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I am reading a book right now that is not progressive, but it is Christian. The suggestion by the author is that Christianity today does not focus enough on personal transformation. He says we need to get back to focusing on spiritual practices, such as fasting, prayer, Bible study and memorization, and applying the Gospel of salvation to our personal lives and problems, even after we have committed our lives to Jesus.

 

It made me think -- Sometimes I go through periods of intense study and personal analysis for the hope of transformation, but often I choose to spend my time helping others who need help, since that is what I feel called to do.

 

So, my question is this: What balance between these two (spiritual practices vs. helping hands in the world) have you struck in your life? Do you think it optimally would be different?

 

For reference, prayer is not a separate compartment of my life, but rather a connection to God admidst the events of life. Right now I spend most of my "free" time on helping to produce worship experiences at church and helping poor kids at their school. I feel like this site and talking to my friends often gives me ideas to bring to God to help with personal transformation. However, it has been awhile since I have done a Bible study and I have indeed found that to be a good avenue for personal growth in the past. Do you think a guide for how much time a person should spend on personal transformation is simply found in their sense of the health of their relationship to others in their life? If relationships are going well, time is freed up to help others. Or is there something more? I am thinking it is possible that focus and study would open our eyes to new relationships that could be more challenging and provoke more need for personal transformation.

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Janet,

 

It seems to me that helping others is your spiritual practice and i am of the persuasion that it is a sufficient practice (if we wish to call it that) to accomplish a full transformation. A fast or other practice without an unction to do so seems to me to be ego based as can be any practice that is done simply for religious sake. Just one opinion from my experience.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Hi Janet,

 

You asked what "balance between spiritual practices vs. helping hands in the world" have I struck in my life. I'm simply not a spiritual person. Oh, I attend services most Sundays, and find the experience nurturing, but I don't think of it as particularly spiritual, though I know many do. And I have an every-other-week book group that adds to my religious experience. It's intellectually and socially stimulating, but I wouldn't call it spiritual. And as far as being a helping hand, I like to think of myself as still being useful (tutoring mostly), but I've slacked off a lot in recent years.

 

For me, religious experience is not an end in itself, it just happens to be what I do. What I feel is most important is being involved in organizations that are in pursuit of peace and justice. Religion has provided me with some tools for doing that, and that's enough. About 40 years or so ago, I became aware of liberation theology, and that perspective still influences me. I know that other kinds of experience work better for others. That's just what seems to work for me.

 

Don

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Hi Janet,

 

I think spiritual practices and social activism work together naturally, though to me fasting and memorization seem too extreme. I dont think the balance is meant to be the same for everyone. You are blessed with a gift and enthusiasm for community projects, I wouldnt let that book (what was it?) make you feel you should be more focused on your own spirituality if your close relationships are healthy and you feel youre doing the right thing.

 

Most of my life Ive done different kinds of volunteer work, now its mostly helping other artists in little ways, making donations and sending a few checks. I dont seem to have the extra time or energy to take on another regular community project, but I do miss that -- it puts things in perspective, and benefits the giver at least as much as the receiver. Solitary reading and meditating and prayer dont always lead to positive transformation, in my experience. I haven't found the best balance in my own life. Sometimes bible studies have given me support and guidance, both in face to face groups and on line.

You are good at leading book discussions, like the one on Ross, and The Shack - is that something youre up for again?

Edited by rivanna
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It seems to me conservative Christianity encourages religious legalism. Adherents are continually prodded to strive for an indefinable level of spiritual purity and self righteousness in order to please God and retain their salvation. The result of this approach seems, all to often, to lead to obnoxious self righteousness, or intimidation, fear, and uncertainty.

 

Liberal Christianity seems to be more focused on varying forms of social justice, which strikes as being more about social activism than religion. The similarities between social justice and Marxism make me uncomfortable.

 

The intent of both groups is to make the world a better place and to follow various religious teachings, or the principle of the Golden Rule. The human element pretty much assures both approaches will produce flawed and unintended results.

 

I find too many undesirable things associated with both camps for me to claim allegiance to either one. I am both a religious and political moderate. I’m all for helping folks who need it, but at some point we all have to take personal responsibility. Ultimately we are all responsible to provide for our self and our families. The exception is for those who are mentally or physically incapable of doing so. I certainly endorse personal transformation but my humanity will never allow me to become truly spiritual. I am hopelessly flawed. I can take solace only in the fact that everyone else is too.

