay is a story that sticks with you. It’s not something you can just read/watch and move on from. This is largely owing to what is probably Collins’ least popular authorial choice — killing Finnick Odair. In the book I actually read right over his death the first time and then had to go back and figure out what happens to him. His death isn’t the driving force in a major plot point (like Prim’s death) and he doesn’t have a dying scene all of his own (like Rue does in the first book). He just dies senselessly and tragically while the action moves on without him. And that’s the point. In real life, death doesn’t always make sense or serve a specific purpose.

Ender’s Game

This book could have so easily been nothing more than a story about a futuristic society that trains children to kill aliens. But Ender’s Game was written by Orson Scott Card (one of my all-time favorite writers) and there’s much more to it than that. The real story isn’t about the alien threat — it’s about human nature.

Ender’s Game wrestles with the question of how far it’s “okay” to go when you’re at war, and it does so from the perspective of a child who’s been immersed in a militaristic system for the bulk of his formative years. Just in case the military training isn’t enough to make him comfortable with genocide, though, he’s taught the entire thing is a game — that none of the aliens will actually die if he wins.

As the story unwinds, we’re forced to confront ideas that can spill over into our own world. How violent can games become before they start affecting reality? When, if ever, are large-scale preemptive strikes an acceptable form of self-defense? What is an adult’s responsibility toward children?

Somewhat less obvious is the question of an individual’s responsibility within society. Ender was raised from a young age to think of the Buggers (this name was changed to Formics in later Enderverse writings) as enemies you must destroy at all costs. He should have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing this, and yet learning he’d succeeded in wiping out his enemy in real life rather than just in-game nearly destroyed him. He devoted the rest of his life to making others understand the Hive Queen’s perspective and trying to set things right by bringing back the Formics species. Perhaps that’s the real take-away truth from Ender’s Game — there are at least two sides (and often more) to every story and it’s not always easy to see who’s right.

Your Turn: What are some of the truths you’ve discovered in and through fiction?

Christ’s First Words

My parents tell me my first words were “Dada” and “duck.” I’m sure many of your parents also shared with your how excited they were when you first started talking, or perhaps you have kids of your own and eagerly waited for the first words to come from their mouths. We view first words as important, even on into adulthood when we meet someone for the first time. Based on the words people speak, we form ideas about their priorities, character, and motives.

Christ's First Words | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We don’t know what baby Jesus’s first words were, but we do have four gospels that record words He spoke while walking on this earth. Looking at the first words each writer records Christ speaking gives us key insight into His character and priorities. Continue reading

Remembering Our Passover

“This do in remembrance of me,” Jesus told His disciples at His last Passover. We obeyed that instruction last night in a holy, meaningful Passover ceremony. Let’s not forget, though, that Christ’s work as our Passover didn’t end with that service on the beginning of the Passover day.

I woke up this morning after our Passover service in a warm, comfy bed. The morning after His last Passover, my Savior was taken into the judgement hall where He would be condemned and tortured. I’ll be cooking and blogging this afternoon; Jesus spent His Passover afternoon hanging on the cross.

For the past couple years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to remind myself of how Jesus spent the day after His final Passover ceremony on this earth. I’d like to invite you to join me in taking a few moment out of your day to meditate on the weight of His sacrifice. Have a blessed Passover day, my friends!

The Single INFJ

It’s strange that a personality type for which “homemaker” is one of the top recommended career options has such a difficult time finding love. While not true of all INFJs, many of us are romantics in every sense of the word. We’re idealists who still believe in soul-mates. We’re eager to dive deep into relationships and prioritize the people closest to us. We’re among the MBTI types least likely to cheat in a romantic relationship.

But we also shy away from any type of deep relationship if we don’t feel completely safe. Our idealism means we often have unrealistic expectations for our (potential) romantic partners. The soul-mate type of understanding we crave is hard to find. And so here I am, turning 27 this year having been on 4 dates since I was 19 (all with guys I chose not to go out with a second time) and yet still wanting to be in a relationships (almost) just as much as ever.

The Single INFJ | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: On the platform, reading by
Mo Riza, CC BY via Flickr

So what’s a single INFJ to do? It sounds cliche, but I agree with Amelia Brown on Introvert, Dear that it’s important  to focus  on “the relationship you have with yourself.” If you’re not comfortable with yourself, you’re never going to be happy, regardless of whether or not you’re in a relationship with someone else. Also, if you haven’t taken ownership of your life, your choices, and your struggles then you’re going to have a harder time cultivating the sort of strong, lasting relationship INFJs crave. Continue reading

Why I’m Keeping Passover On Nisan 14

While some churches might question whether or not the Passover is relevant to modern Christianity at all, the question in the churches I’ve been associated with has been whether Passover should be observed on the 14th or 15th  of the Hebrew month Nisan/Abib. We’re convicted of following Jesus Christ’s example of taking the Passover (see last week’s post), but are haunted by a question of when.

