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“I’m Sorry”?

January 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sorry

Christians mistakenly believe that apologizing discredits everything they’ve ever said. As if saying “we’re sorry” will somehow negate the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. In reality, apologizing promotes honesty, transparency, authenticity and humility, things all Christians should exhibit throughout their lives. When Christians apologize, it adds integrity and legitimacy to their words and actions…

Maybe this is why Christians rarely hear sermons or teachings about apologizing to non-Christians. Mainstream Christian culture teaches the opposite: believers are always right. The inner-circle perception is that Christians don’t make mistakes—only non-Christians do.

SOURCE: Stephen Mattson: Can Christianity Learn to Say, “I’m Sorry”? | Red Letter Christians.

Saying I’m sorry is not something that I shy away from. I, like everyone else in this world have made some pretty stupid mistakes. Anyone who has studied much in the way of church history know that the church has also made some pretty serious errors. Like silently sat back during the 1950s and watched church after church in African-American neighborhoods be burned. They sat stoically in the background while basic civil rights were denied a large portion of the population. In fact many so-called Christians were fervent members of the KKK performing these atrocities!  Before that there was WWII. How many Christians stood by while the Nazi regime annihilated millions of people because of their religious affiliation?

Christian leaders have persecuted many as heretics only for them to later be deemed as saints.  Galileo spent the last part of his life in-house arrest because the church, which was the very dominant world power at the time,  called him a heretic for saying the earth revolved around the sun. Joan of Arc was burned and later made a saint. Mistakes have been made throughout the church’s history.

Shunning is one of the saddest parts of the current day church. When someone has been deemed a heretic by a local clergyman most of the church’s members basically write them off as friends. I have first hand knowledge of this fact. After eight years of sitting side-by-side with people I considered good friends  and after literally hundreds of hours of volunteer work to build most of the cabinets and shelves for the new church building I found how deep those friendships really were.  When I was told I didn’t have the “right” beliefs and therefore was no longer considered a member of the church without exception all of my “friends” fell away. I have been maybe not officially shunned but shunned just the same. I think, or at least hope, that some of that is just fear of association. They are afraid they might be next it they continue to associate with a heretic.

Getting back to the topic at hand the church certainly has much to say they are sorry for. It has been a pleasant surprise to see that Pope Francis has been saying, at least figuratively if not literally, he is  sorry about many different things the Catholic church has done. The Protestant church on the other hand continues in their ways of insisting they are perfect in all their words and actions. This arrogance, along with each denomination’s insistence that they are the only ones to have it right, is one of the saddest parts about the church today. All 39,000+ versions of it…

RLC

Since the First Century, if not before, the choice of people of faith has been between empire approved institutions or the individual or tiny group quest for peace, justice and personal, if not cultural, transformation.

Could any of us even begin to imagine how different European (and world) history would have been if, instead of massive armed hordes of Crusaders, Christianity had been represented on the world’s stage by a dozen or so St. Francises?

SOURCE:  Morf Morford | Christianity, Empire, and a USS Mother Teresa? | Red Letter Christians.

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.

PriestIt always saddens me to see yet another instance of a Christian church exercising exclusion but that is what this article is all about. This time it is the Roman Catholic church. They stripped  Rev. Bill Brennan, a 92-year-old Jesuit priest (that is him in the picture here) of his duties because he performed a liturgy in with a female priest not sanctioned with the Roman Catholic church. Here are some bits and pieces from the source article for our discussion today:

source:  Priest stripped of duties for celebrating Mass with woman priest – U.S. News.

A Milwaukee-area Catholic priest was stripped of his priestly duties after he presided over a Mass with a woman priest last month in Georgia….

The Catholic Church prohibits women’s ordination, saying it has no authority to ordain women because Jesus chose only men as his apostles….

About 59 percent of American Catholics are in favor of women’s ordination, according to a 2010 poll by The New York Times and CBS, but the Vatican sees the initiative as having the potential to cause a rift in the church….

Brennan, who lives with other retired Jesuits in the Milwaukee area, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he understood the risks when he decided to perform a liturgy alongside a woman priest.

“Sometimes in our lives we have to trust our conscience and bring about the consequences,” he told the newspaper. “I wasn’t trying to show off for the ladies.”….

