Question: I’ve been trying to use The Secret and so far, it hasn’t worked. I’m about to give up on it.
Answer: You haven’t really asked a question, but your declaration seems to be filled with disappointment. I assume The Secret to which you refer is the book by Rhonda Byrne that teaches we each have the power to shape how our lives unfold. I don’t know how you’ve been using it or for what purpose, so I can’t really address why it doesn’t seem to be working. What I do know is that hope is better than despair, forgiveness is better than resentment, and looking for what is right is more empowering than dwelling on what is wrong.
We all struggle at some point with health issues or finances or relationships or career or personal loss. And there are several self-help methods that offer hope and encouragement to help us get through the difficult times. If The Secret doesn’t appeal to you, there is A Course in Miracles, The Power of Positive Thinking, The Science of Mind, and books by psychologists like Wayne Dyer, spiritual leaders like Louise Hay, and leadership experts like John Maxell. They all agree that focused intention, positive attitudes, and overcoming fear, regret, and resentment can improve the quality of our lives. As one slogan famously counsels, “Change your thinking, change your life.”
I’m sorry that you haven’t found The Secret to be very helpful, but I hope you won’t give up on reading positive literature and surrounding yourself with joyous, optimistic people. Hope and joy enrich our lives, and you are certainly entitled to those wonderful gifts.
Question: Are all the Christian rituals based on astrology? Many pagan celebrations coincided with ours.
Answer: This one is harder than most for me, but I’ll try. The truth is that ancient cultures often felt a divine presence in Nature and looked to the skies for guidance. Matthew’s gospel suggests that astrologers followed a sign in the heavens in order to find Jesus. Easter is calculated by observing lunar cycles in conjunction with the Spring Equinox. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon falling upon or after the first day of Spring.
Some of our rituals (like our Easter celebration and our Epiphany story) have an astrological element to them. But I don’t think that astrology motivated all of our observances. Pentecost, for example, is an ancient Jewish festival that we adopted and Christianized. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th (the day of the Winter Solstice before the calendar was changed), but that is a natural time of year for a community to remind itself that the light of spring will in due course return. I don’t know of any obvious astrological connection for Advent or Lent. Numerology (the idea that numbers can be spiritually significant) plays a role in some of our celebrations: Advent is always four Sundays before Christmas; Christmas is always 12 days leading up to Epiphany; Lent is always 40 days (out of 46 because Sundays are NOT counted in Lent) leading up to Easter; Ascension is always 40 days after Easter and Pentecost is always 50 days after Easter.
The first “followers of the Way” (later to be known as Christians) were Jewish, and within a century the movement had reached out substantially to Gentiles in a pagan culture. So, Christianity has borrowed from Jewish and pagan traditions, and has initiated some of its own to meet its own needs. I wouldn’t say that “all” Christian rituals are based on astrology, but it would be naïve to suggest that astrology and other esoteric traditions didn’t have some influence at times on the development of Christianity.
Question: I don’t see why Jesus had to die such a horrible death? Did God require it? If so, why couldn’t God come up with a less violent way to redeem us? I just don’t understand how brutality can be redemptive.
Answer: The earliest Christians seemed to have some idea that Jesus’ death had meaning and purpose. They celebrated that belief more than they explained it. A couple of centuries after Jesus’ death, a man named Origen thought he had figured it all out. He hypothesized that the world was in the grip of Evil, and God wanted to win the world back. This “Ransom Theory” suggests that God made a bargain with the forces of evil (personified as “Satan”) whereby God would give up an ideal person as a ransom to win back the world; but God cheats Satan out of his winnings by raising Jesus back to life in the Resurrection.
About nine centuries after Origen, a theologian named Anselm came up with what he believed was a better understanding of Jesus’ death. Anselm hypothesized that God was a cosmic monarch, and in Anselm’s world, a monarch’s authority was absolute. Anselm figured that God wanted to redeem humanity, but the integrity of God’s monarchial office wouldn’t allow God just to forgive and forget. Someone had to be punished for the sins of the world. So, Anselm imagined that God sacrificed Jesus to satisfy God’s own wrath. Anselm’s proposal is called the “Satisfaction Theory”.
A few years after Anselm, someone named Peter Abelard came along with a much less violent understanding of things. Abelard believed that God’s love would outweigh God’s wrath. He understood Jesus’ life and death to be an example for us to follow. Jesus lived a life of courageous love and he wouldn’t back down from what he believed was his life’s mission, even if others wanted to kill him for it. His was a moral example, and our admiration of him causes us to follow his example. We serve God by serving others, and if we don’t back down even when the cost is high, we are following Jesus and are thereby assured of right relationship with God. The Abelardian view doesn’t blame God for Jesus’ violent end, nor does it let us off the hook for taking responsibility for our own lives. Abelard’s view is called the “Moral Theory of Atonement”.
