Remember that time when God almost killed Moses?

You don't? Me either. What the hell?!

Exodus 4:19-26
19 Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, "Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead." 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.

21 The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.' "

24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met {Moses} and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched {Moses'} feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone.


Awesome. I think that almost happened to me, once. But it might have been gas.

Maybe someone out there with more OT cred than me knows something about this text, its context and its interpretation??


Queer & Christian with Adele: Interview 7!

Here, Adele shares more of her painful experiences with ex-gay ministries, how she attended Pat Robertson's Regent University (TRULY!), and how these experiences nearly led her to suicide...


In the next segment, Adele will ask ME a few questions!
Stay tuned,
Peter

My Response to Elly

Dear Elly,
Sorry it's taken me so long to respond!

I know exactly how you feel about not knowing who is "safe" to be a heretic around. I'm lucky to have a wife who's even more heretical than me! And for the most part, my seminary has been a safe place to ask some of the questions I'm asking... Our family and church backgrounds are strikingly similar. I was home schooled until high school, raised in a very conservative (but as you say: "well-intentioned") family and church. I think the pastor who married my parents ended up a cocaine addict a few years later. I was "saved" when I was 3, but made it more formal when I was 7, then 8, then 9, 12, 14, 15, 17 and 18 ;) Or something like that.

Okay, to your questions:

1 - What's the deal with Paul?...
I'm not much of a fan of Paul either. I think he's kind of a jerk. Bishop John Shelby Spong thinks Paul was a self-loathing homosexual, which would certainly explain a lot of his attitudes and general demeanor, but I think it's a stretch to infer something like that from what little we know of him. Nothing really, outside Scripture. So if everyone who condemns homosexuals is gay, then even the queer community is lowballing those estimates! Anyway, the best way for me to reconcile Paul is to simply imagine what it must have been like for an orthodox, Jewish Pharisee to suddenly come in contact with the liberation, love and egalitarian spirit of Jesus Christ. Maybe we ask too much of Paul to expect him to suddenly "get it." I don't think most of us would (or will) get it in a lifetime! Paul's writings oscillate back and forth, legalism and grace, anger and joy, peace and obsession, freedom and law, equality and hierarchy... And in my mind I can imagine the Holy Spirit yanking on Paul, while Paul's entire cultural and religious background is saying, "wait, wait, wait..."

Over the last couple of years I've conceptualized Paul and Martin Luther very similarly. Both had a profound, paradigm-shattering, God-given vision for humanity's liberation. And both of them had major (and in a lot of ways, positive) impact on Christianity. But both were human, flawed, and only allowed so much room for change. Paul, in the ways described above (misogyny - yes, etc...) and Luther... well, Luther got obsessed with political power and endorsed the massacre of countless peasants (women, men and children) who opposed paying taxes. He also became a notorious "Jew-hater" later in life. I believe that few individuals are willing to go as far as God wants to take them: Jesus is the exception.

Yes, I'm familiar with the Mithras stuff you mentioned, along with lots of other commonalities between Christianity and pagan religions. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty comfortable with the level of non-fundamentalist scholarship that acknowledges similarities while still holding to the originality (organic-ness?) of Jesus. Christianity is certainly shaped by contemporary religions and superstitions of its day. But much of what you'll find online (watch the Zeitgeist videos on YouTube as a prime example) is heavily skewed to make a point. Like FoxNews: "fair and balanced..." Um... And the Christian responses to those videos and articles are mostly just as bad. The reality is, there are lots of similarities because there's nothing really new under the sun. And there wasn't 2000 years ago, either. But there is no cookie-cutter going on with Jesus. The religion surrounding him is historically and liturgically more than stolen bits and pieces of myth. (but there are certainly stolen bits and pieces, nonetheless...)

2 - Random, but intriguing nonetheless...
Interesting. I hadn't heard that theory ("Jesus was a vegetarian") before. I'm a little skeptical, only because I've never run across it in secular or religious histories. But I'm open to the possibility, and deeply support vegetarianism and humane eating. I'm interested in reading more about the Ebionites now that you've brought that up! Cool.

3 - Did Jesus spend some of his "mystery" years in India?...
I absolutely believe in extra-canonical texts. But since I'm not an inerrantist, I don't believe in them as perfect or binding. Only as worthwhile to consider for our spiritual development. As an aside, the Ethiopian Orthodox canon contains 81 books, to the typical Protestant 66. And that church is far older than most of ours. Who's to say what's holy?