I have heard of two reasons now why the Catholic church does not allow priests to marry. The first was that King Constantine who hijacked the church in the fourth century to make it a State religion did it so that priests could not pass on their power given by Constantine to their children.  He insisted that he alone had that power and that is would not be inherited.

The second reason now is that all of the apostles were men and therefore Jesus did not intend women to be faith leaders. If you know even the slightest amount of history during this period you know just how little power women possessed in those times. They were for the most part considered property of either their fathers or their husbands. Documents that have been appearing in archeological digs since the 1940’s sheds a seemingly new light on early Christian female leaders. Mary Magdalen comes to mind first but there were several other women leaders in the early church despite the fact that it was generally culturally prohibited at the time.  I’m just a simple guy but this excuse for limiting spiritual leaders to only men seems kind of lame to me standing here in the 21st century.

So here we are with a 92-year-old priest who has given his life for his God being chastised by the church hierarchy for trusting his conscience.  There seems to be an ongoing conflict between American Catholics and the Vatican in recent years and this is one of those cases. But, like most other Christian churches the Roman Catholic church is has a very vertical hierarchy. The person at the top is given predominate power over those below him. That often results in very slow changes from the grass roots level.

It is sad to see the church spend more time excluding others than to welcome the stranger as Jesus taught us. I am hoping that the emergent church movement will eventually correct this anomaly.

Taking Back the Bible….

December 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

I read the Bible on a regular basis.  The words of Jesus, which to me is what the Bible is really all about, inspire me to love my fellow-man and to love my God.  Many stories in the Bible  even though they might just be stories, parables, or even myths are inspiring in the lessons they teach. I delight in the sheer narrative power they provide.

I am very disheartened by the fact that some Christians today try to demand that the Bible was dropped down from heaven by God and not truly written my men who lived in the early times.  They say instead he just used their pens to write what he demanded of them. I think the Bible is richer when we admit that it was written by men inspired by God. But no, they say everything in the Bible is directly from God’s lips?

Here are some interesting words about that from the book The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox

Does it ever trouble fundamentalists that their attitude toward the Bible, a relatively recent one in the history of Christianity, is exactly the same as that of most Muslims who believe the Qur’an was dictated word for word to Muhammad by Allah? I doubt it…..

I am confident that it is possible to take the Bible back from its fundamentalist hijacking and make it once again a genuine support of faith, instead of an obstacle. To do this, it is helpful to know something about how we got into the impasse in which we find ourselves. There are four significant turning points in the recent history of how Christians have viewed the Bible.

      • One came in the late fifteenth century when the invention of printing made the wide distribution of the Bible possible and then—with the spread of literacy—eventually democratized it.
      • The second came in the nineteenth century with the application of the historical-critical method, which subjected the Bible to the same scrupulous scholarship about dating, authorship, and audience that is applied to any other historical document.
      • The third was the advent of the fundamentalist view of the Bible, which rose as a counterattack against the historical critics.
      • The fourth was the “liberation” of the Bible from both historical critics and fundamentalists, which is happening mainly—though not exclusively—in the global South.

The way to read them is to let their sheer narrative power evoke whatever response it can without relying on an externally decreed authority to either sanctify their status or pick apart their accuracy. Reading the Bible with this kind of imaginative leap puts us into the company of our spiritual forebears.

It is interesting to see the four turning points outlined here. I need to study and report some more details about the third event when the so-called fundamentalists among us decided to change the Bible from inspirational text into literal truth. As said above they did this when they were backed into a corner by the historical-critical method.  They panicked and proclaimed a slippery slope that if we questioned anything in the Bible then all of it becomes worthless.

I personally have had a lengthy discussion with one fundamentalist preacher about this. His willingness to throw out the Bible if any of it is not perfectly factual surprised me. In some ways I think I deem the Bible to be worth more than he does. But, more about that in some later posts. The fourth turning point is part of the emergent church that we will also get more into in future posts.

In this second post about the first major reconfiguration of the Christian church I will be covering some ancillary info about just who was affected by the Dark Ages and will be talking a little about the person “saved” the church for a later resurrection.

