I am a guy who has a lot of interests. One of the biggest is blogging about my view of the world and the times we live in. I live a joyous life of a nuanced skeptic. I also happen to be deaf and have some rather distinctive Aspie traits. Because of my life experiences I have a pretty unique view of the world that you may find interesting, maybe even enlightening.
Looking back to my last post here on April 3, 2104, I feel kind of overwhelmed as to where to start up again. A lot has happened in the previous five years, Some good, some pretty bad. It will take a while to cover all this so bear with me.
I am also broadening the scope of RedLetterLiving to include the Coexist movement that I also feel strongly about. It is now prominently displayed on the header above. I feel that this movement is the last best hope for any kind of peace between the various religious establishments.
Does including Coexist with the Red Letters diminish them? I guess that is a topic we have to discuss more thoroughly in future posts but I don’t believe it does. To me, it is very much aligned with Jesus’ primary command to love God and to love each other.
I am looking forward to discussing this expanded topic with you…
After almost five years in hiatus, I will once again start blogging on RedLetterLiving. Quite a bit has happened in the Christian realm since I left so there is much to talk about.
I can’t give you a specific date for return yet, but it will likely be sometime this month. The first thing that is going to happen is to re-format a very dated layout… Then on to at least weekly posts.
I’ve seen the light go out in people’s eyes when they decide it’s safer to embrace a doctrine or a policy that their gut tells them is wrong than it is to challenge those who say it’s right.
I’ve watched open minds close and tender hearts harden.
I’ve seen people pretend to believe things they don’t actually believe and do things they don’t actually want to do, all in the name of conformity to God’s will, all in the name of sacrifice and submission.
Fundamentalism erases people. It erases their joy, their compassion, their instincts, their curiosity, their passion, their selves. And then it celebrates this ghosting, this nulling and numbing, as a glorious “dying to the self,” just like Jesus demanded.
These are some powerful words from Rachel Held Evans who is a young and popular Christian author and lecturer. She seldom parses words when it comes to her spirituality. She also seems to be very aligned with the latest statistics of the Millennial generation when it comes to shedding much of the dogma of the current “church”.
I truly believe that the conformity that many churches demand is a primary factor for why even those raised in it are leaving in droves. They see things that directly contradict what they believe to be simple knowledge. They see their church speaking so viciously about those who are different from them. What they see is not “conformity to God’s will” but to some minded hardened hearts. They see a fixated emphasis on below the belt issues when Jesus said almost nothing about that topic.
Young people, or at least many young people, are still in the mode of questioning things. They are still forming their own personal opinions on what will be important in their coming life. They will not allow someone to tell them what is moral when it is obviously not to them.
During my lifetime fundamentalism, even though it started with trying to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world, has for the most part morphed into something completely different. It is now primarily about what you are supposed to hate rather than what Jesus told you to love. It has become the dark side of Christianity in many respects.
It is encouraging to see that the force is no longer with the fundamentalists but instead beginning to meld into what is now called the Great Emergence as described by Harvey Cox in his book entitled The Future Of Faith. As explained in the book the emergent church is more about moving on to the next stage of Christianity rather than tearing down the current one. It is about shedding all those man-made rules and replacing them with the messages of its founder. If you are becoming discouraged with the direction that many in the church are taking maybe it is time you took up the book and read it with an open mind. It just might just change your idea some of the basic things you are told you must believe in order to see God.
This is one of the most fundemental things I have learned from the now ending five year study…
“In a world swimming in violence, in a land where “messiah” meant militancy, Jesus never acts violently. Whenever violence is addressed, Jesus condemns it. Whenever His followers try to act violently, they are confronted. Whenever Jesus encounters people who deserve a violent punishment, Jesus loves them. And in doing so, He leaves His followers with a nonviolent example to follow. When people around the globe think that American Christians are pro-war, enamored with violence, and fascinated with military might, something is terribly wrong. No one in the first century would have made the same conclusion regarding Jesus and his followers.”
Fundamentalist Christians, which I believe is a totally American thing, have by some of their basic messages very much contradicted the words of Jesus when it comes to violence. As the closing sentence in the above quote indicates first century Christians were very much against any form of violence. When a Roman soldier wanted to become a Christian the first thing he had to do was to find a different occupation. Being a soldier and being a Christian were just not compatible with each other.
