“God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”  I heard that at church yesterday morning.  It’s actually a quote from the bishop of the N. C. Conference, Al Gwinn.  I like this.   It’s good to know that no matter how bad I screw up, God still loves me.  Because , I screw up plenty.  On a daily basis, as a matter of fact.  No matter how hard I try, it still happens.  But, fortunately for me, that’s okay.  As Steve Brown said in  his book A Scandalous Freedom, “”The only people who get better are people that know that, if they never get better, GOD WILL LOVE THEM ANYWAY… God will not only love you if you don’t get better, He’ll teach you that getting better isn’t the issue; His love is the issue.”  And, yes, I know that seems an odd quote, coming from a Methodist.  I mean, we’re supposed to be moving toward Christian perfection, right?

The term Christian perfection is, I think, oftentimes confused with “sinless perfection”.  That’s the idea that no one who is truly born of God (also called saved or born again) will sin.  If they do, then they were never really saved to begin with and they need to go back  repeat the steps they took to salvation (baptism, etc).  Which I disagree with wholeheartedly.  How many times have you heard people outside the Church say that could never be a Christian because they couldn’t be good enough?  Where did they get this idea that being a Christian means you’re perfect and never do anything wrong?  From us, that’s where.  We’re all so scared to admit that sometimes we’re the worst of the worst, we walk around pretending our shit doesn’t stink.  That’s a lie which drives people away from God, and that’s worse than any of the stuff we’re scared to talk about.   Come out of the closet and admit that you screw up, too.  You’ll feel better for it. 

 There’s no way I can adequately explain Wesley’s idea of Christian perfection in this space; there’s just not enough room.  Here’s what said about it; it is found in “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God” and “the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked.”  And,”loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.”  And, his idea of perfection was not that we’d never sin again, he realized that involuntary transgressions would still occur.  Nor did he say that we could do this by ourselves.  Perfection, for Wesley, was a function of grace.  Which is a good thing, because I’d be screwed otherwise.  Some folks may be further along this path than I am, but I can’t even get past not committing the voluntary sins.  All to often, I give vent to my anger over something ridiculous or indulge in a vengeance.  Doesn’t matter how hard I try, it still happens.  Which brings to another quote from A Scandalous Freedom (I really like this book and highly recommend it), “I’m getting better by not trying so hard to be better… when I stopped working so hard at being better and turned to Jesus, that’s when, almost without noticing it, I started getting just a little bit better. So, I have decided to get as close as I can to Jesus, who will always love me, even if I don’t get any better.”  I’ve been trying this and I think it’s working. 

Okay, I’m about to commit an act of Methodist heresy, so brace yourself: Wesley wasn’t perfect and he didn’t have all the answers.  He was human and, as we all know, a perfect human is an oxymoron.  Thinking Wesley had everything figured out is kind of arrogant.  Because if Wesley had all the answers, we, his followers, have those answers.  And, I’m honest enough, to admit that I’ve barely scratched the surface on that front.  However, I do believe he was onto something.  Can we ever attain perfection?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the pursuit of that perfection is a worthy act.  Because, in pursuing it, we get closer to God.  And, that’s always a good thing.


To say that Jim Wallis inspires controversy is a bit of an understatement.  From his 22 arrests for civil disobedience to his feud with Glenn Beck, Wallis isn’t shy about saying what’s on his mind.  In a recent post on his “God’s Politics” blog, he examined the Tea Party movement and their claim of libertarianism and how that fits with Christian principles.  I’m going on record, saying I have a problem with this sort of thing.  I don’t care for the political thrust of Wallis’ blog or some of his views.  For the record, I’m a fiscally conservative, socially liberal independent.  I tell you that because I don’t want anyone to think I have an axe to grind.  That said, I view the politicization of religion with a very jaundiced eye, no matter which side it comes from.  I think Thomas Jefferson was definitely on to something when he told the Danbury Baptists “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship” and “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”  For me, that wall is solid on both sides, allowing contamination from either left or right. 

