Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Win the War on Christmas By Losing

"Every time you say 'Happy Holidays,' an angel gets AIDS."– Jon Stewart, on the absurdity of the intense opposition to the phrase Happy Holidays over Merry Christmas.

For the last few years, accusations have been flying around (some legit and others fabricated) about how Christmas is under siege, slowly being banned from the public domain. There are claims of mega-chain store employees forbidden to wish their customers a Merry Christmas, signs displaying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, lyrics to Christmas songs changed, etc. etc. While its completely ridiculous to "ban" people from saying the phrase 'Merry Christmas,' I find the uproar, protests, and boycotts from evangelicals to"enforce" Christmas even more absurd, shallow, and frankly, extremely illogical. Focus on The Family has done several shows about the "attack on Christmas" and how good Christians can "fight" it. The American Family Association is leading boycotts on stores that say happy holidays. Other religious right groups are encouraging boycotts, protests, congressional intervention, and letter writing campaigns.

First off, I don't really believe that Christmas, as we know it, is going anywhere, based solely on the money-making aspect of the holiday. Secondly, the move to the more vague, inclusive 'Happy Holidays' greeting adopted by many stores is not so much of an attempt to ban Christmas, but an attempt acknowledge the other holidays celebrated during the same season...(Chanakuh, Kwanzaa, and New Years).

However, pretend for a moment that there is a diabolical plot among politicians, the ACLU, secularists, the liberal media, and businesses to "do away" with Christmas (there ARE people who despise any public recognition of anything even remotely religious). Pretend businesses would actually be stupid enough to take down the biggest money making holiday of the year and all "traditional" Christmas decorations, songs, and rituals were removed from the public square. If this happened, Christians should be thrilled! That's right, THRILLED.

Aren't these the same groups that we have been accusing of hijacking Christmas FOR DECADES, reducing the birth of Jesus to a materialistic, decadent, consumer-driven, self-indulgent extravaganza about who can buy the most crap, put up the biggest tree, string the brightest lights, and display the tackiest plastic reindeer, Santas, and snowmen on their lawns? Haven't evangelicals resented the fact that Christmas has been secularized, commercialized, and focused on a chimney-invading fat guy in red suit, instead of the celebration of our Lord's birth? Didn't we gaze condescendingly at all those 'heathens' that took their kids to see Santa at the mall, who were obviously deceived by those money-hungry businesses trying to make a quick buck off the birth of our Savior? Christians should be ecstatic to reclaim this beloved holiday, make it ours again, transform it into a season that truly inspires the celebration and honor of our Lord. And how did Jesus say those who love him would truly honor him? They would keep his commands. And what were those commands? Loving God and our neighbor (enemies included) with everything within us. So, does it honor Jesus when Christians force THE WORLD to adhere to God's standards? Or, even worse, OUR STANDARDS in the name of God? Or trying to conform the world to an outward appearance that is more convenient FOR US, instead of demonstrating concern for the heart? Does it honor Jesus when we selfishly demand and economically blackmail secular businesses to recognize our precious holiday and meet our needs? Is our faith so fragile, that we need THE WORLD to validate it by continuing to water-down a Holiday they don't fully understand, nor should be expected to understand?

It's not a biblical mandate to celebrate Christmas, but it is a mandate to honor Jesus by living out his teachings. We could flex our religious muscle and force worldly institutions to half-heartedly recognize Christmas to appease us, make our lives easier and more pleasant, but would our victory for "Christmas" be a loss in honoring Christ? Would our victory be just one more terrible witness to the world, where we exert domination over the world through force, condemnation, and judgment, instead of reaching the world with sacrificial love, service, kindness, and compassion?

Why are we so intent on cleaning up the world's outward image, instead of reaching hearts? Are we like the Pharisees, who care only to clean the outside of the cup, while leaving the inside filthy and empty? What difference does it make if the secular leaders and businesses recognize Christmas in name to appease us, only to remain inwardly unaffected, confused, and resentful? These outcries to "restore" Christmas will only ensure that we Christians can stroll through the mall hearing OUR favorite Christmas music, enjoying OUR favorite man-made traditions, and hear a "Merry Christmas" from a minimum-wage-working cashier after overpaying for stuff we don't really can hear the "well done, my good and faithful servant" now!

Ah...but there is hope! What if we took the teaching of Jesus seriously? What if we saw this "ban of Christmas" as a unique opportunity. What if we overcame evil with good? Turned the other cheek? Loved those who hate us? Blessed those who curse us? Lose our secure, comfortable lives, so we might save it in the end?
Wouldn't it come as a baffling shock if Christians everywhere put down their picket signs, ceased the boycotts, dropped the Christmas lawsuits, and instead, showered politicians, business owners, and ACLU workers that show disdain for Christmas/Christians with thoughtful gifts, invitations to OUR Christmas celebrations, letters of prayers, (not condemning ones), asking nothing in return? What if Christians took all the money they are spending on lawsuits over Christmas and used it to serve the poor, the marginalized, and sick? What if we stopped courting the approval and recognition of the rich and powerful and focused on the least, the lost, and the last of this world? What if Christians recreated our Christmas celebrations and invited the world, instead of demanding the world get it right and include us? How much harder would it be for the world to label us as judgmental, condemning, intolerant, superficial hypocrites, if we actually lead by example, by service, by radical, ridiculous, unconditional love? See, Jesus is no naive optimist, He is a genius! By responding to cruelty with kindness, insult with blessing, neglect with service, rejection with embrace, it proves our opponent wrong. It shows their true colors. It halts their accusations. It could inspire a rethinking of their assumptions. It makes us a people separated unto God. It clears the way for reconciliation, healing, renewal, forgiveness, and transformation. When we take the bait and repay evil with evil, eye for eye, dollar for dollar, insult for insult, when we demand our DUE, we not only lose in the end, but we become our "enemy," for we are guilty of the same offenses, tactics, and attitudes. For what good is it if we only show love to those who love us? Do not even non-christians do this? Aren't we called to a higher standard?
So let's do what Jesus would have us do on the day we've chosen to celebrate his birth: lose our holiday to save it after all. Lose the war on Christmas to truly win it!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loving Our Enemies: Where to Begin?

