A couple of days ago, President Obama was on the campaign trail in New Mexico.  At a “backyard conversation” (an informal setting in which the president answered regular folks questions), a woman asked him “Why are you a Christian?”  His answer: “I’m a Christian by choice. My family didn’t – frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.”  He also said “And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.  But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.”  And finally, “One thing I want to emphasize, having spoken about something that obviously relates to me very personally, as president of the United States I’m also somebody who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and no faith,” he said. “That this is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own.  That’s part of what makes this country what it is.”  As one of my favorite bloggers, Jason Boyette, tweeted the other day, “HA!  Sounds EXACTLY like a secret Muslim.”  Okay, the man has answered the question of his faith unequivocally.  Let that be the end of it.  Please???

As I read the president’s words, I was struck by his explanation of why he believed what he does.  It’s a very intentional faith.  Sometimes, I think people who come to faith later in life have an advantage over those of us who grew up in the church.  For us, being a Christian is something we’ve always done; even those who, like me, left the church for a while before coming back.  It’s easy for us to take our faith for granted, letting it morph into a pale imitation of what it should be.  I wonder if it’s different for those who come to it later in life.  Something that really stood out was that, when asked why he was a Christian, Obama didn’t say “So, I can go to heaven”.  In fact, the reasons he gave were about others, not himself.  Which fits with what I’ve come to realize about the Christian faith: It ain’t about me.  I’m not comfortable with notion of becoming a Christian because of where I might go when they die.  For me, it’s not about some afterlife; it’s about what I can do here and now.  I’ve come to believe that what Jesus wanted was for us to work on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  In all my reading, I don’t ever recall Him instructing anyone to look after himself first or to do something because it would benefit that individual.  No, he preached about loving and doing for others.  So, our faith needs to have that at its core, not some picture filled with mansions on streets of gold.

I’m never been a great fan of the President, heck, I didn’t even vote for him.  Sometimes, he’ll do something I really like.  Then, he’ll turn around and do something that just pisses me off.  But, the answer he gave to the question “Why are you a Christian” is going to stick with me for a while.  I like that.


Why Don’t You Like Us?

September 30, 2010

Disclaimer: The following is written with tongue firmly in cheek.  Everything listed here comes from personal experience, i.e. I’ve done all of it.

A few days ago, Tony Jones posted a blog entry about a reader/commenter named Darius.  To say that Darius disagrees with Tony is like calling Lake Superior a fair-sized pond; it would be a massive understatement.  Tony Jones is one of the Emerging conversations more vocal proponents and, as such, is pretty progressive.  Darius is a conservative, Reformed Christian (I’m not sure what branch, there are several) and basically Tony’s polar opposite.  This is born out in some of the comments he’s posted on Tony’s blog.  He definitely has a problem with us emergents and progressives.  He’s not alone, there are quite a few people out there who don’t get what the whole emerging thing is about.  And, frankly, they’re not very nice about it.  I can’t understand what the problem is, we’re good enough, smart enough and, doggone it, people should like us.  I mean, look at all things we’ve got going:

  • We’re smart.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at any of our blogs/Twitter feeds/Facebook pages and see what we scored on the recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.  Almost all everyone has posted something touting the fact that scored 15 out of 15 or something similar (or 32/32 if you’re an overachiever like Hugh Hollowell).  We’re smart, we know stuff, so why won’t they listen to us?!?
  • We’re sensitive.  We’re very sensitive to labels.  So sensitive, in fact, that we left the name “liberal” behind because it stirred up so much animosity.  We’re “progressive” now.  And, proud of it…, until it offends someone.  Then, we’ll change it to something else.
  • We’re very tolerant.  Tolerance is very important to us.  We feel lead by the Spirit that everyone’s view should be respected and tolerated.  The only place we draw the line is intolerance.  We just can’t tolerate it.
  • We’re funny.  Look at this bumper sticker:

See how we took that old “When the Rapture comes, this car will unmanned” bumper sticker and turned it around?  Isn’t that funny? 

  • We’re very good at social media.  Okay, maybe I’m not so good, but others are.  Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt have a company geared toward helping others gain proficiency with social media.  We’re a very sharing bunch.

  Reading this, I just don’t understand why they don’t like us.  Please like us!!!  We’re good people.

What Do We Know?