I'm well on my way to becoming a Christian Universalist (which goes to your 4th question, I think...) so the idea of Jesus' interactions in India, with Eastern cultures and religions, isn't problematic for me. Do I think it happened? I honestly haven't got a clue. But I think it's an intriguing possibility, and it stretches my imagination about Jesus - which is either dangerous and heretical, or exciting, dynamic, and exactly what "being in a relationship" with Jesus might involve. Learning new things and being surprised by a living personality that can't be bottled or caged.

4 - I'm reading "If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World..."
After reading Brian McLaren's third "New Kind of Christian" book, I felt permission to at least question the validity and history of hell. Then I read Gulley and Mulholland's "If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person." At the time, it wasn't biblically-based enough for me, and certainly didn't offer much in the way of theological arguments. Kind of touchy-feely. I'm afraid to say at this point (years later), as important as good scholarship is to me, that IS the sort of person I'm becoming - more intuitive and less dogmatic (which can be admittedly scary). The God I have loved and prayed to my entire life is not the God who condemns us to infinite hell for finite sins.
But I don't have to be anti-intellectual or anti-biblical about it. There are LOADS of Scriptures that support Christian Universalism:


But we can proof-text to prove just about anything. So sooner or later, we all have to make some choices and inferences based on personal experience, intuition, and gut-level belief. This makes lots of religious folks uncomfortable to articulate, but we all do it - consciously or unconsciously. [I think] My choices are mostly conscious, and in some cases, I choose not to make a choice at all out of both humility and ignorance!

Elly, you ended your e-mail beautifully. I crave that same connection to the Creator, who I believe I have known (and misunderstood) all my life. And I will always misunderstand. And that's okay.
I used to be terrified too. When we start letting go of those things we clung so tightly to, we ask ourselves, "what's next? What do I have to give up now? What's left to hold onto?" And that last one, "what's left to hold on to," is maybe the scariest. Because our faith is built on certainty of data. The Bible. Tradition. Culture. Data that tells us what's absolutely, unequivocally true. And when a piece of that gets pulled out, it's like playing Jenga. Sometimes they come out cleanly, and we can keep reconciling that our tower is still standing. Sometimes they pull down the whole pile of blocks and you have to start over.

When I got to that point, starting over, I still felt certain of two things: that God was real and loved me, and that I wanted to follow Jesus.

The rest is still a work-in-progress.
Your friend,
Peter

P.S.
Here are some readings that really helped me process these questions. None of them are overtly liberal, as I have tended toward in recent years, but they are a really meaningful and freeing introduction into talking about faith without fear or fundamentalist arguments getting in the way. They're also not particularly scholarly, or even the NEWEST books on the block, but they were some of the most meaningful to me:

Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel

A Generous Orthodoxy

The Post-Evangelical

The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Elly: Questioning Christianity-of-Origin, Part 2

In yesterday's post I introduced you to Elly. In this second-half of her post, Elly gets into some specific questions.

The last section ended:

I feel judgment when I go to church with my family - judgment that I majored in Dance - a pagan interest for sure, judgment that I'm a vegetarian, that I practice yoga, that I'm not married yet, that I left the Midwest, and on and on. It's nothing I want anyone else to feel, and nothing I want to be a part of. Something attached to the name of Jesus should inspire love of the deepest, most joyful kind. I have hope that I'll be able to work out my faith and get to a point where I can more clearly define it, and also find like-minded people or groups as I move through my life.

* * *

And now we continue...

* * *

So with that--here are a few of my many and random questions. And don't worry - I'm in therapy, so don't feel like you have to delve into the childhood thing :)

1 - What's the deal with Paul?
I am not, and never have been, much of a fan. I know the West got the Pauline version of Christianity, but I don't know how (Divinity, I think I was taught? God's plan?) or why, when I think back on the things I was told. It seems that Paul's teachings had a higher esteem thatn what Jesus said. He never even met the guy! (besides in his... vision... )

2 - Random, but intriguing nonetheless...

3 - Did Jesus spend some of his "mystery" years in India?
Would it change anything about Christianity if that was in the Bible? Other faiths and historical accounts refer to Jesus - is it invalid because it's not in the Bible, or could we learn more about him if we accepted the possibility of "extracurricular" texts?

4 - I'm reading "If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World..."
By Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Universal grace... what... the... heck.

Definitely goes against everything I was brought up with, but I am enjoying the book, I think...


Okay... stopping now... I know you're busy, but even if there are some good links you could direct me to... I'd really appreciate it.

