Throughout history, religion has been a powerful motivator for every society. Both wars and charities claim it as a motivator. As a life long agnostic and average high school student, I have very little experience with any religion. This is a problem. In order to understand the world, I need to be able to understand one of humanity's biggest motivators. And I can't stop with going to a local youth group. In the summer of 2017, I spent a week or so on several world religions (Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam). As the school year sways into swing, I''ll continue with this sentiment. I will continue reading religious literature, interviewing people of many faiths on their and other religions, visiting places of worship and more. I plan on broadening the scope of religions I encounter and delving deeper into my weekly religions. Please join me for this journey.
On the fourteenth of December, I interviewed Paul Davis about his take on Christianity and Lutheranism. He serves as the Director of Faith Formation at Poulsbo First Lutheran Church, a historic church in Poulsbo, Washington. You can check out their website here. I attended a Sunday service there on December tenth, and I really enjoyed it, especially the stained glass windows and tasteful hymns with audience participation. You can check out that experience here.
We talked about some of the basics of Christianity and Lutheranism, as well as some of the overarching concepts of both. He had a lot of insightful comments, however sometimes he just had to say “Ask God.”
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If you’ve ever been to Poulsbo, you’ve probably heard the bell-song rolling through the town at twelve and five o’clock. These chimes emanate from the tower of the Poulsbo First Lutheran Church (check them out here). This tall, sky-blue building looks out over Poulsbo. It graciously hosts a variety of community functions and I have been to a few of them. However, December tenth was my first time actually going inside the historic church nave.
I arrived at the Poulsbo First Lutheran Church ten minutes or so before the start of their eight o’clock service.
I followed the stream of church-goers through the stained glass doors of the main entrance. Several Christmas trees stood around the lobby, the gifts underneath meant for disadvantaged children in the community. The Poulsbo First Lutheran Church is very active with volunteering, especially in cooperation with Fishline, a local charity. I introduced myself to a man who seemed to be greeting individuals as they entered. He revealed himself to be Paul Davis, Director of Faith Formation and the person I had been in correspondence with. He ushered me into the nave of the church and seated along the side with his wife.
She cheerily introduced herself and explained the basic layout of the service, which was helpfully detailed in a pamphlet.
The helpful pamphlets of Christian churches never cease to impress me. There would be a lot of standing up and sitting down, she explained, and we would sing assorted songs from the little red hymn books conveniently stored in the back of the bench in front of us. She promised to alert me before any group movements but doubted it would be that confusing. We both took little red hymnbooks from the ingenious compartment in the back of the bench in front of us.
The benches ran all down the lower center portion of the church’s cross-like layout.
From my seat, I could just see the space where the left arm of the cross would be. A Christmas tree stood beside a blinding stained glass window.
The main focus of the space was an altar centered around a beautiful painting of Jesus.
The very tip of the cross-floorplan had a cross suspended on it, silhouetted with light. The cross’s other arm now drew my attention, as the blue and white-robed choir-singers launched into Wake, Awake, for the Night is Flying and The Advent of Our God.
The pastor, a woman in a white robe, approached the congregation.
She began by going over the news in the blue sub-pamphlet. People were advised to pray for things like the health and well-being of community members going through rough patches, wisdom for our nation’s leaders, and the people in California who are impacted by the wildfires.
She went over upcoming events, including the concert later that day, which highlighted the North Kitsap High School Vocal Point Jazz and a group who were to play the array of bells behind her. After the upcoming events were gone over, there was a brief silence for reflection and prayer. The group chanted a “Confession and Forgiveness” prayer before another “Silence for Reflection and Self Examination”.
There were then a series of hymns, led by the choir and pastor, with a few solos by the pastor. However, every church member had the opportunity to raise their voices, aided by the sheet music in the pamphlets and hymnbooks. The succession of hymns were interspersed with group prayers.
Next came the weekly bible-reading. This week’s verse was “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…” –Ezekiel 37:14
The pastor read aloud the surrounding section of the bible titled “The Valley of Dry Bones”. It detailed a dream-vision shown to the prophet Ezekiel. He sees a valley full of old and dry bones, God says he will bring the bones back to life, God does exactly that, and it is established that this is metaphor for the scattered Jewish people who will one day be reunited by God.