September 29, 2010

Not much, evidently.  According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, atheists and agnostics know more about religion than the practitioners of those religions.  Jews and atheists scored highest, followed by the Mormons.  White, evangelical Protestants and white Catholics came next, followed by white, mainline Protestants.  Yeah, a lot of the people we mainliners look down our noses at know more about faith than we do.  All of which backs up something I’ve said before: we suck at religious education.

I came to that conclusion a few years ago.  In case you didn’t know, I’m a Methodist (you should know,  I never shut up about it), which is about as mainline as it gets; with 8 million members, the United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States.  I was raised a Methodist and, when I came back to church after quite a few years away, it was to a Methodist church.  I’m comfortable there, I like what they teach and what they stand for.  The problem is it took a lot of digging on my own to find those things out.  When I’ve asked pastors why they didn’t preach more about Wesleyanism, they said “Don’t you think that people would be bored?”  Excuse me?  If you’re bored by the tenets of your faith, then maybe you’re in the wrong place.  But, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the Church.  A good portion of that blame must be shouldered by us, the lay people.  Just remember, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.

What do I mean by that last remark?  The people in the pews need to take their faith more seriously, that’s what.   Too many “Christians” don’t want to make an effort to learn anything, they want their pastor/Sunday school teacher/Bible study leader to tell them what to think.  Which leads to Sunday school lessons and Bible studies that need more bite, instead of the lame-ass crap that passes for Christian education right now.  Studies based on pop culture (TV shows, movies, etc) or lite theology (Rick Warren, Max Lucado) aren’t really teaching anything, but they make us feel good about ourselves.  It enables televangelists like Joel Osteen and Eddie Long to preach the abominable prosperity gospel.  I don’t claim to be a Biblical scholar, but I am familiar with the book and with the message of Jesus and I don’t recall anything about getting rich or feeling good about myself.  As I recall, Christianity is directed a little more outward.

We need to deal with this for less than selfish reasons, too.  The main one of those being that our kids are getting the message loud and clear.  The National Study of Youth and Religion found that many American teens aren’t quite Christian.  What they believe is something called “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism”, which is characterized by five points:

  • A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

Teens think religion is “nice” and a good thing.  Translation: Religion is okay as long as it doesn’t cost me anything.  That’s a lesson they’ve from us and they’ve learned it very well.  So, not only are we dropping the ball for ourselves, we’re letting our children down at the same time.  And, that’s not “nice”.

Punk Christianity

September 26, 2010

In 1978, I heard “God Save the Queen” by The Sex Pistols for the first time.  It was my earliest exposure to punk rock and I was not impressed.  I didn’t like the song, I didn’t like their attitude and, most of all, I didn’t like the fact that it was different from what was already on the radio.  Admittedly, the Pistols can be a bit much at first listen and they certainly were for me.  But, later, punk started making inroads into the culture and I heard bands like The Clash and X and I got hooked.  The Clash was a much better band; better musicians, better songs, better attitude.  But, they were still punks.  Just not as punky as The Sex Pistols.  And, after I came to understand the punk ethos, I actually listened to The Sex Pistols and realized they were actually a pretty good rock and roll band. 

If there’s a theme to the previous paragraph, it’s that I can be judgmental and hard-headed.  But, that’s not what this is about.  To explain what it is about, we need to talk about the term “punk”.  Dictionary.com says it’s “a style or movement characterized by the adoption of aggressively unconventional and often bizarre or shocking clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc., and the defiance of social norms of behavior, usually associated with punk rock musicians and fans.”  Which is really kind of superficial.  Punk, in its original form, meant the rejection of everything current.  It started in rock music as a reaction against the  rock and roll of the  late 70’s, which many people felt was bloated, over-blown, and way too theatrical.  It had lost its way.  It was certainly a far cry from how it started.  Listen to Elvis singing “Baby, Let’s Play House”, then cue up “Take Me in Your Arms” by the Doobie Brothers and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  “Baby, Let’s Play House” is real, raw and stripped right down the marrow, while “Take Me in Your Arms” is big, broad and loaded up on production.  Young people of the late 70’s were dissatisfied with much of what was going in the world and the place they made their statement was in music.  And, that statement was “Let’s get rid of all the bullshit and get down to basics”.  I think the Christian faith could a similar movement.

