But in some ways, I've still been hiding in the closet. Maybe it's time to come out...
That doesn't mean I want to throw the Bible out. Or give a thumbs-up to rampant, thoughtless abortion. Or be a communist (though it is tempting). Or cut out and dispose of all of the Scriptures that conflict with my personal, arrogant, elitist sense of morality. It doesn't mean I'm a Bishop Spong cookie cutter.
It does mean that I think I have a responsibility to take care of my neighbors. So do you. Obama's coined, "I am my brother's keeper." Amen. I'm willing to pay more taxes to feed the poor, take care of widows and orphans, and offer affordable healthcare. Even if that generosity is, at times, abused. Isn't all generosity abused, and don't I then identify with Christ in such abuse? How in the world did low taxes get convoluted with the Gospel? Even conservative Christianity. Ever read the Beatitudes?! How did we sell ourselves to this? Some kind of anti-tax, Zacchaeus-conviction?
It also means I can't justify war through my Christianity. That doesn't mean I can't comprehend just-war reasoning. It doesn't mean I would have laid down and let Nazism run across North America (or Europe, for that matter). But it means just-war doesn't always need Jesus to "work it out." Human justice isn't required to co-mingle with the Way of Christ. Only be informed and ignited by the Way. Perhaps we wound the Holy Spirit in trying to "justify violent justice," baptising it under God...
In particular: the treatment of women is a central reason I am a liberal. My favorite bumper sticker reads, "Feminism: the radical idea that women are people." My wife and I were at George Fox last night and saw a poster for a women's conference: Warrior Brides. That kind of language and rhetoric is b.s. It's like telling a field slave to be satisfied with becoming a "house slave." Awful becoming better isn't redemption. It's patronizing. Some second-class wives are treated more lovingly and respectfully than other second-class wives. But none of them are equals.
I'm a liberal because in the beginning God created humankind in his image... "male and female he created them."
I'm liberal because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I'm liberal because "he who fears has not been made perfect in love." And I'm liberal because the "least of these" and "the meek" are blessed.
I love Jesus Christ, and am saved by grace and by love. I know that my true citizenship is in heaven. But as long as women and men are enslaved under falsified perversions of the Word of God, then we cannot rest in the blessings, freedom, glory and joy of the Spirit. We must push through the darkness...
Today, I saw a dozen Republican buttons featuring photos of McCain and Palin. They read: "The AMERICAN Ticket." American? In contrast to what? The terrorist ticket? The Secret-Muslim ticket? I don't want to be a part of an America that creates good-and-evil distinctions based on political party. I don't want to be a part of Christianity if it cannot believe in the faith of its brothers and sisters. Something is very wrong.
That's why I am a liberal.
But for a brief, 6-month "sin-hiatus" during my senior year, I did my share of "thumping." After an all-too-common youth group road trip to some homeless shelters in Los Angeles, I thought I'd finally discovered what Christianity was supposed to feel like. It was a constant, exhilerating high, every day. For six months. And I didn't want to sin. I wanted to quote Bible verses in class and tell everyone how "easy" Christianity had become. And it was. For six months.
Then the new car smell started to fade. The Skid Row L.A. honeymoon became a distant memory. Drinking and swearing and masturbation became really attractive again, and I learned that my relationship with God could be a lot like relationships with girls: big initial high, lots of butterflies, a little poetry... eventually followed by boredom, disillusion, and "greener grass" spotted across the fence.
I don't want to be a Bible-Thumper any more, as much as I love and cherish Scripture. I want to be a "World-Thumper." I want to point to the people around me - around all of us - living next door - whose lives are singing the truth: the truth of who they are; the truth of what they need; the truth of what the church is not; the truth of how short we come up. World-Thumping is Christianity looking in the gigantic, truth-telling mirror the world is holding up in front of us, and being brave enough to admit: "that's me? Then it's time to change."