According to Wallis, libertarianism is “a political philosophy that holds individual rights as its supreme value and considers government the major obstacle. It tends to be liberal on cultural and moral issues and conservative on fiscal, economic, and foreign policy.”  Which is actually a pretty good one.  I looked at several before coming to the conclusion that they were all ways of saying the same thing, so I just went with Wallis’ since I’d already pasted in the article.  According to Wallis, libertarianism’s emphasis on personal rights isn’t a Christian principle, that we are our brother’s keeper.  He also uses scripture to back up the idea that government is good.  I have problems with this last idea.  The referenced scripture comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans and we all know that Paul was a good Roman citizen and wouldn’t say anything bad about his own government.  For him, Roman authority was a good thing.  I wonder how those under the Roman boot felt about that passage.  Not to well, I’m sure.  There’s also what I consider an ominous implication in Romans 13: If you’re not a troublemaker, you have nothing to worry about.  I’ve heard the almost exact  phrase used to defend the Patriot Act, just exchange “terrorist” with “troublemaker”.  The problem with both of these statements is who decides who’s a troublemaker (or terrorist)?  Coming from a man who’s been arrested for civil disobedience as many times as Wallis has, this “government is good” speech rings a bit hollow.  Evidently, government is good as long as it fits with his ideas.  I agree (somewhat) with his assessment of the free market.  A free market, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad.  The problem is that it relies on people doing the right thing at all times.  It’s hard enough to do the right thing once in a while, but all the time?  And, throw money into the mix and the chances of folks keeping moral business practices goes down dramatically.  We are sinners living in a broken world and, given the chance, we’d all take advantage of a system without some kind of oversight or control. 

The last two points of this critique deserve their own paragraph.  First, Wallis contends that libertarianism has a bias for the strong over the weak that is unChristian.  That the notion ““Leave me alone to make my own choices and spend my own money” somehow negates the possibility that those that have will take care those that have not.  Libertarianism doesn’t say yea or nay to personal charity; in fact, engaging in personal charity is one of those choices it says that people should be allowed to make on their own.  Knowing that Wallis is a progressive (and, no, I don’t mean as a curse the way Glenn Beck does), I assume that he believes that government is the way to help those in need.  I beg to differ.  When Jesus told the young man who asked how to attain eternal life, he didn’t tell him to pay his taxes so the government could provide programs for the poor, he said “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor”.  That’s a big difference.  To me, relying on the government to do it is a cop-out.  You’re supposed to get in there and get your hands dirty.  Besides, the psychological toll on recipients of government largesse is steep.  With every dollar they receive, with every bit of assistance getting into college or getting a job, there’s an unspoken message that “You’re not good enough to get this on your own”.  If the government is going to provide anything for these people, it needs to be a way to get back on their feet, not keeping them a permanent underclass.  The fifth and last point of Wallis’ critique is, perhaps, the most insidious epithet used by the left against the right.  He questions whether the Tea Party is a racist movement or if it’s just coincidence that it has a white majority.  Why is this so bad?  Because, in popular discourse, once the race card is thrown against someone, there’s nothing they can say or do that will be listened to or heeded.  Maybe the Tea Party is a front for the KKK; maybe they’re just a bunch of scared, angry white folks who don’t give a damn about race one way or the other, I don’t know.  What I do know is that entirely to often, this accusation is used to marginalize arguments and groups we don’t like.  Whether that was Wallis’ intention or not, that’s the effect. 

Finally, I have a problem with the whole idea of his questioning whether Libertarianism and Tea Party are Christian or not.  In doing this, he stepped onto a slippery slope that could lead to the very kind of intolerance he’s speaking against in his blog.  I halfway expected him to break out the “unbiblical” argument so favored by the fundamentalists.  It was little disheartening when I read it.  I mean, Wallis is a man of God and they don’t screw up.  Do they?

Lately, I’ve been surrounded by hype I do not understand.  For those living under the proverbial rock, the TV show “Lost” aired its series finale (and, save me Jesus, 24 is coming up.  Ugh).  Even though I never got into it, this show was special.  You can count on your hands the number of shows that generated this kind of rabid following.  Even a classic like MASH, whose last episode was the most-watched TV show in history until the last Superbowl, didn’t engender that kind of loyalty.  That can be attributed to a lot of things, but I think a big one is our obsession with pop culture.  Nothing wrong with it, as long as you see it for what it is. 

Pop culture is the “contemporary lifestyle and items that are well-known and generally accepted, cultural patterns that are widespread within a population“.  Pop culture is a phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st century mass media, as opposed to folklore, which comes from more local or pre-industrial society.  Another difference is that folklore has been used by many societies to pass cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.  Some how, I don’t see that happening with pop culture.  That’s not to say there aren’t some good messages out there, but they’re few and far between.  “Lost” may be one of those few.

