Agents of Reconciliation..

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.

Inspiring Quotes…

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….

2)  We focus on The Great Commission over The Great Commandment
The Great Commission does not supersede the Great Commandment.  Our mission is first and foremost: “Love God with all your heart and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.”  What we have done is divorce The Great Commission from the Great Commandment.  We falsely believe our commission to make disciples is separate from our commandment to love.  The truth is, we are commissioned to love–to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love.  To proclaim the gospel is to share the depths of God’s love for the world (AKA everyone). The gospel is demonstrated through unconditional, sacrificial, cross-embracing love. The message and the medium is love.  The gospel of love has to become flesh, otherwise it’s not the gospel.  The gospel is best seen, felt, and experienced when it becomes flesh in our lives.  The great commandment must be what drives the great commission.
SOURCE: Shawn Casselberry: Gandhi-Style Evangelism | Red Letter Christians.

God Knows More Than I Do…..

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do…..

As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

SOURCE:  Morf Morford: It’s NOT the economy, stupid | Red Letter Christians.

I am going to do a rare cross post here between two of my blogs. I am doing so because I think this post has a spiritual as well as general message.

While the referenced source above is about life being more than just money, this post is actually just about the description of the author.  Besides having a very interesting name the author of this post over at Red Letter Christians has very interesting look on life. I am proud to say I share his views of God and getting older. But I guess I am luckier than hs is in one regard. I still drink lots of milk. They tell me it is good for my osteoporosis. 🙂

I too am currently a free-range Christian and have been for a few years now.  I am no longer instructed weekly in what I am supposed to believe. Instead I now tend to look at the Lord’s word from a more personal, some might say naive, view. From what I can glean from the Christian Bible I also agree that God expects more from us than almost any of us can imagine or at least willing to put forward.

One of the things that pushed me out of the last church I was in (that is beside being nudged out the door because I did not tow the denominational line closely enough and was asking too many question in adult bible classes) was their stubborn insistence  that they have it all figured out and everyone else is just wrong in one thing or another.  In that regard, I also proudly share the belief that  God knows more than they do, or everyone else for that matter.

One of the things that prompted me to start my blog over at RedLetterLiving more than five years ago was that I just grew less tolerant to pettiness of some mainstream beliefs of the current version of church. In these five years I have learned that I am by no means alone in those feelings.

Thanks Morf for reminding me what it is all about….

Where Is God???

“as we returned from work, we saw three gallows… The SS [guards] seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows… ‘Where is merciful God, where is He?’ someone behind me was asking. At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over… Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive… The child, too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death… Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer; ‘Where is He? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…’” — From a book entitled “Night” by Elie Wiesel

Where is God when a child is shot in Newtown or hung in Auschwitz or killed in an American drone air strike or for that matter dies of cancer? I don’t know. There is no answer.

Talk of God giving humans free will and thus allowing us to face the consequences of our choices solves nothing. If the creator could intervene personally when it came to the magic tricks in the Bible like making the sun stand still for a day in a battle, he could have done something about that child gasping out his young life. He didn’t. Theology that tries to paper this horrible fact over with explanations about why there is evil is nothing but nervous blather

Source:  Frank Schaeffer: Where Is God When We’re in Pain? – Red Letter Christians.

I must admit that I don’t put much credence in the Old Testament being anything close to totally true and inerrant. To do so would mean that I would have to degrade my feelings about God. The above quote is the perfect example of this fact especially the words “If the creator could intervene personally when it came to the magic tricks in the Bible like making the sun stand still for a day in a battle, he could have done something about that child gasping out his young life.” As the author says any explanation of this difference is blather.

In the Old Testament stories God seemed to intervene in the most trivial of events. Making massive walls crumble with a trumpeter’s breath is a good example. Why would God do that and then allow so much tragedy to happen later? I don’t know the answer to that question. I can only rationalize it that all the evil the world has known makes God just as sad as any of us.

As mentioned above I know that the idea that God gave man free will and then turned the world over to him is not very comforting but to me that is the reality. God being omnipotent he could intervene in these tragic situations but what would we learn from that? We would learn that God is  there to bail us out if we get in too deep. We would learn that we don’t need to take responsibility for anything as God would always fix our screw-ups.  I know some of my Christian brothers believe that is what he does for some.  But why some and not others? These sort of thoughts are still very unsettling for me as a follower of Jesus. At this point in my life I just can’t fathom the answers….