Postmodernism has enjoyed a thrilling if problematic run as a leading intellectual and cultural movement among some (mostly liberal or progressive) academics. Postmodernism is composed of a complex, even ambiguous, set of ideas and practices, such as blurring the boundaries between "high" and "low" culture, rejecting grand narratives - for instance, "truth" with a capital "T," - embracing pastiche and fragmentation, and emphasizing playfulness and irony in one's intellectual exercises. A major criticism of postmodernism is that some of its advocates avoid concrete history and politics while rhapsodizing about difference, marginality, parody, and provisionality. This may account for the many American postmodernists who have overlooked the homegrown varieties of black postmodernism - and the challenges they may pose to the European imports that have colored our understanding of the concept.
"Pre-Modern" often refers to the pre-Enlightenment period, before the 17th and 18th Centuries. The Pre-Modern world was generally community-oriented: family and tradition was authoritative. Mysticism, early science, and philosophy all flourished. Many cultures were dually fueled, both by exhilarating exploration into the unknown, and by awe and reverence in the unknowable, mystery and the divine.
Of the three segments here, this is the most grossly overarching label, because pre-historic, ancient, feudal and medieval periods (among many others) all fall under this category. But for my purposes, it's most important to recognize when Pre-Modernity ended: at the inception of Modernity.
Reigning from the Enlightenment into the 1960s (this is debatable). Modernity literally recreated the Western World (and the third world, via unfortunate side-effects). In Modernity, tradition was no longer the ultimate authority. Reason reined. “Democracy” was spread all over the world. Modernity brought a denigration of emotion, spiritual experience, mystery and personal intuition. The Modern world was a patriarchal, male-centric world. In its understanding, “human nature” was mostly predictable, increasingly understandable, and generally reasonable.
In many ways, Modern Christianity smells more like Modernity than it does historical, Orthodox Christianity. We assert concrete and overarching truths, worship spiritual success through corporate numbers and standards, and consume God (and religion) as we consume products, trends and entertainment. These are not factors inherent to Christianity's dna, but certainly to Modernity's.
Postmodernity (if we are actually in it) was likely conceived amid the shock and disillusion between World War I and WWII, and began to birth in the 1960s with broad and growing intolerance toward "objective" Western truth that Modernity relied on so desperately. In the eyes of many, our Western Metanarrative failed to make the world a better place as the tolls of war, genocide and xenophobia claimed more lives than ever before, and untold human atrocities took the front pages, worldwide. Understandable skepticism took deep root.
It's been suggested by some that we are already beyond Postmodernism now. That we are in something like a post-Postmodern period. Others wonder if Postmodernism is, in fact, a minor correction within the broader (and continuing) Modern Age - that we are in fact very much still entrenched in so-called "High Modernism." Regardless of semantics, we are in an age of transition. For clarity's sake, we'll call it Postmodernism.
Postmodernity views so-called objective, propositional truths with suspicion. It asks: "why does there have to be a reason/purpose for everything?" In spite of cynicism over organized religion, "postmoderns" are mesmerized by spirituality, mysticism and the supernatural - a throwback of sorts, to Pre-Modernism. In many ways, Postmodernity is still in its nascent stages, so we don’t entirely know what it is or what it will look like as it matures, but we do know what it isn’t. This deconstructive tone probably fuels much of the jaded sensibilities postmoderns carry. Leonard Sweet says, "Truth comes down to power, and power is scary. Postmodern truth is found not through authority or reason, but through experience, dialogue and discussion, where both sides learn without rational underpinning." Postmoderns may believe there is genuine truth (no need to use polarizing words like "absolute" if they can be traded) but tend to feel that whatever is objectively true would be completely unknowable by limited, subjective humans. This is partly why Postmodernity is also Post-Christian, and increasingly anti-Christian.
All three stages, Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern, exist in simultaneity, on a global level. Often, these societal climates even co-exist nearly side-by-side in the same regions. Asia, Africa, South America and even regions in North America manifest examples of this.