Jesus condemned violence in his day and I am sure he is doing the same thing today. Most of the fundamentalists today are very strong advocates of our military complex. They fight tooth-and-nail for annual increases in our military spending even while calling for drastic cuts in programs for the poor. They are convinced that God wants them to bring “freedom” to the world no matter the violent costs. We as a country have done nothing but reinforce the belief of the rest of the world of our love of violence. We do nothing about controlling guns when the rest of the world has. We have a military that we spend forty times more per citizen than any other in the world. Our violent movies and video games are marketed around the world. Most of our aid to foreign countries is in the form of weaponry.
I think it is about time that those of us who are followers of Jesus and his commands start pushing back against the violence in this country. We are supposedly THE Christian nation of the world. Why don’t we even begin to act like it?
What do we do as Christians when confronted with these harsh realities? The Bible urges us to “remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself!” (Hebrews 13:3). Jesus knew what it was like to have a loved one incarcerated. His cousin, John the Baptist, was falsely accused and arrested (and eventually executed). Perhaps this is why Jesus, in Matthew 25, tells his disciples “when I was in prison, you visited me.” As a victim of false imprisonment and injustice, Jesus entered into solidarity with the incarcerated and exposed the flawed justice system of his day. Of all people, Christians should be the most skeptical of prisons. A simple survey of prisons in the Bible will reveal that prisons were mainly used to oppress minorities, exploit the poor, and silence the prophets. And the prison system today continues to do so.
Jesus being a prisoner, or Jesus saying he came to earth to set prisoners free is as Shawn said in the article not mentioned very often in our churches today. When it is they take it out of a literal meaning to water it down to say that we are all prisoners of sin so it applies to all of us. This is one of those instances that I seem to take the words of Jesus much more literally than the so-called ‘literalists’.
I love the further explanation that Shawn gave about this topic in one of his replies to a comment.
The kingdom Jesus is proclaiming is breaking into history and challenging all of our systems of power. The kingdom is not about captivity like the earthly kingdoms but about freedom (spiritual, social, political). I think this should move Christians from supporting (defending) unjust systems to seeking to make them more just, equitable, transformational, and restorative. If we believe in the power of grace to transform then shouldn’t this extend to other areas of life not just private faith?
I don’t know how well-known the Red Letter Christian website is (I hope it is much better than mine 😉 ) but another thing I love about it is that almost all the comments are very civil. The ranters seem to stay away from it.
Shawn is like most, if not all the authors over at RLC, in that he is about living the principles of Jesus instead of just laying back and letting grace flow over him. It is our duty as followers of Jesus to re-establish, if it was ever established in the first place, an equitable prison system. One that does not oppress minorities, exploit the poor, or silence those voices proclaiming such.
I am one of those who believe that when Jesus said he wants the kingdom of God here on earth he meant it. He means for us to do what we can to make that happen. Reforming our prison system is just a small but significant portion of that work.
Young and old, rich and poor, and people from every social, economic, political and cultural background are starting to rethink their faith. A fresh movement is happening, and in its purest form is about one thing: following Christ. This transformation is reshaping the Christian landscape. Believers are starting to simplify their faith in order to exemplify Christ—a simple yet profound way to live out the gospel. This has become a revolutionary concept.
This “new” Christianity is sick of culture wars, political agendas, hypocrisy and legalistic doctrines. They prefer inclusion over restriction, dialogue over debate, practice over preaching, and love over judgment. Authentic communities are preferred over institutionalized organizations, and grassroots groups gain wisdom and knowledge from relational interaction, social media, the web, and an array of other sources—there is no monopoly controlling leadership or sources of information.
I know the words revolution and religion in the same context strikes abject fear in many religious circles. But poll after poll shows that is just what is beginning to happen, particularly the millennials which are those between 18 – 33. They are shucking off current religious institutions in favor of a new type of religion. The Stephen Mattson quote above, as well as the whole article, is a prime indicator of this fact.
Many are now melding their spirituality with their social conscience and that is the way I believe Christ intended it. In that regard they are not so much starting a new religion as they are resurrecting the original one. Let’s face it, if you really read the Gospel text you will find Christians that are VERY much different from what you find today. They were all about loving their neighbors and showing it with their time and their money. I’m not talking about an occasional hour or two on a spare weekend, but about an almost 24/7 thing.
The “new” Christianity is no longer about battling your neighbor because they might be believe things a little different from you. It is no longer about extreme political agendas that have almost nothing to do with the teaching of Jesus. But the exciting part of this “new” religion is that it is taking place in the pews and not the seminaries. People are shedding the dogma taught to them by decades of false tradition. They are replacing it with two simple commands. Love God and love each other. Christianity has been stacking rule after rule onto their agenda since almost the beginning. It is about time that we went back to the simple message of our founder.