Five Reasons Christian Parents “Lose” Their Children

Here are the five greatest reasons parents “lose” their children from Christianity:

1) Falling into the temptation of using religion to control their children through guilt and shame. — “Jesus is watching you!” Even the best parents can find themselves wanting some divine backup in a conflict with their children. However, using God for intimidation in a conflict with children has two major issues. First, it means children are associating God as “against them.” Second, it means that the parent is not building a personal relationship of trust with the child.

2) The parents seem to be afraid of the world, instead of empowered to live in it. — Christians see themselves as “apart from the world,” but that is so we can help the world, not be afraid of it. Christian parents who constantly talk about the world as an evil, malevolent, and dangerous place which must be avoid as much as possible, it paints a grim view of the future for young adults wanting to find their own place in life. If a parent lives in fear of the world, the children will pick up on that and will naturally seek alternative beliefs. 

3) The children do not see the parents drawing any joy from their faith. — If a parent’s religion is maintained out of guilt and obligation, their children will pick-up on that burden.

4) The children are discouraged from finding answers to their questions. — Each generation of young Christians are going to challenge their parents with new questions about Christianity in the modern world. It is impossible for parents to prepare for or know all the answers for these questions. The only way to address this need is for parents to ask these questions with their children. Parents who ignore, suppress, brush off, or give trite simplistic answers to their children’s questions are at risk of greatly frustrating them. 

5) The children believe they have nothing to offer the Christian community. —  If children feel like Christianity is just following other people, it will not be relevant to them as they grow. Christianity needs to be understood as something we all work together to build.

Source:  Five Reasons Christian Parents “Lose” Their Children – Yaholo Hoyt – Red Letter Christians.

 

I am going to leave these words stand on their own…….

The Worst Things About American Christianity (part 2)

RedLetterChristians LogoThis is the conclusion of a post over at RedLetter Christians by Stephen Mattson  that I want to feature. (Click here to see the original post in it entirety).  As I said before it puts the major problems with our current version of American Christianity into an almost perfect shell. Today we will look at the last four things and next time I will give some personal thoughts about all six observations in this list.

3) Speed and Shallowness — Our fast-paced culture of celebrity, noise and entertainment has trumped our ability to patiently meditate, pray and reflect. 

The most popular theologians and pastors now have their own web platforms, and we expect them to engage in every newsworthy event—no matter how significant (or insignificant) it may be. A Christian author may spend years of exhaustive work and research in order to write a book, but we’ll manage to ruthlessly and publicly tear it apart within minutes of publication.

Mistakes are made, statements are shouted, relationships are ended, and it’s often too late to retrace our steps and retract our sins. We sacrifice contentment, care and thoughtfulness in order to quench our insatiable desire for social interaction and cheap entertainment.

4) We’re Privileged — Change is hard to accept when things are working in your favor. As the common expression goes: “Why is change a good thing?” Any theology, idea or sermon that challenges people to sacrifice or reach beyond their comfort zones isn’t easily accepted.

Many American Christians defend their position so passionately because the greatest beneficiaries of their worldview are themselves. But when people are persecuted, abandoned, ignored or powerless, their perspective changes and they become open to different paradigms. These new paradigms are invisible and seem illogical to those that live comfortably.

5) Consumerism — We have turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?

The message of Christ should be available for free, to everyone. The best worship, pastors, teachers, ideas, inspiration and resources should not be reserved for only those who can afford to pay for the latest albums and books, buy tickets to conferences, pay tuition for Seminary, or submit a fee for retreats—you get the picture. As Christians, we need to be intentional about fighting our cultural habit of commercializing everything, and be willing to generously offer our gifts and resources freely to everyone—with no strings (or charges) attached.

6) Obsessed with Power — Power-hungry Christians view their faith as a battle, a series of wins and losses. Control and influence is valued above all else, and Christianity’s success is measured by research, statistics, attendance and the success of church-supported laws at the state and federal level. Success is hardly gauged by the fruits of the Spirit or by how well we’re following Christ’s example.

