Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why (I believe) we lose faith

I know many, many people will disagree with me on this, but I think we all come into this world aware that there is a God. If we grow up with Christian parents, we come to know at an early age that it is God and who He is. If we don't (like me), then we cannot define who this "bigger than me" entity is, but we know there's someone or something out there.

I remember when I was probably 4 or 5, I was at daycare (not a Christian daycare) and I overheard someone...or maybe we were singing in a group, I can't really remember...singing "He's got the whole world in his hands...," and I remember imagining a giant someone holding the whole world in His hands. I look back now, and know that I had an awareness of God, even though my parents were agnostic at best, if not atheists. We didn't talk about God, I had no definition of God, and probably didn't until I was probably in junior high, or maybe even high school.

But somewhere along the way, I began to let go of the idea that there was a God. I was taught that praying was silly and unneccessary, and that God was a myth, or at least someone who didn't deserve a lot of acknowledgement or attention. And as a freshman in high school, I even had a friend introduce me to the concept of being an atheist, and I began toying with the idea that maybe God didn't exist at all, and it was all happenstance. I don't think I was ever fully convinced of that though, because I had a science class in high school, and as we were studying evolution, there were parts of it that I just couldn't fully embrace as true. It was introduced as a "theory" (although the other side was laughed at, ridiculed, and disregarded as pure hooey by our teacher), and that's all I could embrace it as - a theory, something with too many variables and holes in the story.

It took a huge act of divine intervention and one brave school counselor who risked her job to reach out and share the Lord with me, to ultimately make me face God, acknowledge his power, love, and goodness toward me, and make the decision to put my faith in Him. But I'm not going to lie - it hasn't been an easy road, and it certainly hasn't given me a "perfect" life. So far from it! And even since getting saved, I haven't always loved God, followed Him, or respected Him, and there have even been times when I have questioned Him to the point of almost giving up on my faith in Him.

I am speaking so openly about this because I think too many Christians act like everything is constantly perfect and nothing can ever go wrong if you're a Christian. I think more Christians should be more open and honest - both to themselves, other believers, and the unchurched. Sure, its hard to be openly honest and vulnerable, especially since being so is hard and we always aim to put our best foot forward, but if we preach honesty, shouldn't we live it?

Anyway, I was doing some introspection into some current circumstances in my life, and the struggle to keep my faith that God will get us through. And my life isn't even half as hard as a lot of people! I'm not living in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, still trying to rebuild my home and my life 5 years after Hurricane Katrina, my husband and I have secure jobs despite this terrible economy, we always have food on our table and a roof over our heads, our children are healthy and thriving.... But still, life is hard no matter who you are!

As I was pondering, I came to a theory about why some people walk away from God, whether it be at an early age for lack of being able to define God, an environment and culture that tries to explain Him away, or hard circumstances that leave us wondering where He is and why we feel like He doesn't care.

The issue is this. We extend ourselves to God and we get let down. But its not because of Him, its because of us. I know you're sitting back saying, "Say wha..?" right now. Hear me out.

Its not until we fully embrace and begin to understand God's ways and heart that we begin to recognize that God has three answers to everything in our life: yes, no, and not right now. I think too many of us - Christian and non-Christian alike - view God as one of two things: a wishing well or an ATM.

The wishing well view goes like this. We assume that we send up a prayer or a plea to God and that our "wish will come true." We forget that God's ways are not our ways, and that He knows better than we do what is best for us. We may not think that or believe that, but its true. And so in losing sight of the fact that God doesn't always say yes, when the answer is no, we assume He doesn't care, so we become embittered and often get the "why bother with God if He won't bother with me" attitude, and walk away from Him. We believe some highly perpetuated myth that God grants ALL prayers, not realizing that maybe our prayers are not in our own and/or someone else's best interest. So let me tell you straight up - God is NOT a wishing well! You don't throw in your "prayer penny" and all your dreams come true. But here's some encouraging news about that. Sometimes when he says no, its because He has an even better answer to that request coming than we even thought to ask for.