This post is part of the Bless Those Who Curse You Campaign's Synchroblog. The links to other contributors can be found at the bottom of this post.

Jesus makes me laugh. Sometimes I laugh at His snarky comebacks to the Pharisees. Sometimes, I laugh when I think of Him walking on water, perhaps with a hint of playful mischief in His eyes, as he beckons Peter to follow. Sometimes, I laugh at His blatant disregard for social customs, religious traditions, and the accepted "orthodox" theology of His day. But then, other times, there's a different sort of laughter that Jesus elicits from me. It happens when I encounter some of His most radical teachings:

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also...If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Or "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic...and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

This laughter isn't an intellectually-amused reaction to Jesus' razor-sharp wit. It is not the laughter that comes from the awe of, what must have been, a bizarrely beyond-all-reason experience. Nor is it the semi-maniacal laughter over Jesus flipping His culture's most precious ideologies upside-down. No. This kind of laughter comes from utter, almost appalled, disbelief. Love my enemies? Bless those who curse me? Pray for those who mistreat me? Don't fight back, but turn the other cheek? Don't resist an evil person? If someone steals my coat, give them the shirt off my back, too? Give to EVERYONE who asks of me?? Without expecting to ever be repaid?

No, this isn't the laughter of the amused. It is the laughter of the offended. The dumbfounded. The convicted.

And yet, after the initial shock wears off about just how insane the way of Christ is and how miserably I fall short of it all, there is something so brilliant and beautiful happening behind Jesus' words. It's not just that Jesus commands us to love our enemies, but He's undermining the entire belief that we even have any enemies to begin with. Paul picked up on this when he wrote, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers." People are not our enemies. People get caught up in the systems of principalities and powers, become enslaved to those principalities and powers, even acting as agents of them, but people, themselves, are not our enemies. "They" are our fellow image-bearers. "They" are our fellow human beings who God loves just as much as He loves "us." It applies to the thief, the terrorist, the hypocrite, the liar, the angry, the greedy, the self-righteous, the bitter, the wounder, the wounded, the violent, the religious-other, the sexual-other, the political-other.

Loving our "enemies" is the way to affirm the innate dignity and worth of every person, even when they deserve it the least. It's the way to stop the cyclical nature of violence, revenge, bitterness, unforgiveness, and hatred. It's the tiny window into the glorious bigger picture beyond our individual wounds and pet ideologies. Loving our enemies, sometimes, shows us that we, ourselves, have often been an enemy to "the other."

Who have we declared to be our enemies? Who have you declared to be your enemy?

Loving our Enemies. Where to begin? Perhaps, we must first realize that we don't actually have any.

Others blogging on this topic:

David Henson at Unorthodoxology: Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?

George Elerick at The Love Revolution: Toxicity

Brian Ammons at Nekkid Ressurrection: Loving Those Who Curse Us

Brambonius' Blog: Love Your Enemies, Bless Those Who Curse You...
Mark Sandlin at The God Article: A Call to Political Authenticity for Christians

Danielle Shroyer: "A Prayer for our enemies....And for Us."

Conservative Christians and Same-Sex Marriage: A Match Made in...America?

I’m a Christian, a Christian with very conservative roots, no less. Despite this background, I’ve been surprisingly fortunate enough to become dear friends with many beautiful people in the GLBT community. I absolutely support my GLBT neighbors in their struggle for equal rights and privileges under the law. At the same time, my theology tends to be a little more conservative (don’t think of Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson-conservative, but more Tony Campolo-conservative) on the issue. So, I
submit this post in the spirit of friendship and seeking common-ground.

Is it possible for one to be both a Conservative-Christian and support same-sex marriage?

For many, this sounds like an oxymoron. But after some careful reflection, I believe conservatives can accept the secular legalization of same-sex marriage without compromising their convictions on homosexuality or marriage, in general.

We should ask ourselves the following questions:

To what extent do we impose our religious morals onto others through the law?

To what extent should we depend on the government to uphold our religious views on sexual ethics and marriage?

