Liquid Footprints


Public Prayer

One of the aspects about modern Christian worship that makes me quite uncomfortable ( in addition to singing) is prayer. Heck, prayer is everywhere in public life. It is all over our television and even part of our political system.  This ought not to be so. I am not against prayer, but our current practice is actually contrary to what Jesus taught:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6

While the verse specifically refers to an episode of Pharisees praying out in the streets, it was a direct command to his followers. We are to pray only in secret.  Prayer is intimate alone time with God. Prayer is supposed to be as special and secret an act as sharing love with a spouse. So why all the public displays?

Namely it is for the same reason as the Pharisees prayed: attention. Public prayer is often a way of garnering attention from others and generally making a show of one’s piety. I am even against prayer in church services since it isn’t private time with God.  Jesus would go off alone to pray in the morning (Mark 1:35). The only time He would pray “publicly” was when He would give thanks for meals, but even then He was with His closest friends and family members.  The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t a prayer. Jesus was providing a template as to how to pray.

Whenever I sit in on someone leading a prayer I feel extremely uncomfortable; I feel like I walked in on something I shouldn’t have.  Doesn’t matter if it is at the dinner table or during Sunday worship. It just feels wrong since Jesus explicitly tells us to prayer in secret. In many ways, not praying secretly is cheating on God. Prayer is a time when we need to withdraw from everything that distracts us and sit alone in God’s presence. It is a time we share our weaknesses, concerns, and problems. It isn’t a time to stand in front of others, nor to treat God like a vending machine. Prayer is something we shouldn’t say we are doing for someone. It is far too intimate to treat it as publicly as we do.

Unfortunately many people look at me oddly when I express this discomfort of mine. I only seek to be as Christlike as I can be. Prayer has no place outside of our most secret part of life.


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Becoming Wise

I am a fool. I do very foolish things; my mouth often runs ahead of my mind. I also speak without knowledge or study about a subject. I have pondered how to correct my foolishness and here is a short list I work on in my quest to become a bit wiser.

1) Teach not Preach

I come off as opinionated; I have a bad habit of standing on the soapbox and preaching. I really need to work on teaching. What does teaching involve, however? First, teaching requires receptive students. In other words, I need to be silent unless someone comes to me with a question. The old Zen masters used this approach. A student that comes to a teacher often ( but not always) wants to learn. A teacher who looks for students will find few. Next, I have a bad habit of being patronizing. I naturally speak with terms people don’t normally use in my area. ( My immediate family all does). A good teacher challenges their students instead of patronizing. Finally, I need to remind myself that I know nothing. A good teacher is also a student. We do not know as much as we think we do.

2) Discard Pride

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

I have a proud streak. I am proud that I am curious and don’t settle for answers. I am proud of my intelligence. Both show I lack wisdom. Humility is difficult to cultivate; it helps to remember that there are people who know more than I. It also helps to remind myself that I am terrible at sports or anything vocational. I can’t work with my hands outside of art. My sense of pride ties back into my habit of standing on the soapbox. I sometimes feel superior to “those who don’t work their mind such as I.” I don’t like thinking and feeling that way. It isn’t compassionate or right.

3) Age

“Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.” Job 12:12

I am young and haven’t had many experiences. I am pretty risk adverse too which limits my experiences further. Wisdom comes through experience. So time and experience comes to us as we live. Hopefully we can also learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are the best (and sometimes the most difficult) source for experience.

4) Listen and Consider Advice

I can, however, offset my age deficit by listening to the advice and experiences of those older than me.  History repeats because we fail to learn from her lessons. I may not be wise, but I can avoid some mistakes and problems by listening to those who’ve been there and done that. The advice of our elders isn’t always sound. We have different circumstances than they had. However, it is helpful to see their decision, why they decided, and the outcomes.

5) Don’t Consider Oneself Wise

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:7

It is easy to be blind to ourselves.  When we consider ourselves wise, we set ourselves up for failure. We don’t listen to anyone else, we preach, and consider ourselves righteous.  The truly wise don’t consider themselves wise because they realize they are still growing and changing.

6) Be Silent

Do not speak, unless it improves silence” – Zen Proverb

Words can help and harm. When we speak impulsively we can hurt people deeply. Modern society is full of noise and words, but very little  improves silence. Much of what we see is hurtful or just vapid.  It is good to think before speaking. It is unfortunate in America we consider a delay in a response as disingenuous. I really need to work at this point.  Too often I speak before thinking my words through. I speak out of ignorance instead of contemplation. I don’t often improve upon silence.

So why be concerned about wisdom? Wisdom helps you become a better and more compassionate person. It creates rich life; one that positively impacts other people.  Cultivating Wisdom also brings us closer to God:

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. ” James 3:17

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Coming Soon: Basement Posts

Thought I’d share a bit of personal news. My landlord and longtime neighbor died last week. His family is selling his property, including the lot my mobile home sits on. My family owns the home; so to make things easier we decided to sell it. I can’t afford the lot since I am aiming for a Masters degree soon, and moving the place in addition to finding another lot is also beyond my means. My parents volunteered to fix up the basement into an apartment. In fact, they insisted my younger brother and I move in. I could afford an apartment, but my Dad’s hours are being cut. Their budget is very tight, even tighter than mine.

