Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

In college, I was quite the busy-body. I found my self-worth in participating in every possible activity, club, and organization. I was in the band, played tennis, and a member of student council. I was also a member of the student television news station, volunteered with the Chapel every Sunday, and I pledged a sorority. Can you say, “busy?!” The less I slept, the more meals I skipped, and the more coffee I drank, the more valuable I felt.

I was not taking care of my temple. Instead, I was abusing it as if that was a way to win God’s approval. As I write this now, it sounds so silly. I’ve matured a lot. But in my younger years, I had some serious insecurities and lacked self-worth. I literally hated everything about the body I was in. I hated my mind, I hated my body, and I hated my spirit. As a result, every part of me was mistreated by…me.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since my college days. I’ve learned that there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and make him value me more than He already does. How could I forget that He was the one who formed me in my mother’s womb? How could I forget that He created me in His own image? How could I not honor Him by taking care of the body, mind, and spirit that He formed—in detail—when He created me?

Since taking care of myself was a completely foreign concept to me, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one morning and begin eating healthy meals and taking time for myself. I truly struggled with how to start valuing and treating myself like a daughter of The King.

“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that are as healthy in body as you are strong in Spirit.” — 3 John 1:2

 

God is glorified when we take care of the temples He gave us, and it is important that we do so in body, mind, and spirit.

Feeding your temple: BODY

In college, I was barely eating. I skipped meals to make time for all of my activities, and when I did eat, I only ate cereal, ramen noodles, and fries from the dollar menu at fast-food restaurants. Talk about nutritious! However, I realized that I wanted to be energized to do work for God’s Kingdom, but the way I was fueling my body was leaving me tired, weak, and lethargic. It was time for a diet change.

If you’re active on social media and spend your life online—like most people do—you are most likely aware of the constant pressure to eat healthier, lose weight, and feel your best. However, with my focus being on God’s glory, I chose to change my diet to ensure that His temple that He created was thriving. He is my motivation for healthy living – not how my body looks.

So, if you are looking to make some changes in how you feed your temple, here are a few tips:

Take time out to prepare three healthy meals a day. Breakfast is as important as lunch and lunch is as important as dinner. It is so tempting to skip a meal when we are on-the-go, but we are truly doing ourselves a disservice when we do this.

Start small. It can be overwhelming to change every eating habit at once. Start with breakfast. Set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you normally get up to allow yourself time to prepare and eat a nutritious meal.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, look up healthy alternatives online to satisfy that craving. My go-to is a chocolate peanut butter smoothie that is made with raw cacao powder and organic peanut butter. Super healthy and super delicious! It doesn’t have to be hard to feed your body delicious, nutritious meals. You will feel more energized and your body will thank you.

Feeding your temple: MIND

I believe that this falls under the category of taking time for yourself. Let’s face it. We are busy people. This society thrives on “busyness.” I fell into that trap in college and I still have trouble with it today as a wife and mom.

Things have to get done! There is no time for myself! Sleep? What is that?

Sound familiar?

However, if we neglect sleep and fail to take time for ourselves, our minds become cluttered. And, I realized that when my mind is cluttered, I struggle to hear God and stay in tune with His presence. I am here to glorify the Lord through my every step and if I can’t hear Him, due to a cluttered mind, how can I glorify Him?

I recommend writing down areas in your life that you can see as mind clutter. For me, it’s social media, my busy schedule, and a constant need for perfectionism. Once you figure out what your areas are, write down ways to clear your mind from these things.

I’m going to make a commitment to find time every day to be social media-free. I am going to commit to saying “no” to something on my agenda that just isn’t important and replace that time with something a bit more relaxing.

What commitments can you make to clear your mind? Whatever they are, write them down to help you stick to them. Place Post-It Notes around your house with your commitments. Set reminders on your phone. Write them down in your planner. Ask an accountability partner to remind you of your commitments.

Feeding your temple: SPIRIT

Finally, it is important to feed your spirit. It is the spirit of The Lord that lives inside of you. It is the spirit that God intricately created that makes you, YOU. It is your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Feeding this area of your temple is so important.