Some links for more information...
- A Primer on Postmodernism - Stanley Grenz
- Wikipedia - Postmodernism
- Wikipedia - Post-Postmodernism
- Post-Christendom - Stuart Murray
- Carpe Mañana - Leonard Sweet
The preacher turns around and is almost overcome by the smell of booze. He asks the drunk, "Are you ready to find Jesus?"
"Yes I am" replies the drunk, so the preacher grabs him and dunks him in the river.
He pulls him up and asks the drunk, "Brother have you found Jesus?"
The drunk replies, "No!"
Shocked at the answer, the preacher dunks him into the water again, but for a bit longer this time. He pulls him out of the water and asks again, "Have you found Jesus, my brother?"
The drunk again answers, "No, I have not found Jesus."
By this time the preacher is at his wits end so he dunks the drunk in the water again, but this time he holds him down for about 30 seconds. When the drunk begins kicking his arms and legs, the preacher pulls him up. The preacher asks the drunk again, "For the love of God, have you found Jesus?"
The drunk wipes his eyes and catches his breath and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
We're asking the wrong questions.
We're torturing people, holding them underwater, because they don't speak our language.
This woman visited, but didn't return because it wasn't right for her.
"They were sweet people," she explained, "but I need to be in a place where they are living out the gifts of the spirit."
I said, "hold on, they are certainly functioning in the gifts of the spirit. Those women are volunteering at the hospital, cooking dinners for their neighbors, and I've never seen a group that prays so much."
She said, "yes," but no one there could lay "annointed hands" on her if she was sick, or pray over her in tongues when she needed strength.
Apparently, she needed her needs met at all costs.
I suggested, humbly, that I had left my last church because I felt they had turned God into a gift-dispenser. I said that I didn't speak in tongues because I had watched too many young people in the youth group admit to "faking it" simply because it was the expectation. I didn't want to be a part of that, so I spent my prayer time in quietness before the Lord.
She told me I was denying the Holy Spirit because I didn't speak in tongues.
I answered that I revered the Holy Spirit too much to play games with it.
It was an awkward conversation. She smiled a huge grin the entire time, but I felt her hating me from behind her eyes, somehow.
That said, a few months ago I had a conversation with an old friend I hadn't been in touch with. I blogged about it on another blog I don't really update anymore, so here's the gist: Carl and I got together to catch up one Saturday night. We went to McMennamin’s brewpub and sipped ruby ale. Carl had a sort of glow about him, and looked healthier (and happier) than I remembered.
“My life is so good right now,” he said. “I have everything I could ever want, I only work four to six hours a day, I don’t own a car or have any expenses. I’m free, and I'm blessed!”
I envied the satisfied simplicity he was describing.
He continued, “But I’m almost thirty, you know? And I’ve already lived a more blessed life than most of the people in this world. And I’ve been thinking a lot about God lately…” Carl had never been overtly religious “… and I realize I have to do something that matters with my life. I can’t just get old and fat, enjoying what I’ve been given…”
He then proceeded to lament the world’s evils – particularly “evil men,” and the violence they commit against women and children in the world. Sounded reasonable to me. Then he said he was going to do something about it. That he was ready to die if he had to, “to do something that matters.” He would personally give his life to “stop evil men.”
It occurred to me that he’d been hinting at something that had snuck up without my initial notice. I asked, “Bro, you’re not saying you’re willing to kill, are you?”
Without hesitating he smiled and nodded. Then, “Here’s my plan: in the next couple of years I’m going to save up enough money to go somewhere – like South America or Africa, Darfur, you know – and just look for people who need protection. Maybe I’ll go to a well and watch as women come for water. And if anyone messes with them or tries to hurt them, I’ll stop it. And people will see, and they’ll tell other people, and they’ll come after me…” it was like listening to a Hollywood movie synopsis. He wanted to be a vigilante. No – he kept talking about dying. Carl wanted to be a martyr.
