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.