Are opponents of legalizing same-sex marriage consistent with other sexual “violations” within society, such as adultery, fornication, divorce, and remarriage

While Christians have a responsibility to teach the tenets of their faith to the world, we should not seek to impose the tenets unique to our faith onto the broader public in a free and pluralistic society. Commitment to the Christian faith, or any faith for that matter, and compliance to the moral expectations thereof, should be completely voluntary and not enforced through governmental law. At the heart of the Conservative Christian position is the belief that homosexuality is a sin and marriage has traditionally been between a man and woman. Therefore, as Christians, we must prevent same-sex marriage from being validated under the law. But to what extent should Christians (or people of any faith) seek to impose their religious beliefs onto the broader public through the laws of the land? Certainly, we have quite an inconsistent application as to which “biblical sins” should be permissible under our laws: such as fornication, divorce, and remarriage. The Bible has a lot to say on these issues (much more than it does on homosexuality, btw). Yet, there are not many Christians seeking to enforce those standards on the broader public through the law. Where are the efforts to reform common-law marriages (two unmarried people obtaining the legal benefits of a married couple)? Or for the government to only allow divorce in cases of adultery? Or a law to forbid divorced people from getting remarried? Many Christians also believe the Bible forbids “unequally-yoked” marriages (Christians marrying outside of their faith). Should the government deny marriages
to interfaith couples, previously divorced couples, or force couples seeking a divorce to remain married? Is it the government’s place to only grant legal marriages to those who meet traditional biblical requirements?

Most of us instinctively know, that while these issues are very important to how we live out our faith and conduct our faith communities, we should not force society to conform to all the standards of our faith. Faith, and conformity to the moral standards thereof, must be voluntary.

Christians have every right to express their views on homosexuality (and if that is ever threatened, I would stand up for the freedom of speech and the right of religious communities to conduct themselves as they see fit). But consider for a moment, that one does not have to give up or even compromise their beliefs about homosexuality in order to accept same-sex marriage within our society.

Consider C.S. Lewis’ argument for the legalization of divorce in Great Britain. Could the same logic be applied to the same-sex marriage debate in America?

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian, you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the [Muslims] tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp.."--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p112

Much like C.S. Lewis argued for divorce allowances in a secular society that went beyond the biblical allowances, so can the conservative Christian argue for same-sex marriage in a secular society, and yet retain for themselves and their churches the standards in accordance with their faith. Christians often support the rights of others that are in direct conflict with their faith. For instance, one of the very founding principles of our nation is the freedom of religion. This means we guarantee the right for all people to practice the faith of their choosing and worship freely. I would think, for traditional Christians, one of the worst sins would be to worship other gods. Yet many traditional Christians, sometimes religiously-devoted to the Constitution, affirm the freedom of religion for all people. Our government recognizes other religions and provides tax exempt statuses for all kinds of houses of worship: Christian, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist. So, under our current policies, the government "rewards" and "legitimizes" other religions. Yet, traditional Christians believe it is a sin to worship any other god beside God the Father through Jesus Christ. How do we reconcile this? We know worship cannot be forced upon people, nor should worship we disapprove of be forbidden under the law. Since we cherish the ability to worship freely and openly, we must extend this same right to all people, even if how that right is used conflicts with our own faith.

Some Christians worry that the legalization of same-sex marriage will somehow infringe upon their religious freedom. This argument simply doesn’t make sense. The legalization of same-sex marriage would not infringe on the rights of religious people to speak publicly about their beliefs.


Divorce is legal, but churches still maintain the right to preach against divorce and hold their members to their teachings. Churches reserve the right to refuse performing the marriages of, really, anyone who does not meet their standards. Though common-law marriages are legal and recognized by the government, churches still have the right to denounce fornication and teach abstinence. If same-sex marriage becomes legal, churches will still have the right to preach against homosexuality and handle the issue of homosexuality as they sit fit within their own churches. Just like the Catholic Church will not perform/recognize the remarriage of a Catholic who has gotten a divorce outside of their approval, churches against homosexual marriage will not be forced to perform/recognize the marriages of GLBT couples or stop publicizing their beliefs about it.

I contend, in our pluralistic society, that these types of issues (actions that do not violate the rights of others or seek to harm others), should be legalized, and faith communities should retain the right to publicly accept or reject the practice, in accordance to the beliefs of their particular faith tradition. Our laws aim (or should aim) to restrict the forcible imposition of another’s actions upon un-consenting victims. C.S. Lewis talked about a universal moral law that transcended any one religion or culture, and while people within all religions and cultures have violated and manipulated this moral law, there is, generally, a basic level of accepted morality. It is this universal moral law, upon which the majority of our laws are crafted. For instance, one does not need to be a Christian, or adherent to a particular religion, to recognize the need for laws against murder, rape, molestation, kid-napping, assault, stealing, extortion, and so forth. We can collectively agree that there needs to be laws to prevent and punish purveyors of such atrocities in order to justly protect our society. We can all agree on these because, at their very core, such actions violate the will of another person. We know that when the actions of one person override the consent of another, it is usually wrong. While many of our laws are based on Judeo-Christian principles, they are primarily focused on the morals that violate the rights of others. We should not, however, legislate laws that are unique to one particular faith over other faiths or no faith at all. While the government should be involved in ensuring all who enter marriage are afforded the same rights and privileges, it should be left to the individual couple’s faith community to define the nature and sacredness of a marital union.

We should also consider that by denying same-sex couples the right to marry, we deny them over 1,000 federal protections and privileges that are automatically afforded to heterosexual married couples. Here is a list of some of those protections and privileges.