I decided it is best to move back in and help them with the finances while my sister goes to college and my younger brother works on becoming a teacher.  My regular irregular posts to Liquid Footprints will soon be coming to you from my new basement abode.


Small Encounter

About a week ago a member of the church I used to attend rather accusingly asked me why I haven’t been to church. I was working and feeling harried. Without my usual check I blurted: “Because of doctrinal differences.” I forget the reply, but the condescending tone didn’t sit well with me. After all, I’ve come to my conclusion not to fellowship with them after deep Bible study, reflecting on my conscience, and other reflection. In any case I listed how they believed in the Trinity and a few other rather minor things I found are not a part of 1st century Christianity. I strive to be as close to the original Christianity as possible. I like the simplicity and lack of trappings.

Anyway, before walking away they said “I feel sorry for you.”  The immediate judgment that I was hell bound (as the statement implied) troubled me. Not so much because I feel I am hell bound, but rather the lack of understanding,  judgmental attitude, and close mindedness the statement shows. Basically that statement summed up the very reason why I cannot rightly fellowship anymore. It is unfortunately that people can be blinded by their faith. Faith is dangerous sometimes. We can easily believe something and close our minds to the possibility we are incorrect. Do I consider the possible I am incorrect? Certainly. That is why I study deeply; I try to discard the thoughts that can distort understanding, like the idea of the Trinity. I also try to study the Bible texts as original as I can find them. There are many very old finds archeology has found. They are worth studying and comparing to what we have.

At any case, the encounter troubled me with how closed minded we can be just because we believe. People believe what they believe because they think it true. People don’t knowingly believe a lie. Ultimately, we do not know what is Truth and what is simply belief. That is why we have to search for our entire lives. As soon as we think we know the truth, it opens the door to deception, ego, and judgmental attitudes. All of which go against what Jesus taught. As He said, we know people by their fruits. That is why I make an effort to surround myself with environments that foster mercy, compassion, and acceptance.


Sing and Make Melody in the Heart

“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;”

Ephesians 5:19

I grew up in a church that believe singing and only singing is the proper way to worship God. No instruments. The problem I had with it was this: I HATE singing. Yes. I passionately loathe singing . I am partially tone deaf, and while I like and enjoy music I do not enjoy sounding terrible to even my damaged ears. I don’t even like to talk that much. I think silence is the better way to worship.

Because I dislike singing so much, Sunday services was a source for dread. I couldn’t sing or make melody in my heart to the Lord in that manner. I felt far more attuned to God alone in silent contemplation or walking quietly in the woods. Notice how I emphasize silence. My heart sings when I am in a silent environment away from people. I grew up thinking this was wrong. After all, Christians are commanded to sing. The key is singing and making melody in the heart. Songs, psalms, and the like do not make my heart feel melodious toward God. Silence, however, does.

Christianity has become an extrovert’s religion. It is often loud and touchy-feely with hands held together in prayer. For those like me who crave silence and solitude, worship is often a trip through a hell of anxiety. I don’t think God had that in mind with worship.

I spent many years trying to make myself enjoy traditional worship and all the extrovert trappings. I like being around people…sometimes. I also had to motivation that any other form of worship was wrong. Yet, despite my efforts and prayer my heart could never sing with my mouth. My heart couldn’t pray when publicly praying.  I found that when I am with silence my heart sings to God. When I am alone, my prayers are sincere. Besides, Jesus said we should pray in secret instead of publicly (Matt 6:6). He viewed prayer as something intensely private.

I cannot deny my nature; I cannot be anyone I am not. I cannot feel comfortable or joyous singing with the congregation, but I am when sitting in silent contemplation of God.

Modern Christianity needs to rethink its extrovert bias. Singing in the heart can be done (and I think is BEST done) quietly in different ways. Singing can be painting on a canvas, writing, or meditating. Not everyone wants big social hullabaloos.  The extrovert bias only alienates Christians like me. Congregations miss out on the music we sing.

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Jesus: The Middle Way

Let us take a look at three different figures: John Galt, Jesus, and the Buddha. They each represent a certain way of living and viewing the world.

John Galt is the “spokesman” of objectivism. Objectivism is a belief system that has grown in popularly lately. Ayn Rand is one of the major movers of the system. In objectivism, the individual and their senses are the focus. People who work hard, “produce,” and live how they want are considered ideal. The senses depict reality as it truly is. It champions independence and freedom. It frowns upon share wealth and the common worker. John Galt is a character from the book “Atlas Shrugged” an exemplifies the ideals of objectivism. He is hard working, dislikes government’s efforts to control his wealth, seeks freedom and independence. He eventually founds his own city where everyone can start a business of their own; work on their own and keep what they earn.