While a part of me is sad that I can't just accept the Christianity I was raised with (that would be easier, right?), I'm not just sweeping it under a rug or rejecting Jesus. I want Truth. I crave a connection to my creator--I'm human; therefore spiritual. I want to embody compassion, as Jesus did. I don't want to burn in hell. I also don't want to be Baptist. I want to know how to live, boldly, with some certainty if possible, with peace, with light.

Looking forward to hearing from you if you get a chance,
Elly

Elly: "I can't accept Christianity I was raised with..."

An online reader, Elly, sent me an e-mail several weeks ago that I finally got around to responding to (sorry Elly!). It cuts to the heart of so much that so many of us have struggled with - and perhaps continue to struggle with - in "sorting out" what exactly we believe in an evolving cultural and spiritual context. Thought you might enjoy the conversation!

Thanks Elly!

* * *

Hi Peter,
I've been reading your blog from time to time, and I have some questions. If you don't have time to answer, I understand, but perhaps you could point me in the direction of other resources - blogs, websites, books, etc... I don't know many people who are... "shifted" Christians, if that makes sense - so it's hard to know who I can go to with the "heretical" questions and doubts.

Quick background: I apparently asked Jesus into my heart at age 2 1/2 after singing the "Noah's Ark" song with my mom one night and asking her if I was a "child of God." She told me I wasn't, but that I could be... so I prayed the prayer (repeating after her I guess? No memory of this... ).

I was raised with the best intentions (and have no bad feelings toward my parents - just some confusion) in an almost-cult... some kind of small, "Bible-believing" church with a super-strong emphasis on elders, deacons, family, the role of women (being lesser), all other Christians being wrong, etc...

On the plus side, I grew up with a close-knit group of kids my age who were more like siblings than anything, and since I was homeschooled and lived in the country, I guess it was good that I had church-friends.

Things began to fall apart when the leader of our "flock" was arrested for drunk-driving with a backseat full of alcohol and porn. I was about 12 years old, and most of my memories from that time were of my parents (or at least my dad) being away at church "meetings" or spending all their time talking and crying about what to do. We left, and then went to a Baptist church where I was your typical youth group kid - kissing dating goodbye, hearing pep-talks about "how great being a Christian is," but always aware of the list of "Do-Not's."

I went to college (at a very liberal public university) but was involved in an E. Free church with a large college ministry... which I eventually couldn't keep up because I couldn't do well in school while being "committed" and attending bible studies and ministry events every night of the week. And then I was marked, somehow, and obviously had some "sin problems" or I wouldn't have given up leading "growth groups." Ouch?

A serious quarter-life crisis really got the ball rolling, and my beliefs have been in major deterioration for the past year or so. I know that I will never be what it feels like I was bred to be - a typical American Evangelical Christian Wife and Mother.
Christianity kind of sickens me, and I am very sad about that. During rare visits home (I live overseas now), I feel judgment when I go to church with my family - judgment that I majored in Dance - a pagan interest for sure, judgment that I'm a vegetarian, that I practice yoga, that I'm not married yet, that I left the Midwest, and on and on. It's nothing I want anyone else to feel, and nothing I want to be a part of. Something attached to the name of Jesus should inspire love of the deepest, most joyful kind...


In the next post, we'll go into some of Elly's specific questions!
(stay tuned)

Adele & Me: "Is there any gray here?"

In this segment, Adele is INCREDIBLY patient and tolerant with me as I dig into possibilities of gray area in a subject that is so deeply personal to her.

Please understand that I would NOT ask these questions in casual conversation with someone who didn't already have some relational foundation with me. It's easy for "outsiders" to try to talk "objectively," and I'm often guilty of that. For oppressed and marginalized people, objectivity is a luxury few can afford.

Adele's willingness to humor me in grappling with such sensitive material is a gift, as I work to reconcile my own relational dynamics with friends on both poles of the theological and social spectrum. I can't overstate the caution and humility in which I want to approach this particular subject matter. Thanks Adele!



YOU PROVIDE THE CAPTION:

Just got this photo from an awards dinner I attended...
You provide the caption!


re: Haiti

James inspired me to put the Red Cross Haiti Relief banner above. It's not much, but I hope you'll make a donation with me.

Adele Interview Part 5: "Claiming to know Christ... So unloving..."

In this 5th segment of my interview with Adele, she makes some especially poignant remarks that I think you'll appreciate.


When the online attacks from fundamentalist bloggers were at their peak on www.Queermergent.com, Adele thought:

“If I weren’t already Christian, I wouldn’t want to be Christian…

“Who are these people who claim to know Christ and love Christ, but they are so unloving and unkind and ungenerous.