The GLBT community is not all that interested in altering the theology of conservative Christians or censoring their sermons and broadcasts. Most just want to live their lives with access to the same opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. It's about giving their partners and children the same stability afforded to heterosexual couples. My friends in the gay community want the same things I do: companionship, sexual intimacy, family, stability, and equality. I truly believe the views of all sides should be engaged with and respected, but ultimately, no one’s religious convictions should be forced on another through the law. Churches should not be forced to accept/recognize the marriages of gays and lesbians, the divorced, the remarried, or the cohabitation of non-married couples. Christians should remain free to challenge these issues and call those within and without of their faith community to examine their positions. Likewise gays and lesbians should not be restricted from marrying and receiving the benefits of legal marriages in a free, pluralistic society just because it offends the religious sensibilities of others. I suggest we have a more consistent position on the role of government (which traditional conservatism says is LESS government in our personal lives) when it comes to the issue of marriage.

So, maybe, just maybe, Conservative Christians can affirm the rights and dignity of the gay community, while simultaneously remaining faithful to their own deeply held convictions on the issue. I hope so.

This post is part of a Synchroblog, where a group of bloggers post on the same topic on the same day, so that people can surf from one to the other and get different views on the same basic topic. You will find links to the other participants below.
Kathy Baldock at Canyonwalker Connections – Marriage “I Do” For Who

Dan Brennan at Faith Dance – Sexual Difference, Marriage and Friendship

Steve Hayes at Khanya – Same Sex Marriage Synchroblog

Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – In Defense Of Marriage

John C O’Keefe – Exactly What Is Gay Marriage

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Nobody knows why or how same-sex marriage is harmful

Herman Groenewald at Along The Way – Same Sex Debate
Margaret Boelman at Minnowspeaks – What Have We Done

David Henson at unorthodoxology – ban marriage

Erin Word at Mapless – Synchroblog: Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

Joshua Jinno at Antechurch – The Church Is Impotent

Kathy Escobar at The Carnival In My Head – It’s Easy To Be Against Equal Rights When We Have Them

Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Synchroblog – Same Sex Marriage

K. W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent – Mountains, Molehills and Same-Sex Marriage

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Future of Journalism

After reading “The Future (We Hope) of Journalism," an article written by John Carroll, I became more aware of the drastic shifts happening in journalism today because of the advancements in technology, which allow for everyday people to publicize their voices through the Internet. I found the optimistic tone of the article refreshing and insightful. I appreciated Carroll’s analysis of the “old media,” “new media,” and “portal” outlets that exist in journalism today. His vision for how each type of media can exist in the future was well thought out and articulated. I agree, that, although, the modes and methods of news may change shape and evolve for the various kinds of media, ultimately, the old media, new media, and portals will all have vital role to play in today’s journalism and will continue to need each other’s contributions in the future.

The author rightly observed that the new media (bloggers and portals) can exist and build upon the news, precisely because of the diligent work of the “old media,” professional reporters finding news and verifying it. Bloggers and Portal outlets can then obtain these news stories and elaborate with their opinions and pull from other sources to spread news or provide social commentary about it. I completely agree that bloggers and portals (who either do not want to hire reporters or who cannot afford to do so), would not be able to successfully run their outlets, if it were not for old-school media professionals digging up stories, investing in and maintaining vital sources and contacts, and verifying the accuracy of the stories they expose. So, while the old media will have to change and adapt to our new technologically-advanced world, they won’t go extinct either.

The author delivered a much needed reminder to his readers about the importance of the news in society. Journalism makes it possible for the public to hold the powerful accountable and honest. Without the institutionalized media checking up on the actions of the government and big business, those powerful entities would be able to get away with all kinds of corruption and injustice.The news keeps the public well-informed and therefore, better equipped to participate in their civil responsibilities.

The media usually takes quite a pummeling from the public (and sometimes, rightly so), but it’s vital for people, especially Americans expected to intelligently engage in our political system, to utilize and appreciate the freedom of the press and the vast amount of information their efforts uncover and present to the world.
I particularly identified with the section of the article that addressed the “loneliness” of the being in the middle. I have noticed that the voices who not fit neatly into the stereotypical political boxes, are either ignored, or attacked by the more extreme voices from the right and left. So, they get double the criticism, making both “sides” unhappy.

I agree with the distinction Carroll made between “journalistic” voices, who aim to service the public by presenting fair and accurate information and decidedly “non-journalistic” voices who purposely use the news to manipulate the public. Extolling the virtues of “old media” ethics, is a good reminder for new media proponents to be ethical in their presentations of information.

The third section of the articled raised some interesting question about whether or not the media will be “independent” enough to really keep government and big corporations accountable. As the old media serves as a watchdog for government and big corporations, bloggers and other new media serve as a watchdog for the larger, more institutionalized media. Yet, institutional journalism is still needed to keep up with the massive entities that the government and big business have become. The public certainly benefits from both institutionalized media and smaller, more individual media outlets.

The concluding section of the article was particularly encouraging, for someone like myself, who is hoping to have a career in journalism. We are living in a unique time, with access to all sorts of technology and social networks to utilize in our pursuits of journalism. It’s exciting to participate in a journalism that is no longer a “one way” monologue, but a huge, public “conversation,” where the voices of all kinds of people can be heard and appreciated. The new media allows anyone who is willing to have some means of public self-expression, and this ultimately benefits everyone.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bless Those Who Curse You Campaign

Bless Those Who Curse You...And Those You Have Cursed.

Please consider inviting all your facebook friends to Bless Those Who Curse You Campaign page as well as the our first Bless Those Who Curse You Day on Oct. 15 (details on the facebook event page).