A thirst for power results in Christians who prefer political might over spiritual strength, legal enforcement over personal choice, conscription over evangelism, punishment over grace, fear over hope, and control over love. In extreme cases, even violence and aggression is viewed as a necessary means of gaining power.

But “Christianity” in America is no longer an institutionalized tradition that people automatically do on Sunday mornings— this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces us to care less about power and more about the gospel of Christ. Jesus routinely sacrificed worldly power for humble service and love. Is selfless love something that American Christians are ready for? We’ll soon find out. 

The Six Worst Things About American Christianiy

RedLetterChristians LogoMy friends over at RedLetter Christians have done it again. They have put the major problems with our current version of American Christianity into an almost perfect shell. The words below were some of the thoughts penned by Stephen Mattson. See all the complete text by clicking here. I see no reason to add any additional words. I will be using the next two posts to bring their message forward and then a third one to talk about them from a personal veiwpoint. In order to keep the posts around my self-imposed 500 word or so limit I have done some slight editing.

America is wonderful! We have religious freedom to express our beliefs and worship according to our preferences, but there are also very distinct problems associated with American Christianity. Here are some of the main ones:

1) Infighting — Instead of unifying believers, Christ has become a symbol of discontentment and divisiveness. Theologians publicly humiliate each other, pastors hatefully condemn those they disagree with, denominations split over minor differences, Facebook is used as a platform to spread hurtful comments and derogatory memes, Twitter accounts are used as vicious tools of attacks, and people spew degrading opinions and gossip—often without provocation. Disdain reaches hyperbolic proportions, and accusations of being a “heretic” and “false prophet” are freely given to various individuals who simply have new, bold or different ideas.

American Christians have forgotten how to dialogue and respectfully disagree. We’ve abandoned concepts like grace, humility and love and have devolved into critics instead of encouragers, instigators instead of peacemakers, debaters instead of friends, and reactionists instead of innovators.

We crave independence and avoid teamwork, and prefer communities who share similar theological, political and social beliefs. Exclusiveness is preferred over acceptance, and we religiously bolster our personal ideologies instead of readily listen to others. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches as we destroy ourselves and the gospel we represent.

2) Unfair and Inaccurate Associations — American Christianity is obsessed with labels. We ascribe names, descriptors and titles for various theologies, denominations, movements, political ideas and social ideologies.

We judge individuals based on the flimsiest of associations in order to fulfill our superficial stereotypes. Therefore, someone who likes Rob Bell must be a “Liberal Universalist,” while someone who admires John Piper must be a “Calvinist.” Mystery and ambiguity is mistakenly perceived as ignorance, and so we categorize everyone—including ourselves.

We live in an age where the term “Christian” means a million different things to a million different people. To make matters worse, non-Christians have their own associations—often warranted. Therefore, an individual claiming to be Christian can be misinterpreted as being Homophobic, Conservative, Anti-Science and Sexist, even though those descriptions may be completely inaccurate.

Christian groups and organizations reinforce negative perceptions through campaigns, lobbying efforts, institutionalized doctrines, public comments and actions, making it harder to break down preconceived stereotypes that our popular culture and media continue to associate with Jesus.

For believers, the term “Christian” is just the beginning label, a generic description meant to be broken down and dissected. What type of Christian are they? A moderate? Liberal? Egalitarian? Lutheran? Charismatic? What style of worship do they prefer? What translation of the Bible do they use? The classifications could go on forever.

American Christianity is a complex and diverse array of beliefs and ideologies, and every individual is unique, but we prefer to reduce everything through labels, forfeiting truth for the sake of compartmentalization and simplification.

Next time I will present the final four…

Dying For God’s Vengeance….

Bass Book

Abelard rejected the idea that Christ died as a result of God’s vengeance for human disobedience. Abelard was horrified by the novel teaching of his fellow theologian, Anselm (1033–1109), who proposed that Jesus died to satisfy the divine justice of his Father, as a payment of a legal debt required as recompense for sin and to restore God’s honor. Abelard exclaimed: Indeed, how cruel and perverse it seems that [God] should require the blood of the innocent as the price of anything, or that it should in any way please Him that an innocent person should be slain—still less that God should hold the death of His Son in such acceptance that by it He should be reconciled with the whole world.  Who, Abelard demanded, would forgive such a God for killing his own son?