And here's the ATM view. We assume that God's answers are instantaneous. We assume (as I recently did) that if we pray for the "perfect" job that will relieve "all" our financial stress, that it will automatically happen, and in a month's time things will improve. Its like we push the "magic prayer button" and God spits out an instantaneous response. Even Christians I believe think like this sometimes. We Christians are more prepared for God's answer to be no, but we still have a tough time with the "not right now." Waiting on the Lord, especially when circumstances are extremely difficult, is hard. We want the intantaneous response. We are used to a culture of instant gratification, and so I think that sometimes spills over into our prayer life. When the answer is wait, I think our impatience turns to frustration, and we think that God is mean and unfair. But the Bible says differently.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4, NIV)

So after many years of scratching my head, wondering why people walk away from God when they're young, or Christians struggle to "keep the faith" during intensely difficult circumstances, I am left to believe that it may be in large part due to our inability to accept when God's answer is no, or when God's answer isn't instantaneous. It takes faith, it takes maturity, and it takes patience to weather the storms of life without losing heart. Its difficult to want things so badly and so instantly to accept when it doesn't go our way. The key phrase is "our way." We forget, or don't want to accept, that God is bigger, greater, and knows better than we do what is best for us. When our expectations aren't met, we lose faith. Some temporarily, some forever. We become embittered toward God because we don't get our way. We're like spoiled children.

On that note, I was reminded of Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (The kids and I just watched it a few weeks ago, so I guess its fresh in my mind.) Veruca is an exaggerated example, but I think she has both the "wishing well" and "ATM" mentalities going on. Maybe not in a faith sense, but nevertheless, I think she's a good example. She wants whatever she wants, and right now! And that's how we view our relationship with God. We ask of Him, and we want what we want, right now, and if we don't get our way, we throw a hissy fit and blame our Father - our mean, unfair Father who clearly doesn't love us, because if He did, He'd give us everything we want, right here and right now. He'd never say no, and he'd never make us wait for anything. Right?! (Rhetorical, sarcasm-laden question.)

I hope I have clearly explained my theory and that its some decent food for thought. And now its only appropriate I leave you with our favorite spoiled brat's little ditty:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reaching out

I had an epiphany today. (Oooh, scary!) I realized I haven't had any company over, other than family, in nearly two years! In that two years, the state of my house has gone downhill a lot. I finally drew a bit of a connection.

A few years ago (4 or 5), I was a good housekeeper. No, make that a great one. No clutter, no dirt...spotless. Like, almost OCD spotless. Then I went through a series of rejections to invitations to come over. Some people would say yes, then call and cancel the day of, and I would find out later it was because they got a "better offer" with their clique. I threw candle parties and scrapbooking parties, and even those who said they'd come would flake and nobody showed. That happened twice in a year. Finally, embittered, defeated, and wounded, I severed virtually all ties with those people and stopped having people over altogether. My house fell apart.

My house never fully recovered, but I began to heal from that hurt. Still, it was scary to put myself out there again at the risk of rejection. Reliving all the let-down just induced too much anxiety. And as I severed ties with an entire network of people, I lost almost all my "friends." (Using that term lightly because real friends don't do that kind of stuff.) Feeling alone, I just quit trying. Maybe one person/family a year.

The thing is, I am not a reclusive person. I am pretty social, and I love, love, LOVE to entertain. Seriously, I think one of my God-given ministries is the food ministry, as corny as that sounds. I love blessing people by cooking for them and serving them food, letting them take a break from their cooking, and I enjoy spending time with people. I really do.

So my epiphany is, even though I'm a social person, I gave up. I gave up on having people over because I gave up on trying to connect with people out of rejection. I didn't want to invite insincere "friends" over, and I was too scared to take a chance and invite someone who might ultimately hurt me into my home. This is my sanctuary, and I shouldn't allow people to hurt me on my own turf. So I think I just gave up on keeping my house very clean because I just figured, "well, nobody's coming over anyway, so why should it matter." Ultimately, I let it go to have an excuse to shut people out of my house, and in doing so, keeping a wall up so that I didn't really have to get that close to people. The problem is, I've realized that having few "real" friends is pretty lonely.

Admittedly, I am not really one who reaches out to people in the first place. I never have been. Sadly, I think I am more of a "taker" in my friendships than a "giver." People have to extend themselves to me, invite me, plan an event...I don't generally take that initiative.

But something has to change. I'm not getting any younger, and I think turning 30 a few weeks ago has made me re-evaluate my life, my current happiness, and the direction in which I'm going. I'm not unhappy or going through life without purpose - far from it - but I know I can have, and deserve, more. And so do my kids.