However, can I be honest with you? This is the hardest area for me to feed and keep healthy. Can anyone else relate? Why is it easier to scroll through social media than it is to open our Bibles and receive the Truth?

I’ll be the first to admit that planning a healthy meal is much easier for me than devoting time to my relationship with God. I am so thankful for God’s grace and strength in this huge area of weakness for me.

One thing that has truly helped me in this area is getting connected in my church community. Serving in the Church and being a part of small groups Bible studies are both ways to fuel my spirit. They are great ways to ensure that I am taking time out to refresh with The Lord.

However, alone time with the Lord is equally as important and should be a part of our daily lives.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate alone time is to worship in the car while I am driving. No phone, no distractions, just me and the Lord.

While working on your relationship with God, keep in mind that we are not earning God’s approval by spending more time with Him. We cannot do anything to make Him love us more. We are strengthening our relationship with Him because He desires us so much! Don’t let the enemy turn your efforts into a guilt trap when you fall short, because, the truth is, we will always fall short. We are human.

Our Heavenly Father gave each of us these beautiful temples that were made in His image. It is imperative that we take care of them and treasure them just as He treasures us. When we do so, we are making ourselves even more available for Him to use us at His will for His glory, and we are fueled and ready to live the lives that God has called us to live.

What are some healthy ways that you use to feed your temple? Share them below.

Violence isn’t the only way Christian nationalism endangers democracy

Violence isn’t the only way Christian nationalism endangers democracy

(RNS) — One year ago at the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, the world witnessed one way in which Christian nationalism imperils American democracy. We’ve all seen photos and footage of the mob violence perpetrated by Americans waving Christian flags, clad in Christian clothing, saying Christian prayers. As some increasingly isolated and radicalized religious conservatives react to their loss of power, the threat of their political violence is real. But it is not the only way Christian nationalism jeopardizes our democracy.

The fact is, Christian nationalist ideology — particularly when it is held by white Americans — is fundamentally anti-democratic because its goal isn’t “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Its goal is power. Specifically, power for “true Americans like us,” Christians in an almost ethnic sense, those who belong — the worthy. Stemming from this, the most salient threat white Christian nationalism poses to democracy is that it seeks to undermine the very foundation of democracy itself: voting.

We can see this connection long before the 2020 presidential election or recent efforts to restrict voter access throughout the country. As historian Anthea Butler recounts, at a 1980 conference Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority, spoke about electoral strategy to Christian right leaders including Tim LaHaye, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Sr. and then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

Weyrich famously explained:
“Many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome. Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
In Weyrich’s own words, the goal of these Christian right leaders wasn’t more Americans exercising their democratic rights. The goal is “leverage” and, with it, victory. Over the next few decades, Weyrich and other organizations he co-founded, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, tirelessly promoted legislation to restrict voter access, guided by the belief that voting must be controlled, lest the wrong sorts of people determine the outcome.

In a recent study I conducted with co-authors Andrew Whitehead and Josh Grubbs, we documented this same strong connection between Christian nationalist ideology and wanting to limit voter access. We surveyed Americans just before the November 2020 elections and thus before Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” began to dominate the narrative on the right. We use a scale to measure Christian nationalism that includes questions about the extent to which Americans think the government should declare the U.S. a Christian nation, that America’s success is part of God’s plan and other such views.

Even after we accounted for political partisanship, ideological conservatism and a host of other religious and sociodemographic characteristics, Christian nationalist ideology was the leading predictor that Americans felt we already make it “too easy to vote.”

You may ask, “Who exactly is voting too easily?” The obvious answer is the bogeyman trope of fraudulent voters — those pets, dead people and undocumented immigrants Trump warned about in spring 2020. This myth of widespread voter fraud is decades old and has been thoroughly debunked numerous times. Yet, unsurprisingly, we also found that Christian nationalism is the leading predictor that Americans believe “voter fraud in presidential elections is getting rampant these days.” And it bears repeating: Americans who affirm Christian nationalism already felt this way before the 2020 presidential election.