Later theologians refer to Abelard’s idea as the moral influence theory of the cross, and it would eventually, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, shape liberal Christianity. The theory, however, was rejected by many of Abelard’s contemporaries. Anselm’s idea of blood sacrifice eventually won the day. Although some in the church attempted to have Abelard tried for heresy, the charges never stuck, and Abelard died in communion with the medieval church.

A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (Bass, Diana Butler)

This is a continuation of my off and on again review of the book above. As I have mentioned before it was not until the 10th century that our current idea of atonement was solidified. The above quote gives some details about that. Anselm was one of the first theologians to suggest that Jesus dies to satisfy God’s wrath and distain for humanity. Abelard was one of the few who dared to question the concept. He was quite startled by this claim but since he was eventually on the losing side of this doctrine little is mentioned about him or this conflict in today’s churches.

The idea of sacrificial atonement as cited above has always troubled me but since it is so deeply embedded in much of current Christian theology I dared not think too hard about it or question it too vocally.  To do so might have threatened my membership in the Lutheran denomination that I currently belonged. Now that I have declared my independence from that body I can ask questions like Abelard did centuries before me without a sense of retribution.

My major take from Jesus’ teaching is about a God of love, not one of vengeance. Jesus told us that the most important thing to take from his teachings was to love God as he loves us and to love each other.  To me I see little space for a vengeful god in those words. Blood atonement simply makes no sense to me.

Abelard was more fortunate than many in the church who disagreed with beliefs that won out. Many were murdered as heretics and all their works burned. For that reason we will really never know the actual extent of disagreement in much of church history.  As Mrs. Bass goes on to mention beginning with the twentieth century these questions have again risen with some seriousness. Thanks heavens for that.

Replacing One Mediator With Another….

Before I start on my study of the history of the church I want to do an “aside” post here on another topic.

I just read a very thoughtful post over at Rachel Held Evan’s blog about mysticism and evangelicalism. In it she was commenting on a book by Tim Challis about how mysticism, which he defined at any experiences with God outside of the Bible, as not being valid. I am not going to get into his arguments to back up this belief nor Rachel’s counter to it. Click on the link above to see all that.  Instead I am going to talk about how Mr. Challis and many evangelicals I have encountered to have thoroughly dismiss the pope as a mediator between man and God but then turn around and put the Bible in that position.

I personally have been on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide so I think I have an understanding of some of the differences. I spent the first 20 years in the Catholic church in one degree or another. I went to the first seven years of schooling being taught by nuns and priests. During that time I learned that man can’t interact directly with God as he is just too holy for our sinfulness.  Instead we had to count on the parish priest for our daily interactions with God and for the Pope for the really deep understandings.

Even during those years I felt uncomfortable with this idea. We received communion  on a regular basis but at that moment when the bread wafer turned into Jesus it was over the hunched shoulders of the priest ruling over the mass.  We just weren’t allow to be part of that transformation.  When I was an altar boy I occasionally tried to sneak a look at just what was going on but never saw anything I thought was miraculous about it. I just couldn’t understand why I needed someone else to talk to God for me.

As was typical I turned away from all things religious during my college years. I occasionally dabbled in the RCC but only very tepidly. When I was about to get married I had my first encounters with those people outside the “real” church. THose who call themselves Protestants in one form or another. The flavor I was involved with were Lutherans. I must admit that many of the things with Lutherans and Catholics are very similar. They have basically the same liturgy and beliefs with most things but definitely not when it come to the Pope. I can’t number how many times I heard very harsh words about the pope in my Lutheran circles. I was embarrassed by this almost hatred because I couldn’t understand it coming from  Christians.

In reality I have come to realize that Lutherans and I expect many other Protestants have simply moved from one mediator to another. They take all authority away from the pope and put it on the document created under the tutelage of King Constantine in the fourth century. Of course that document is the Bible. While the Bible contains very inspiring writings passed down from generation to generation before being penned it is not the sole presence of God in the world today. To say that God quit instructing us how to live and love more than 1600 years ago is to take power away from him.  And I am just not one to do that…..