Would You Risk Yourself?

We talk about dying for Christ. Dying for faith. And Christ died for us. And he died for his enemies.

Would you?

Moreover, would you give up your own salvation for them?

Paul wrote in Romans 9:3, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race..."

Often, we're not even willing to lose an argument. Or a culture war.

Sometimes loving people means compromising. And that's dangerous, scary, messy, dirty, scandalous, uncomfortable stuff.

I still hear youth pastors admonishing kids to avoid non-Christian friends. "Don't be unequally yoked."

When self-preservation sets in, Christianity becomes a pretty pointless endeavor.

"Free Tibet"

"Hooray, you win!" says China. "Enough Americans put bumper stickers on their cars. We are finally convinced. We'll free Tibet."

Also: "When I saw so many Jesus fish on so many rear windows, I finally knew I needed to give my life to the Lord."

There are a LOT of bumper stickers in the town I live in. I don't think they're changing much. I wonder how different things would be if we used our deeds to tell a story, rather than our cars.

"The Bible doesn't SAY anything..."

In case you aren't pissed off enough, here's a great post from my friend Brandon:

He references Dr. Woodley from George Fox Seminary, who said:

"The Bible doesn't say anything.
It only says what you say it says."


Yes, yes, I know I'm just trying to get a reaction here! Read Brandon's post, and see if you can reconcile with this worldview...

"Non-Negotiables" Anyone?

I've admitted before that I'm generally uninterested in language regarding “non-negotiables,” because in a blurry, gray world, I don’t know that we’re really expected to have them. How can we be willing to stake everything on a particular propositional truth?

I'm willing to stand firm on love, even on relationship. And for me, both of those are Christ. But things get fuzzy after that...

However, as I have been reflecting on my recent "doing church" post and some subsequent dialogue concerning it, I think I am coming to a point where I am willing to a choose a non-negotiable. Not because I think it's a genuine theological non-negotiable, or because I think salvation rests on it. But I am coming to a point where I find myself choosing egalitarianism as a serious focal point in my understanding of Jesus.

I have a hard time imagining the Kingdom of God as congruent with inequity. I have a hard time reconciling suppression, repression and oppression over and against freedom in Christ.

Scripture is inconsistent in this area, at best. There are all sorts of examples in both OT and NT where the "pious" and the "orthodox" inflict subjugation on others. Men to women. Free to slave. Jew to Samaritan. Israelite to Amalekite. The list goes on.

But if something is truly wrong, truly oppressive, then I don't care to defend it because it's in Scripture. In the Church, we've been guilty of this counter-intuitive, often-vulgar behavior, far too often.

So I don't care if Paul thinks Onesimus should go back to his master. Yes, there are all sorts of efforts made to contextually justify "problem verses," and that's all well and good. But if we, as spirit-filled followers of Christ, can't discern the truth of something like slavery or misogyny or bigotry without Scriptural support, then the Church has a much bigger problem than outdated hymnals.

As an egalitarian, I'll hang my hat on love, trusting in the Holy Spirit. How about you? What do you hang your hat on? What are your non-negotiables? Feel free to disagree with me, I don't mind!

Peter

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day everyone!

George Fox Seminary hosted a conference I was unable to attend last week, entitled Theology of the Earth. It was presented by several Native Americans, discussing issues of creation, stewardship, and spiritual connection to the earth. All of the presenters were Christ followers who had managed to integrate their beliefs with their own organic native culture, heritage, and spirituality. This stands in stark contrast to the polarized options made available to native peoples in the early-to-mid-2oth Century (and of coure, for several centuries before). They were forced to entirely reject their heritage and belief systems, as if Christ stood against all non-Western-European belief structures.

Part of this "theology of the earth" involves a sort of panentheism: not God is all things, or all things are God, but rather God is in all things. And even: all things carry a divine spirit.

My wife Jen, attended. Honey, you might be able to express these concepts more clearly. Brandon, I know you were there too.

Anyway, I think it's vital that Christianity discover, or re-discover, its intrinsic spiritual connection to the world around us. "New Age" spirituality has been so demonized in popular Christian culture, probably beginning in the 1960s or '70s, that many of us are afraid to acknowledge the sacredness and mystery residing in the natural world around us. This is a sad development, but one I believe is already being reversed.