In the tenth chapter of Luke, a lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to “inherit eternal life”.  Jesus responded that, if that’s what you wanted, you needed to love God with everything you’ve got and to love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s it, just love God and love your neighbor.  Nothing about rules, laws or anything else.  Of course, that easy little statement, “Love God and love your neighbor”, is really loaded.  Mainly because loving your neighbor isn’t all that easy.  A pastor I love and respect used to preach on this very subject (she still does, just not at my church anymore) and every time she did, I’d redouble my efforts to do just that.  The problem was it seemed everyone I met wanted to test my resolve.  That still happens and I still fail, but not quite as much as I used to.  Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress.

Being a Punk Christian (which I’m saying is different from being a Christian Punk) isn’t going to be easy.  A lot of people will dispute what I’m saying here.  That’s okay, it’s their prerogative to do just that.  A lot people will try to take advantage of me because of this, and that’s okay, too.  When things get tough, I’ll remember what Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Starting Over

September 25, 2010

10 months ago, I started this blog as a sort of journal about my faith journey.  I’ve never really done a biography on here, but I have talked about my private life somewhat.  I’ve mentioned the fact that I’m a firefighter, something I’ve done for over 20 years.  I’ve also mentioned that for the last 15 months I’ve been working in the administrative offices due to some health problems I’ve been experiencing.  That status ended today.  Well, it kind of ended Tuesday when the Assistant Chief of my division called me into his office and said that since my doctor had released me, they were sending me back to my station.  This came as a bit of a surprise because I thought I had at least one more physical assessment before that happened.  What was a bigger surprise was that it was happening this week.  So, I was off Wednesday and Thursday (which I spent preparing for something I hadn’t done in over a year) and rolled out of bed bright and early this morning for work.  It’s been easier than I expected.

You would think that after 15 months away, things would awkward, strange, hard to deal with, etc.  In fact, it’s been just the opposite.  Within 15 minutes of walking in the door, it felt like I’d never left, like being home again.  It doesn’t hurt that I work about ten 24 hour shifts a month and I’ve spent a lot of time here (I’m writing from this from my bed at the station).  In fact, in over 20 years with the fire department, I’ve spent a lot of nights at fire stations.  So many that I can walk into one and immediately feel at home.  Even if it’s one I’ve never set foot in, I’ll feel like I’ve been there dozens of times.  It’s predictable, normal and comfortable.  Except for one thing: I don’t quite fit in anymore.  Firefighters are pretty conservative lot, politically, religiously, financially and any other way you can think of.  15 months ago, so was I.  Now, not so much. 

In this past 15 months, I’ve experienced a change, of outlook if not of heart.  The seeds of this change were sown about 2 years earlier, when I was a recipient of our wondrous health care system’s largesse (that’s sarcasm in case in didn’t come through).  That experience taught me that what I thought was absolutely fantastic left a lot to be desired.  In the past 15 months, I found a new way to practice my faith.  A way that showed me that being a Christian isn’t about me.  I knew that, but   In the past 15 months, I met a man who caused me to reconsider my outlook on the homeless, telling me that they’re as much my neighbor as the people who don’t make me uncomfortable.  In the past 15 months, I’ve stepped up and tried to get to know those neighbors I ignored before.  And, it was absolutely amazing.h

Something that I haven’t done much of in the past 15 months is encounter ideas that are different from mine.  I’ve been surrounded mostly by like-minded people, but that ended today.  About an hour into my shift, I got into political/philosophical/religious discussion with my coworkers.  One is a die-hard right winger who embraces the Tea Party movement.  He couldn’t wrap his head around my support of health care reform, dislike for the current Wake County school board’s reassignment plan and social justice in general.  The other agreed with some of my points, but is convinced that the End Times are right around the corner.  I’m not big on the whole “Left Behind” picture of Revelation and what that’s about (what am big on in that realm is another story.  A long one).  One of the things I’ve heard several times since I started this faith journey is the phrase “I’ve found my tribe” or something along those lines.  It refers to finding those kindred spirits that you don’t have to explain yourself to.  The people of that right-wing, conservative school of thought used to be my tribe.  Not anymore, really.  I still love and respect them, they’re my brothers and sisters in a very real way.  They’re more like family than some of my actual family.  But, I’m not really one of them anymore.  So, I have to find a way to start over and integrate them into my new tribe.  Fun.