About three centuries after Abelard, the Reformation theologians such as Calvin and Luther weighed in. The Reformers modified the Satisfaction model and came up with the vicarious sacrifice model, also called the “Penal Theory”. The Reformers decided that there was a real cost for sin, and so the sins of humanity resulted in a debt owed to God. In their view, Jesus died to pay the debt.
Of course, each of these views has a biblical proof-text or two to support it and each depends on the assumption that God and humanity were somehow separated and needed to be reconciled. However, perhaps it is possible that God has never been apart from the creation that is called in scripture, “very good”. Maybe God loves us and always has, unconditionally and forever.
My personal belief is that Jesus was killed as so many others were, to terrorize the community into being compliant with imperial rule. I don’t believe God required, desired, or sanctioned his brutal execution, or anyone else’s. The miracle for me isn’t how he died but that his followers dared to claim they experienced him beyond his execution. I don’t need to find meaning in his death, because I find meaning in his life. The witness of his earliest followers is that the significance of his life could not be killed! I don’t need to glorify Jesus’ execution in order to celebrate the Resurrection.
Question: I’ve received at least 20 emails saying that the new dollar coin doesn’t have “In God We Trust” on it. Is this a conspiracy to secularize America?
Answer: While most Americans are to some degree religious, and we are very proud that we are free to be religious (or not), our country is not a theocracy. So a conspiracy to “secularize” the U.S. is, at this time, unnecessary.
Additionally, the rumor that the new coin doesn’t have “In God We Trust” on it is false. According to the Urban Legends Reference Pages ( www.snopes.com/politics/religion/dollarcoin.asp) the U.S. Mint began a new Presidential $1 Coin Series in 2007. On these new coins, the year of minting, the motto from the Great Seal of the United States (“E Pluribus Unum”), and the national motto (“In God We Trust”) are inscribed on the edge of the coins. The phrases that were relocated to the edge were meant to allow for larger art work. I personally have seen a couple of these one-dollar coins, and “In God We Trust” is indeed inscribed on the edge.
Apparently, when the new coin was first released a year ago, a mechanical error omitted the inscription from a small number of coins that wound up in circulation. The omission was never intentional and was quickly corrected. Furthermore, the coins in the series that will be minted in 2009 are supposed to have the motto returned to either the front or the back of the coins.
Question: I don’t believe that God created the world in seven days. I don’t think non-Christians need to be “saved”. I’ve started reading (and enjoying) A Course in Miracles. And I certainly don’t believe it’s a sin to be gay. My brother tells me that my beliefs mean that I’m not really Christian. Can I be Christian on my current path?
Answer: A Christian is someone who chooses to identify as a follower of Jesus. There are many stories about Jesus, and a variety of beliefs about him, but his primary message was that his followers should live loving lives. The Jesus kind of love confronts oppression, resists injustice, cares about people who have been denied privilege, and offers hope and healing to as many people as possible. Nothing you have said indicates that you have abandoned those Christ-like virtues. In fact, it sounds as if you may be “more” Christian than those who define faith by what or who they are against. If you choose to call yourself Christian, then I would say a Christian is exactly what you are.
If you have questions about faith, the bible, the church, or sexuality & spirituality, you can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to the Cathedral web site at www.sunshinecathedral.org and click on the link there. Rev. Durrell Watkins will answer your questions and publish the answers in this column. Your name will always be withheld, so only the actual question and the response will be printed.
The Length: The Easter season begins on the eve of Easter, ending on the eve of Pentecost, 50 days later. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon falling upon or after the first day of Spring. If the full moon occurs on Sunday, Easter is placed on the following Sunday. Easter Day can occur between March 22nd and April 25th. This method of dating Easter is to make it coincide with the feast of the Passover, since the first Easter coincided with that feast.
The Origin: Easter is the oldest festival of the church year. The period of 50 days after Easter is older than either Lent or Advent. For some time these fifty days were considered of greater significance than Lent. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Lent took on greater emphasis than the “Great Fifty Days”… [some theologians feel] that the church should come out of this medieval bondage to Lent and return to the promised land of Easter triumph where it dwelt years ago.
The entire season from Easter to Pentecost was once observed as one continuous festival. Later, in the 4th century, the season was separated into the Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost.
The early church called Easter “Pascha”, a word derived from the Hebrew for Passover. The name Easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess, Eostre, whose festival coincided with the spring equinox.
The General Character: Easter is [considered] the most important day of the church year. [The traditional affirmation is] “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” [The Easter message is so central to the Christian tradition, that] Christians moved their day of worship from the last day of the week to the first so that each Sunday is a “little Easter”. Sundays are never fast days, even during Lent.
Ascension Day falls near the close of [the Easter] season. As determined from scripture, it is the 40th day after Easter, always a Thursday.
[In addition to the ever-popular Easter egg], Easter symbols include seeds bursting forth from a pomegranate, a butterfly, the mythological rising Phoenix, a peacock, the soaring eagle, and popular spring flower, the lily.