On the opposite end is the Buddha. Buddha teaches that the senses are deceptive, and everything we consider real is like an illusion. The concept of a computer, for example, isn’t reality. The reality is the some of all the parts, materials, and human effort needed to create the device we conceptualize as a “computer.” Buddha also taught extreme altruism. We are all related to each other and connected. The concept of the individual is also like an illusion. Because of this, we should care for others with all our abilities. In Buddhism there is even the idea of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is a person who decides not to enter nirvana but to instead be reborn endlessly so they can help people. A rough approximation of this idea is to think of a Christian who refuses to enter heaven after they die and demands to be reborn so they can help other people become Christians. Yes, according to Buddhism a person should even give up heaven so they can help people for as long as people exist.

Between the poles is Jesus. Jesus, of course, leans closer to the Buddha than to Galt. Jesus taught selflessness but also with a bit of self interest. For Jesus, it is okay for someone to take care of their own to a certain degree. As long as taking care of one’s own doesn’t preclude you from helping people. Jesus considers those who do give up everything to others as people to emulate. However, He recognizes not everyone can do that. He doesn’t expect you to give up heaven so you can help others. However, he doesn’t tolerate the focus on the individual to the extreme Galt does. Jesus viewed everyone as related, as neighbors. You help when there is need, as much as you can.  He suggests that life is like an illusion, but He leaves it at that. People have to live within this realm of the senses.

Okay, I really glossed this over. There is a lot of depth these short paragraphs doesn’t scratch. I suggest you read “Atlas Shrugged” and books wrote by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. Of course, I also suggest you read the Synoptic Gospels.  You could easily write a short book on this subject. However, what is important is how Jesus provides a balanced view on life. One that Buddha would approve. Likewise Jesus would approve of Buddha’s teachings on compassion. Both would frown upon Galt and the focus on individualism and the senses. I find it funny how objectivism is embraced by many Christians considering how anathema it is to what Jesus taught: altruism and compassion.


Jesus the Radical

We’ve lost sight over the past 2,000 years of just how radical the message of Jesus was. It is hard to see it now with all our doctrine and layers of thinking laid on top His messages. If we strip them away, however, we can see that Jesus’ message is likely even more radical to our modern eyes than to His culture. Honestly, if He returned or was sent for the first time today, He would be assassinated quicker than He was in the Roman period.
Let’s toss away what we think we know about the messages of Jesus and take a moment to look at just how radical His pure message is:
1) Love God; Love your neighbor (Mark 12:29-31)

Most of us have heard this very often. Jesus equates loving our neighbor with loving God. According to Him, all the Law hangs on these commands, and they are inseparable in the way He presented them. One cannot love God without loving their neighbor. Who is your neighbor? Everyone. Jesus even tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:42-44).  He is saying we need to love everyone as ourselves. Think about that a moment. Really think about it.  We can only show our love for God by loving all His people no matter the religion or ethnicity. Jesus makes no distinction.

2) Those who are not against us is on our side. (Luke 9:48-50)

Jesus makes His message all inclusive. His disciples forbid a man who isn’t following them from teaching the messages of Jesus. Jesus tells them not to forbid the man even though the man isn’t a part of the “religion.” Jesus states that those who are not against Him are with Him. In other words, those who practice #1 are a part of the Kingdom. People who help Jesus’s message of compassion for everyone is with Him regardless of their beliefs.  Judging others because they believe in a different flavor of Christianity goes against this explicit principle of Jesus.  As long as they are not against the message, they are on Jesus’ side.

3) Stop being indifferent

Throughout the Gospels Jesus shows us unconditional forgiveness and compassion to adulterers, the lowest classes, the sick, and others that live on the margins of society. He lived a life that teaches us not to be indifferent to those who are poor, sinners, sick, or just different. He spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and others. In modern terms He would spend time with prostitutes, people with AIDS, the homeless, and other marginal groups. Jesus didn’t spend His social time with the ruling classes. He only spent time with them when He was trying to break them out of their indifference and attachment to wealth. By today’s labeling Jesus would be a Leftist Socialist since He abhorred how wealth failed to help those in need.

His entire life was spent trying to shake us out of our indifference to God, love, arbitrary division, and the marginal in need.  His messages have been buried under doctrine and shaped into a Sunday pill we can easily swallow. However, it takes only a moment to deeply realize just how radical Jesus really was. Love God and everyone. Do everything you can to help them as you would help yourself.  Do not divide on the basis of religion. We are all in this. Do not be indifferent to those who suffer or make mistakes. Do not be indifferent to those who need help.  Modern society has buried His message under the so-called gospel of prosperity, capitalist rhetoric, work ethic, and other barriers to compassion. The message is still there if we stop and think about it.

It would do Christianity well to strip away all the distortions and deeply look at the radical Jesus.