Today, let's be intentional and mindful of the lives we're living, the stewardship we are effecting, and the consumption we are contributing. Let's be better... "the Kingdom of God is among you."

I Don't Care About "Doing Church"...

I know "doing church" is really important for emerging/ent Christians. It's all lots of us talk about. In fact "doing church" is one of the most overused idioms I've heard in the last 5 years...

"Let's rethink how we do church."
"We need to do church differently."
"We're radically altering the way we do church."

Because what underlies far too much of this "doing church" business is a deliberate attempt to avoid confronting some of the real problems we're facing: religious beliefs that directly conflict with our own personal, organic, postmodern ethos (i.e. the truth I see in the world is not always the truth I see in 1st Century biblical text).

For example (and I'm not picking on them) Imago Dei in Portland doesn't want to deal with the problematic attitude that women are second-class and subordinate to men in the church, so instead of confronting that head on and facing the dangerous possibility of belief evolving (and ultimately, theology itself) they focus on "doing church" in a way that is appealing, hip, sensitive in attitude, but not in all subversive or in opposition to a prevailing, narrow, gender-oppressive evangelical belief structure.

I am not trying to diss on Imago; Rick McKinley is a nice guy. But for me, that's not good enough. A Christianity that truly cares about the world it engages must stand on something bigger than cultural tradition (shakily supported by perilous proof-texting). If I smile warmly to your face, but defend harsh, condemning beliefs in my heart, am I being truthful? Authentic? At least the guy standing on a crate with a picket sign tells you what he's really thinking...

In the last few years, I've had a lot of talks with a lot of good friends about "dream church" ideas: how would we do church if we could do whatever we wanted? An art gallery? A concert hall? A coffee shop? A tavern or a pub? How would we decorate it? Religious icons? Local art? What kind of music would we play? Trance-techno? Punk or alt rock? Accoustic by candlelight? Where would the people sit? Traditional pews? Couches? Big pillows? On the floor? At the bar?

Ok, I'm starting to sound cynical, and I don't mean to be harsh. But look - there are a lot of good ideas for how to "do church" in a way that's more fun or more approachable. And for those folks who really have hearts for preaching or worship ministries, or church-planting, I can see how these would be exciting brainstorms to have.

But a hip space doesn't mean better Christians. In fact, it could even mean the opposite: more COMFORTABLE Christians - which is the last thing churches should produce.

I don't want to find a better way to do church.
I want to find a better way to do life.

I don't want to be just a "New Kind of Christian," I want to be a "New Kind of Human," as Leonard Sweet puts it (a "true kind of human").

And THAT means rethinking the way we believe what we believe. And how. And why.

Orientation/Gender: Why are we so afraid?

There was a time for me when the idea of someone thinking I was gay was the most uncomfortable feeling I could imagine. Today, I'm still trying to identify just what it was in me that felt so defensive, so reactionary - even retaliatory - about any suggestion I was gay. "Hell no!!"

I got myself into an "awkward" situation and wrote an article about it for theOOZE several years ago - click here (looks like it's gone through some reformatting challenges). Some readers who came to my blog suggested I might be in the closet, or trying to prove something to myself...

In the article I wrote: "The Bible says, "Perfect love casts out fear... he who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:7) But I am afraid. I am afraid of guilt-by-association: someone will see me with a queer and think I'm one of them! I'll be pegged a closet-case or repressed or self-deluded!"

I grew up doing music theatre. I took ballet and tap classes in high school and college. I listen to Erasure and Rufus Wainwright. I'm happily married (to a beautiful woman) but I've never been the most masculine dude on the block.

Yet somehow today, the idea of being "pegged" (accused) doesn't seem to bother me. Maybe it's because I have more gay friends than I ever had in the past ("When people like each other, the rules change..."). Maybe it's because homosexuality isn't the cultural leperosy it was once perceived as. Maybe I'm just growing up.

In any case, this article at CNN.com reminded me today of how much fear there is in the world.


GREELEY, Colorado–The murder trial of Allen Andrade, underway in Greeley, Colorado, is being watched closely across the country. Andrade is accused of bludgeoning to death Angie Zapata, a transgender female, last July... (more)

There are visitor comments from all over the country, in response to the case. Most of them express sorrow over the murder, and a desire to move beyond fear, hate and intolerance. But one comment caught my eye:


From personal experience, this is total deception, I would compare what HE (Justin) did with the actions of a rapist. When I found out a person I believed was female had really been a man before surgery, I was disgusted, humiliated and ashamed. I felt dirty like someone who has been raped would feel. To this day, 7 years later, I still get mad when I think about it...