But other evidence suggests Christian nationalism doesn’t just hope to exclude fraudulent voters. For adults who believe America should be a “Christian nation,” their understanding of who should vote is even more narrow. For example, we asked Americans whether they would support a policy requiring persons to pass a basic civics test in order to vote or a law that would disenfranchise certain criminal offenders for life. These questions hark back to arbitrary Jim Crow restrictions white Southerners used before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Once again, Christian nationalism is the leading predictor that Americans would prefer both restrictions.

But why?

Part of the reason for this is, as Weyrich explained in 1980, electoral leverage. Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalism likely assume persons excluded by civics tests and lifetime felon disenfranchisement (younger Americans and ex-convicts who are disproportionately Black) would be political threats, not allies.

Yet another reason also involves how white Christian nationalists view voting in general. In data we collected in August 2021, we asked Americans to indicate whether they felt voting was a right or a privilege. Though constitutional language repeatedly states voting is a right for citizens, Americans still debate the issue. As I show in Figure 1, the more Americans embrace Christian nationalism, the more likely they are to view voting as a privilege (something that can be extended or taken away) rather than a right (something that shall not be infringed). Indeed, at the extreme end of Christian nationalism, the majority hold this view.

Other evidence beyond voter access suggests Christian nationalism inclines Americans to favor institutional arrangements that preserve their political power. In the same October 2020 survey we used for the earlier study, we found that the more white Americans affirmed Christian nationalist ideology, the more likely they were to reject the popular vote as a means of selecting the president, to favor the Electoral College and to disagree that gerrymandering needed to be addressed to ensure fairer congressional elections (see Figure 2). Why? Almost certainly because these arrangements currently give white, rural, conservative Americans an electoral advantage even when they are numerical minorities. Again, the goal is power, not fairness or democracy.

As scholars of right-wing political movements point out, democracy is gradually eroded under some ideological covering, one that stokes populist anxiety with menacing tropes about cultural decline and justifies anti-democratic tactics to “save” or “restore” the nation — to make the nation great again. In the United States, white Christian nationalism is that ideological covering. In the minds of white Americans who believe America should be for “Christians like us,” increasing ethnic and religious diversity is a threat that must be defeated for God to “shed his grace on thee.”

Moreover, Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalism already thought voter fraud was rampant before November 2020. Today, in the aftermath of Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen election, which is still believed by over 80% of the most ardent believers in Christian nationalism, electoral integrity is viewed as hopelessly compromised. Thus, they see restricting voter access to those who prove worthy, and maintaining institutional advantages provided by the Electoral College and gerrymandering, as necessary strategies for preserving power and preventing what they see as their own imminent persecution under a Democratic administration.

The threat of Christian nationalist violence like what we saw on Jan. 6 is real. Yet because such threats are so obvious and shocking, and the role of Christian nationalism in them is so blatant, they make gaslighting about them more challenging. (Though Republican leaders are certainly trying, just the same.) In contrast, the threat of Christian nationalism as an ideological covering for voter suppression is perhaps more destructive because its influence is more subtle and its effects (electoral outcomes) are more consequential. Demagogues like Trump will no longer need to mobilize Christian nationalist violence after an electoral loss once they’ve ensured they’ll never lose in the first place.

(Samuel L. Perry is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of two books on Christian nationalism, including the award-winning “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States” (with Andrew L. Whitehead) and the forthcoming “The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy” (with Philip Gorski). The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. See other Ahead of the Trend articles here.

Pots and Kettles

Pots and Kettles

Something I’ve always struggled with while studying the bible is the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. The New Testament holds a special place for most Christians because it contains the records of Christ’s life. As we strive to become more like Christ, it is easy to focus exclusively on this series of books while neglecting the wisdom and historical context provided by the Old Testament. On the other hand, I’ve witnessed people strip that same historical context from this part of the bible for personal and political gain. So I decided to try and develop a better understanding of what this collection of books is trying to say for myself. 