Paul Davis led the children’s sermon. All of the children of the congregation rushed up onto the stage to sit by him. He asked them a few questions and gave them a puzzle. He explained the moral of “The Valley of Dry Bones” using the puzzle as a metaphor for the people of Israel and simple, engaging speech. The congregation laughed as the children predictably did little mischiefs and gave insightful contributions. Then the children were sent back to their seats and the pastor took the stage again.
She connected the sermon to the stress some people feel around the holidays. “Christmas can be a dry bones time,” she admitted, detailing some of her own struggles, offering solutions like the church’s groups for yuletide stress, and describing how Christmas is really about the glory of Christ and has a lot of great aspects too. She clearly spent a lot of time composing this well-thought-out sermon.
More hymns and prayers led up to the offering.
(I did not give an offering because the only money I could find on my person was souvenir pennies from the zoo. I plan on giving a better offering at the next church I go to.) There was more prayer and song.
Then came the distribution.
The benches all gradually rose to walk down the center aisle to take communion. Poulsbo First Lutheran Church offered gluten-free wafers for those with dietary restrictions and grape juice for those who didn’t want to consume wine, in addition to the typical wine and wafers. The I cautiously took a wafer and dipped it in the grape juice as I was dutifully informed that I had been given the flesh and blood of God. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the taste (Sluy’s Bakery’s bread is a bit better than your average communion wafer).
More hymns and prayers followed communion.
I’m terribly sorry that I am not giving these songs and prayers the in depth description they probably deserve. Their numerousness and individuality precludes any in depth representation, and I don’t think they would be terribly surprising to the reader. The hymns do detail the glory of god. The prayers do ask for forgiveness and strength. It was quite lovely.
The service ended with
a sending hymn, a promise to go and peace and serve our neighbors, and a request to share God’s peace with your neighbors. “Peace be with you,” said my helpful neighbor. “Peace be with you,” I reciprocated. Young children raced up and down the aisles, wishing peace to be with those they ran past. I took a moment to enjoy the stunning stained glass.
A friendly woman zeroed in on me, an apparent new-comer, introduced herself and invited me to join them in refreshments downstairs.
I explained the premise of World Religion Weekly, and she enthusiastically talked about her own experiences with other religions. She soon had to leave, but first she introduced me to a group of similarly friendly individuals who talked about some of their friends who belonged to other religions. I regrettably had to leave before the Faith Education program.
Some time ago, I attended a church service at the Alive Covenant Church Poulsbo Chapter. Several of my closest friends are regular attendees of this church, and it was lovely be part of something that was so important to them. You can check out the church’s details here.
I entered the Sons of Norway building about half an hour before the service began. My early arrival gave me time to read through a few brochures and chat with my friend, Molly, as the church band practiced and tuned. The church offered breakfast options in a corner.
First came a Sunday School type discussion group. Children were separated into elementary school and below or middle and high school students. The instructor, a nice woman in Seahawks attire, split the crowded table of adolescents into boys and girls and gave a whiteboard to each. She instructed the group to list everything they had to do in a given week. The boys hotly debated everything, eventually presenting a list scrawled in every direction, listing everything from soccer to sleeping. Merry took charge of the girl’s list, organizing it by day, until a neatly written list of a ridiculous number of activities emerged ranging from lacrosse to jazz band to volunteering at an assisted living home. The instructor read Luke 10:38-42:
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The instructor then advised the assorted middle and high school students to always make room for God in their schedule.
After this Sunday school lesson, the church band launched into a series of hymns. It was absolutely gorgeous. The entire Cockroft family, augmented by a few additional church members artfully executed a number of tastefully chosen hymns. The guitarist artfully avoided the dreaded “Christian Strum.”
Pastor Jagodzinske delivered a thoughtfully worded sermon, emphasizing the need to make room for God in each Christian’s individual schedule, interspersed with announcements regarding the church’s various activities. These ranged from encouraging individuals to go help with hurricane relief to describing the fun the church would have at their next retreat/parent-child bonding camp.
The entire church, including myself, lined up and took a communion of Sluy’s Bakery bread and Welsh’s grape juice. It was delicious, despite its representation of Jesus’s flesh and blood. The church concluded with an encouragement yo take a few Alive Covenant Church chip clips, and my church experience concluded with an interview with Darin Jagodzinske. While I conducted this interview, my property and person became festooned with these chip clips, artfully placed by the impish children of the Cockroft clan. Those little girls could be secret agents.