I can sympathize with the idea of being "tricked." And regardless of your theological opinions about issues of sexuality, we should all wish we lived in a society where folks with "different" orientations didn't have to hide for their own safety. Where "the least of these" are safe from hate. That still is not reality. And to say someone is equal to a "rapist" for hiding part of themselves... well, let's be honest; how many of us are up front about everything, before a relationship even gets started? No, I'm not saying "I hate cats and country music" is the same as "I'm really a dude," but please - hiding oneself is not rape. It's the opposite of rape's violent assertion of power; it is fearful vulnerability.

I pray that the fear and intolerance stuck in my own messy flesh gives way to grace, just as it does the same in you. And you. And all of us. And may we remember the brutal death of Angie Zapata, and of Matthew Shephard, and of all sorts of folks looking to love and be loved, whose very existence brings out the very worst in an angry, fearful mob that speckles our world.

Galatians 5:14
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Off The Map: Become a Fan!

OFF THE MAP: Spring Fan Drive
Few voices have had more impact on me – and the formation of my ideas about Christianity’s activities in the real world – than Jim Henderson’s, of www.OffTheMap.com.

I first came across Off The Map when I began writing my first attempt at a book: WorldSpeak: Re-Dreaming Christianity Outside the Church. Jim’s voice and worldview/godview seemed in perfect synchronicity with my own, mid-deconstruction. As I’ve gotten to know Jim over the last four years, I’ve found his heart and his character to be consistent with the ethos of his ministry. One of Off The Map’s slogans has been, “Helping Christians Be Normal,” but I find another comment of Jim’s to be a deeper reflection of what’s going at Off The Map:

WHEN PEOPLE LIKE EACH OTHER, THE RULES CHANGE.


When we are in relationship, love leads us to grayer areas that become greener pastures.

Successful relationships don’t begin by first picking apart someone’s worldview and telling her/him why she’s wrong. Strong friendships usually develop through mutual respect, finding common ground, learning to appreciate similarities. Later, we might pick at one another’s opinions, or debate an issue, but the friendship is there. The foundation is love. The rules change.
Another adage I learned from the OTM crew: "Being KIND is better than being RIGHT!"

I’ve done a lot of apologizing (confession, repentance) for the sort of Christian I used to be. Off The Map modeled that for me. I’ve learned that I can call my friendships with atheists and agnostics “fellowship.” Off The Map helped me feel okay with doing that. I’ve even come to believe that “evangelism” can be nothing more (and nothing less!) than kindness to others. That’s OTM 101.

Jim and the crew at www.OffTheMap.com are running a “fan drive” of sorts, working to build their network of followers, friends and fans. I hope you’ll take a moment to check out their website, try following them on Twitter and Facebook, watch some of their Youtube videos. Buy one of Jim’s books. I think you’ll like what they have to offer.

"Don't Celebrate Easter!" (?)

My friend Brandon pointed me to this article last weekend:

It asks folks (Christians in particular) not to celebrate Easter, because it's a fixation on Jesus' death rather than his life and teaching.

What do you think of that?

Personally, I appreciate the sentiment. But only to an extent. I think Christians are WAY too focused on Christ's death. And it's POSSIBLE that we're too obsessed with the resurrection, too. But only if that obsession comes from that frustrating little fear of hellfire, damnation, Hades, eternal punishment, call-it-what-you-will...

Christianity, in my view, is not about a "free pass." Christianity is as much a responsibility as it is a gift. It is an exhortation to follow the Way of Jesus, to live a life of self-emptying, unconditional love, sacrifice, hope and peacefulness. This sort of holiness is quite literally a transcendent force in the world when it manifests truthfully.

By focusing on the death and resurrection of Christ, we may find reason for thankfulness, sorrow, repentance, and solidarity. But instead, such focus can often lead us down a path of self-condemnation, which ultimately translates into unspoken devaluing and condemnation of all people.

But this - for my personal faith - does not negate the crucial importance of Christ's death. A sacrifice of love. I could list for you all sorts of theories of atonement - reasons why the cross means so much. But I don't think any of those theories is complete or sufficient for our understanding of God's love and the power of the cross. But again, I don't see the cross as a symbol of my depravity, only of my insufficiency. It's not a symbol of God's judgment, but God's humility, mercy, and even God's chosen weakness.

