The Church and “Status Quo”

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

This is something that could have been written yesterday.

But as you can tell by the “twentieth century” reference, it was written before 2000.

In fact it was written in 1963 by Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws were still in effect, preventing people of color from being treated equally under the law.

So often, the church is surprisingly silent on social issues – which is odd when Jesus spent so much time talking about love, and stressing the importance on how we treat each other.

Of course, some say, “look how far we’ve come 50 years later.” But progress is still slow. Heck, even in the 2012 election, people tried to suppress minority voting in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Anyone who suggests that racism and equal rights for all isn’t a problem has their head in the sand. When a white man murders children in a school, church people rally around gun rights and want to arm kindergarten teachers. But when a white man kills a black teenager in cold blood, no one went on a crusade to help get guns in the hands of young black men so that they could defend themselves against racists.

And we must avoid the racism that ignores generational poverty and states that if I was raised middle class, that someone raised in a poor environment has the exact same opportunities as I do. (We hear this all the time – even at church – that the poor in America are poor because they are lazy. We do not like to think that there different people in our country are afforded different opportunities.)

The church needs to forget about trying so hard to defend the status quo – we need to get off our asses and truly make a difference in this world. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think we can do it. I think Jesus would want us to.

Changing Your Story


Worship isn’t vapidly stroking God’s ego as though God has low self-esteem and created us to remind him how great he is. But real worship, true worship is to be the creature of God’s creating living into the terrifying beauty of what’s possible without what’s possible being fettered by what’s come before.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an amazing preacher. If we didn’t live in the mid-south, we would definitely go to her church. Even though we’ve never been Lutheran. But check out her sermon from last Sunday.

We need to be open to God changing our story. Sometimes we get so bogged down in where we are and who we are with, and we forget what God is really about.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with our past, to be overwhelmed with other people’s expectations. And it’s extremely difficult to break free from this cycle. Sometimes we need something to jerk us out of our reverie. Sometimes this is the decision to make a complete change in your life. And sometimes this decision is taken out of our hands. It can be painful. And when you’re in the middle of the process, it can really, really suck.

But that’s what I love about Advent. It’s about hope. It’s about thinking about what’s to come. About Who is to come. And how things are going to change when He gets here.

Of course, then I begin to realize the responsibility that I have in helping to bring about this change. And I don’t think I can do that without changing my story. Thanks, Nadia for helping me to remember that I can.

Must-Read: Torn by Justin Lee

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In a Gays-vs.-Christians world, admitting you’re gay makes you the enemy of Christians.

Sadly, with this single sentence, Justin Lee sums up one of the biggest issues in Western Christianity today. Or maybe the biggest. It’s extremely unfortunate (or maybe criminal is a better word), that we’ve allowed two or three misread passages to completely overshadow God’s message of love in the Bible.

Torn is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand better what’s holding back the love and compassion of Christians for the LGBT world. It’s a good read for anyone: Christian, non-Christian, gay, straight. (Caveat: I say this as a straight Christian, but I’m trusting Lee’s experience to overcome that, since this book is about him and his experiences.) I would recommend this to anyone not wanting to keep their head in the sand from such an important discussion.

This is something the whole Christian community needs to be thinking about. If you don’t personally know anyone who’s gay, you’re probably wrong in that assumption. You just don’t realize it. This is something that will impact each and every one of us, probably sooner than we expect. There is a lot of history to overcome – a lot of hate, a lot of misunderstanding. The sooner that we begin to understand, the sooner we can begin reconciliation.

In a Venn diagram, Gays and Christians aren’t mutually exclusive – in fact, there’s much more overlap than most people would imagine. Justin Lee enlightens us to that fact, and helps us understand how we need more compassion, more dialogue. This book is a simple read – it’s accessible to anyone, and I think important for Christians, simply because his statement is so true:

I believe our goal should be truth, not ideology, and that we must have the humility to admit that we still don’t have all the answers.

We would be better Christians in all aspects of our lives if we could admit this.

Justin Lee does a great job in discussing ex-gay movements and explaining how they might be able to help you change behavior (if that’s what you want) but they cannot change the fact that you’re gay. In fact, he cites many of the founders of the movement (and ex-gay poster children) and describes how they’ve returned to previous gay lifestyles. Reparative therapy doesn’t work. Focus on the Family lied to you. His words are better than mine:

Focus [on the Family] then sent me a pack of resources promoting the same ex-gay groups I already knew didn’t work, featuring testimonies from many of the same people I already knew weren’t really straight.

Of course, this book is going to be controversial to conservative Christians because it’s not anti-gay. Lifeway won’t even carry it (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised). On the other side, it may also be controversial to some on the LGBT side, because Justin Lee is tolerant of those gay Christians who believe the Bible teaches that they need to remain celibate (even though he does not subscribe to that). He wants more than anything for everyone to come together with a discussion of love, so that we can all understand each other – and replace the long-standing hate with compassion.