First of all I have found that the term “Dark Ages” has many definitions and stated causes. For purposes here I will define the period as between the fifth and the tenth centuries. Many, looking at different cultural aspects, expand it to include four hundred years beyond that. Generally speaking this was a very dreary period of intellectual darkness and economic depression that occurred in Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. “Barbarians at the gates” was a very descriptive way of saying what happened. Basically barbarians took down the mighty empire and intellectual and spiritual leaders pretty much vanished as a result.

Why did the Roman empire collapse?  Again there are many different explanations for it. Some, with very pointed agendas, say the church itself was the primary cause and particularly the papacy. I fall more in line that it was caused by an economic collapse due to spending an inordinate amount of  money required to reign in the many different populations and their lands that were taken over by the empire. Military spending gobbled up more than half of all the resources available. There was just not enough left over to maintain stability within the empire. In other words they just grew too big.

One thing worth noting about this period was the it actually only affected about 20% of the world’s population, primarily those in what we know today as mostly Western Europe. Up until this study I ignorantly presumed that it was a world wide event but in reality most of the world was unaware of the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages was the time when the Christian church radically moved from a period of great power as an empire religion into its monastic period of hunkering down. I also believe that this mammoth change in the church allowed it to survive until a later more enlightened period known as the Renaissance. Gregory the Great was the person who primarily lead this change. He was the Pope from 590CE to 604.

Here is how Phyllis Tickle described the move from the early church into the Dark Ages:

What politically and culturally would very swiftly spiral down into the Dark Ages was already at work peeling the Christianity of the Early Church away from the laity and inserting into the resulting vacuum a kind of animistic, half-magical form of a bastardized Christianity that would characterize the laity and much of the minor clergy over the next few centuries.

It was primarily due to Gregory’s beliefs in a monastic lifestyle that really saved most of the early church documents and practices from also being bastardized. These things were held in trust in remote abbeys and nunneries waiting for a time to spring anew and that would take more than five hundred years to come about! It is only because of Gregory that we maintained most of the documents we have about the early Christian church before this time. The church might have looked very different today without them.

From A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith  by Brian D. McLaren:

We’re following the best Christian tradition of going back to Jesus and the Scriptures, so our quest for a new kind of Christianity is, in fact, a most conservative quest. In our return to our roots, however, we’re not writing off all the great sages, scholars, and saints of church history. We’re simply going back to the original Evangelists, apostles, and especially Jesus and making sure we’re as in sync with them as possible from this point forward. We’re not trying to explain away anything in the Bible. We’re simply trying to take seriously the central elements of the canonical texts that have been studiously marginalized for too long—the good news of the kingdom of God and the biblical narratives that it consummates, integrates, celebrates, and opens to all people everywhere.

From time to time on this blog I get comments from people who seem threatened by my words. They say “why are you so down on the church” or “what do you have against the church”.  When I answer them I try to assure them that I am not down of the teachings of Jesus Christ. They are very much a part of my daily life. But we have come to see Jesus more through a lens of other men and have fallen away from the words themselves.

What is happening via the emergent movement today is kind of like renovating an old house. You often must strip down layer after layer of paint that has been put on the house by many previous owners in order to see what the house originally looked like. By going back to the original words our quest for a new kind of Christianity is actually a conservative one. You might say that we are trying to restore the old kind of Christianity but with meaning to today’s world.

I know that these words will not calm many in those churches who seem fixated on reciting a man-made list of beliefs about Jesus as proof of their faith in him. They seem to think that reciting beliefs  that others have formulated about Jesus is what is expected of us.

The central elements of the text which are the words of Jesus seem to be but a shadow in many churches of this day.  The good news of the kingdom of God has been lost to recent generations.  The emergent movement that is taking place in the church today will eventually free us to understand the words of Jesus  outside of this archaic literal foundation. Origen had is right almost 1800 years ago that there is just too much inconsistencies to say all in the bible is literally true without exception.

As we have learned in several of my recent posts Origen was one of the most influential theologians in the early church who was later deemed a heretic and then after that a saint again.  He spent quite a bit of time reading the “scripture” of his day. I put scripture in parens here because there was no Bible as we know it today in existence.