In just two weeks, we are asking christians to proactively live out Jesus' call to love one's enemies, bless those who curse you, and being peacemakers. The same week, there will be a syncroblog effort on the same topic (see facebook page for details, and participate!)

We hope to grow this campaign, and partner with all kinds of Christians who will take this challenge both individually and corporately. (Website coming soon.)

For our first event, we ask you to carry out an individual act of kindness to someone who has personally wounded or wronged you, or perhaps, someone you yourself have wronged or wounded.

We also ask you (especially those of you who are in charge of or have influence over, churches, youth groups, bible studies, cohorts, schools, or other organizations) to partner with these groups to conspire collective acts of kindness together. We encourage groups to conversate and pinpoint a person/or group they perceive to be "against" them and reach out to that person/group with creative acts of love and generosity. Or we ask groups to examine their own attitudes toward others, and pinpoint a peson/group they may have condemned, judged, treated unfairly, stereotyped, or hold bitter biases against, and reach out to that person/group with tangible acts of kindness, generosity, gentleness and love.

This is a creative endeavor that requires humility, vulnerability, and radical commitment to the way of Christ. We hope that by "loving our enemies,' we will discover that we truly have none. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers...

Join us. Invite Others. Get Involved. Tell Us Your Story.

"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend."-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Opinions and The Bible Part 2

"The Church is a whore, but she's still my mother,"---Augustine, early church father.
See Opinions and the Bible Part 1

I sure do have beef with Augustine, but I know exactly what he meant with the statement above. I just finished a short history book, entitled "The Dark Side of Christian History," and I could barely grapple with how such atrocities were carried out in name of Jesus, at the hands of the Church (both pre-reformation and post-reformation). The witch hunts, heresy hunts, the crusades, the "purification chambers; it all came down to one thing: the church needing to be right and enforcing their "rightness" on others, even if it meant torturing and killing dissenters. Anyone who thought differently was quite literally stomped out. Thankfully, the Church has progressed quite a bit, leaving behind the physical torture and killing, but that need to be completely right lingers on. The Church has split apart into thousands of factions with thinly veiled slogans of "We're really the right ones." A lot of churches create safe havens, making it completely possible for their members to live out their lives never truly interacting with any other brand of Christianity but their own.

This sort of quarantine leads to elitism, automatic skepticism of other "outsider" Christians, and unquestioning allegiance to a particular denomination, movement, or pastor. Ultimately our faith winds up in a segment of the body of Christ, while cutting ourselves off from the rest.

This is why I believe it is so imperative to listen to the various voices of Christians and consider what they have to offer; to at least consider the possibility that "they" may have something to teach "us" or "they" may have examined a topic or scripture from an angle "we" have overlooked. Do not misunderstand what I am saying, I do not think we should fling our convictions out the window and just agree with every christian or alternate viewpoint that comes along. Quite the contrary, actually. It's not that I think we need to turn off our discernment, but that we need to crank it up so high that the beliefs within our own camp, within our ownselves, are examined rigorously as well. And ultimately, that all interpretative options are laid at the feet of the Holy Spirit with humility. True unity has little to do with everyone thinking exactly alike, but is about working with each other for God's kingdom, despite our differences.

Those of us in the church have all acted like whores, unfaithful to what Jesus has called us to do and be, at one time or another. Since we all fall short, all have limited understandings, all see in part, all have cultural biases, we really do need each other in sorting our matters of faith AND bringing God's kingdom to earth. We should esteem each other higher than ourselves and at least consider where Christians of different persuasions and convictions are coming from. While we should never put blind faith in one church, one denomination, one theology or one person to hammer out the Bible for us, we should carefully consider the various understandings of the Christian faith and the scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, convict us, and give us discernment. But most of all, we should love one another. And loving one another does not include segregating ourselves from believers with whom we disagree or thoughtlessly dismissing/demonizing their expressions of faith, experiences with God, or understandings of the scripture. "The Church" may be a whore at times, but she will always be my mother, and I will always glean from the imperfect, diverse, and strange people within it, whom God seems particularly fond of using to call those of us who think we got it all figured out to the carpet.

So, when I hear, "Read the Bible for what is says and don't listen to what others think about it," I know that I, myself, am an "other," my church is an "other," my pastor is an "other," and it would be foolish for me to rely on my own understanding and isolate myself within my own camp without consulting God's great gift of the Body of Christ. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, from the past and present, who share my struggle in wrestling with God, the scriptures, and desire to better know and serve Him. So, I will honor them enough to listen to what they have to offer.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Opinions and The Bible Part 1

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means." ~~George Bernard Shaw

Before my blogging hiatus, I received an email from a reader who rebuked me for reading so many books about God and the Bible. (Apparently, she took a gander at my Shelfari book list.) She said, "You should take the Bible for what is says alone and not listen to what others think about it."

I've heard others express similar sentiments, either directly toward me or as a general rule of thumb. In one sense, I agree with the heart of this sentiment (or at least what I'm hoping is the heart of it), which is read the Bible for yourself and allow the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and give understanding. Far too many fall back on their preconceived ideologies, pastors' teaching, and church affiliations to seal up the scriptures for them, instead of personally engaging the Bible and opening themselves up to the Holy Spirit.

Now, here's why I part ways with the concerned woman's recommendation to cease listening to other people's "take" on the Bible.