 

Maybe my pragmatism has lead me to become overly cynical.

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(snip)

I certainly endorse personal transformation but my humanity will never allow me to become truly spiritual. I am hopelessly flawed. I can take solace only in the fact that everyone else is too.

 

Maybe my pragmatism has lead me to become overly cynical.

 

Hi Javelin,

 

Good to hear from you again. Hope the holidays treated you well.

 

Perhaps the word "flawed" is highly subjective. It seems to me that you are exactly as you were created. In that respect, it seems to me that there is no flaw, as everything is as it was created in spite of our perception otherwise. Just my opinion, anyway good to have you active again.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Hi Javelin,

 

Liberal Christianity seems to be more focused on varying forms of social justice, which strikes as being more about social activism than religion. The similarities between social justice and Marxism make me uncomfortable.

 

I think you may be right about liberal Christianity and liberal politics often going together. But I don't think there is an inherent connection. For me, liberal theology has little to do with politics, whether Marx or Paine, but with learning truth about my life and life in general. Liberal theology provides me with the tools and framework with which to explore things more deeply and communicate them with others.

I don't like mixing theology and politics or getting into debates about it, but politically I'm very set against Marxism myself, and consider myself a 'classical liberal'. I do not wish to derail Janet's thread but I just wanted to let you know this.

 

I certainly endorse personal transformation but my humanity will never allow me to become truly spiritual. I am hopelessly flawed. I can take solace only in the fact that everyone else is too.

 

I think perhaps we sell ourselves short if we take our 'flaws' as a sign that we can't be 'truly spiritual'. I don't think there is an inherent duality between 'flawed flesh' and 'the spirit'. What God has made crooked man cannot make straight, I think being 'truly spiritual' is seeing that only in such brokenness is the truth of who we are disclosed. When we do not, and realize we literally cannot, rest in ourselves we can, as Augustine said, rest in God.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I am reading a book right now that is not progressive, but it is Christian. The suggestion by the author is that Christianity today does not focus enough on personal transformation. He says we need to get back to focusing on spiritual practices, such as fasting, prayer, Bible study and memorization, and applying the Gospel of salvation to our personal lives and problems, even after we have committed our lives to Jesus.

 

It made me think -- Sometimes I go through periods of intense study and personal analysis for the hope of transformation, but often I choose to spend my time helping others who need help, since that is what I feel called to do.

 

So, my question is this: What balance between these two (spiritual practices vs. helping hands in the world) have you struck in your life? Do you think it optimally would be different?

 

For reference, prayer is not a separate compartment of my life, but rather a connection to God admidst the events of life. Right now I spend most of my "free" time on helping to produce worship experiences at church and helping poor kids at their school. I feel like this site and talking to my friends often gives me ideas to bring to God to help with personal transformation. However, it has been awhile since I have done a Bible study and I have indeed found that to be a good avenue for personal growth in the past. Do you think a guide for how much time a person should spend on personal transformation is simply found in their sense of the health of their relationship to others in their life? If relationships are going well, time is freed up to help others. Or is there something more? I am thinking it is possible that focus and study would open our eyes to new relationships that could be more challenging and provoke more need for personal transformation.

 

Hello Janet.

I can't say what the proper balance would be even for my life, let alone for anyone else. But I do think setting aside just a little bit of time for meditation/reflection/prayer, maybe 15-20 minutes once or twice daily, can be transformative. We need to take some time to listen to and understand ourselves too, so it helps just to approach God in the simplicity of sitting or walking, dropping away all the pretenses we normally have and just be direct with ourselves, with life, with God. It allows our energies, concerns, hopes, fears, to flow more freely and re-center themselves in my experience. It's important not to think one is accumulating points or merit each day he or she does this though, for that is the opposite of the point, it ought to be a time to let go of any such pretenses and simply be real.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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Thanks, everyone, for your replies. Joseph, thanks for being supportive of Javelin and me. I liked hearing of Don's personal experiences and attempt at life balance. Rivanna, thanks for the compliment about the book discussion. I'd be up for that again, if anybody has an idea.