“All right. I understand the desire to fight for good. But tell me, what makes your plans different from those of an Islamic Terrorist?” I asked.“They kill civilians. And they have an agenda. I just want to stop evil people, and hopefully protect good people.”
I pressed, “But how can you judge who is evil and who deserves to die?”
“Well,” he answered, “I’ll watch and wait till they attempt an evil act. Then I’ll stop them. And you know, if you’ve got God on your side, you’re going to be covered. Because God is good, and if you're doing good, you're with God. You know, righteousness.” Again, his newfound spirituality was surprising, and disconcerting in this context. We went back and forth: me pressing him for justification and context, Carl responding with talk of holiness, justice and clear-cut language about good and evil men.
I never overtly condemned his plans. There was no point. He would have turned off the dialogue. And I had not had enough contact with him in the last couple of years to feel justified in serious debate. I had no desire to wound him, and didn't want to end our friendship. I only hoped to dent his worldview and raise enough questions to erode some of his principle arguments.
Is this what a militant Christian zealot might look like here in suburban America? Can it come from such benign surroundings and sheltered living (I’ve known Carl since high school, both of us raised in middle-income suburbs)?
In The Lion’s Pride, Leonard Sweet writes:
“Men and women of faith have mindlessly bought into a system in which it is morally right to threaten to do something immoral.” (pg. 27)
17th Century Theologian Jeremy Taylor wrote:
“But when a man does evil that good may come of it, or good to an evil purpose, that man does like him that rolls himself in thorns that he may sleep easily; he roasts himself in the fire…”
I don’t know if Carl is really capable of doing the things he says. He’s always been a philosophical eccentric. I love him for it! But he’s serious enough to say these things seriously. We ended the evening with a hug. I told him, "I love you," and I meant it.
I haven't talked much with Carl since that night a few months ago. We both went to a friends wedding, and chatted a little. He sounded less militant, but I couldn't be sure.
I wonder how many of us are zealots, still in the closet. I always worry when violence seems the fruit of faith. I know a lot of angry Christians...
I did it with the kindest of intentions. I wasn't even very critical. But the whole idea of rating churches ("like rating flavors of Snapple!" I used to say) was pretty offensive to some folks, and I don't think they've ever really forgotten it.
Well, there's this one young lady who was in their high school youth group at the time. She was sweet and kind and always excited to see Jen and I, whenever we visited. Two or three years later, that hasn't changed. She's one of the kindest, most joyful people I've ever met. Even though I rated her church.
Ran into her at a college football game today. Joyful as ever! Thanks Kaylee! Forgiveness doesn't come easy to all of us.
At last! Conclusive evidence has proved that sharks can and do procreate through virgin birth:
Scientists have confirmed the second-ever case of a “virgin birth” in a shark, indicating once again that female sharks can reproduce without mating and raising the possibility that many female sharks have this incredible capacity...
The phenomenon of “virgin birth” occurs when a baby is conceived without male sperm having first fertilized the female’s eggs, and has been proven in some bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. In the type of parthenogenesis seen in these sharks, known as automictic parthenogenesis, the newly forming pup acquires one set of chromosomes when the mother's chromosomes split during egg development. But instead of uniting with similarly split chromosomes from sperm, as occurs in sexual reproduction, the mother’s set is paired with a copy of itself...
Click here to read more. Soon, I'll uncover proof that Paul the Apostle was a blowfish (we all suspected it).
Moses and the Glory of the LORD
Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
Look closely: Moses asked, "How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish [us]?"
How does the world distinguish us? Is it by goodness, grace, love, justice, hope, peace and joy? No? It's by kitschy bumper stickers? And conservative politics? And angry picket signs? And unnaturally upbeat radio personalities?
Did the presence of God help those winning features shine? Or have we been trying to distinuish ourselves without the presence of the Lord? Through our own feeble, nearsighted efforts?