1. It assumes that I, the individual, am free from bias, prejudice, preconceived interpretations, and ignorance of cultural, historical, and original language contexts. Let me assure you, I am not free from any of those factors and neither are you. :)

2. This approach just further polarizes Christians from one another, as well as boosts our own pride and unwillingness to listen to other perspectives, because we can just dismiss any other point of view with "Well, if they just would read the Bible for what it says, then they wouldn't think that," since we have convinced ourselves that that's what WE do. I said almost those exact words once to a friend who attended a church with a woman preacher. Needless to say, now that I'm passionately for women in all ministry roles, I know exactly how my friend felt when I dismissed him without ever looking into the evidence. This attitude allows us to negate all other positions but our own, without having to weigh the evidence or critically examine the other perspective or our own.

3. Some passages taken for "what they plainly say," leave us with lots contradictions. If I take the verse in 2 Timothy "as is" where Paul writes, "Women will be saved through childbearing" and never consult the original language, historical/cultural context (which I have to rely on other people to find), on my own, I would be left to believe women are SAVED, not by grace, but through the act of childbearing. And even this verse by itself could mean many different things. This is just one example.

4. This approach is nearly impossible. Since all people are prone to a particular set of lenses and most Christians place themselves under a particular denomination, movement, or pastor, which all have the weaknesses listed in #1 above, this undoubtedly influences HOW believers read and understand the Bible.

Let me use the example of Christians who experienced church at an early age, which accounts for a large chunk of American Christendom. Do these children read the bible for themselves to determine its meaning or are they taught what it says and means by their parents, Sunday school teachers, and pastors? The answer is obvious. Right from the beginning Christian children are taught a particular understanding of the Bible before ever opening the good book themselves. Depending on the affiliations of the parents and the church, children are geared from the beginning to understand the bible in a certain way, a way that supports the theology of their family/church, whether it be in the areas of Calvinism, Arminianism, Complementarianism, Egalitarianism, eschatology, ecclesiology, charismatic practices, the role of gifts of the spirit, baptism practices, the usage of alcohol, the nature of miracles, the methods of prayer, the methods of worship,  the nature of hell and so on.

All these lenses become so ingrained within segments of the Church, that we don't even see them for what they are: interpretations. We see them as absolute truths that the Bible clearly says and teaches: end. of. story. We can shut our brains off and rest in the fact that we know exactly how it is and hope everyone else gets it together. Anyone who thinks differently is suspect of embracing heresy or being a wolf in sheep's clothing. It becomes unbelievably difficult for people in this situation to even consider that there may be other valid understandings of a particular biblical topic or scripture. And far too often, the evidence for any other understanding is either never presented or is never fairly examined.

So, the "Don't listen others' opinions on the bible, but read it for what it says" stance usually means "Don't listen to others' opinions on the bible, read it for what I think it says..."

The next post will be about why I find it so imperative to sincerely listen (not blindly follow) to the various voices in Christendom......

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Scariest Verses in The Qu'ran!!!

Every Christian should be aware of these. The following endorses genocide, violence, rape, forced marriages, infanticide, and even cannibalism.

1. "..devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. "

2. "Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us, he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."

3. “But of the cities of these peoples which {Allah} gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them."

4. "And when [Allah] shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them."

5. "And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword."

6. "Their children shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes! There houses spoiled, and their wives raped...Dash the young men to pieces...have no pity on the fruit of the womb, the children shall not be spared..."

7. "So [he] smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as [Allah] commanded."

8. "We took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain."

9. "And [he] smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel. And [he] saved neither man nor woman alive."

10. "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the female children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

11. "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."

12. "And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon."

13. “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her.."

14. "If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself."

15. "And if you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free."

16. "Make ready to slaughter his sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants."

17. "If there be found among you... man or woman....who hath gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded...then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman who has committed that wicked thing unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones till they die."

18. "Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars.."

19. "You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you."

20. "Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before {Allah} against the sun.”

21. "They shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up!"

22. “And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.”

These Verses are brutal and terrifying. The only problem is, they are NOT from the Qu'ran, they are ALL from the Bible. It's not hard to rip troubling verses out from their original surroundings, like so many of us have done to our Muslim neighbors, taking no consideration for context, interpretation and application. And by the way, some of these verses IN context are no less troubling. But those of us who believe and follow the Bible (at least most of us) are not plotting and carrying out genocide, violence, etc. etc.

When verses from our holy book are ripped out of context, misrepresented and used against us, well, it's deeply offensive and frustrating. May I suggest, we do unto others as we would have others do to us? In this case, let's read the Qu'ran in context and find out from Muslims themselves how they understand and live out the heart of their religion and what the various interpretations and applications are for such difficult texts. At the very least, let's be aware of the troubling verses in our own holy book before we start throwing stones at everyone else's holy books...

Reference Verses for all scripture cited:

1 Samuel 15:3, Psalm 137, Deut 20:16, Deut 7:1-2, Joshua 6:12, Isaiah: 13: 16-18, Joshua 10:40, Deut.2:26-35, 1 Samuel 27:8-9, Numbers 31: 17-18, Luke 19:27 2 Samuel 12:31 Deuteronomy: 22: 28-29, Exodus 21:4, Deuteronomy 21:11-14, Isaiah 14:21, Deuteronomy 17:2-5, Exodus 34: 11-12, Leviticus 26:7-8, Numbers 25:4 Hosea 13:16

A LIfe of Circumstance

A Life of Circumstance

Broken arrows on the floor
Awoken shadows upon the door
Hollow lies soar the skies
Swallowed pride roars to rise

Whipping winds slave to divide
Gripping sins crave my demise
Latent tears inspire true rage
Patient fears conspire to cage

Oh, these ocean waves never cease
Though, devotion saves severed peace
Hoping faith will sing, though thirsty
Groping grace will cling to mercy

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Environmentalism: A Dirty Word?