Timing Passover is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew day begins at sundown, which means traditionally the Jews could kill the Passover lamb on the 14th, but eat the meal on the 15th that evening. If you look at a Hebrew calendar, you’ll see that this year the 14th of Nisan falls on Friday, April 22. That means the 14th actually begins at sunset on Thursday and ends on Friday evening.

This post is going to be a bit more of a technical deep-dive than usual. I almost didn’t share it, but the question of a 14th or 15th Passover is one you’ll run into if/when you start keeping Passover. I wanted to re-study the topic for myself, and thought some of you might find it interesting as well. I’ve been keeping Passover on the 14th since I was baptized in 2008, but it’s always a good idea to take a second (or third) look at your assumptions to make sure they line up with scriptures.

When trying to answer the question of when to keep Passover, we often go to sources outside the Bible such as oral and written Jewish tradition and historical writings from the time of Jesus. While those can be useful, the most important question when tackling a subject like this is, “What does the Bible say?” We have to start with all the information God gives us directly in scripture and then see what other sources can add. If those sources contradict the inspired word of God, then they’re no good.

The Command

Let’s start with the very first Passover in Exodus. Pharaoh has refused to “let my people go” through 9 different plagues and the final plague, death of the firstborn, is eminent. Before that plague hit Egypt, God delivered instructions for what the Israelite were supposed to do so the plague would pass over them. Continue reading

Walking by Faith (and next e-book announcement)

I just got back yesterday from an incredible  service-themed Young Adult weekend. It didn’t start out all that well for me, though. The day before I left I started feeling nervous (which is normal for me going into social events) but then by the time I left on Friday I had a shaking-crying-hyperventilating panic attack (which is becoming less and less normal/frequent for me).

I was really caught off-guard by this. I knew several people there — not just as acquaintances, but as friends — and I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks. I chalked it up to my too-active imagination combined with uncertainty about Friday evening’s schedule, breathed deep, prayed, turned Fallout Boy up, and started driving …

… and hit heavy traffic and rain (my two least favorite things to drive in). That left me running 20 late to met the people I was supposed to be car pooling with to the house I didn’t have an address for. Thankfully, one of the people I was meeting is also one of only 2 out of 100+ people at the weekend with my phone number, and he texted me the address. I proceeded to enter said address in my GPS and it took me to a house with no cars in the driveway.

It is either a testament to my stupidity or my faith that I walked up and rang the doorbell. Turns out, my friend accidentally sent me to another church member’s home (whose name I recognized, though I’d never met them) and they fed me cheese, gave me the correct address, and sent me on my way. Oddly, that’s when I felt a sense of peace for the first time all day. I was late, I was temporarily lost and yet God showed me that these worries coming true weren’t anything He couldn’t handle.

Saturday brought a great round of seminars and an excellent sermon on foot washing and Passover. Nothing to worry about, until game night happened. I’m sure I’m in the minority judging by how many people said they had a wonderful time, but any sort of game that involves doing something in front of other people or in a group or on a team makes me intensely uncomfortable, especially if you add competition. The first two games were mixers where you asked someone a question and their name. I literally remember nothing from meeting people this way (does it even count as a “meeting” then?). Next was that game where you tie a balloon to your ankle and try to keep it from getting popped while popping everyone else’s balloon. I could have kissed whoever it was that popped my balloon the moment the game started.

That’s the last game I “played” (I stepped on my own balloon when they started round two) and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my evening talking with two other people who saw no appeal in participating. Give me a deep conversation with someone over competitive and/or rambunctious games any day. Now that’s how to meet new people. (Side-track back to the topic of social anxiety: game night continued throughout my conversations and there was a Bag of Doom from which they were drawing names to participate in a novelty challenge which you had to do while standing in the center of a room surrounded by 80-something people watching you. Can anyone say “introvert’s worst nightmare”?)