As a rule, I’m not one of those people who attribute every serendipitous accident to God.  I mean, sometimes, sh…, er, stuff just happens.  However, my experience last night tempts me to rethink that assessment.  I was struggling, looking for a topic and failing miserably.  Finally, about to fall asleep, I gave up and went to bed.  This morning, the CBS Early Show gave me what I was so desperately searching for last night.  Take a look at this:

What is it about Katy Perry that gets some folks so up in arms?  The original clip garnered almost a million and a half views and over 6000 comments, before being removed.  Saying that some of the comments weren’t fit for Sesame Street would an understatement.  It seems quite a few adults are unhappy with Katy’s dress, saying it’s inappropriate.  One commenter said “It looks like her t*ts are falling out!”  Another said something about what kids see early on sticks with them (for some reason,this one didn’t stand out quite as much as the previous one).  Come on, the kids that would be watching this don’t give a crap what Katy’s wearing, they don’t even realize she’s there.  They’re so focused on Elmo, you could put a couple knockin’ boots in the background and they wouldn’t notice.  The Sesame Street people know this and don’t put big Hollywood stars on the show for the kids; they’re there for the adults.  I don’t really see a problem with the dress and I don’t think that’s the real issue.  The issue is who’s wearing the dress: Ms. Katy “I Kissed a Girl” Perry. These people need to stop hiding behind their kids and be honest: they are offended because Katy makes them think about sex.  And, thanks to us Christians, sex isn’t something that should even be acknowledged, much less be on Sesame Street.  We need to do something about that.

Wait…, What?

September 21, 2010

Okay, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get.  I don’t understand why Miley Cyrus is so popular.  It baffles me that intelligent, educated people think Sarah Palin should even be considered for higher office.  Anything to do with why women do what they do puzzles me no end.  But, that’s not what I’m wondering about right now.  No, I’m trying to figure out some Christian doctrinal ideas.  Like:

  • Predestination.   If you’re not familiar with this concept, it means that God has full and intimate foreknowledge of everything.  Not only that, He dreamed all this up before he ever started on Creation.  Does that mean God decreed that I’d be  lazy and put off writing this to the last minute?  Was predestined that I’d even ask that question?
  • Why can’t Baptists get along?  For a long time, I’ve said that the Baptist faith is the quintessential southern religion.  Nobody can get along with anybody else for very long and, when differences come up, they handle it by going off on their own (seceding) and starting a new church (shades of the CSA).  I do love the names they come up with, though.  Things like Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, Duck River and Kindred Baptists and The National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the United States of America.
  • Pope Benedict.  If the current Pope is from Germany and since he is the shepherd of the catholic people…does that make him a German Shepherd?  Okay, I don’t really wonder about this.  What I wonder about is why it’s okay for priests to diddle altar boys but birth control is a mortal sin.
  • Dispensationalism.  This is the style of interpretation responsible for the Left Behind series.  Basically, it sees a series of chronologically successive “dispensations” or periods in history in which God relates to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants (explanation courtesy Wikipedia).  The problem is that requires some pretty extreme mental gymnastics to work.  I’ve had two classes and read several books and I still can’t explain the theory behind the Tribulation.  Maybe if I dipped into St. John the Divine stash.  You know, the stuff he was smoking before he had that dream? 
  • The whole “Christian Soldier” thing.  Military themes are becoming more and more prevalent in what passes for Christianity these days.  There’s “spiritual warfare”, talk of “God and guns” and preachers walking around armed.  And, there’s this bumper sticker:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any AK-47’s in the Bible.

To be honest, about the only thing I do understand theologically is that I don’t understand much.  It seems like every question I ask doesn’t yield an answer, it only brings up more questions.  And, they’re even more nagging than the original questions.  But, I keep asking because, while my questions aren’t answered to my satisfaction, the stuff I learn while looking for that answer is usually better than what I wanted to know in the first place.

It’s Not Mine

September 20, 2010

I know I haven’t written anything in for the past few days, but I went to the beach for the weekend.  Now, don’t think it was all nice and relaxing.  Oh no, I went to the beach with about 13 teenagers and we stayed in an 800 sq ft (approximately) house with one bathroom.  Yeah, I can hear the “What the f….?” going around as I write this.  Relax, I’m not a perv, or crazy (well…,), I’m a youth leader and this was a youth trip.  That has nothing to do with what this post is about, other than the fact I just wanted to whine a little and maybe get some sympathy.  Hey, I figured it was worth a shot.