On the twenty-fourth of September, I got the chance to attend a Sunday sermon at Poulsbo’s Alive Covenant Church. I will soon write about it. After the service, I interviewed Daron Jagodzinske, a pastor at and founding member of Alive Covenant Church. This interview occurred as dedicated church goers moved tables, took down projecting screens, and socialized, so there is a bit of a buzz in the background, despite my best efforts. The shockingly loud bang noises are tables.
A person never truly knows how many Christians they know, until they say that they want to attend a church service.
My small town of Poulsbo is absolutely swimming in churches. When I mentioned that I wanted to attend a church service, I immediately received suggestions of Christian churches from Catholic to Protestant to non-denominational. Ultimately, I chose to visit the North Kitsap Baptist Church because my friend, Gary, presented this option before the other suggestions and offered to drive me. You can learn about them here on their website.
We walked through a maze of hallways to stage-centered room the North Kitsap Baptist Church uses for services.
Impressive lighting and sound equipment perched on a metal frame that spanned the areas in front of the stage. Diaphanous curtains draped the back of the stage, and a message of welcome beamed from the projector screens. Gary and I were on the earlier side, so I had time to get one of the little interactive sheets that a church-goer would fill out throughout the sermon. This struck me as a sensible and clever way to keep individuals engaged.
The service began, as a man with a guitar took the stage, along with harmony singers and a rhythm section.
He introduced himself and launched into a Jesus-centered song. Gary later explained that he was not the usual North Kitsap Baptist Church preacher, though he was a very good public speaker. He sang several songs with his group, most revolving around the themes of God’s greatness and Jesus’s sacrifice. The crowd of worshippers stood for this, most singing along. Several people raised their hands, in apparent devotional ecstasy. This musical opening was quite similar to the many of the other services I have attended (check here for those stories).
This musical section soon ended and was succeeded by a woman announcing upcoming church events.
Awanas, a youth program that teaches children bible passages, was praised, an upcoming Christian finance consultation meeting was promoted, and an advertisement for a grief-therapy program was shown. The church evidently remained busy most days of the week.
Then the sermon began.
I had arrived for the final segment “The Armor of God.” It included metaphors such as “The Helmet of Salvation,” ” The Breastplate of Faith,” And “The Shoes of Peace,” “The Sword of Spirit.” I’ll give a brief summary.
“Finally, be strong in the Lordand in his mighty power.Put on the full armor of God,so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.(Ephesians 6:10) The preacher elucidated that this passage warned Christians to be vigioent against the clever traps of the devil.
“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith,with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephegians: 6:16) This is when the preacher began to go in depth about ancient Roman weapons. Roman shields were usually more than five feet tall and were made of wood wrapped in animal hides and other things which prevented the shield’s bearer from being stabbed. These shields could also be soaked in water, so that they could quite literally extinguish the flaming arrows of the Roman empire’s enemies.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope forand assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews: 11:1) The preacher explained that trusting in any knowledge was faith. He knew the exact weight-holding capabilities of the stage, and he trusted that they were accurate. To emphasize this he jumped up and down a few times. Of course this act of faith wasn’t quite on the same caliber as most occurrences of faith in the bible. Rather than faith in the reliability of measurements, these acts of faith usually involved trusting in the ultimate goodness of god and that even bad things are part of a higher purpose.
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds,and I will show you my faithby my deeds.” (James: 2: 17-18) This was followed by a call to action to “take up the shield of faith.”
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Roman’s 10:10) The preacher explained that faith in God’s word is the only true faith and that faith in yourself is fleeting. Compare it to the Buddhist take here, in my interview with Pra Sandee.
At this point we pulled out our handy-dandy worksheets to fill out Satan’s Fiery Arrows:
A new piece of God’s armor was now introduced, the Helmet of Salvation. A helmet is pretty imperative to any sort of protection gear, as your head is the most vulnerable part of your body. Moreover, the Helmet of Salvation guards your mind from the Fiery Arrows mentioned above.