Adele also observes that “finding common ground” between divergent viewpoints requires “mutual respect.” So true, and so sadly lacking from too much cultural, religious and political dialogue today.


Richard Rohr: MLK Jr's Message About Violence

Thought I would share Fr. Richard Rohr's e-mail message for today...
Peter


What does Martin Luther King’s message tell me
about worldly systems and violence?

Jesus undercut the basis for all violent, exclusionary and punitive behavior. He became the forgiving victim, so we would stop creating victims ourselves. He became the falsely accused one, so we would be careful whom we accuse.

Any worldly system actually prefers violent partners to nonviolent ones; it gives them a clear target and a credible enemy. Empires are actually relieved to have terrorists to shoot at and Barabbas figures loose on the streets. Types like Jesus, Martin Luther King and Gandhi make difficult enemies for empires. They cannot be used or co-opted.

The powers that be know that nonviolent prophets are a much deeper problem because they refuse to buy into the very illusions that the whole empire is built on, especially the myth of redemptive violence. Like Jesus, they live instead a life of redemptive suffering.

Taken from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p 152

Stuff White People Like: Blaming the Devil

I know, I know, you've already read or heard Pat Robertson's comments about the earthquake and crisis in Haiti, but it's so tragically indicative of the wrong sort of religion - the toxic sort that makes lots of folks sick - that I simply have to re-post it (and throw in my two cents):



PAT ROBERTSON
"And you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know Napoleon the 3rd and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And so the Devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.’ And, uh, they kicked the French out, you know, with Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by, by one thing after another, desperately poor."



This is the same sort of tragic pact with Lucifer that has allowed Jack Black to create mind-bendingly-awesome ROCK!

No, but seriously.

Pat Robertson is doing what white people have been doing for most of modernity: shifting blame AWAY from the devastation Western Colonialism has wreaked on the 3rd World.



Question: if you kidnapped a young child, beat and abused him for 20 years, and then let him go, would you expect him to go live a productive, healthy life?


If you conquer a nation, decimate their economic viability, rob them of their natural resources, strip them of their culture, language and ancestral identity, remove their dignity, rape their women, enslave their men, brainwash their children, fragment them and turn groups of them against one-another, and do this for HUNDREDS OF YEARS... do we really need to blame the DEVIL for the hardships they face when you pull out?

A man once said to me, "African culture abhors order and law." I wanted to punch him, but he was a large man.

First: as if there is some singular "African" culture. But more importantly: most of Africa's woes - including its poverity - are a direct result of robbery and decimation by Western Empires.

We made the mess... But THEY made a "pact with the devil." Boogedy boogedy boo. It's racist beyond belief, and ignorant beyond measure.

On the liberal talk radio station I listen to, a "liberal/progressive" caller called in to say, "We need to move beyond race in this country. We're ready. We don't need to be obsessed with political correctness - it's time to move forward."

White people love to say things like, "It's time to move forward," because it just might get us out of having to take responsibility.

But we have to take responsibility.

Adele & Me: Discussing Queer & Christian, pt. 2

In this segment, Adele continues to discuss coming to terms with her sexuality, and how that impacted her faith and view of God. We also discuss how a postmodern worldview may lead to recognizing one's imperfect conception of reality, and how that actually creates room for a new and more humble attitude toward truth...

Adele & Peter: Conversations on Queer & Christian

Here is Part One of a larger video conversation that Adele and I hope you will enjoy. To learn more about Adele, please visit her at:

This is obviously sensitive, potentially controversial, and very PERSONAL content, here. I pray that those who find theological disagreement practice grace and humility in their responses. As my friend Jim Henderson at www.OffTheMap.com says, "When people like each other, the rules change." Adele is one of those rare and wonderful people whom God has worked through, to change the rules for me.

Adele and Me: Getting started with some video chat...

Don't hold this against us... it takes awhile to get "warmed up" in front of a camera.

My good friend Adele was here hanging out, staying with us (up from California) last week and we took some time to chat via webcast...


Richard Rohr: Everything Belongs

In his daily meditations e-mail, Friar Richard Rohr wrote today:

I believe that we have no real access to who we really are except in God. Only when we rest in God can we find the safety, the spaciousness, and the scary freedom to be

who we are,
all that we are,
more than we are,
and less than we are.

Only when we live and see through God can “everything belong.”

