Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spiritualist Review

The fourth church my room mate (RM) and I went to was a Spiritualist church. If you've never heard of it, I'll get right to the point. They speak to the dead. Right during the service.

I had attended a few of these kind of services many years ago (in a church in Salem, Massachusetts no less), so I knew pretty much what to expect. Even so, I had some misgivings about going because of the Biblical injunctions against mediums and communicating with the dead. Even in my skeptical Christian state I did not want to offend the Christian God, should he exist. My RM had some qualms, but was definitely curious and wanting to check it out. His opinion before he went was, "I think there will be some supernatural stuff going on, but it will not be of God. Even Pharaoh's magicians could copy the miracles of Moses and Aaron."

My RM was late picking me up, and it was a long drive, so I was disappointed we wouldn't get there on time. I wanted him to have the "full experience." Luckily, he has no regard for speed limits, and even though we made a wrong turn on a highway we got there just a few minutes late, and the service had not started yet.

The church was an old white shack of a place, and the sign out front was in disrepair. There were just a few cars in the yard, and I had some hesitation about going in if we were going to stick out like sore thumbs as visitors. But we pushed through the rickety doors and entered the sanctuary.

There were probably about 50 folded chairs set up and we sat near the back. There were only about 3 or 4 other people in the congregation besides us, so it was difficult to "hide." The place was dimly lit, had a typical stage with a pulpit, religious pictures, organ, and had a dank atmosphere. It was hot! The thermostat on the AC was broken so we suffered the heat of July in Florida, fanning ourselves with manila folders that were handed out.

A stocky woman of about 60 led the service. We sang old hymns from well-worn hymnals, accompanied by a rickety organ. In one hymn they had changed the words to "I'm so glad I'm a spiritualist." (I can't remember what the original line was.) There was prayer and scripture. More people drifted in.

Then we had a time of meditation. We were instructed to close our eyes, the lights were dimmed (even further), and we were guided to visualize a garden with Jesus in it. We were instructed to sit with him and talk to him and ask him any questions we had. Then Jesus gave us a hug and we left the garden and opened our eyes and "came back" to the room. (I remember a Christian therapist guiding me through something similar once.) I've never been a great visualizer, so the experience was not dramatic for me.

Next was a time of healing. They placed 2 chairs up front and "healers" stood behind them. Soft music was played on a CD player. The leader read several scriptures throughout. Anyone that wanted to could come and sit in a chair and receive healing. I was there for the experience so I went up. I was told to put my hands on my legs, palms up. The healer put her hands on my shoulders, then head, then waved them around my body, and brushed away negativity.

When I returned to my seat I had no idea what my RM was thinking of all this. Surprisingly, he got up and went forward for healing as well.

The finale was the "readings." This is where someone stands on the stage, points out someone in the congregation, and asks for permission to "come to you." Everyone says yes, of course. Then they go ahead and give a reading, meaning they tell the identified person what various spirits might be trying to communicate to them (a la Jon Edwards). As there were only about 8-10 people in the congregation, the "reader" went through the whole congregation, one at a time.

My reading mentioned mental anguish, a difficult childhood, and that I am a "sad clown," as I bring joy and calm to a lot of people in spite of my suffering. At one point she mentioned that I should write down "belief systems" in order to sort them out, which got my attention as I have spent the last two years studying religion in depth. My initial impression was that my reading was fairly accurate.

My RM's reading said he was a "wild man" and that he needs to be more careful (like driving) because he needs to be around for his kids, which he will have one day. Also, it mentioned business opportunities that would be coming along soon that he shouldn't neglect. Also, that he was procrastinating, wasting time on things that were not important. I thought his reading was even more on target than mine. RM is all about speed and business.

The service ended shortly thereafter. I shook the leader's hand and left quickly because I was late for work.

My RM was smart enough to record the readings on his smart phone, so since the service we have had a chance to review.

  • MINE: Even though I identified with the sad clown comment and the difficult childhood, I did not agree with what much of the reading was about... changing my belief systems about past events (not religious systems), and learning to accept that they have made me what I am today. I feel like I have done that work thoroughly some time ago, and my mental anguish now is primarily biochemical. It would have been handy if I had been told what medicine my doctor should try me on next. 
  • RM: At first he said the procrastination topic did not apply to him, because he is constantly busy and getting stuff done. A couple of days later a light dawned, however. He saw that he was procrastinating on the major goals of what he believed his life was supposed to be about. It lit a fire under him that has borne fruit to this day. 
My RM was thrilled with the whole experience. He said it was very similar to charismatic churches he has been to, albeit in those churches it is a "house prophet" that gives words of prophecy or knowledge or wisdom to individuals in the congregation. 

In my current skeptical state, I'm not an easy believer. My experience was interesting enough that I would like to do more research. My main question is whether there is something actually supernatural going on there or not. Whether it is from God, the devil, or something in between is another question that only comes once I verify that something supernatural is going on. That's a big question, and if the answer is "Yes," then it helps me on my spiritual journey, being comforted that there is something beyond what we see in this world. If the answer is "No," well I'll have to deal with it, won't I?

Why didn't Jesus stick around?

Soon after Jesus resurrected he disappeared into the sky, never to be seen again for about 2000 years so far. Why?