“But since we belong to the day,let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate,and the hope of salvationas a helmet.For God did not appoint us to suffer wrathbut to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.Therefore encourage one anotherand build each other up,just as in fact you are doing.” (Thessalonians: 5:8-11) The preacher grinned as talked about how cool it would be to see Jesus face to face. Eventually, Christians believe that they will meet Jesus, whether in the afterlife or apocalypse. He instructed the audience to turn to the person next to them and say “Jesus is coming back.” “Jesus is coming back,” stated Gary, grinning. “Okay,” I replied, “That might happen.” I am not Christian, and I cannot honestly say that I have faith in the accurateness of that statement. It was very impressive, how excited the people around me became as they shared their faith with their neighbors.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Revelation: 21: 1) Christians believe that God will one day live alongside his people, and the preacher instructed the worshippers to frequently think on this and their eventual salvation.
“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) He pulled out his phone, and explained that while we no longer keep swords on our belts, our cell phones can be an equally advantageous tool, especially with a bible app.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
“The weapons we fight withare not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10: 4) He then talked about the Hebrew words which were translated to “word” in England. Rama means utterance, while logos means something more like logic.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Here the preacher brought up the importance of memorization to Christians. I was only made aware of this recently, but it has cropped up quite a bit since then. Christians like to memorize bible verses that have meaning to them and keep them in their minds, to be meditated upon when the occasion arises. The preacher hastily elaborated that this was not like an incantation, but more like an inspirational quote. Jesus, himself, used scripture (the “Sword of Spirit”) to ward off Satan when he was tempted.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18) He concluded his sermon by calling on the worshippers to pray for each other.
The North Kitsap Baptist Church sermon ended with more singing.
I thanked the preacher as I walked out the door and chatted for a moment , promising to send him a link. It was a lovely sermon, and I am sorry for the general disheveledness of this post.
This book got straight to the point. No publishing information or title page. It immediately refers the reader to verses which they may need under various circumstances. Tiny text drips off each packed page. Though I loathe paying for a service normally given for free, I love the aesthetic of this little book. Fake red leather, golden embossed letters, and tissue paper pages mark it as beautiful addition to a book shelf. To learn more about the actual content of the Bible, click here.
I spent the last week studying the Quran. That is what my week of studying Islam consisted of. Hopefully, I will be able to go to a mosque this week, though currently technical difficulties are making contacting a little difficult.
The Quran’s narrative style reminds me of the Bhagavad Gita, and its content reminds me of the Bible. The voice alternates from first person (Allah), and third person (describing what Allah says), and second person (describing what will happen to you).
For those who don’t know, Islam is an Abrahamic religion.
Abrahamic religions believe that Abraham, a Jewish patriarch, performed an important spiritual role. The most popular Abrahamic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of these religions include a belief in one, all-powerful, all-knowing-god. From my perspective at least, they believe in basically the same god (whether they are called Allah, God, Yahweh, or any other language’s equivalent it still means god). Despite their many similarities, the Abrahamic religions have a history of strife. Even currently, many Christians would be surprised to learn that the Quran includes biblical stories in almost every chapter. Basically, Islam respects both Judaism and Christianity as legitimate ways to carry out Allah’s will, though Islam considers itself the most recent and truest manifestation of Allah’s will.
But what is in the Quran?
Again, there are a lot of of stories from the New and Old Testament. The Quran also includes a fairly complex legal code. It includes things such as how to properly go about getting a divorce, how to deal with chiefs, and how to divide inheritance. Yes, this law code does seriously inconvenience women. I am interested to see how these sections relate to modern American Muslims, who function under the fairly secular law code of this country.
The Quran also fleshed out some of the issues that divide the Abrahamic religions. Apparently, they believe that the Jews should not consider so many things forbidden, and they do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. They believe that Jesus was created by God, like Adam, and distributed God’s word, like Abraham. The assumption that Jesus is the actual son of God puts him almost equal to God, which is disrespectful to God. I think that Jews have a similar perspective on this.
There are also sections lamenting these divides. The Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same one god, so why do they each believe the others will not achieve the desirable afterlife? I believe that the Quran’s author would be happy that currently many people believe that individuals of different faiths can be good people and achieve the desirable afterlife.
The Christian holy scripts consist of the Bible. It is split into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Interestingly, the Old Testament is the same as the Jewish holy book, the Tanakh.