"The devil has two horns: the horn of pride that says there is nothing we ought to do, and the horn of despair that says there is nothing we can do."

Environmentalism. It's a term used to describe a broad and diverse range of concerns, beliefs, and initiatives pertaining to the atmosphere, the earth, the earth's resources and creatures who inhabit it. As opposing views in America become more and more polarized (and thus more cliched and shallow), an increasing tension has emerged between evangelicalism and environmentalism. There are many factors that contribute to this tension, and being that I identify myself with Christianity, I will address the mindset and/or objections coming from some Christian camps.

1. Association.

Some Christians deem environmentalism as a cause of democrats, liberals, New Agers, feminists(?), abortionists (?), gays (?)), and atheists(?) who refuse to worship God, so they worship nature instead. These stereotypes steeped deep within church world taint environmentalism for many. Has this unfair lumping or over-lapping environmentalism with separate issues caused the Church to neglect a divine call to godly environmentalism and stewardship? I am not sure why environmentalist are met with such hostility or bewilderment from certain segments of the church. Whether they know it or not, their desire to maintain God's creation is an act of cooperation with the innate order God has set up: to be in awe of His glorious creation and to treat it responsibly.  Instead of branding environmentalists as tree-hugging hippies, we should recognize their appreciation for creation and see this issue as one of common ground (or what should be common ground) between us.

2. The Global Warming debate.

A good portion of conservative evangelicals dismiss the concern over global warming for a myriad of reasons. Some believe there is not enough conclusive evidence to prove that mankind is causing global warming or that global warming is even an imminent threat. Some speculate that the earth is just going through its natural cycle. The more pessimistic evangelicals reject global warming on the belief that Revelation lays out the demise of the world, and global warming "ain't it" (although one might argue that even if  global warming won't  cause the earth's "ultimate" demise, it could still do some horrendous damage). And yet, some others have confused their politics with the tenets of Christianity. Some leaders discourage belief in global warming under the guise of religion when it has more to do with the effects on big business regulations. I am no scientist, so I don't pretend to have the answers about global warming, but I can see how some Christians view the hype as alarmism, but I also see how godly people are concerned about global warming, and that in no way should diminish the validity of their faith.  Anyway, global warming (just one aspect of environmentalism) has pushed the segments of the churchcommunity further away from environmental movements.

3. End-Times Defeatist Mentality.

Some are so certain that Jesus' return will be SO VERY VERY SOON and the destruction of the earth is inevitable that environmentalism is deemed a useless waste of time and a deceiving distraction from "real moral issues." This mentality puts forth that the earth and our pilgrim-like earthly existence are temporary, so those who would put energy into a dying earth are "worldly" and in SOME VERY SMALL EXTREME circles, even the enemies of God.

This End-Times mentality is disturbing for a few reasons. One, because nearly every generation of Christians since the time of Jesus have believed that Jesus would surely return in their time. And since no one knows the when (no matter how badly people want to pretend to know the when and how), it is bad theology to use the return of Christ as an excuse to dismiss environmentalism. Two, our temporal earthly existence does not negate our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth while we are here.

Environmentalism, like anything, can be distorted and abused.  But I would contend that the other extreme of raping the earth and opposing (sometimes demonizing) movements of environmental preservation is not only poor stewardship, but a violation of loving your neighbor as yourself. As long as God has placed precious life on this earth, we must do what we can to preserve and maintain the earth to continue fostering life. Many preservation efforts are about keeping waters from being contaminated, keeping animals from extinction (which affects the balance in nature), keeping lands healthy and fertile, so they can harvest food, etc. etc. Those are all preservation efforts that, for a Christian, are just as much about loving our neighbor, as it is caring for creation. Without maintaining clean water, fertile lands, and animal life, many humans would needlessly suffer and die, as they already do. A "Jesus is coming back, so we don't have to do anything" kind of attitude, is not only lazy, but harmful. When millions of people (mainly children) die every year because they do not have access to clean water, or their land cannot produce food, or pollution corrupts the air (which spurs on all kinds of diseases), then environmentalism IS a MORAL issue. By neglecting the earth or abusing it, we harm our neighbors. It's easy to dismiss the efforts of those trying to preserve clean water as "worldly" when we have an abundant supply of it, but I bet environmentalism would be viewed as a Godsend, if we couldn't get clean water, or food from our lands. That is a reality for millions of people.

Currently, there are environmental movements within the evangelical community (The National Association of Evangelicals, Evangelical Environmental Network, Restoring Eden, etc.) that are coming under fierce criticism from many Christians. It saddens me to see their efforts belittled as a "lesser cause" or "a waste of time." If these faithful servants of God are caring for the environment because they desire to honor God's creation and better the quality of life for our neighbors, families, and future generations, then it's not a lesser distraction, but a manifestation of loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving their neighbors as themselves.

Here is the website for the terms of Creation Care signed by hundreds of evangelicals.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Real Heresy?