I feel self-conscious even about my kids' friends coming over a lot of the time, so unless someone asks, I rarely extend the invite on their behalf. I always wanted to be the "cool, young mom" whom all my kids' friends loved, and wanted to have pretty much an open door policy here at our house, where their friends always felt welcome to drop in. Neither my husband nor I had that growing up, so its kind of a foreign concept to us, but its what I've always desired to be as a mom. But I am depriving my kids, their friends, and myself of that. My kids need to have that ability to have friends over too, and what I'm doing is unfair to them. I can choose to shut people out because I'm an adult. They're kids, and they deserve that right.

So here's my goal... Reach out to more people. Stop making excuses, let go of the past, get this house in order, and start inviting people over! Sure, the whole thing seems a little daunting, but nothing worth anything in life comes easily. The house needs a lot of work (and its still 100 years old and funky...even on a "good" day its no lap of luxury), but I know its doable. I just have to do it. And I can't spend my life shutting people out and keeping them at an arm's length. In the end, I'm the one who will end up alone and unhappy. And that's just not fair.

So...here's to turning over a new leaf. And why did I blog about this? Because I think maybe having "witnesses," people to hold me to my word, may help me follow through. "May" being the key word. ;)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sharia

Sharia. It seems to be the new "buzz word" that people, particularly conservatives, keep getting all up in arms about. I am not going to say other people do or do not do their own "homework" because honestly I don't know, but as a Magic 8 Ball would say, "signs point to no." Why do I think that? Because it seems while this word is thrown around so much, largely as a scare tactic and a way to oppose anything having to do with the Muslim religion and culture in America, nobody I've come across personally can actually correctly define Sharia law. And so, to better grasp what it is in the first place, and why people are so opposed to it, I went in search of answers. And after hours upon hours of research, I still barely understand it. But here's my feeble attempt anyway, for whatever its worth.

The argument I hear by conservatives is that Sharia law is leaking into both American culture and her courts, and that the powers that be are allowing it, and that pretty soon Sharia "law" is going to basically take over America as we know it.

First of all, from my understanding, there is moral/personal Sharia - the moral, ethical, religious, and highly personal governance of one's own life by Sharia law. And there is legal Sharia - Sharia as it applies to legal matters. Yes, they are intertwined somewhat, but that doesn't mean they share the same function. The way I compare it to make it relevant to myself is the differentiation between Christianity being the framework by which I govern my own personal life, and the Constitution being the framework by which I abide by my country/culture's laws.

Secondly, Sharia itself is largely hard to define - both personal and court Sharia - because so much of it isn't "nailed down." Some comes straight from the Koran or other esteemed Muslim writings. But a lot of it also comes from.... Honestly, nobody knows where. It is based in large part on tradition and things accepted as "Muslim," however much of it appears nowhere in print. At least Christian Americans can say their convictions come from written sources - morally/personally from the Bible, and legally from the Constitution.

Read -here- for excellent information about this, including passages taken from the Koran and other Muslim writings. (Just be forewarned, some pop ups may come up when you click on the page...annoying and detracting, but I promise, the article is well worth the read.)

Now maybe its just bacause I am a Christian American, but I find the whole idea of a moral and legal code that isn't in written form unsettling. A code of any kind that isn't defined is one that is open to biases, corruption, usage for personal power and/or notariety, personal gain, manipulation, inaccurate translation and application...and the list is endless. Therein lies the fundamental flaw, in my eyes, within Sharia, and why I don't believe it will EVER be tolerated by or used for legal purposes within our courts. Even in matters pertaining to one's personal ethics. And here's why.

NO citizen in America, regardless of their religion, gets a free pass on murder (honor killings) or spousal or child abuse. Pre-meditated murder = life imprisonment or death sentence - end of story. People make the argument that honor killings have been permitted in America. This is absolutely untrue to the best of my knowledge. There is one case I know of where a man has been convicted and is on the run, but once caught, that man WILL be brought to justice for his heinous crime. Further, as for "eye for an eye retribution," that is also shot down hard by the Eighth Amendment's guideline for fair trials and justice to be carried out. "...nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." A court would never allow someone to enact retribution on another that is "cruel and unusual," such as, for example, crashing their car into someone because they killed their relative in a drunk driving accident.