While I was on this lost weekend, I had a conversation with a friend and fellow youth leader.  Now, this fellow thinks Glenn Beck is the bomb and if you’ve read this blog very much, you know I’m his polar opposite on that subject (if you haven’t read it, this is a good place to start).  In this conversation, I asked him what, exactly, he thought Beck had right.  Immediately, he responded “The health-care thing”.  When I pushed a little further, he told me that he didn’t think his taxes should have to support people who don’t work and just lay around.  It’s no secret that I’m in favor of the new health-care plan.  As someone who’s had recent, in-depth experience with our current system, I can tell you all is not well with health care in the United States.  If you get sick, you’d better have some damn good insurance and a pile of cash or you’re pretty much screwed. 

In 2007, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and, after it was all said and done, the total bill topped $250,000.  Fortunately, I had some of that “damn good insurance”, so I didn’t have to pay all that out-of-pocket.  But, I’m one of the lucky ones.  I’m sitting here writing these words right now through no real effort of my own.  I’m still alive largely due to an accident of birth.  When I was diagnosed, the doctor told me I had a 50-60% chance of the cancer recurring after everything was done.  Had I been born 20 years ago, that percentage would have been greatly reduced; 50 years ago, it would have been non-existent.  Had I not been born into a modestly well-off middle class family, my chances at a decent education and job would have been significantly lower and I might not have had the insurance I do now and the treatment, if I could have gotten it, would have destroyed me financially.  And, that’s something that happens everyday, in the most prosperous, affluent country in the world.  One that’s supposed to be a Christian nation.

When my young friend voiced his concern about his money going to pay for someone else’s health-care, I asked what those without insurance were supposed to do.  He said they should get out and work for it like he did.  I’d love to chalk this misconception up to his youth (21), but I’ve heard too many older adults, who should know better, say the same thing.  They completely forget that, more and more, companies are phasing out benefits like health insurance, forcing people to buy it on their own coverage.  Coverage that’s not that great and can be prohibitively expensive, if you can even get it.  Insurance companies rely on things like “pre-existing conditions” to keep from picking up someone they would consider a risk, leaving many people out in the cold when it comes to health care.  So, they gamble and do without, relying on free clinics, Medicaid and the fact that the emergency room at the hospital won’t let you die on their doorstep, insurance or not.  Again, this happens in a supposedly “Christian” nation.

What’s the answer to this problem?  There are several, with the new health-care plan being a big part.  But, what we really need is an attitude change in this “Christian” nation.  You’ll notice the last two times I used that phrase, I italicized the word Christian.  I did that because, for Christians, we’re not acting like it.  Christians, followers of Christ, are supposed to look after their brothers and sisters, not worry about how to keep more for themselves.  In the previous paragraph, I said my friend talked about his money.   But, it’s not really his money, is it?  Every Sunday, at church when the worship leader offers up a prayer over the offering, they almost always say something like “Oh Lord, everything we have comes from you.  We humbly return a portion of the blessing you have bestowed upon us…,” and so on.  In essence, we’re saying everything is His and we’re just borrowing it.  We say it, but we don’t live it.  This is the attitude change we need to affect.  Because once you realize that the money you strive so hard for isn’t really yours, it’s not so hard to let go of it.

This post is a little different from my usual offering.  It’s a contribution to something called the Eighth Letter Project, which encourages people to write a letter to the North American Church similar to the seven letters at the beginning of Revelation.  It’s also part of a synchroblog by Rachel Held Evans.  Which is kinda cool because, until just recently, I didn’t even know what a synchroblog was. 

Where did we go wrong?  Where did we get the idea that we are a nation favored by God?  How did we go from “love your neighbor” to “God Bless America”?  When did it become okay for American Christians to be more concerned about their money and their stuff than their fellow-man?  When did we decide that God wanted us to ostracize entire segments of the population because their lifestyle makes us uncomfortable?  When did we stop being The Church and start being a nationalist political organization?  Somewhere we went off the rails and we should really try to get back on track.

I’m not sure when all those things happened; if it was gradual or quick, or if it was always like that.  What I do know is that what we’re doing isn’t working anymore.  Young people are leaving the church around the time they graduate high school and start college.  That’s not really new, they’ve always done that.  In the past, when they started their own families, they came back.   They wanted their children to grow up with the same moral education they did.  Not anymore.  They’re examining things and finding that education wanting.  They don’t see it as all that moral.  For them it’s vindictive, mean-spirited and just plain wrong.  That’s sad, because I know the good we can accomplish when we get things right. 