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this weekend was that my fears were either 1) groundless or 2) didn’t have the power to hold me back. The fact that I had a panic attack before leaving turned into a blessing because it gave me the choice between either canceling my plans or praying through it and trusting God. I chose the later, and I kept encountering situations that could make me feel nervous and which reminded me to stay in prayer all weekend. Every single one of the things I was worried about worked out for the best, and the only part of that I can take credit for is that I took the step to go to the weekend and start a few conversations. The rest was all God.

This brings us in a very round-about way back to the topic of the weekend — service. Specifically, “Unlocking Your Desire To Serve.” As many of you know, I consider this blog a sort of ministry and it’s been growing in ways that amaze me and make me want to do more. One of the big things that holds me back is my own fears, including my fear of panicking when it’s important that I talk with people about my faith. So for me, blending this weekend’s focus on service with a need to rely on God for help working through my anxiety was a powerful experience.

  • If you gave up reading that long rambling post and started scrolling, here’s the e-book announcement:

Something I haven’t shared with many people is that in my local Messianic congregation I’ve been receiving words, prayers, and hints from brethren for the last several months along the lines of “God’s going to do something big in/with your life soon.” I even finally have a hint as to what that might involve after I came back from services a few weeks ago with a title for an e-book in my head which I promptly sat down and outlined. I’ve barely worked on it since, but this weekend was exactly what I needed to reconfirm that God wants me to be sharing my gifts through writing and that He’s more than capable of overcoming deficiencies on my part.

My first step is officially announcing the project here on this blog. The working title is “Rise Up, My Love” and the focus will be on reigniting the church’s passion for God (so, basically this blog in book form). I’m not committing to a release-date quite yet (it would be lovely to have it out by Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this fall, but I think a full year might be more realistic judging by how long it took to write The INFJ Handbook). I’ll keep you posted on details.

 

Why Do We Keep The Passover?

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan (also called Abib), and the first day of the sacred year on the Hebrew calendar (Rosh Hashana starts the civil year). This means Passover is exactly 14 days away. As we draw nearer this important holy day, I wanted to shift our focus onto why Passover is so important for Christians today.

As I started thinking about reasons to keep Passover, I realized I’d either have to make this a series of posts or be much more concise than the subject deserves. Instead of a series (though there will be other Passover posts coming up), I decided to just write a brief overview of some reason to keep Passover and then invite you to join me in exploring them further. If this post inspires any of you to study Passover, I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments. And if you write a blog post about Passover, please share a link here so we can all read it.

It’s A Command

Exodus chapter 12 describes the events of the first Passover in Egypt, when the children of Israel were protected from the plague that killed all Egyptian firstborn. After delivering instructions specific to that Passover, the Lord reveals that Passover celebration will continue forever among His people. Continue reading

Not Wanting To Write

It’s about 4:30 in the afternoon Sunday as I write this. Usually by this time I’m either proof-reading a completed post for Monday or wrapping-up my work on a finished idea. What’s worse, I don’t even I care that haven’t written a post yet. I mean, I’d probably care tomorrow when I wake up and realize I failed all of you readers, but at this point I’ve had too little sleep and too much Netflix to function as my normal self.

Well, perhaps not entirely. At least I’m writing about not wanting to write. It’s a start. I’ve been writing professionally long enough to know you can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike if you want to get a blog post, article, story or book written. People who do that aren’t writers.

Not Wanting To Write | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Content writer” by Ritesh Nayak, CC BY-SA via Flickr

If you aren’t a writer you can get away with not writing when you don’t want to. Hobbies and pastimes are voluntary. But when writing is what you do you don’t just stop. In fact, if you’re doing things right, most of the time it feels like you can’t stop writing. For writers, not-writing should feel stranger than writing.

There’s a myth out there that writing is easy (“Oh, so you’re a writer? That’s cool. I might write a novel in my spare time some day”). It’s not. Yes, there will be days when the words flow out and you’re convinced what you’re writing is pure genius and you just know these words have the power to touch people’s souls. But mostly you have to sit down everyday with your pen or your laptop or your typewriter and make the words move from brain to fingers.

 

Struggling to write is perfectly okay just so long as you don’t give up. I suppose it’s that way with most things, actually. Anything worth doing is going to be hard at some point. What’s important is that we don’t stop, at least not for long. By all means take a break, eat a little chocolate and watch some anime (my sister hooked me on Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood), but don’t stay there.

It’s about 7:30 in the afternoon as I finish writing this. Look at that — we’ve got a finished blog post, even with the distractions of searching for quotes about writing and playing Star Trek Online. And you know what? I think I just might keep writing. My short story collection needs one more story, and there’s a character named Taline just waiting to be discovered …