Let me say for the record, I’ve never understood the obsession with “Lost”.  In fact, I haven’t watched more than maybe 10 minutes total.  There are several reasons for that.  I hate serial shows.  You know, the ones that you have to watch EVERY week or you’ve hopelessly lost the plot line and have to wait for that season to come out on DVD to figure anything out.  This comes from the fact that my job doesn’t really allow for that kind of dedication in viewing.  Being a firefighter, I can’t just say “Oh, that house fire can wait until Lost is over”.  People tend to frown on their homes burning down and about the only acceptable excuse for not being there is death or injury.  And, don’t say “DVR it!”  That never works, because some ass always spills the beans about every cliff hanger that you’re waiting to see.  Another reason is that everyone was raving about Lost and my contrary nature refuses to let me enjoy anything that approaches that level of popularity.  Finally, I’ll admit that an ex was crazy about it and I just couldn’t go there.  I have nothing personal against the show, even if I did call it “mushroom dream” and “a bad acid trip” while teasing some of my friends who were obsessing over the final episode.  And, even though I swore on another blog that I’d never watch it, I’m considering it after looking at a couple of synopses.  The way the show deals with conflict of faith and science especially intrigues me.  But, I see it for what it is: A TV show.

I wondered how long it would take for a “Lost” Bible study or Sunday school lesson to come out and I’m not disappointed.  Abingdon Press has had a study out since Season 4.  I didn’t find a Sunday School lesson yet, but I did find a book called “The Gospel According To Lost” by Chris Seay.  In the product description, Amazon has this to say,”Lost is NOT just a television show (now you know where my title came from). It has become larger than that-a massive story filled with mystery that has garnered over twenty million participants. Some might call them viewers, but one does not just watch Lost, one participates in it. It demands that you dialogue with the story, seeking theories and comparing yourself to characters. Lost breaks all the formulas for television, and in doing so has drawn together millions of people on a shared journey that explores life, faith, history, science, philosophy, hope, and the basic questions of what it means to be human. It is the seemingly infinite ideas, philosophies, and biblical metaphors that make this story so engaging.”  Wow, maybe we should fire all the preachers (hmm), close up the churches, sit at home and watch “Lost”.  Okay, maybe that’s a little snarky, but I can’t help it.  You don’t just watch Lost, “it demands that you dialogue with the story” and it has “drawn together millions of people on a shared journey that explores life, faith, history, science, philosophy, hope, and the basic questions of what it means to be human.”  Geez, how anything, book or movie, live up to that kind of hype?  I’m going to try and watch the first season on Netflix soon and I hope it can deliver.  I’m not holding my breath, though.

A Practicing Christian

May 21, 2010

“Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law. Christians should certainly practice Christianity.”  Sky McCracken 

When I found this quote, I planned on taking this entry in an entirely different direction.  I had written several paragraphs laying into the way Christians act, how arrogant we are and how we drive the unchurched away with that attitude.  Which was cool, until I went back and read it.  At that point, I realized I was doing the very thing I was lambasting others for.   I didn’t have a title at that point and the one that’s up there now slapped me upside the head.  I was looking at the word practice in the sense of practicing medicine, but the attitude apparent in what I’d just written said I needed to look at it a little differently.  In essence, I need more practice at being a Christian because I suck at it. 

I have always marveled at my current pastor’s ability to clearly show the love of Christ in any situation.  I’ve seen her maintain her cool while listening to someone pervert the very Gospel that she’s dedicated her life to, while I wanted to slap the person spewing the garbage in question.  To say that I don’t have a pastoral disposition would be the understatement of the century.  I identify more with Peter in the garden when the soldiers arrested Jesus.  You remember what he did, don’t you?  Cut some dudes ear off, that’s what.  And, what did Jesus do?  Picked up the guy’s ear and put it back on.  That, in itself, is pretty amazing.  I mean, he just picked it up, stuck it back on and it healed!  But, to me, the truly amazing part is that he did that for someone who’d come to arrest him and ultimately take him to his execution.  Jesus was under no illusions as to his fate.  He knew what happened to people who made too much trouble for the Romans: crucifixion.  He’d seen enough to know what a gruesome death it was.  Yet, in the face of this, he not only stops Peter from inflicting anymore harm, heals the man who’s leading him to his doom.  I couldn’t do that, I’d be looking for another ear to lop off.  Heck, I can’t even hold my temper when I think someone slights me.  If being a Christian is following in the footsteps of my rabbi Jesus, I’m not doing so well.  But, Peter finally got it, so maybe there’s hope for me.  And, the coolest part is even if I don’t, God loves me anyway. 