Read this book. If you’re a Christian, read it to overcome your LGBT prejudices. If you’re LGBT, read it to understand that the truth is that Christians shouldn’t be fighting this war they have been fighting, and to understand the love and compassion we should be having.

Side note: I “won” a prize in our local library’s 2012 reading contest. I got to pick one book to be added to to the library. I felt like this was important enough to add. So if you live in the Huntsville area, you can literally “check this out” at the Huntsville library.

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Vampirism and Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is the vampire of the religions of the world.

At some level, I realize that, just as I want others to tolerate my opinion, I need to be tolerant of my brothers and sisters.

But on another level I feel like fundamentalism is a vampire that sucks the life and blood out of Christianity. How many people have run away from it in horror never to return? How many people have had the soul sucked out of them and leave their church a miserable wretched husk never wanting having to do anything with it?

Of course, part of the reason I say this is I’ve spent the greater part of my life participating and contributing to it.

Fundamentalism is destructive. It is destructive to God’s message, it is destructive to the Kingdom of God, it is destructive to people’s lives.

Fundamentalism is the tendency to require a following of a specific interpretation of scripture. In the Christian faith, it is a strict compliance with one person’s or one group’s interpretation of what the Bible says. Appropriate that the analogy I’ve heard of how a single interpretation of the scripture can be the only one is, “If one person says there is one moon, and another person says there are two moons, one of them must be wrong, and one must be right.”

But, in addition to it being destructive, this is an illogical and arrogant way to approach God and His Bible

Arrogant because fundamentalism states “I am smarter than you and closer to God than you and that’s why the conclusion I have arrived at of the meaning of scripture is accurate, while everyone else’s is insufficient”.

Illogical because we’re not talking about statements of facts that we can prove or disprove. We’re talking about interpretation of translations of copies of copies of ancient writings – written under completely different ways of thinking than our modernist frame of mind.

Peter Rollins describes this (a little) better than I can in How to Speak of God:

…it was believed that, by employing pure reason (reason untouched by prejudice) one could decipher the singular meaning of what was being studied (whether it be the natural world or supernatural revelation).

…when we make absolute claims concerning what we believe about the world or God, acting as if our opinions were the result of some painstaking, objective and rational reflection, we end up deceiving ourselves, for our understanding is always an interpretation of the information before us (whether the raw material of the world or revelation) and thus is always affected by what we bring to the table.

… In the aftermath of these deconstructive thinkers, it was virtually impossible to think critically about the world without acknowledging that our views have been influenced by such factors as our cultural tradition, biological traits, unconscious libidinal desires and economic position. The overall result of this genealogical critique was a radical undermining of any system that declared absolute authority by claiming to somehow reveal God or expose Ultimate Meaning to the clear light of day.

In this post-modern world, it just doesn’t make sense to attempt to assign one meaning to a particular Bible passage and state that there is no other way to interpret it.

Fundamentalism forces a cult-like devotion, that – even if not spoken, implied – if you leave this specific fundamentalist group, there is something wrong with you, and bad things will happen to you. This is evidenced when you are shunned for leaving the group, are treated as an outcast because you have left, and are told, in no uncertain terms, (often in a language of “love and concern”) that you no longer have the gift of the grace of God – even if you find another community of people that believe in Jesus. (Because that community does not practice and preach “our” interpretation, they don’t have the love of God, either.)

Fundamentalism tries to turn us into Renfield-like zombies making us feel like we’re not good enough for who we are. While God tells us He loves us, and says “come as you are, I will make you whole”, fundamentalism tells us that only by conforming to their pattern can we see God.

I have a hard enough time living my life with the myriad mistakes I make – I need the support and encouragement of other people. I don’t need to be reminded of what a screw-up I am. “If you don’t conform to our perfect image, there is something wrong with you. If you don’t follow us, there is something wrong with you. If you’re not perfect in all ways as we are you are bad. Bad, bad, bad.”

Fundamentalism feeds on your insecurity, telling you that you can be perfect only if you conform. Lulling you, hypnotizing you into becoming one if the legions of its minions.

And once it has you, it supplants God as the object of your worship. It fills your head with lies making you believe that it is all powerful and that you are acting as its agent. In effect you are speaking with the voice of God. Everything you do is beyond reproach, nothing you do can be suspected of being wrong. I’ve seen people hurt others, nearly destroying other people’s lives all the while believing they are not only sanctioned by God, but that they are actually doing the work of God, having been lied to by the Dark One.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Only by exposing this sort of fundamentalism to the sunlight of truth can it forever be destroyed in fire and ash.