Too much of the church in America is more focused on saving souls than saving lives.  We’re locked in on a warped idea of the Great Commission, one that places baptizing people above feeding them.  Yes, salvation is important, but someone whose stomach is empty isn’t thinking about going to heaven.  Their concerns are more immediate: a meal for themselves and their family, a warm, safe, dry place for their children to lay their heads at night.  Preaching salvation to these people without attending to these needs is sowing seed among the thorns.  Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”.

Jesus calls us to love everyone, even our enemies, saying “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?”  Burning books and begrudging people the right to practice their religion wherever they see fit isn’t loving anyone.  He calls us to “turn the other cheek”, breaking the cycle of pain and hatred that revenge begets.  He calls us to welcome everyone into our fellowship, saying “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”   He calls us to love God and love our neighbor, telling us that everyone is our neighbor, even the hated Samaritan

In Matthew 25:34-37, Jesus instructs us to welcome strangers into our midst.  Telling people they can’t join our club because they continue to sin, while continuing in our own particular sin not only isn’t welcoming, it’s hypocritical.  And, Jesus didn’t do hypocritical.  Whether the Bible condemns certain lifestyles or not, it is not up to us to determine who we can come to God.  As a Methodist, I’m a great believer in these words of John Wesley, “By “means of grace” I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.”  In denying acceptance to our homosexual brothers and sisters, we are denying them the means of grace.  And, we don’t get to do that.

I’ve spoken some rather harsh words here, but I’ve spoken them because I see the potential we, the church in North America, has to do good in the name of God.  And, as disheartening as some of our current practices are, that potential is a good thing.  I see it in the  groups working to correct these wrongs and become the church that Jesus wants us to be.  And, that gives me hope.

What’s the Alternative?

September 16, 2010

Yesterday, I went off on what some would call a rant.  I’m not happy with the way Progressive Christianity reacts to controversy.  When Christina Whitehouse-Suggs talked about “bad theology” at Big Tent Christianity, Tony Jones alluded to the fact that some people may have upset by that term.  A lot of people, myself included, have a history with the more conservative, fundamental brand of the faith and don’t care for the “my way or the highway” attitude it embodies.  And, that’s a good thing.  What’s not so good is the way many of us have chosen to deal with that.  We’re extremely careful not to say anything that would offend, belittle or marginalize anyone elses belief.  Again, that’s a good thing; until it keeps you from doing the right thing.  Now, I’m not counseling anyone to react like the worst elements of the Christian right and start calling anyone who deviates from a very narrow path heretics and false teachers.  But, there are times when you need to call a spade a spade and do so out loud where everyone can hear you.  Case in point, Joel Osteen.  I don’t doubt that Mr. Osteen is a decent, caring fellow.  But, that “I’m okay, you’re okay” warm and fuzzy pile of crap (also known as prosperity gospel) is, at best, tenuously connected to Christianity in that both mention Jesus and both are talked about in church.  But, it has as much in common with the faith as a high school football team does with the chess club.  Which isn’t necessarily nice, but it is true.

I know there wasn’t much new information in the previous paragraph, but I needed to recap a bit and lay some groundwork for the rest of this post.  I knew I wanted to talk more about this subject, but wasn’t sure how to do it without sounding repetitive.  Then, in my daily blog surfing, I ran across a blog entry from one of my favorites, Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town. In the post “Why Glenn Beck Isn’t a Big Deal“, she talks about how she copes with her frustration about Beck and his followers.  As she was relating that, she said something profound: “We have to go on living out the alternative, knowing that Beckianity (“Beckianity”?!?  Ha!) is just a fad.”  Living out the alternative.  Interesting, but what is that alternative?

I think it’s working to bring  the Kingdom of Heaven to fruition here on Earth.  That, however, brings up another question; what does that look like?  I’m not sure, I only know what I’m supposed to do to make it happen: Love God and love my neighbor as myself.  Although, with the way some us feel about ourselves, maybe we should love our neighbor better than ourselves.  I realize that’s a tall order; if we’re not even able to love them as we do ourselves… Well, you get the picture.  But, if I’m loving my neighbor, I’m not more concerned about my taxes than whether they can afford to go to the doctor.  If I’m loving my neighbor, I’m not more concerned about what they believe than what they have to eat.  If I’m loving my neighbor, I’m not going to pass them on the street and avoid their eyes.   If I’m loving my neighbor, I’m not telling them they’re going to Hell for the living the way God made them.  If I’m loving my neighbor, I’m accepting them, warts and all.  If I hear anyone teaching something contradictory, I plan on saying something about it.  And, it may not be so nice.