What would practicing Christianity look like?  Maybe something like what a fellow named Hugh Hollowell is doing.  Hugh lives just up the road from me, in Raleigh, and runs a ministry called Love Wins.  It’s a homeless ministry, but he doesn’t approach it like a lot of folks might.  Hugh does whatever he can to help the homeless in downtown Raleigh.  That’s it, nothing else.  That’s the key, the nothing else part.  He doesn’t give out tracts, make them sit through a sermon to get a meal or a pair of pants, or even witness to them.  Overtly, that is.  There’s plenty of witnessing going on, just not verbally.  As St Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words“.  Not to say he won’t take an opportunity when it rears its head.  The following exchange is from the Love Wins blog: 

“You are a nice man. Why you so nice? I mean, you help us out, you talk to us… I ain’t nothing, man. My own Momma don’t want to talk to me, you don’t even know me and you help me. Why you doing this?” 

I hesitate a minute here. I know folks who would see this as an opportunity to swoop in, tract in hand, tell them about how Jesus will solve all their problems, fix everything. I try to imagine what Jesus would say. 

“I care about you guys when it makes no sense to because Jesus loved me when it made no sense for him to,” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to set anyone up on a pedestal, I’m just saying Hugh’s doing a hell of a lot better job than I am.  And, it’s embarrassing and inspiring all at once.  I hope both feelings last.

Does it Matter?

May 21, 2010

Tuesday, scientists announced the results of an experiment involving matter and anti-matter in an attempt to understand the foundations of the universe.  I’m not going to go into the science of it (I’ve attached a link for that), but the basic result is that, contrary to earlier thought, when matter and anti-matter come together there is not complete annihilation.  Approximately, 1% of the matter is not consumed and this matter is what makes up our universe.  What does this have to do with what I usually talk about?  The author of one of the many blogs I read, Jason Boyette , was offering a free copy of his latest book to the best metaphor using the matter/anti-matter thing to describe faith.  Always on the lookout for a freebie, I posted “How about this for a metaphor: matter is love. Antimatter is everything else. Love wins.”  Pretty good, I thought.  It’s pithy, succinct, to the point and I thought I had a pretty shot.  Until I read Amber’s, that is.  See what you think:

“The collision of quark particles takes such an extreme amount of energy that the project took 17 miles of high power acceleration…all to crash together particles that are so small we only know they exist because they interact with other particles.

And yet, with all that energy, effort, toil and sweat and speed and explosive power that was so huge some scientists were afraid it would create a black hole large enough to swallow the world, we get…almost nothing. The energy collides the quark particles and instantaneously creates matter and antimatter that consume each other so quickly that they literally only exist for a fraction of a second. They don’t turn into something else, they don’t melt, they don’t fry, they don’t burn, they don’t even disappear, they just…aren’t.

Except 1%. Of the millions of joules it took to make that creation in the first place, only 1% of it remains. And yet, that is the difference between hot and cold, light and dark, life and death. That 1% is the difference between IS and WAS.

And so it is with Christ. He pours continually into us, with such a passion, such a fervor, such an energy that two millennia ago a glance of its power seemed to nearly split the world in two. He pursues us with such energy it’s quite literally unfathomable. And yet, we are not. We see not. We feel not. We breathe not. We know not. We hear not. But he keeps pouring massive amounts of Himself toward us because He knows that even though 99% is absorbed in the antiChrist that surrounds us, 1% will come through. And that 1% is all that matters, for it’s the difference between hot and cold, light and dark, life and death, IS and WAS.”

In the introductory post to this wonderful destination on the World Wide Web, I told you I was a Methodist.  I am a Methodist for many reasons, not least because I grew up in the Methodist Church and I’m comfortable there.  That’s why, when I decided to come back to church after a long absence, my first choice was the local UMC.  Now, I could tell you the reason had deep theological roots and that would be kinda true.  But, there are other reasons, too.  A few of them are listed below.