In other countries, yes, some heinous acts of Sharia have been permitted or "swept under the rug" based on what I can only define as "religious exemptions." However, in America, that would be unconstitutional. It would be showing religious favortism, which is contrary to the Constitution's First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

This protects our rights to our religion, but it also protects one religion from being esteemed over another. To make an exception/exemption on a moral or legal matter which violates Constitutional law, would be in and of itself unconstitutional. So to permit or downplay honor killings, spousal abuse, child abuse, eye for an eye retribution, or anything else that is prosecuted by the law of the Constitution based on one's religion would be unconstitutional.

Still not convinced? Think of it this way... This is America. In America, regardless of whether or not you're a citizen of this country, if you're on our soil and commit a crime, you answer to our laws and legal process - NOT that of the country from which you immigrated or are visiting. And most, if not all, countries around the world have that same structure. Most other countries' legal processes/customs are a lot more harsh and their systems are a lot more corrupt and biased, but ultimately, you are to answer to the legal process of the country in which you commit the crime. It may not seem right, and it may not seem fair, but that's how it works. To ask that your own legal process be used in another country's courts is ludicrous to begin with! You would be laughed at for even asking!

But for the sake of argument, let's look at what would happen if we even tried to allow Sharia in our courts.

To cross-reference, here's the Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

And here's the Sharia. These references are taken from -Wikipedia- but have been collaborated by a number of other sources. I am going to break it down with my own comments/dissections.

-- Sharia courts do not generally employ lawyers; plaintiffs and defendants represent themselves.

So a Muslim wants to use Sharia. Great, then they waive their right to legal representation. In my opinion, that is a really stupid legal move, but okay, fine, that's their right. It probably won't work very well in their favor - it will make for a VERY weak case, since an "Average Joe" doesn't know the court system the way an attorney does - but whatever, that's their choice. If they want to waive the right and have little to no strong case and probably therefore lose their legal battle, then fine. No skin of my nose.

-- Trials are conducted solely by the judge, and there is no jury system.

So much for a "public trial, by an impartial jury." The Sixth Amendment pretty much shoots that down to begin with, which is enough right there. But for the sake of argument, even if it was decided that a jury not be present, that is putting your fate in the hands of one person - one person who may have missed things, has biases, etc. In my opinion, not wise.

-- There is no pre-trial discovery process...

This would not lead to a fair trial AT ALL! Things would be VERY skewed! Without a pre-trial discovery process, crucial evidence isn't obtained, so never entered into court. This could cause a guilty person to go free, or an innocent person to be charged. It is crucial to the process in order to maintain an "unbiased" trial! I just cannot foresee our courts, under constitutional law, EVER conducting a legal proceeding without it.

-- ...no cross-examination of witnesses...

Again, this is integral to the Sixth Amendment's guidelines "to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor..." And without cross-examination, you are only hearing one side of the story. This could either exhonerate a guilty party, or convict an innocent one.

-- ...and no penalty of perjury.

No penalty for lying?!? Well, if lying is permitted without penalty, then you know there will be a LOT more liars in court than there already are! Wow, can we say corruption of justice?? If this were ever to happen, then yes, that would be a scary thing, because it would undermine the entire legal fundamentals of American justice!

-- Instead of precedents and codes, Sharia relies on medieval jurist's manuals and collections of non-binding legal opinions, or fatwas, issued by religious scholars (ulama, particularly a mufti); these can be made binding for a particular case at the discretion of a judge.

Non-binding opinions? Issued by religious scholars? Made binding at the discretion of a judge? Did these stick out like sore thumbs to anyone beside me?!? This would mean an ever-changing, ever-open-for-discussion, nothing-set-in-stone legal system. The Constitution IS set in stone! It cannot be changed on the whim of one judge or religious leader, and is hard to misinterpret, especially since our legal guidelines are pretty airtight. I take comfort in knowing what (hypothetically) would be facing me BEFORE I stand trial, and not be at the mercy of the judge, based on what the religious "scholars" are telling him/her! And fortunately, with the Constitution, I can go into any court knowing what to expect, and knowing its not subject to change based on the "gospel" of any religious leader or the discretion of any judge. Shot down by the Sixth Amendment once again!