One of the aspects of the Old Testament that often goes overlooked are the books of  prophecy (Isaiah through Malachi). Compared to some of the more popular Old Testament books, these stories tend to be less self-contained and also require some outside knowledge of the context in which they were written to make much sense. One historical event in particular sticks out in these books, the Babylonian captivity. 

The comparison between America and Babylon has been made to the point of meaninglessness, instead, I want to focus on Israel’s role in this story. First though, it would help to establish a definition for what the Babylonian captivity was and its relevance to biblical history. In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple. After the city fell, he enslaved large swaths of the population and forced them to migrate to Babylon. This exile contains the stories of Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. However, leading up to this point, God sent many prophets to warn Israel of its fate. The biggest warning, perhaps, was the fall of Israel’s northern kingdom to the Babylonians nearly a decade earlier. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah tried to warn Jerusalem that they would meet the same fate as their northern counterpart if they didn’t attempt to make a change. Sure enough, this fate came to pass and it irrevocably changed Jewish culture and religion as a result. 

But I want to focus on how things got to this point. How could a God that claims to love his adherents also allow them to be enslaved, conquered, and killed. The answer lies in the nature of covenants. One of the oldest and most important covenants in the Bible is between God and Abraham. It provides the cultural narrative of the Jewish faith, that God promised to protect and guide the descendants of Abraham so long as they remained loyal to him alone. Pretty simple, but the region where Jerusalem is located has always been a hotly contested area of land. All around Israel, powerful cities increased their strength beneath the banners of false gods and idols. Over the course of centuries, Israel declined in prominence from the golden age of King David as places like Babylon, Persia, and Egypt began to thrive. Instead of remaining faithful to the invisible promises of God, Israel forsook it’s covenant in order to gain a fraction of the wealth and influence seen sprouting up in the neighboring nations. 

Ultimately, it is this betrayal that caused the downfall of Jerusalem. A promise takes two sides to uphold and God showed the people of Jerusalem grace by giving them an example of what awaited them in the future. Isaiah 2:6-9 follows the prophet Isaiah as he tries to convince the people of Jerusalem to return to God’s covenant. His diagnosis is very clear. Israelites abandoned God in favor of sorcery, sexual ritualism, and idolatry. Despite the warnings from the prophet and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, Israel persisted until their eventual destruction and captivity. But why? What force could be so powerful that it would prevent an entire nation that had been blessed beyond desire in the past to forsake their faith? 

At the heart of the problem is pride. Isaiah 2:6-9 illustrates the relationship that Israel had with these idols. They were works of art on some level, seemingly erected by patrons in order to display not just their piety but also their wealth. They literally erect works made from their own labor and worshiped them as if they are gods. In return, these idols made them prosperous. Eased political tensions within the region came about as a result of this cultural cross-pollination which facilitated trade which, in turn, made Jerusalem very wealthy. Gold and silver were seemingly endless in those days. In their quest to elevate their nation and by extension themselves, Israel broke their covenant with God thus removing his blessing and making them vulnerable to Babylonian invasion. 

My first impulse when researching this topic was to point my finger at the world around me and externalize the accusations leveled against Israel onto American culture or the modern church, but that misses the point entirely. Culturally, we have an idea of Babylon as greedy, vain, sexually immoral, and paganistic. On closer inspection, however, Israel was just as guilty of all of these things if not more. What is the point of judging Babylon when they were ignorant of God’s power entirely. In much the same way that Israel bore witness to the full power of God in its history and chose to forsake that in favor of idols; there are certainly places in my life where my faith fails despite the overwhelming blessings God has given me in the past. There are certainly places in my life where I put myself on a pedestal so the admiration of others drowns out the guilt I feel. Instead of trying to deny that those parts of me exist, perhaps it’s better to recognize the areas in my life where I put myself before Christ and address them. This might not be everyone’s story, but if you think you’re too holy, well-respected, or ecclesiastic enough to never struggle with pride then I have a trophy to sell you to commemorate your spiritual enlightenment.