  1.   We invented grape juice._ Okay, we didn’t really invent grape juice.  But, a former Methodist minister did come up with a pasteurization process that kept the juice from fermenting.  In the 1860’s, the General Conference decided that only the “in all cases the pure juice of the grape be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”  Problem was that “pure juice of the grape” had a tendency to ferment and that was bad because the Discipline said “unfermented wine only should be used at the sacrament.”.  So, Thomas Bramwell Welch (dentist and former pastor) discovered a method of pasteurization that stopped fermentation.  He got local churches to use it, calling it “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine”.  His son’s eventually formed the Welch’s Grape Juice Company and the rest is history. 
  2.   Church year is color-coded._ The United Methodist Church is a curious blend of high and low church styles.  We use more ritual than some other denominations, while eschewing the Roman Rite and remain stubbornly Protestant.  One of those high church things is using colors to denote the liturgical year.  Why is this a good thing?  I have no earthly idea, but I like it.  For that reason alone, it makes the list.
  3.   You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized._ In some churches, if you want to get baptized, you have to get wet.  I don’t mean a little wet, I’m talking dunked under water wet.  Go to many Baptist churches and, somewhere in there, you’ll find a baptistery, a pool specifically for baptism by immersion.  If it’s a small church, they’ll go to a local river, pond, lake, etc. to do this.  The preacher takes you out in the water, intones something along the lines of “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” and lays you back under the water.  In the Methodist Church, we just sprinkle some water on your head in honor of the ancient practice.  Church really shouldn’t entail a change of clothes.
  4. We’ll speak to you in the liquor store._ Let’s face it, almost all of us enjoy a drink now and then.  But, as we all know, good Christians don’t admit that.  In fact, a lot of them will deny they like a nip and look down on you for saying you do.   There are some Methodists like that, too.  But, I knew I was in the right place when I ran into my pastor’s husband at the grocery store and he had two of the biggest bottles of wine I’d ever seen.  I snuck up behind him, pointed at the bottles and whispered “What you do if the bishop saw that?”  He looked me in the eye and said “Invite him over for a drink”. 
  5. Worship service isn’t an aerobic workout._ If you’ve ever been to a Catholic mass, you know what I’m talking about.  Stand up, sit down, genuflect, kneel, get some holy water, kneel again, go down for communion, sit back down, stand up again, etc.  Geez, I’m tired just writing about it.
  6. We’re done with church in time to see the game._  Garrison Keillor put it best when he said ” A minister has to be able to read a clock. At noon, it’s time to go home and turn up the pot roast and get the peas out of the freezer.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love church, but those marathon sermons that go on till 1:30 or 2:00 are a bit over the top.  Sunday is the only day I can be lazy without feeling guilty and the day is only so long.  So, wind it up, pastor.
  7. Covered dish dinners._ I’ll grant that this may be a Southern thing more than just a Methodist thing, but you can’t have a church gathering without something to eat.  And, in every church all over the world, there are little old ladies that don’t have anyone to cook for anymore and they bring in the most amazing food for these occasions.  And, they more than make up for the obligatory bucket of KFC and the disgusting looking pasta salad that someone always brings.
  8. Real bread at communion instead of those weird little wafers._  I don’t know about your church, but at mine the communion host is always a loaf of King’s Hawaiian Bread.  Which is amazing.  The communion wafers look (and taste) like styrofoam.  You tell me which is better
  9. We get to decide if we want to be saved._ Methodists are Wesleyans, which is an offshoot of Arminianism.  Short version of Arminianism is that people get to choose whether or not to accept salvation from God, while Calvinism says that God chooses who He will save.  That’s an extremely simplistic view of an extremely complex concept, but it’s okay because I’m not being very serious today. 
  10. We have metaphors and acronyms for everything._  We have the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (no, that’s not a football play involving 4 passes), Wesley’s house metaphor, acronyms like ZOE project, UMCOR, MERCI Center and I could go on.  I think Methodist seminaries have a class on all the things like this that a pastor needs to know about. 

Like I said, that’s just some of the things I like about the United Methodist Church.  There are some things I’m not so thrilled about, too.  But that’s a post for another day.

There seems to be a lot of talk about the concept of social justice in the church.  Even in the Methodist church (of which I’m a member), which has had a strong social justice bent since it’s inception, is experiencing debate on the subject.  And, political pundit Glenn Beck has even weighed in on the subject.  Why all the ruckus?  I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that for every person you ask “What is social justice”, you’ll get a different answer.  For some, it’s all about a “level playing field”, for others it’s the back door to socialism or even communism, still others see it as no less than a biblical command.  Saying we’re all over the place on this subject is putting it mildly.

As usual, I’m going to start with a definition.  You can’t really discuss something intelligently until you know what it is you’re discussing.  So, social justice is “the concept in which a subjective notion of justice and/or equality is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than the administration of law”.  Or, it “refers to the concept of a society that gives individuals and groups fair treatment and an equitable share of the benefits of society. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equity”.  Or, could it be “the fair distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society”?  See what I mean?  I think all of us agree with the idea that no one should go hungry, lack shelter or decent medical care.  The problem lies in how this is achieved.  Some of us think the government should provide these most basic of necessities, while others believe that this is best handled through the private sector and personal philanthropy.  And, of course there are those who believe in social Darwinism (strangely, many of these same folks don’t care for Darwin’s actual theory at all).  Where do I come down?  Well, I believe that everyone’s basic needs should be met, although I’m not so sure the government is the body to accomplish that.  At least, not by themselves.  I’ve spoken about this in another post, so click the link if you want to know more about that. 