How much more exciting could this revolution be? Go out and actually live the Gospel instead of just sitting in a pew and reading about it on an occasional Sunday morning. Christianity was meant to be lived, not revered and especially not treated as fire insurance. Join the revolution….
I will admit here that I got a first time comment today that I immediately sent to the trash because I don’t have the energy to deal with it on a serious level right now. It goes like this. “I will ignore the needs of the 99 in order to prevent the 100th one from getting something he doesn’t deserve”. This comment also declared that social justice as he sees it is nothing but communism.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard comments like this. But the truly sad thing is that it frequently comes from someone who declares themselves a fundamentalist Christian. A major premise of that version of Christianity is that we are all nothing but pitiful sinners and don’t deserve anything but Jesus died for us anyway. To turn around and not pass even a miniscule amount of the mercy that they received on to others quite simply makes me sick. But even the sadder part of this is that I’m sure the people who make these types of comments really believe them and just don’t see the correlation between giving and receiving grace. Whose fault is that?
The above words are mine. They were a response I gave a commentor about my post on Social Justice over at RJsCorner.
As mentioned I have gotten this type of reply frequently when I post about giving people second, and yes even sometimes third, chances. I have had a few days to think about that final question and for what it is worth here is my answer. I believe this very flawed logic is the fault of many of our church’s current spiritual leaders. They, like those who Jesus chastised so much in his day, have lost the true meaning of what being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Instead of looking at Jesus’ messages of love and grace they are fixated on guarding their version of God. In Jesus’ day much of the Pharisees attention was on dietary requirement and rules for Jewish living. Today it seems that “below the belt” issues overwhelm almost everything else in some Christian circles. That and defending things found in the Bible that have little or nothing to do with living today but are sacrosanct on justifying their paranoid belief of biblical inerrancy.
To one degree or another almost all Christian sects are guilty of subverting the Message of Jesus. They seem to concentrate more on “tithing” requirements and building more monoliths to God than they are about being our brother’s keepers. They have mortally wounded Christian faith by aligning it with radical right political themes. It seems like we need another “upturning of the money changer’s table” in the twenty-first century church. We need some group to take back the message of Christ to love God and to love each other. We need to get off the feeling that God has special love for that suburban middle class crystal palace with the U.S. flag prominently displayed behind the lavish altar than he does for starving kids in third world countries.
Jesus was a person of second chances. He even told us to forgive our brothers many time more than that. This message seems to be lost in many who call themselves Christians and I believe the fault of that, like in Christ’s day land on the current religious establishment. They seem to be just too afraid that if they make following Jesus too difficult no one will come. They need a serious table upturning….
This is the final post on my series about the Bible. It has been an enlightening time for me. This final post is about the history of Christianity and how it seems to stop with the establishment of the biblical text. But before I get into that I must mention that I have found that to really understand the Gospel text you must also understand the basic history of that region of the world during that period of time. To do that means seeking out historical records of the Roman Empire particularly in the Middle East.
There is virtually nothing about the person of Jesus found outside the gospel accounts. He just didn’t show up on the Roman radar screen. Historical text shows that there were many different people who took on the mantel of “son of God” during those years. Several names were found in Roman text with that claim but Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them.
To understand the part the Roman authorities played in the Crucifixion you must realize that Pontius Pilate routinely condemned Jews to death for a myriad of reasons. He had little regard for that population. You must also understand that the religious leaders of the times were very much in bed with Roman authorities. These sort of historical accounts help us to understand the gospel stories.
The Bible contains almost all of the accounted history of the early Christian church. As such it is a very powerful document. Shamefully any counter views of being a Christian were systematically destroyed when the Biblical version was adopted. As a result we don’t have the pieces necessary to see any different views or to maybe fill in some of the holes in the gospel accounts.
One of my biggest disappointments is that we haven’t put as much enthusiasm in to documenting Christian history since 300AD. Why haven’t we documented how well we are doing in living the messages of Jesus? Progress means monitoring where we are and focusing on where we are going. If as much enthusiasm were put into this task as is it in our reverence to the Bible think how much better the world would be today.
To know where the church stands today is to know how we got here. I think part of the problem with this is that Christianity has a very messy history since the Bible’s invention. We started out as a small group of followers of Jesus’ words and commands to being a State mandated religion that gain immense power in the world. We regularly killed those who might disagree with the established dogma of the times. The Inquisition was a sorry time in church history but it was not the only time.
In order to know where we are we must know where we came from. If the theologians of the church had spent as much energy helping us know how we are doing as they did trying to parse out a particular text in the Gospel to show us their version of God we would be a stronger and more diligent followers of Jesus. Sadly that has simply not been the case.