It seems to me so many problems would be solved if he had stuck around. The whole world would have had a chance to see that it really was Jesus resurrected, instead of just the reported five hundred. He could have reestablished the Kingdom or Israel with himself as King. No one would have been forced to "believe" or "have faith" in the testimony of questionable witnesses in order to be saved. And we would have all lived happily ever after.

But no. He does his disappearing act and for 2000 years we have had confusion and strife over who he was and what he did and what he will do.

"Aha," you will say, "he went away for two reasons. One, to build a place for us. And two, so that the Holy Spirit could come."

But I ask, "Just how long does it take someone to create a place for us to live who was able to make the entire universe in seven days just by speaking?" And two, "Why couldn't the Holy Spirit come while Jesus was still around? Why did he have to exit first?"

And how good of a job has the Holy Spirit done? Would there not be more believers if Jesus had stayed and lived and reigned forever? Would there not be more unity of doctrine and practice with Jesus as the head of the church? An invisible Holy Spirit seems like a poor substitute for the real thing!

And, from a skeptical point of view, it's too convenient for the believer to have an absent Jesus, the miraculous evidence no longer there to inspect. Some will say that the absence of a body in the tomb is evidence for the resurrection. I say that the absence of a body after the resurrection is evidence of something sketchy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wanted: Near Death Experience

Apparently, 8 million Americans have had some kind of Near Death Experience where they went through a tunnel, saw lights, etc.

 I would like to interview someone who has had this experience, so if you know of anybody please have them write or call me to discuss.


douglasrdoan at gmail.com

Friday, September 14, 2012

United Methodist Review

The third church my room mate (RM) and I visited was a good size United Methodist church around the corner.

I had attended a few "Celebrate Recovery" meetings at this church, although the meetings were in a small outbuilding. That building has since been torn down to make room for a new expansion of the facility. It's now quite a large complex, but it's fairly land-locked, and it's on a busy avenue, so getting in and out and parking are a challenge. Oh, I also attended one Dave Ramsey class here.

We drove to the church and there was a policeman in the road directing traffic. Driving through the parking lot we were guided along by parking attendants in vests using walkie-talkies. A sign instructed visitors to go to a designated spot near the church entrance. As we parked a man in a suit made his way quickly from the church to our car to greet us. He was overly eager, like a used care salesman, asking us what brought us here, giving us literature, explaining the two services that were available, and telling us to fill out the visitor's card and bring it somewhere after church for a free gift.

We decided to go to the "traditional" service since we felt that it would give us a better taste of United Methodism. The sanctuary was very full, and was a mixture of ages, leaning toward older. There was a fine choir, and hand bell choir. There was a very positive spirit. Somehow I was able to intuit that these folks were very happy with their church and got along well with each other.

There were traditional hymns, but also some old-time folksy songs, like What a Friend we have in Jesus and Fairest Lord Jesus. Although I was familiar with those type of camp-meeting songs from my childhood, they seemed oddly out of place here, like a relic of the past that was being artificially kept alive.

A female pastor led the whole service. The sermon was entertaining and easy to relate to. She said that praying was not like going on amazon.com and ordering something to your specifications.

We celebrated communion by walking down the aisle to pick up a piece from a loaf of bread, then further down the line dipping it in wine (or Welches?) and eating.

Overall, the experience was uplifting, and when I was leaving I thought I would enjoy going back someday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?

This rabbi goes through all the Old Testament scriptures related to the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Age and shows how Jesus did not fulfill those prophecies. Very compelling.

It's two parts. Each part is about 1 1/2 hours.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Presbyterian Review

The second church my room mate and I went to on our steeple chase was Presbyterian.

This was a large brick church with pillars, but the inside seemed modern. The sanctuary seating was a full semi-circle surrounding a slightly raised platform. Very much of an amphitheater feel.

A female pastor was in charge this day. I don't know if that was because it was Mother's Day or not. Interestingly, Mother's Day was hardly mentioned, and the mothers were not recognized in any way.

The atmosphere was relaxed and homey. Lots of families with children. Congregants were attired in the business casual of professionals... accountants, lawyers, etc.

The music was professionally done, and quite contemporary. There was a band and a choir. We read scripture responsively. A middle-of-the-road service in many ways.

There was a baptism of a couple of children in one family. One of them was an infant. Presbyterians are known for pouring or sprinkling, as opposed to full immersion, and that was the case here. They are also known for their emphasis on "covenant," so the family covenanted to raise the children in the ways of the Lord, and the congregation covenanted to support the family in that effort.

There was a "children's sermon" where the children came up and sat on the platform while a male pastor tried to keep their attention while discussing something at an adult level, lol.

The female pastor gave the sermon. They were doing a series on the Ten Commandments, and this week was "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Do no work. This is a day of rest." The talk was casual and well informed and relevant. She confessed that she did not rest much on the Sabbath, and that with modern gadgets it's hard to turn work off, even on Sunday. (The question of whether the Sabbath should be on Saturday or Sunday, and why, was not addressed.) We were left with a gentle nudge to try and practice rest on the Sabbath more intentionally.

The overall experience was pleasant and comfortable. No pressure. If I had a young family I might consider attending their for the kids' sake. As a single adult I found it too bland, and simple. To be fair, the main pastor was not there, and for all I know he gives deep, rousing sermons!