In March of this year, Glenn Beck told listeners on his radio and television shows that “I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”  For Beck and many others, social justice is a code word for socialism.  Which, in their minds, is the worst evil to befall the world in recent history.  I understand this mindset because I used to think the same way.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union and some growth in my faith walk, I’ve come to realize that’s not necessarily the case.  There are many greater evils than socialism, like thousands of children dying of hunger all over the world, soldiers as young as 8 years old being forced to fight tribal or civil wars, an AIDS pandemic in Africa leaving teenagers raising families and the list goes on.  While I think Glenn Beck is a huge douche (yes, I realize that’s not a very Christian comment), other people who I respect agree with him in some measure, so I try not to dismiss this idea out of hand. 

Some of things being said about social justice is off-base, ill-informed or just plain wrong.  For instance, I’ve seen people saying that helping others is fine, but salvation is the most important thing.  I don’t think you can separate the two.  If you try preaching to someone who’s hungry or worrying where his family is going to spend the night, he isn’t going to listen to you.  That’s actually a best case scenario, he’ll probably think you’re an asshole for talking about that stuff while he’s starving instead of offering to share your dinner.  There is a psychological theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs about…, well, human needs.  Very quickly, the needs are 1)survival: food water, etc. 2) safety: security, shelter, etc. 3) love and belonging: friendship, family 4) Esteem: self-esteem, respect 5) Self-actualization: morality, creativity, etc.  Guess where religion and spirituality fall in this list?  Probably is the last one, self-actualization.  Why is this important?  Because, until the needs of one level are met, the needs of the higher levels can’t be addressed.  That’s why the scenario I mentioned above would be fruitless.  The hungry person is so concerned with daily survival, they can’t take the time to listen to stuff that doesn’t put food on the table.  And, that’s where social justice comes in.  How are we to spread the Gospel of God’s love to folks who can’t hear it?

One thing the folks so het up about social justice either don’t understand, or refuse to see, is that one the main thrust’s of Jesus’ ministry here on earth was one of social justice.  The Sermon on the Mount is riddled with it.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the Beatitudes.  Those nine statements turned Jewish society of the time on its ear.  Sit down and read the whole thing, looking for social justice ideas and see what you come up with.  Still have a problem with social justice? Remember what Jesus told the rich young man who asked how to get to heaven?  “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me“.  And, if that’s not enough, read Matthew 25:34-46.  For me, that settles the debate. 

To be honest, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  In all my days in church, I’ve never heard socialism put forth as way to bring justice to the world.  One of the things I’ve seen or heard that people have a problem with is the idea of a “level playing field”.  What’s wrong with that?  Isn’t that kind of what the United States is all about?  I mean,  the concept that “All men are created equal” and that we all have “certain inalienable rights” are the foundation of this country.  Sounds like someone creating a level playing field to me.  Some feel the need to apologize for their belief in social justice.  Not me, I’m proud of it.  As a Christian and an American, how could I feel any other way?

In the title of this post, I say “Social Justice is a Code Word”.  And, it most definitely is, just not the one that most people who use that phrase are thinking.  One that, decoded, shows us the way to spread God’s Word.  The Word that he loves ALL his children and wants us to love them as well.  Not just the ones that we’re comfortable with, all of them.  The ones that are a different color, have horrible diseases, are guilty of sins that we find abhorrent (remember, we’re not pure as the driven snow ourselves), have politics that don’t align with our own…, I could continue this list indefinitely, but I think you get the point.

Feast and Famine

May 15, 2010

As I write this, I’m surrounded by a group of teenagers participating in the 30 Hour Famine.  30 Hour Famine, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a program sponsored by World Vision for youth groups around the world to raise money and awareness about hunger in the Third World.  In it, the kids fast for 30 hours (and it’s a hard fast, clear liquids only), engage in activities to educate them to the crushing poverty experienced outside the privileged enclaves of the West and few other spots.  It’s been very informative, so far.  We’ve gotten tidbits like 13,000 children die everyday from hunger-related causes or every 7 seconds a child dies from starvation.  Tough, huh?