All that said, I really enjoyed Erik Reece's treatise on ignoring Easter. He writes:

The fact is, American Christianity has historically been focused so obsessively on the Nicene Creed -- which says Jesus was the son of God, who was crucified for our sins and rose from the grave three days later -- that it never made much room for the actual teachings of this radical Jewish street preacher. This is why I'm against Easter. It celebrates the death of Jesus nearly to the exclusion of his life. If the Easter miracle can save us from this life, then why bother with the harder work of enacting the kingdom of God here? It is, after all, much harder.

Click here to read more...


Still I'll say: "Happy Easter to you all!" Just keep it in perspective, because that Jesus-guy said some pretty great stuff...

Nadia Bolz-Weber: "Emerging Church Definition"

My friend Ted pointed me to a really cool lady on the blogosphere, Nadia Bolz-Weber, for Sojourner's www.SOJO.net.

If I had a dollar for every person who has asked me “So, what IS the emerging church?” we could meet our budget this year. Here’s my own definition, and it is just that — my definition. Not the definition. This is descriptive, not prescriptive. When I use the term “emerging church” here’s what I mean by that. (I feel like I’m walking into a minefield, but here we go …)

Emerging church:
Christian communities that emerge out of very particular cultural contexts where the traditional church is basically irrelevant. These cultural contexts are more often than not urban, youngish, and post-modern. Emerging church is not a worship style. I know emerging churches that do traditional liturgy with jazz (Mercy Seat), who use electronica (Church of the Beloved), who are a capella Gregorian chant (House for All Sinners and Saints), and who do nothing but old-time Southern gospel (House of Mercy). So, when traditional churches in the suburbs are wanting to attract young people (with all the good intentions in the world) and they ape some kind of worship style they read about in a Zondervan book by starting an “emerging” worship service, it’s a bit … ironic.

Click here to read more...

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor living in Denver, Colorado, where she is developing a new emerging church, House for all Sinners and Saints. She blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television

The House for all Sinners and Saints website says they are "a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient - future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination."

Queermergent: Family as "False Idol?"

This is a REALLY interesting premise at my friend Adele's site, Queermergent. I'd like to see it expanded on: family-as-idol.

Jesus himself rejected family-ties to demonstrate the broader responsibility we have to all humankind, and particularly to our sisters and brothers in Christ.

I think there's lots of ripe, low-hanging fruit under the topic of a genuine Christian agenda to actively create a false idol in the image of the wholesome [American] nuclear family. Focus on the Family and James Dobson have perpetuated a sort of subversive xenophobia through their narrow definition of "family," and their abusively confining matrix in which that family may function.

Honestly, I believe this is a desperately important topic to discuss, whether you're liberal OR conservative, gay OR straight.

An excerpt from the article:

It certainly did not start this way in the early church. From the beginning, it began as a model of extended family. In fact, the New Testament word for church began as a radical and playful word, Ecclesia. Ecclesia is the greek word given for a town council for port towns in the Mediterranean area of the Roman Empire. These councils were ruled by rich men. So, the Christians come along and scandalously from the beginning included slaves, women, children and people from varied ethnicities and social classes, in the new ecclesia’s that radically transcended social boundaries. From the beginning Christianity was radically about a new form of extended community, as a visible expression of the invisible kingdom of God. This is the reason why the early church was persecuted, because in so doing, these little Ecclesia’s challenged the power of the Empire which sought to disempower minority groups, which the church, counter-culturally, sort to include.

Click here to read more!

Slavery, Misogyny, and Scripture...

I'm writing a paper on the "household code" of Colossians, which instructs women to subordinate themselves to their husbands, and slaves to obey their masters. It's a challenging and frustrating text, and it's forcing me to confront all of the misogyny I grew up holding tightly to. Ten years ago as an undergrad I began to reject those attitudes, but I confess I have only been dealing with the theological baggage for a few years now.

I wanted to share a couple of wonderful excerpts from several books I'm citing, thought you might enjoy:

  • "The evidence from tradition is consistent and transparent. Until modern times, most Christians believed that the Bible regulated and legitimated slavery… The apostolic fathers, the Apologists, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and John Chrysostom all wrote in support of slavery… The early church fathers endorsed slavery on the basis that the apostles had accepted slavery." Giles, Kevin. The Trinity and Subordinationism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002) 220.