-- Sharia courts' rules of evidence also maintain a distinctive custom of prioritizing oral testimony and excluding written and documentary evidence (including forensic and circumstantial evidence), on the basis that it could be tampered with or forged, or possibly due to low levels of literacy in premodern Islamic society. A confession, an oath, or the oral testimony of a witness are the only evidence admissible in a Sharia court, written evidence is only admissible with the attestations of multiple, witnesses deemed reliable by the judge, i.e. notaries.[107] Testimony must be from at least two witnesses, and preferably free Muslim male witnesses, who are not related parties and who are of sound mind and reliable character; testimony to establish the crime of adultery, or zina must be from four direct witnesses. Forensic evidence (i.e. fingerprints, ballistics, blood samples, DNA etc.) and other circumstantial evidence is likewise rejected in hudud cases in favor of eyewitnesses, a practice which can cause severe difficulties for women plaintiffs in rape cases.

Sorry for such a big chunk on this one, but it all makes pretty much the same points over and over, but better than I can, so there ya go. Basically, with Sharia law, any evidence other than verbal testimony is rejected. No forensics, no circumstantial, no written, nada. However, the majority of the most heinous crimes, such as murder, rape, etc., HAVE NO WITNESSES!! So we're supposed to reject forensics, physical evidence, cirumstantial evidence, and written evidence in favor of the testimony of a suspected murderer or rapist?!? Are you kidding me?!? Basically, all the evidence says the perp is guilty, but he gets off scott free because, well, he says he's innocent?!! Oh, and I'm sure his cronies testifying on his behalf are all credible witnesses who are telling the truth and were there to witness him raping some poor woman. Yeah...of course they were. And obviously, their testimony is better and stronger than the victim's because, well, they're men, and men are always so much more honest and credible. Of course they are. (That was sarcasm, if you couldn't tell.) Sarcasm aside, this would NEVER fly in an American court of law! NEVER! We find the evidence, process it, and USE it, and let the EVIDENCE have a voice. To silence the evidence is to silence the most credible witness.

-- Testimony from women is given only half the weight of men, and testimony from non-Muslims may be excluded altogether (if against a Muslim). Non-Muslim minorities, however, could and did use Sharia courts, even amongst themselves.

Yeah, that'll make for an impartial trial. Mm hmm. And besides, I'm sure all the women's rights activists will just roll over and let that happen! (Sarcasm again.)

-- Sharia courts, with their tradition of pro se (self) representation, simple rules of evidence, and absence of appeals courts, prosecutors, cross examination, complex documentary evidence and discovery proceedings, juries and voir dire (oath of honesty and honor) proceedings, circumstantial evidence, forensics, case law, standardized codes, exclusionary rules, and most of the other infrastructure of civil and common law court systems, have as a result, comparatively informal and streamlined proceedings.

This is Wiki's summary, so I'll offer mine. (Oh goody. As if you haven't read enough of my mumble jumble already, right?!) Basically, by my interpretation, their system is one entirely of "he said, she said." Nothing is concrete, and its highly biased and wishy-washy. It is open to interpretation, changes, corruption, selfish usages, and therefore, I'm sure, results in many (if not mostly) false convictions and exhonerations.

By contrast, the US Constitution is concrete. It doesn't change, it doesn't bend, and if implemented properly, cannot be penetrated by corruption or used for ones' own personal motives. Each person walking into a court knows what to expect. They know its going to allow them a speedy, fair, public trial by an unbiased jury. They know there will be witnesses who will be cross-examined, and forensic, physical, circumstantial, and written evidence will be allowed to speak for itself and for the victim.

Ultimately, Sharia itself - moral and legal - is different from person to person. Each person defines it differently, and since there is no concrete governing document (for either facet, but especially legal) by which to base, well, anything really, then I cannot believe it will ever come to pass here in America. How can something undefined overrule and overthrow the defined?

Bottom line, as long as the Sixth Amendment stands, then Sharia never will. And based on that, I don't live in fear of Sharia. Do I like it? No. Would I ever use it to live by in my own life? Never. Would I (given the choice) want to use it in a court of law? No way. But because of my Constitution, and the court system in my America, I don't live in fear of it. Sure, its an interesting time and world in which we live. But this is America. Its Constitution is POWERFUL, and I have faith in it and in my country, that it will never be torn down in favor of a system that is so fundamentally flawed, ineffective, and biased. That's not what America is about - not when the Constitution was written, not now, and (hopefully) not ever. I think we'd have to get both really stupid and really lazy before we'd ever practice Sharia in our courts, or permit the aspects of it which violate constitutional and human rights in our culture. And I like to believe we're smarter than that. ;)