We watched a video earlier shot in Swaziland on the African continent, which in the grip of a ten year drought.  These people were so desperate for water, they were digging about 6 feet down into the bed of a dried up reserOne death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.voir.  They were carrying home buckets and jugs of water we wouldn’t we let our dog drink and were thrilled to get it, while we turn a tap and have fresh, clean water on demand and in abundance.  And, ten-year drought.  Ten years, my God.  A few years back, we experienced drought conditions here in the Southeastern U.S. and people were freaking out.  But, were they freaking out because there may not be enough drinking water?  No, they were losing their minds because the city instituted water restrictions and they couldn’t wash their cars or water their lawn.  Sometimes, I’m amazed at our affluence has turned us into.  Wasteful, ungrateful and selfish children it seems sometimes.

Around midnight, we had a short worship service.  Sean, my friend and the youth leader, was reading from a book called “The Hole In Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns.  In it, Stearns talks about the media’s reaction to the crash of an airliner and then asks what would happen in 100 planes crashed in one day.  And, then another 100 crashed the day after that, and the day after that, and the day…, well you get the picture.  The uproar would be tremendous.  Flights would be grounded and investigations started so we could get to the bottom of things.  Then, he points that enough people die everyday to fill 100 airliners.  Everyday, day after day.  And, what happens?  Not much, really.  People give lip service and that’s about it.  Why is it like that?  Part of it, I think, is one of scale.  As Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” 

So, what’s the answer?  I don’t know about the big picture, but I’m pretty sure as Christians we’re not supposed to worry about that.  What we are supposed to do is get involved on whatever level we can.  Whether it be your own 30 Hour Famine, getting involved in(or starting ) a ministry or other type organization helping those who can’t help themselves, contributing money to help out, or protesting for 3rd World debt relief, you need to do something.  Speaking of doing something, I’ll write more tomorrow when I have more to tell and I’m a little less punch drunk.

The Last Cookie

May 10, 2010

“Sometimes me think what is love, and then me think love is what last cookie is for. Me give up the last cookie for you.”
Cookie Monster.
If you’re a friend of mine of Facebook, you’re familiar with my daily quotes. It started a while back when I noticed how banal most of my friend’s status posts were.  About 2 seconds after that, it dawned on me that their’s weren’t the only ones lacking substance.  I mean, really, who cares if I’m working or what scintillating activity I may be engaging in at that moment.  It was really rather arrogant.  I had to do something different.  At first, I tried to think of something worthwhile to say, but nothing I could think of seemed worth the effort to write (I’ve gotten over that trifling notion, as you can see).  So, I started pulling quotes from others and posting them in my status.  Shortly after that, the quotes became spiritual and religious in nature.  Most of the time.  I still break it up with the occasional comic line or two.  You’d think I wouldn’t get surprised by the sources of the quotes after this long, but it still happens now and then.  Like the quote above.  I mean Sesame Street, of all places.
At the age kids these days are into Sesame Street, we couldn’t get it.  This was back in the Dark Ages when almost no one had cable.  In fact, you were lucky if you had an outdoor antenna and didn’t rely on a set of rabbit ears and tin foil to get 3 (that’s right, 3) TV stations.  When we got a better antenna, reception improved but we still lived to far from the PBS transmitter to pick it up very well.  In fact, I was almost a teenager before I even heard about the Street.  But, even at that advanced age, something about a few the characters resonated with me.  One of my favorites has always been Cookie Monster.  Maybe it was his lack of impulse control where baked goods are concerned (we have that in common), his intensity or maybe because the dude is just plain funny.  Blue fur, googly eyes and a voice that makes me smile every time I hear it.  But, I never thought Cookie Monster could reach me now that I’m pushing 50.
I’m with him, sometimes I think what is love.  Depends on what you’re talking about, I suppose.  The dictionaries have plenty of definitions and we think we know what love is, but do we really?  The word has taken a bit of hit in the English language.  The Greeks had 4 different words for it and we make do with one, which leads to a little confusion.  I mean, you say love these days and folks think you mean that deep, abiding affection we reserve for those special people in our lives, sex or just liking something a whole lot.  Think about it for minute, how often do we profess love for some inanimate object?  Or, worse yet, throw back our head and bark “I LOVE IT!” when someone we don’t care for gets their comeuppance.  One word for all that???  Like I said, love hasn’t fared to well in our times.  Kinda sucks, huh?
Of those four Greek words, the one I’m really concerned with at the moment is Agape.  Agape is divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.  Unconditional love…, I’d like to think that’s the way I love my children.  That I love them no matter what.  And, I do the best I can with that.  Truly, I can’t think of a circumstance that would cause me to withdraw my love from them.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means I can’t conceive it.  Even worse, I don’t show it.  When either of them don’t do what I want, I’m not the loving, understanding father that I want to be.  Sometimes, I’m mean, vindictive, even a little nasty.  Or, I pretend to be that loving father I want to be, but with an ulterior motive: I try to clandestinely manipulate them into doing what I want.  And, occasionally, I get it right.  But, only occasionally and nowhere near often enough. 
Fortunately, our Father (notice the capital F) doesn’t have that problem.  Unconditional love is His nature and good thing for me.  Regardless what you hear some “Christian” folks say, there is nothing, nothing, that I can do to cause God to turn his back on me.  No sin is too vile, no act base enough to make God reject me.  While I constantly turn my back on Him and stray away, He’s always there, waiting for me, loving me.  Without condition.  Pretty cool, huh?
Bet you’re wondering how I’m going to tie in that Cookie Monster quote from the beginning, aren’t you?  Since you’ve stuck around, I’ll tell you.  For me, it’s a metaphor.  God is telling us how much He loves us and how He’s shown that love.  The Last Cookie…, take a guess who that is.

