Archives For Christianity

Conformity….

April 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

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.

SOURCE: Hearts of Flesh.

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.

2014-03-25_16-33-02It 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…

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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.

SOURCE: Shawn Casselberry: Children of the New Jim Crow | Red Letter Christians.

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.

Revolution….

March 23, 2014 — 3 Comments

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.

SOURCE: When Revolutions Become Religions – Stephen Mattson – Red Letter Christians.

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….

Sometimes I take a peak at the website I put up for the church I was once a member. I have been gone for three years now but nothing has changed on that site since I left. The pastor just doesn’t see the Internet as being valuable in reaching out to the community. But one thing that is updated is the text of his sermons are added each week. I glance at them from time to time just to get an idea of how the church is doing.

One thing that has not changed in these eight years of the church’s existence is the “Sit Back and Wait Syndrome” is still at the core of the congregation. Of course this is typical of many fundamentalists churches today so I should not be surprised the weekly message stubbornly continues to be the same thing over and over again.  The “SBAW” syndrome goes something like this:

  • Everyone of us are dreadful sinners and there is nothing we can do about that. All we can do after we accept Christ as our savior and then hunker down against the big bad world and sit back and wait for the second coming.
  • Since we are nothing but miserable sinners God doesn’t expect anything from us. He has done it all so it doesn’t matter how we act or what we do.  But if we feel like it we could try to do some good deeds and he won’t mind. The only thing that really matters is that we hold strong to the beliefs we have been taught and then sit back and wait…
  • Since God is absolutely in control everything that happens  is his will. We don’t need to do anything in our communities. He will do it all.  Neither do we need to do anything to bring new members to our church. All we have to do is sit back and wait for him to bring them to us in his own time, not ours.

You get the idea of the “SBAW” syndrome.  It justifies doing nothing within their communities or for that matter even making any changes in their personal lives. When they are confronted with those growing mega-churches they say they are only successful because they pander to sinners and tell them that God loves them anyway so they can just keep sinning.

Of course I, and hopefully many other followers of Jesus, take a very different track on our spirituality. We believe Jesus’ church to be about “doing” not simply believing. We are to do everything we can to make the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  We believe that Christianity is supposed to be a very active thing and is definitely not a sit back and wait proposition. Jesus clearly taught us otherwise.

My fundamental difference with the “SBAW” crowd is that my faith in Jesus is not only being my savior but, maybe more importantly, being my lord.  That is I study his words to find out what he expects, or maybe even as the great commission says commands, of me in this life. To me that is unquestionably to be very active in my community to love others with the love of Jesus in my heart. He no way intends us to  just sit back and wait while bemoaning the big bad world out there…

The Image of God….

January 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-01-10_11-13-00When St. Augustine wrote On the Trinity, he tried to work out a conundrum. He wanted to figure out how women could be the image of God. He finally solved the puzzle by writing that when a woman is alone, then she is not in the image of God. It is only when she is joined with a man, when she is one flesh with him, she can be considered the image of God.

Of course, we cannot take our ideas of gender equality and try to compare them to a different time and culture. We shouldn’t judge Augustine by our liberated standards. But, it is important to ask if we let Augustine ideas seep into our current debates. Do we still do this? Do we reduce a woman’s worth to her sexuality or her fertility?

SOURCE: Sex, Pills and the Image of God | Carol Howard Merritt | Red Letter Christians.

I love reading all the bloggers over at Red Letter Christians. Carol Howard Merritt is no exception. As she mentions in the quote above it is not surprising to see what St. Augustine thought about women only being in the image of God after they are married. That was just the way it was during those times. These are the same circumstances that made Paul tell women to be quiet in church and wait till they got home to ask their husbands about it. Women during that period were considered more property than anything else. Of course Jesus’ actions told us to think otherwise but as usual we failed to get the message.

What is truly saddening about this is those who continue with that same mentality today.  Some say that the Bible is the only word of God and it is meant for all eternity. They have locked down God to the fourth century when the Roman King Constantine put that document together in order to strengthen his control of his kingdom.

I can still hear all the rationalizations around keeping women in their place, even and maybe especially by some women in the fundamentalist church I once belonged. They proclaimed that God has ordained women to be the helper of men and that men are the “deciders” so to speak. They cite some words attributed to Paul as the foundation for this still on-going discrimination.

But when we look at the actions of Jesus we see he for the most part treated women as equals to men. In fact the first person he showed himself to after is resurrection was a woman.

When we lock-down God to a fourth century mentality we are in effect denying that he has any real place in today’s world. We are denying any revelations either personal or public that God has given us since that time. I personally believe that things like cures for diseases, DNA, and other life saving discoveries come from God revealing it to us.