Lord, may you go with us, that we may be distinguished for good in this world. Amen.
Human beings are nearly-obsessed with the spiritual realm (especially when we're pretending not to be).
Perhaps it is my location in this ancient city, but it seems that everything I see these days is connected to religion. At first it seemed that religion was becoming a larger part of the public narrative, but I’m beginning to think that my eyes are just picking it out of the morass of information more readily than it used to. It is not unlike scanning a crowd of people looking for a familiar face. You don’t analyze the facial features of each person. Rather, the mind is trained to pick out the tiniest detail of familiarity, and it focuses in on that. Thus... in every conversation, every lecture, every page of news I see, I seem to pick up on... religion more than anything else...
Click here to read more.
"...Not only was it Miley Cyrus’ Sweet Sixteen birthday party but it was also the 11th annual Anaheim Disney Gay Day.
It was kind of interesting to see these two groups mixing together... You had literally thousands of gay men all dresssed in red shirts to show that they were in fact there for Gay Day. There were equally as many young tweens who - at the mere mention of Miley Cyrus - would surely die with excitment. By observing these two groups for a day I have come to a number of conclusions.
First, I am scared of Miley Cyrus and I think that she might be a cult leader. There were ravenous packs of crazed little girls moving like a swarm of locust throughout Disneyland devouring anything Cyrus as well as sending churro vendors running for the hills...
I also though it was incredibly useful that you could identify people based on the color of their shirts. You could glance across a crowd that day, and discern that the large group of men in red shirts were there for Gay Day, and not just a large group of Hannah Montana devotees (although they could have been both, I guess).
I think that we should use clothes more to signify what we are about. I am not advocating the wearing of t-shirts with Christian slogans, but the use of clothing to make it easier to judge people. Judging people already comes easily to most people, but this would make it much easier...
Click Here to read more.
It reminds me of my readings of The Good Heart, the Dalai Lama's teachings on Jesus. The book really revolves around a Buddhist-Christian dialogue and includes both the parallels and divergences of each spiritual worldview. A great read!
Something the Dalai Lama says in the book resonates with me. He said: "If after reading this book, a Christian says, 'I want to be a Buddhist,' then I have failed. I will have been successful if the Christian says, 'I want to be a better Christian.'"
How gracious! In seminary class on prayer and reconciliation, one classmate said, "My friend says she believes in Buddhism. I just can't be okay with that. I can say that I agree with her about some things, but I have to point out where her beliefs contradict Scripture..."
Really? As a Christian, we HAVE to point out what's wrong with other belief systems? We have to point out our differences to feel comfortable? I know, I know. I grew up as a militant evangelical. I know how that little Jesus Soldier pops up in the gut. But that's not really Jesus.
As Christians, we are not obligated to argue. Wow, does that feel freeing? Did you just experience a weight lifted off your shoulders? I did. Whew. It's beautiful to know I can have spiritual friendships with folks - and I don't have to be an asshole. What if I actually learned something true from someone of another religion? What if Jesus is speaking through Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Star Trek Fans? Suddenly the world gets a lot more interesting...
The only thing dangerous about questions is the fear that you approach the answers with. Sounds like you are unafraid of the truth, which is the best place to be if you are asking these kinds of questions.
Actually, I've got all sorts of fear! Scripture says, "Perfect love casts out fear. Whoever fears has not been made perfect in love," (1 John 4:18) but I've got a long way to go toward any kind of perfection.
These questions scare the hell out of me, and so do their answers. In fact, the prospect of finding out what the truth realy is - I confess - brings a little fear into my heart. But I feel somewhat justified, reminded in Philippians 2:12 to "work out your salvation in fear and trembling." Good, fear is part of the process.