Most versions of the church today have a very pre-defined dogma and particularly beliefs that they demand compliance to if you want to be part of their group. The trouble is much of that dogma simply has never been justified by the words of Jesus.
I’m not sure who brought up the concept but it is about how churches are actually more like clubhouses than anything else. They are buildings that are built almost exclusively for their members comfort. Yes that comfort does bring in some to hear the message but that seems to be very secondary at best.
I had a recent round of comments on this topic over at one of my other blogs at RJsCorner and it stirred up some heated comments. It seems that calling a church a country club strikes the nerve of many Christians. I think the ounce of truth in it is the reason. Everyone wants to think that their church is somehow different from the others. They want to think that what they give in weekly donations is for the greater good of God. But, facts simply don’t bear that belief out. The vast majority of what they give stays within the church’s hierarchy.
When I was giving regularly to the small church I recently belonged to I never deemed that the money I gave actually went to God’s work here or earth. Being a regular member on the church board I realized that 99+% of what I gave ended up paying the mortgage, utilities and the pastor’s salary. Did I feel guilty about that? No, not really. I know that this small church was struggling, and still struggles after almost ten years, to keep the doors open. There is nothing wrong with needing a clubhouse.
But what is wrong is when we fail to recognize the fact that we are really not doing much in the community besides holding down a property. We try to rationalize that giving a few families a turkey and canned goods during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays somehow meets our community obligations. Being a church is supposed to be about showing God’s blessing throughout our communities. It is supposed to be about others and not ourselves. When we totally acknowledge that fact and diligently plan on making it happen is when we turn the corner from clubhouse to church. Sadly too many small churches fail to ever reach that point in their congregation’s life. Instead of saying we now have enough creature comforts they just end up building more and more.
I am often accused of painting with too broad a brush in these types of posts so I want to recognize that there are many churches out there that are very much valuable contributors to their communities. They run soup kitchens and food banks in the areas. They open their doors on cold and windy night for those who are homeless. In other words they act like they are followers of Jesus Christ. I celebrate every one of those churches. But at the same time even those churches must be on the lookout for their allocations of funds. It is impossible to give too much to your community instead of yourself.
Everyone needs a clubhouse that you can go to weekly. Where everyone know your name as the old Cheers TV show used to say. That is a valuable part of Christian fellowship but we must constantly remind ourselves that is very much secondary to being our brother’s keeper and helping God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.
I used to mourn the fact that there are almost 40,000 different versions of Christianity around today. But, in reality maybe I should celebrate that statistic. At least it shows that we are all trying to find the heart of God. But the problem with this is that we end up picking the type of God we want. I don’t think that is really how God wants it to be but it seems that is the way it is for most of us. Some choose to try to discover God on our own. Some take the lazy way of just latching onto a version that is close enough to their reality or maybe they choose the “easiest” God that doesn’t interfere with their current lifestyle. Some take it to a deeper and more personal journey.
Diversity seems to be the best we can do right now. For whatever reason God has chosen not to make his presence unquestionably known to us. But it sure would be nice to get a signal from him as to who among us has it at least a little right. He doesn’t have to turn off the sun as he supposedly did in the Old Testament. How about just sending a text message to every cell phone in the world all at the same time? That sure would be helpful in knowing what he wants us to do on this earth.
Yeah, I know there are some out there that are screaming “JUST READ THE BIBLE!!!” But what version of the Bible do I read? Do I read about the God who demands constant blood sacrifices. Do I read about the God who allows, some say even commanded, genocide? Do I read about the God who told us to pick up snakes as proof that we are true believers? Or do I believe the God of Love as personified in my interpretation of the Bible. Just reading the Bible is what got us in all these 40,000 versions in the first place so forgive me if I don’t think that is a real answer.
What it means to be a Christian is presently an open book with thousands of different paths. It seems the best we can do is to passionately search for God on a very personal level and live out our lives with that personal epiphany if we do find it. I personally choose to pick those words of Jesus about being our brother’s keeper and about loving God and loving each other as his message to me. To me all the other stuff around today is just smoke and mirrors that just blur my vision of him.
Others may choose a vengeful god who is looking for any reason to condemn us to hell. Others may choose a god who asks them to just say the right words and then get a fire insurance policy to redeem when they eventually die. Other may choose the god of infinite rules and regulations. But for me, I choose the God of Love….
But it sure would be nice to get a text message from God himself letting me know if I kinda got it at least a little right…..