 

Javelin says: "It seems to me conservative Christianity encourages religious legalism. Adherents are continually prodded to strive for an indefinable level of spiritual purity and self righteousness in order to please God and retain their salvation. The result of this approach seems, all to often, to lead to obnoxious self righteousness, or intimidation, fear, and uncertainty."

 

I think I am continually prodded (by the Holy Spirit) to strive for an indefinable level of spiritual purity and (not self) righteousness, in order to glorify God, because I love God. I hope I haven't reached the point of being obnoxious :-) I suppose, because of my Methodist upbringing (and it's holiness roots), I am more hopeful that I will be less and less flawed as time goes on.

 

I agree, Mike, that the point of focusing on God in one's life should not be merit points. Today our sermon used the concept "Your will be done" as an attempt to take ego out of prayer.

 

I think some of the Bible studies I have done in the past have helped me focus on God a bit more. I may sign up for one of the evangelical online ones again soon. The last time I did it, it was very interesting and the only thing I did not do was the suggested memorization of verses.

 

Thanks again!

Janet

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....Javelin says: "It seems to me conservative Christianity encourages religious legalism. Adherents are continually prodded to strive for an indefinable level of spiritual purity and self righteousness in order to please God and retain their salvation. The result of this approach seems, all to often, to lead to obnoxious self righteousness, or intimidation, fear, and uncertainty."

 

I think I am continually prodded (by the Holy Spirit) to strive for an indefinable level of spiritual purity and (not self) righteousness, in order to glorify God, because I love God. I hope I haven't reached the point of being obnoxious :-) I suppose, because of my Methodist upbringing (and it's holiness roots), I am more hopeful that I will be less and less flawed as time goes on.

 

 

Thanks again!

Janet

 

I agree with your statement Janet. I’ve come to believe that transformation is really about spiritual awareness. I want to be more spiritual, but I must confess that I’m not sure how to accomplish that.

 

I was a member of an ultra conservative religious group for twenty seven years. In retrospect labeling them ultra conservative is probably being generous. Religious extremist to the point of becoming cultist might be a more accurate description. Their teaching and beliefs were all works based. The word grace was rarely heard and that concept was certainly not prominent in their teachings

 

That experience has made me a little leery of all religious groups. I certainly believe a relationship with God will transform a believer, but how that transformation is defined is open to a number of interpretations, and those interpretations are often heavily influenced by that group’s traditional beliefs.

 

As a side note, I’ve been investigating different religious groups seeking a group with more moderate beliefs and traditions. I notice that you affiliate with the Methodist. I’ve been researching their traditional beliefs on the net. The resource material I’ve explored seems to indicate they tend to be more moderate in their beliefs. Is that true, or have I misunderstood their position? There is a large Methodist Church close to where I live. I’ve been thinking about attending their worship service. Any perspective you would be willing to share about them would be appreciated.

 

Javelin

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"

As a side note, I’ve been investigating different religious groups seeking a group with more moderate beliefs and traditions. I notice that you affiliate with the Methodist. I’ve been researching their traditional beliefs on the net. The resource material I’ve explored seems to indicate they tend to be more moderate in their beliefs. Is that true, or have I misunderstood their position? There is a large Methodist Church close to where I live. I’ve been thinking about attending their worship service. Any perspective you would be willing to share about them would be appreciated.

 

Javelin"

 

I can see why you would be hesitant about joining a religious group! My experiences with the United Methodist churches here in Colorado would agree with what you are saying. There is a focus on openness and personal belief that doesn't need to conform to doctrine. Doubt is not discouraged -- dialogue is. We have historically been known for social justice and community outreach and involvement. However, I have heard that other parts of the country (East and South) are less open-minded. That is why, at our general conference, the Methodist church can not build consensus to have homosexual ministers or perform gay marriages. That is an embarassment to me and my congregation, but as I've said, I guess in other regions (including Africa) the church has a different stance. Within Methodism, there are groups that want to return to conservative values. So I would say you could check out your local congregation and see. I have enjoyed the openness of dialogue that results in greater learning, and in general I have found the Methodists to be very loving.

 

Good luck! I think it's a good thing to find a spiritual community.

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