But somehow, authenticity demands I keep asking the questions. It's part of who I am. Here's what allows me to keep asking, even when it seems dangerous, impious or reckless: I have faith in the One who knows me and calls me by name. I don't know everything there is to know about this God. Or even Jesus. But in the same way, I love and trust my wife and would put my life in her hands. There are parts of her I will never fully know. If I were to one-day find that she had changed her name years before we met - I wouldn't stop loving her. I wouldn't believe her love was a lie. I would say, "oh, I've been calling you Jenny and your birth name is Oprah. Which would you like me to call you, sweetheart? "
That's the conversation I plan on having with God if I find out God's been using an alias...
So the genealogy of Jesus is "problematic." That's probably not news to many of you. But I'll demonstrate how intellectually lazy I can be: 3 or 4 years ago I got to thinking about the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and how Christ's lineage back to King David goes through Joseph, Mary's husband.
Did I not notice that before? With 26 years of Christendom under my belt, had I somehow overlooked that? The problem is, as Christians we aren't raised to thnk critically about the Scriptures. As children, we're told simplified Bible stories. Maybe it's not out of fear of tough questions, perhaps it's just laziness. In any case, I asked a pastor-friend about it back then: "how do we posit Jesus from the line of David if he was the product of immaculate conception?"
"Well that's the genealogy from Matthew. The genealogy in Luke is through Mary's line," he answered.
Again, I didn't take the time to actually follow up and look. I get lazy. So several years would go by before I'd take this seminary New Testament class and re-approach the question (shows you how often I read through the Gospels...).
Here's the thing:
- Matthew 1:15-17
"...Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ." Except that would mean nothing less than Jesus was adopted into that bloodline.
- Luke 3:23-24
"Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph..." Hmmm... I don't see Mary anywhere here. There are different names linked in this family line, but that's not all that problematic. I history of ancient Jewish genealogies shows that names were regularly dropped for a number of reasons.
Now I have no hard feelings or even disrespect toward the pastor who told me Luke offered Mary's heritage. For some reason, that's been an old theological argument, although there is little that can be used to defend it, other than the alternate names listed in the line - which is far more easily explained through the nature of Jewish genealogical recording.
What's troubling is that nothing in either lineage links Mary to the family line of David. Jesus would have to be either (a) adopted into David's line, which causes problems for Old Testament prophesy, or (b) actually be the son of Joseph. Which is a little scary to consider. What, now I'm starting to sound like Borg?
Mark gives no account of Jesus' birth.
John records this statement from Philip: "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:45)
So now I'm going to do my research paper for this New Testament class on the genealogies of Jesus and the various scholarly and theological positions taken.
In the beginning of his book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell writes...
“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?…If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?”
I'm not saying I don't believe in the Virgin Birth. But yes, if I found out that "the truth" was something slightly other than what I'd been raised to believe or understand, I would still love God. I would still believe in Christ Jesus as Lord. My personal connection to God, through the Holy Spirit, has managed to survive an awful lot of doubt. The Spirit of the Living God is alive and real and present. But these are dangerous questions...
Now, he makes me smile. He's a sharp guy, with a lot of relevant criticism. Still, there is something that feels (sometimes) mean-spirited about his "schtick." What do you think? I think it's all fair game, but I also don't believe in telling people they're stupid for believing certain things...
Ok, crazy? Maybe. Obnoxious? Sure. But not stupid. Take a look and judge (or don't judge) for yourself.
I haven't been diagnosed, but my wife has commented, and now on vacation, with no real responsibilities except feeding the cats, I mysel...
A recent article at www.ChristianityToday.com discusses some of the growing pains/birthing pains/death pangs (you can pick your lens) occur...
I got this strip from a theology group through my church. Thought you might enjoy... Yeah, it occurs to me every day . I like to call it...
Recalibrating Church: Continued... You'll have to forgive me. For those of you who were actually at this event, you'll notice that ...
I’ve been out of writing commission for a little while now. My only excuse is: this baby is coming, and life is upside down! ...