All other systems exclude, expel, punish, and protect to find identity for their members, usually in ideological perfection or some kind of “purity.” The contaminating element always has to be searched out and scolded. Apart from taking up so much useless time and energy, this effort keeps us from the one and only task of love and union.

I just love that final paragraph. It's not entirely accurate to say "all OTHER systems," though. Christianity, in its pure or ideal form, may not be inherently exclusive. But in practice, we have been just as guilty of excluding, expelling, punishing, protecting, and avoiding "the other." That named thing we blame for... everything. Whatever that other is.

Still, it's encouraging to be reminded that in its DNA, Christianity retains an embracing spirit - an attitude of universal redemption and reconciliation: all things in created harmony.

Online Fellowship

Adele has been staying with Jen and I for the past few days, and I was just thinking about how many people call bullsh*t when talking about online relationships. The fact is, Adele and I had only spent a few days around each other in person, and that was back in 2005 during a few intensive classes at George Fox Seminary.

Since then, we've kept in touch via e-mail, blogging, Facebook and a little bit of phone.

And I feel like we're old friends.

Online fellowship probably can't healthily be all we should aspire to cultivate, as people of faith (although for some it may be the only option). There's something in flesh-and-blood that can't be duplicated via keystrokes. Desmond Tutu says, "My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." But that doesn't always necessitate in-person contact. Not always. I'm amazed and blessed again and again by the friends I've made, and the friendships I've maintained, over such long distances.

I've said this before, and I'll repeat: thanks to so many of you who bless me and enrich my life through your ongoing e-friendship. I hope I may reciprocate.

Peace,
Peter

On Avatar: Brendan said...

Several days ago my friend Brendan wrote a really thoughtful response to my post on the movie Avatar (the written post, not my video rant) and I wanted to highlight some of his comments, not simply because they seem parallel to my own reactions, but because I think some of his critique is a lot more nuanced than my own. Really good stuff Brendan!

Mercifully (and fairly, I think) you acknowledge, "Cameron probably did intend to be progressive and to advocate but ended up being like the corporate bigwig in his film..." I think there is no doubt that Cameron had very good intentions with this film, but as you said, "educating from on high... only furthers repression."

Brendan writes:
[Avatar] praises it’s hero for aligning himself with the oppressed but glosses over the fact that should he fail, he would wake up in his real body and lose nothing; while the Na’vi lose everything (a metaphor I don’t think the film makers intended).

Interesting, isn't that exactly our vantage, as moviegoers? We're emotionally engaged, but personally uninvested and unexposed to any risk...
[Avatar] furthers the popular myth that humans are inherently destructive and greedy. By hating ourselves we are allowed to feel moral and by believing destruction to be inevitable, we are spared from actually having to do anything about it. Personally, I think there are too many ‘cautionary tales’ and not enough ‘exemplary tales’, too much cynicism and not enough hope, too many ‘complicated characters’ and not enough role models, too many easy breakthroughs and not enough hard won realizations.
Yes! So true. Yet even as I affirm that, I feel convicted of my own impotence to model something constructive. Deconstruction is ongoing, but I want to be simultaneously building and modeling something good and healthy. This is why I admire Wendell Berry so much, who tirelessly critiques rampant capitalism, consumerism and industrialism, but ALSO personally demonstrates a localized, agrarian alternative. And he's the first to say that there are no "huge solutions" to the world's huge problems. Only lots of small solutions. So hopefully we can affect some micro-changes right here in conversation, Brendan.

This leads me to share your frustration with the apparent impotence of media. However, media as an awareness altering tool works in subtle ways though. It’s impossible to measure it’s effect. Who is to say whether or not Avatar (despite it’s many hypocrisies) will contribute to a greater sympathy for indigenous rights, or whether your blog will inspire others to more closely examine their role in oppression.

You're absolutely right. I was just discussing this with our old friend Mr. Fleischer! I conceded that I could be completely wrong about the impact or effect of the movie. I don't believe I'm wrong about the dangers of cultural misrepresentation, manipulation, and some of the other issues at hand, but yes, maybe Avatar will move some folks to be more culturally and ecologically-conscious. I'm not so desperate to be right that I can't applaud something good undermining my thesis! And hopefully we're doing something good here too. Someone else said that Cameron may have indirectly affected good by inciting these types of conversations in the first place. I can't say I agree with that any more than I think the Rodney King beating was "good" because it contributed to dialogue about race in America. Abuse is still abuse... but it can teach us something.

Brendan, I really enjoy your insights and look forward to keeping in touch!

Read all of Brendan's comments, and several others, here!

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