Powerful words from Gregory Boyd on real heresy:

“While those who wielded the Constantinian sword throughout history undoubtedly convinced themselves they were wielding the sword in love–this is a common self-delusion among religious power brokers–lording over, torturing, and killing people does not communicate their unsurpassable worth to them; it is not loving….One wonders why no one in church history as ever been considered a heretic for being unloving. People were anathematized and often tortured and killed for disagreeing on matters of doctrine or on the authority of the church. But no one on record has ever been so much as rebuked for not loving as Christ loved. Yet if love is to be placed above all other considerations, if nothing has any value apart from love, and if the only thing that matters is faith working in love, how is it that possessing Christlike love has never been considered the central test of orthodoxy? How is it that those who tortured and burned heretics were not themselves considered heretics for doing so? Was this not heresy of the worst sort? How is it that those who perpetuated such things were not only deemed heretics but often were (and yet are) held up as heroes of the faith?”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Civilized Killing

Ancient Arrows,
Former slayers in the wars of men.
Now retired to curious museums.

Useless Arrows,
Too impractical for the modern age.
There are easier ways to pierce a flesh-bound cage.

Savage Arrows,
Too barbaric for the modern man.
You lack the dignity of the bombs in our hands.

Hang, shrouded in mystery,
Teach us something of our history.

You are a senior citizen of war,
Knocking on death's door,
Lingering on life support,
To induldge our indignant thrill.

Show us how far mankind has come,
As we polish our efficient guns,
Those brutal savages knew none,
Of the civilized ways to kill.

Hang, shrouded in mystery,
Teach us something of our history.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Remnant

In this concrete-clad forest
A carved tree trunk traps
The last remnant.

The Autumn Reaper kisses
Frail widow branches
Sending their amber spouses
To open emerald graves
At last, the bare bark is clothed
By the looming shadow of a skyscraper.

Autumn leaves and aluminum cans
Crunch beneath my fleeing feet
Before splashing into the cement river,
Whose current drags me home.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blessed are the Peacemakers, For They Shall Be Called...Liberal Hippies??

"You're a liberal hippie that endorses the anti-christ"--yelled at me by some random college student enraged by the very sight of my shirt with the logo seen below.

I've received several comments from christians about this logo, implying that it's "blasphemous," "anti-christian," "liberal," and endorses a "one world order/anti-christ." However, coexistence isn't something Christians should fear, it's an ideal we should actively work towards.

Let's start with the definition of the word "Coexist:"
"To exist together, at the same time, or in the same place.
To live in peace with another or others despite differences" (Webster Dictionary)

Here's what COEXIST does NOT mean: to merge beliefs and ideas, to compromise or sacrifice one's own beliefs to achieve peace, to abandon dialogue about accountability, challenges, hypocrisies, persuasion, or conversion, and it definitely does NOT mean for all people to embrace a unified belief system to establish a "one world order." In fact, coexistence is the exact opposite of a one world order, because a one world order would contain no diversity at all. People would all live under the same form of government, religion, and culture. There would not be diversity or differences to coexist with! Coexistence implies existing amongst inherent differences that firmly remain.

Usually the word "coexist" is a far cry from the harmonious unification of all mankind singing Peace on Earth while sharing a Coca-Cola. For example, if a spouse describes their marriage as "coexisting with each other," that implies that they are not intimately intertwined or unified. It means they're just not at war with each other at the moment. However, the current relationship between certain countries, religions, and political affiliations are so dire, that coexistence would be a step up.

The idea behind this logo is one that most Christians already know and do. The acknowledgement of God's gift of life to all human beings and the right to preserve that life until God deems otherwise is endorsing coexistence. Conceding that people possessing different religions, political beliefs, and social orders have the right to exist on the same planet until God deems otherwise is coexistence. Functioning in the same society with people of all religious and political stripes is practicing coexistence. To renounce coexistence would be to endorse the oppression, coercion, and execution of anyone who refuses to convert to Christianity (which is a horrifying "Hitler-esque" notion). So, it is not such a radical notion for a Christian. Romans 12:18 commands us to live in peace with all people as much as it depends on us. What does that mean? Just people who believe, think, and look like us? No, it means what it says, ALL people. That includes our Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, atheist, gay, republican, democrat, black, white, fill in the blank neighbors.

Many Christians get freaked out when they hear people talking about living in peace because they assume living in peace will automatically result in a one world order. (Thanks Left Behind Series.) That would only ever be true if rejecting God and sacrificing our individual freedom to BE DIFFERENT from each other is the condition of peace. Allowing differences and living in peace DESPITE the differences actually would prolong this supposed one world order so many dread.

More practically, coexistence is the foreground for effective communication, which has a much better chance  for genuine transformations, or at least, a better understand of "the other." Isolation from and mud-slinging against those who differ from "us" only widens the gap of true communication and the accurate depiction of the gospel. People's hearts will only be has hard as the stones we throw at them. Showing people the same respect that we want: to hold and practice our beliefs freely is coexistence and a vital part of demonstrating our faith. Coexisting works in conjunction with loving our neighbor as ourselves and doing unto others as we would have them do to us. It's striving to live in peace with all people, as Paul instructs.

So, next time you see me with my "controversial" shirt, (and possibly future tattoo), know that I wear it because I believed Jesus when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," no matter what they end up being called.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


During the fall semester at school, as part of my Electronics Journalism class,  I will be exploring theology and the various interpretations of the Christian faith on this blog. Stay tuned for more soon!