Borg and Wright – Final Thoughts

I finished The Meaning of Jesus. I’m glad I read it. Even if, as I mentioned before, it was to point out that a lot of these arguments aren’t going to have an impact on my faith. If I learn that the virgin birth was a metaphor – it’s not going to shake me. If the bones of Jesus really were left in the tomb – maybe his resurrection was different than we think of it.

To be clear, I still believe in the virgin birth and the bodily / physical resurrection. But reading Marcus Borg’s arguments, I can see that a Christian could still be a Christian if our understandings of these changed.

The arguments aside, there were some really good things in the book – and they really ended up bering areas where Marcus Borg agreed with N.T. Wright.

Part of this is the process of discussion, of argument. I think I remember Rob Bell referring to it as “wrestling with the text”. Part of the point is to talk about the Word, discuss it, think about, agree and disagree about it. Towards the beginning of the book Wright talks about how in the real world, things:

…meet, merge, fuse, question each other, uncouple again, swirl around each other, undergird and undermine each other, examine each others’ foundations and set about demolishing or reconstructing them, appearing at one moment inseparable and at the next in an embarrassingly public family squabble.

I think this is part of the whole process we miss when we try to force everyone to agree with us.

But both authors also have some really good things to say about how we should live our lives.

I love how Wright talks about the Kingdom of God,

Jesus challenged his contemporaries to abandon the attitudes and practices toward one another which went with the xenophobic nationalism, especially the oppression of the poor by the rich (a constant strand in much of his teaching)…He was welcoming of sinners into fellowship with himself precisely as part of his kingdom announcement; he was declaring that his welcome constituted them as members of the kingdom…Jesus was offering forgiveness to all and sundry, out there on the street, without requiring that they go through the normal channels. That was his real offense.

Jesus welcomed everyone – you didn’t need to be perfect and white and clean to enter into His (God’s) Kingdom.

While I had major issues with Borg’s treatment of the birth stories, he does use it as a wonderful metaphor that I really liked. (His issues range from bad to worse in this area. He claims that Luke shows the genealogy of Jesus going through the prophet Nathan; which is only true if you believe that David’s son Nathan and the prophet Nathan were the same man – but I can’t find anything in the text to support that. And then, completely forgetting about Okham’s Razor, he writes, “How does one account for the common emphasis upon Bethlehem? One possibility, of course is that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem…What then is left historically from these stories? …He was probably born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.” Wait…what?)

But back to the metaphor – Borg ends his section on the birth stories of Jesus with this, referring to the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart:

Eckhart spoke of the virgin birth as something that happens within us. That is, the story of the virgin birth is the story of Christ being born within us through the union of the Spirit of God with our flesh. Ultimately, the story of Jesus’ birth is not just about the past but about the internal birth in the present.

That’s just beautiful.

And Borg finishes up the book bringing the Kingdom of God full circle:

A vision of the Christian life that takes Jesus seriously awakens not only compassion but also a passion for justice. Like those who stood in the Jewish prophetic tradition before him, Jesus knew that the desperation of peasant life flowed from systematic injustice. Destitution and degradation, in his world and ours, are neither natural nor inevitable but are the product of domination systems created and maintained by the rich and powerful to serve their own interests. Such structures are neither ordained by God nor mandated by scarcity.

That’s worth talking about.

(Well – not just talking about…doing something about…you know what I mean.)

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

If you’re struggling with any aspect of your Christianity, please read Anne Lamott.

If you’re worn out from the hypocrisy, the hate, the judging, she will remind you that you can find peace. That He calls those who are “weary and heavy laden”.

Where Jesus is, is not a place for those who have all the answers. It’s for those who are searching. Who are struggling. We need to remember that and show that to the world.

I just finished Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, and have been enthralled on Anne Lamott’s take on faith and spirituality. I’m going to have to read the rest of her books. Which should be easy, since my wife’s already a huge fan and she’s been collecting them.

She has such great, deep things to say.

Most of the people I know who have what I want – which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians – people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.

They are sometimes funny.

I was too young to die – or at least, I was too upset to die. You don’t want to die when you’re this upset – you get a bad room in heaven with the other hysterics, the right-to-lifers, and the exercise compulsives.

But they are always very, very good. Read Traveling Mercies.

The Most Important Value

All my Republican Christian friends say they’re voting for Romney (“even though he’s Mormon”) because they share his values. Which ones?

Dishonesty?

Racism?

Classism?

Misogyny?

Accumulation of wealth?

Oh, not any of those? Ah, just the value of hating gay people; got it.

Interestingly, all references to Mormonism as a cult were recently removed from Billy Graham’s website after he met with Governor Romney. I’m sure the same thing would have happened if the Democratic presidential candidate was a Mormon. Pretty sure.

I’m really impressed with the hypocrisy of the evangelical community during this election.

Personally, I don’t know a lot about Mormonism. But I find it interesting that people that, a year ago, wouldn’t call it a Christian religion are suddenly all about this candidate…