The Old Testament:
consists of the adventures of the Jewish prophets, who came before Jesus. It contains many instructions which modern Christians consider non-essential, like circumcision and not eating certain animals. I read a large portion of it when I studied Judaism, so I refrained from rereading this portion of the Bible. Christians consider it second in accuracy and value to the New Testament.
The New Testament:
contains several accounts of the life of Jesus and his apostles, along with the Book of Revelation. Honestly, I only managed to get through this with the help of a long, boring car ride. The story of Jesus’s life was fairly interesting the first few times. However, the New Testament rehashes it, with fairly similar content and wording, four times. I have to say that my favorite account was Matthew. It has one of my favorite quotes from the Bible, “So, why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin” (Matthew 6:28). I like the language of it best.
After Jesus’s death, the New Testament continued to describe the lives of the apostles. The apostles generally spread the Gospel far and wide, performing miracles and getting persecuted. This part of the Bible rehashed a lot of Jesus’s message and brought in a few new elements.
Then there was the Book of Revelation. It describes the circumstances of the apocalypse in strange, disordered detail. It includes a seven-eyed sacrificial lamb, and a dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Honestly, I did not really understand it. At least I’m not alone in my confusion. My friend’s Christian grandmother assured me that she had no idea what the Book of Revelation was about either. I will have to ask more Christians. I hope some of them know about it.
This post was a long time coming. On July 27th, my grandmother and I enjoyed a mid afternoon coffee break with Professor Crane, of Linfield College. She is an anthropologist who deals primarily with religion, most notably with Buddhism and Catholicism. We discussed her time in the Buddhist monasteries and the answers to my list of questions.
It was a fascinating way to spend part of the afternoon, and it really revealed my own interest in anthropology.
The sweet Cafe was too loud so a proper interview, so, afterwards, she answered my list of questions. Here are the answers in audio file form, with the questions above to clarify their context.
How often has religion come up in your anthropological studies?
2. What religion have you interacted with the most? Any others?
3. Do you yourself have a religious affiliation?
4. Is there anything you’d like to say about religion from an anthropologist’s viewpoint?
5. Could you talk about religion’s changing role throughout history?
6. What do you have to say about absence of religion from an anthropologist’s viewpoint?
7. What do you think is the most realistic ideal relationship between individuals of different religious affiliations?
It has been fairly uneventful Bible reading, up until a few days ago, which is why there hasn’t been much posting.
New Life is a youth group conglomerate of several chruches, with around sixty members in this branch alone. If you aren’t familiar with youth groups, they are groups of children and teens, assembled by churches in order to develop a sense of community. Which mean that though they are organized by churches, they often focus more on non-church-related things.
I had investigated several youth groups beforehand, realizing that many of them are inactive during the summer. I ultimately chose New Life because it was closest. My friend, Emalee, a longtime New Life goer, invited me to one of their end of summer parties. I understand that usually there is a larger church focus. This gathering included rides on one of the member’s boat, root veer floats, frisbee, and a scavenger hunt that spanned all of downtown Poulsbo. Yes, it was fun. Yes, the root veer floats were delicious.
I mainly talked with several people that I knew from school. The usual questions came up, “How has your summer been? What have you been up to?” I explained my project a few times over.
There was prayer at the beginning and end of the event. The first prayer was just a minute of silence with bowed heads, where the bearded pastor prayed that no one would die on the boat.
Over the course of the event, I spoke to a few people about what Chrsitianity meant to them. Interviews are coming. One mother explained that she really loved youth group because it encouraged her daughter to socialize with people outside of her usual friend group. A few other rearticulated those sentiments. Youth Group is mainly a social occasion, which strengthens individuals bonds with their church by strengthening bonds between it’s members.
The message at the end of the service tied everything back to Christianity. The pastor skillfully made the passage more relevant to the youth by tying it into the Olympic Dream Team. He spoke over how individuals needed to completely yield to Jesus (“go all in for Jesus”) like the apostles who immediately abandoned their fishing nets. The dream team analogy tied into not only giving it your all, but the unique skills each individual has to offer their church and Jesus. This was concluded by referencing the fact that the apostles had to leave their nets behind. Apparently, everyone has to leave something behind in order to fully realize their potential relationship with Jesus. We were encouraged to find out what we, ourselves, have to leave behind.
All in all, it was a good experience, and I am glad that I finally attended one of these staples of modern Christianity.