[taken from Seasons & Symbols: a handbook on the church year]
Holy Week includes the final week of Lent. Holy Week includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, and occurs in late March or early April. In 2008, Holy Week runs from March 16 – March 22.
Holy Week is the last week of Lent before Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Holy Saturday. Holy Week is the part of the Church Year where Jesus’ final moments are commemorated. The final three days of Holy week are called triduum sacrum, i.e., the sacred three days. These days are commonly called the Paschal Triduum. Holy Week consists of the following events:
On the sixth Sunday of Lent we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Worship services include blessing of the palms and a procession. The liturgical color is red.
This is an old and uncommon name for the Wednesday of Holy Week, which commemorates Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus (see Matthew 26.3-5, 14-16).
The name “Maundy Thursday” is derived from Jesus “mandate” to love one another… This day celebrates [the traditional view of ] Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist.
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
A Fast day of the Church commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In the Catholic Church, the liturgical color was formerly black, but is now red.
This is the final day of both Holy Week and the Triduum. There are few specific customs associated with Holy Saturday, except that it is the final night before the Feast of the Resurrection, which begins at the Great Easter Vigil.
Other customs and events, including Tenebrae, have developed as Holy Week customs.
Holy Week, i.e. the series of pre-Easter festivities commemorating various events of the final days of Christ’s life, probably developed in 4th century Jerusalem, possibly beginning with St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Christians from all over the world would take pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and the Church of Jerusalem provided rites and worship dedicated to reenacting the final events of Christ’s life. The first account we have of such rites is the diary of the pilgrimage of Egeria to Jerusalem around AD 381. Gradually many of these customs and holy days spread to the wider Christian world.
[taken from http://www.churchyear.net/holyweek.html]
One of the areas of service here at Sunshine Cathedral is the Board of Directors. Directors serve two-year terms (maximum of three consecutive terms) and meet monthly as the fiduciary oversight body for the church. If you have been an active member of Sunshine Cathedral for at least six months, have a record of regular attendance and generous financial giving, and have professional administrative experience or have served on other boards, then you might be a wonderful addition to our Cathedral Board. If you would like to be considered for nomination to the Board of Directors, please send a resume to Ed Johnson, Executive Director. Contact Ed by email: email@example.com or by snail-mail: 1480 SW 9th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315-1375. Board elections will take place in April.
The Visitation Ministry is a constant and active ministry of the Sunshine Cathedral. The dedicated members of this ministry team make every effort to reach out whether in person, by phone, and — in this electronic age — email. I would like to think that anyone reading this is also a member of the Visitation Ministry. Without you letting us know that Jane is in the hospital, or Joe is bedridden at home, would we have anyone to minister to? You too can have the blessings of this ministry in a very passive way. Whenever you visit a friend in the hospital, send an email of encouragement, or a get-well card, take a moment and let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We will inform the Canon Circle as well as add that person to our daily prayer list. “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” [Mathew 25:36]
The Lenten season extends over a 46-day period beginning Ash Wednesday and ending on the eve of Easter. The six Sundays in Lent are not actually a part of Lent, and therefore the Lenten season itself is 40 days. Sundays, being weekly commemorations of the first Easter, have always been excluded from this fast[ing] season.
Lent developed from two sources. The first was a period of fasting which preceded Easter in the early church. At first, this period of fasting was held only on Saturday, the day before Easter, lasting until 3:00 am Easter morning, when the Eucharist was celebrated. Later this fast was extended to six days and eventually became separated into the events of Holy Week. Holy Week, then, is an older season than the entire Lenten season.
The second source for this season of Lent was the Baptism of candidates into the faith on the eve of Easter. Since the early church was an “underground movement”, candidates were carefully screened, and there was a long period of preparation. The strictest part of this probationary period came… just before the time of Baptism. A fasting period of 40 days was required, the length of which was suggested by [Jesus’] fasting in the wilderness, Moses’ fasting at Mt. Sinai, and Elijah’s fasting on the way to the Mount of God — each 40 days. Eventually, this period of preparation for Baptism evolved into a general period of preparation for Easter to be observed by all Christians.
The word “Lent” probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon lencten, meaning spring, and the German Lenz, meaning the time when the days lengthen.
The final week of Lent is called Holy Week. Thursday in Holy Week (aka “Maundy Thursday”) is the anniversary of the institution of the Lord’s Supper which was held the evening before the crucifixion. Maundy Thursday is derived from the Latin mandatum, meaning command, referring to the foot-washing ceremony at the Last Supper when Jesus spoke of the new commandment to love one another [extravagantly]… Friday in Holy Week… is the anniversary of the crucifixion. The term “Good Friday” probably came from “God’s Friday” just as “good-bye” comes from “‘God be with ye”.
[taken from Seasons & Symbols: a Handbook on the Church Year]