  • "The significance of sexuality for slave-master relationships has frequently been highlighted by historians of the Roman family. The sexual exploitation of slaves was rooted in the notion of slaves as property (cf. Aristotle Politics I.1254a7) that could be used or disposed of at the whim of the master. Male and female slaves were quite simply sexually available to their masters at all times – whether children, adolescents or adults – and also available to those to whom their owners granted rights." Macdonald, Margaret Y. “Slavery, Sexuality and House Churches: A Reassessment of Colossians 3.1-4.1 in Light of New Research on the Roman Family,” New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 95.

  • "Paul’s failure to clarify whether sexual contact with one’s own slaves constitutes porneia raises the question of whether Paul’s silence was due to an unspoken expectation that the sexual use of slaves is abhorrent or, conversely, to an acceptance of cultural norms regarding the sexual use of slaves… The lack of explicit prohibitions against using slaves as sexual outlets when the practice was generally considered morally neutral, leads [Jennifer A.] Glancy to doubt that any such expectations of restraint can be read into the exhortation that masters treat slaves ‘justly and fairly’." Macdonald, Margaret Y. “Slavery, Sexuality and House Churches: A Reassessment of Colossians 3.1-4.1 in Light of New Research on the Roman Family,” New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 96.

  • "The main divide is between those who think the only solution allowed to evangelicals is an exegetical one and those, like myself, who think that exegesis alone can only take us so far… When one takes only the exegetical path, some strained interpretations appear as one attempts to get the biblical authors to speak as if they held a modern perspective on women." Giles, Kevin. The Trinity and Subordinationism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002) 194.


Here's my take: It seems evident, reading all the way back to Genesis, that many biblical reflections of gender roles are not endorsements or guidelines, but rather a direct result of sin. Genesis 3:16 demonstrates the impact of the fall: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” But this verse does not indicate God’s will. Rather, God describes what will result from the actions of the man and woman. By obeying such descriptions as command (rather than recognizing them as ill effects) Christians are actively rejecting the liberty in Christ’s atonement.

Thoughts?

CNN.com: Christo-Muslim, having it both ways?

So, can you do this? And get away with it?

Ann Holmes Redding has been an Episcopal minister for 30 years. For the past 3 years, she's also been a practicing Muslim.

The CNN.com article reads: "Redding said her conversion to Islam was sparked by an interfaith gathering she attended three years ago. During the meeting, an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group. Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam's humbleness before God stuck with her."

Redding continues, "Both religions say there's only one God," Redding said, "and that God is the same God. It's very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven't shifted my allegiance."

I made an argument here, once, that the God of Abraham and Isaac is the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Of course God manifests differently based not only on theology, but on culture and language (as with segments within Christianity). Some blog visitors didn't like that idea. And I understand: it's scary to suggest commonality with a worldview that has been asserted as a "sworn enemy." But travel back to the Bible, and read God's promises to Ishmael. Interesting...

I'm not saying I think Christianity and Islam are the same. I recognize that we don't even believe the same things about God. But I could say the same of myself and Southern Baptists. Or Assemblies of God. Or Roman Catholics. Just like we were talking about a few days ago concerning Process Theology, we tend to make God in our own image.

Jen and I used to take yoga classes together. I don't anymore (no time) but she does. We both find yoga to be a powerful mind-body excercise that helps center ourselves. Christianity doesn't offer a similar practice (although Christianized variants on yoga practice have been developed... a sort of ritual-colonialism, maybe).

But don't we get very worried when someone suggests they need something beyond what we have? "If it's good enough for me, it's good enough for YOU!" we defend.

Redding said she does not want her belief in two religions to diminish the value she holds for both Christianity and Islam. Each faith by itself is enough to fulfill a person spiritually, she said. "It's all there. I am not saying you have to go somewhere else to be complete. Some people don't need glasses, some people need single lenses. I need bifocals."

I'm not sure what I "need," but I'm pretty certain my own need begins and ends with Jesus Christ. But there may be room for something else in the middle. Like Star Trek or Buddha, or Czech Beer. Hmmm... should that make me uncomfortable?

Click here to read the full CNN.com story...

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