Today Origen is definitely not one of the more popular early Christian figures with some in our establishment churches. That is particularly true of those that believe all of the Bible comes from God’s lips and is totally factual and inerrant. That belief has never been as universal as some would have us believe. Here is another quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story  by Diana Butler Bass.

Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed, The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it—a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in this “visible” history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

Origen believed that scripture was much like Jesus’ teaching in that he used parables which are fictional stories to relay a message and so to do the other writers of ancient script.   Origen was not an infrequent visitor to the scripture. In fact he spent twenty years on his Hexaple which was a massive work of Old Testament analysis. There was probably no one in his day that had more knowledge of the ancient writings than him.

This will probably conclude our study of Origen. As I have said before he definitely shows that the earliest versions of Christianity were very diverse. It was not until the power struggles that frequently occurred within the church establishment did this willingness to accept a diversity of belief become stifled. I celebrate the fact that the current emergent movement is willing, in fact they actually celebrate diversity in their midst.  They accept that there is more than one “right” way to being a follower of Jesus Christ and that gives me confidence that the church of Jesus Christ just might live to see a bright future.

The Practice of Exclusion…

February 11, 2012

I have been thinking lately about the words of Jesus and how he interacted with those he came across. Except for some of those in the religious establishment I couldn’t find any instance where he chose to automatically exclude from his saving grace or the wisdom of his teachings. He treated men and women pretty much the same; he welcomed all to his ministry. The poor and marginalized seemed to be special targets for him to reach out. He just wasn’t one to exclude anyone, even tax collectors and Roman soldiers. The sick and the lame were often the center of his attention.

Fast forward to today and there seems to be a common thread in almost all the religious establishments who call themselves Christian. They in one form or another seem to be more inclined to exclude people from membership in their organizations as they are to include them.  If you can manage to jump through all the many hoops that they require and keep your mouth shut in regards to questions you might have of their doctrine and practices then you are welcome as a member. Just don’t ever step over the line.

This is especially true for those who have chosen to be ministers in their organizations.  Tow the line or else be called a heretic. Almost all of these groups  seem to be convinced that if they allow any level of dissent they are opening themselves up to falling down a slippery slope into Satan’s domain.  They, for the most part, view the world as completely dominated by the evil one and therefore everything and everyone outside their personal groups are to be viewed with skepticism at the least and evil at the worst.

I know from personal experience of perhaps the most moving Christian minister I have ever encountered who was personally chastised for joining those outside his denomination in a prayer situation. He was stripped of his preaching duties for a year; his sermons were by far his most dominant God-given ability.

I know from personal experiences that when I questioned the claim that the Bible was 100% literally true and without error a process was started where I was to lose my membership of almost ten years and thousands of hours of volunteer work for the group. When I professed that I believed that the earth is more than 7,000 years old the process was begun to exclude me. I am no longer part of that organization.

Jesus was all about inclusion. He went out of his way to bring in all those around him. Sadly today’s churches, almost all 39,000 versions of them, are  constantly looking for ways to exclude people.  I am greatly saddened by this ever-present practice and I’m sure Jesus is devastated by it.  What happened to his church of the first two hundred years? I will have some thoughts about that in a future post here.

About the Bible

May 20, 2011 — 1 Comment

Source: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/05/19/6677671-is-the-bible-full-of-forgeries

Just a short note to refer you to the article above. It is about the Bible and how it was written. For those who think the Bible is 100% from God this article will probably be somewhat disturbing. The article reports that through the ages many believe that most of the books of the Bible were probably not actually written by those whose names are attached to them. By providing you with this source article it is not my intent to get into a theological debate about the subject.

My purpose for mentioning this subject goes to the quote below by the Catholic News Service:

The Catholic News Service’s Agostino Bono makes a similar point: “Even if a specific letter was not done by Peter or Paul, it could well have been written by someone drawing from the oral tradition passed down by one or the other,” he writes.

So it appears that my beliefs that the Bible was written by men who many times got their info from oral traditions that may have been passed down from generation to generation before put in ink.  For me this doesn’t take away from the value of the Bible as a man-made document but for those who hold the literal and inerrant belief making the Bible a second, or third, or even fourth hand account is probably threatening indeed.

As I always say the Bible is not God; it is about God. Keep your eyes on Jesus and let the Bible be what it is.