I have had a couple of pretty significant revelations from God in my lifetime. When I mentioned this to my then pastor his first comment was “How do you know it wasn’t from the devil?” Given that the clergyman was one of those lock-down Christians I shouldn’t have been a surprised as I was by his comment.

RLC2013-11-05_10-00-37I admit that I find the gospel of partnering with God for the healing of the world much, much harder than the gospel of God loves you and wants to give you a ticket to heaven.

It’s harder emotionally, physically, financially, socially and culturally. It’s tiring. Without the Holy Spirit, without worship, without community I’d give up and go back to that old gospel. It was easier in those days, for sure.

It was easier when it was about me and my blessing, my healing, my salvation and inviting other people to enjoy my amazing new life. It was much easier when it was about going to church. About finding a Sunday service that made me feel good and affirmed what I already believed. It was easier when I could modify some moral behaviours and then live for myself, my ambition, my convenience and my comfort around that. It was easier when, because I knew my eternity was sorted, I could spend my days accumulating experiences, success, approval, dollars, possessions, relationships and the accolades that come from “ministry”.

SOURCE:  Brad Chilcott: The \’Other Gospel\’ was easier | Red Letter Christians.

A Quakerish Pope?

October 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

Pope FrancisWorth reading is a recent interview with Pope Francis conducted by Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica.  Scalfari, an atheist, had written to request an interview, and was floored when the Pope himself called to schedule a time.

The whole interview is worth reading and pondering. I was especially struck by one interchange in which Pope Francis says something very akin to something George Fox said.   Said Pope Francis,

“From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us. In the letter I wrote to you, you will remember I said that our species will end but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will all be in everyone.\”

Scalfari then asks whether this isn’t more an image of immanence than of transcendence. And Pope Francis responds:

“Transcendence remains because that light, all in everything, transcends the universe and the species it inhabits at that stage.”

For comparison, here is George Fox, in Chapter One of his Journal:

“I saw, also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings.”

SOURCE:  A Quakerish Pope?.

As this source article says the pope’s words about the light of God being within us is very Quakerish. It is also very much aligned with scientific discovery (as opposed to creationism). I have high hopes that this pope will continue where John Paul left off and put the Catholic church into a 21st century timeframe.  I can only then pray that the evangelicals will someday follow suit.

It Moves Beyond….

August 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Great Emergence

I like to think of the Great Emergence as reported in the book by Phyllis Tickle as  “Post-Religion”.

  •  It moves beyond what we call currently call religion into the next phase of focusing on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
  • It moves beyond building cathedrals to building relationships and love between all of God’s people not just those in our particular version of Christian community.
  • It moves beyond needing to pay someone to lead our worship services and tell us what to believe to our personal study of God’s word untarnished by religious baggage.
  • It moves beyond strictly enforced beliefs to requiring each of us to find God in his/her own person life.
  • It moves beyond hunkering down in our churches being afraid of the “big bad world” to getting out into our communities and showing God’s love in our lives.
  • It moves beyond our engrained bigotry to opening our minds to each other and that includes all of God’s children.
  • It moves beyond spending most of our giving on our Sunday creature comforts to spending it on helping our brothers in need.
  • It moves beyond being stubbornly  focused on one particular form of worship to being open to praising God in a variety of different way but particularly by our actions and not our words or even beliefs.

Quite frankly I am holding on to the dream that the emergent church will help me and millions of others like me to one day return to a formalized God praising establishment.  I have high hopes that someday we will return to the teachings of Jesus and away from the partisan beliefs invented by man.

Christians will not be agents of reconciliation and healing as long as they see the world from the perspective of the privileged or fail to even attempt to see from the viewpoints for those who are unlike themselves in important ways.  We have a higher calling than simply to be representative of our race, class, nationality or whatever else defines us in this world. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
Source: Craig M. Watts: Beyond Trayvon Martin and Racism | Red Letter Christians.

Agents of Reconciliation..

3)  We turn Christianity into a culture rather than a lifestyle.
We have turned Christianity into a market.  We have reduced Christianity to products we consume, sell, and advertise.  We are more about profits than prophets.  Christianity has become a culture rather than a lifestyle.  We’ve been taught to consume Christian products rather than being Christian.  We’ve been taught to be salespeople for Jesus rather than true followers of Jesus.  Living a Christian lifestyle means Christ’s love has penetrated so deep into our heart that our lives begin to embody that love in real and tangible ways.  We want everyone to know they are loved.  We want everyone fed, clothed, housed, welcomed, included, employed, supported, tutored, visited, forgiven, and freed.
SOURCE: Shawn Casselberry: Gandhi-Style Evangelism | Red Letter Christians.

Inspiring Quotes…