I’ll be honest, I had every intention of writing this post yesterday but outside forces conspired against me.  Namely, faulty AC and a bad case of ADD.  The AC’s repaired and I’m trying to put a lid on the ADD, with varying success.  But, I’m finally here, so let’s get to it.  My last post was about the masks we all wear and what they do.  To others and ourselves, with a slant toward other believers.  Today, I’m writing about what our masks do to any witness we may have with the “unchurched”.  I don’t really like that term, it seems a bit mealy-mouthed, but for the life of me, I can’t think of anything better.

So, what mask do we show to our unchurced friends and coworkers?  The most common is one of purity.  You know what I’m talking about, so don’t act like you don’t.  Some Christians have a tendency to act like we’re better than we really are.  Of course, I’m talking those brothers and sisters who walk around with a smugly superior attitude that says “I used to be like you, but I’m saved now”, like accepting God’s grace was some major act on their part.  Then, they proceed to point out the faults of everyone else, paying particular attention to the ones they feel are most egregious (usually the ones related to sex).  They rail on about sin and how if you don’t get saved you’re bound for Hell.  And, they do it all with a distinct air of condescension that puts everyone off, even other Christians.  But, we tell ourselves, there’s not that many folks like that and, best of all, we’re not them.  Sure, we’re not (that was sarcastic, btw).  There are a few folks like that, but give them a little time and they’ll shoot themselves in the foot.  For example, take a look at Westboro Baptist Church.  Even the KKK doesn’t want anything to do with them.  No, these misguided souls aren’t the reason the people outside the church are staying away in droves.  It’s us.  The ones that think we’re such great folks.

For some reason, Christians are loath to let anyone know they’re sinners, to air their dirty laundry in public.  For some twisted reason, we think we have to “be good” and have it all together.  But, here’s the hitch: you can’t be good enough.  Just ain’t happening folks, that’s why the Man had to come down and His thing.  So, you can hang that up.  I’m not saying that you should go out sin wildly, fun though it would be.  I’m just saying to give up acting like that’s even an option.  As for the “having it all together” bit, give me a break.  If I could get it all together on my own, why would I need God?  And, believe me, I’m not even close with God’s help.  So, acting like I’m good and have it all together is a lie.  And that, my friends, ain’t a good thing.  Here are a couple of problems with whole purity thing.  1) If (and that’s a big IF) someone outside the church actually believes my mask of purity, instead of inspiring them, it will probably drive them away, thinking they could never live up to my example.  The more likely outcome of this encounter would be that they see though my bullsh_t and realize I’m just like them, flawed and broken.  This time, the response is “What hypocrite!  I don’t want anything to do with his crowd.”  I’ve created a stumbling block, just not the way we usually interpret that bit of scripture.  

So, what to do about this mess?  First and foremost, don’t be shy about how screwed up you are.  Admit it, hell, embrace it.  Let others see that you’re not perfect, not that it’ll be a big surprise to them.  I don’t know what will happen if you do, but I do know this: it’s kinda freeing.  In the last post, I gave you a peek at just how f_cked up I am.  I’d kept much of that under wraps for quite a while and finally putting it out there to be seen by all was scary, nerve-wracking and …kind of exhilarating, all at once.  It’s been out there for a few days and no mobs have shown up with torches and pitchforks calling for my hide, so maybe it’ll be okay.  I hope that at least one person, churched or unchurced, who read it said, “Wow, I thought I was the only one like that.”  If they did and got something from it, then it was worth all the village mobs in the world.  So, take off your mask and be exactly who you are.  God made you and He thinks you’re the bomb.