Thursday, December 24, 2009

the religion of America

The United States is a very unique place to live. Like other countries we feel that our country is the best. Like other countries we see things from our point of view - what's best for us is a common thought process. Like other countries we exert our opinions and sometimes our will on other countries. And like other countries we want God to Bless America (insert your country here).


Do we have exclusive rights to his blessing? Are we godlier or somehow holier than other peoples of the world? Well, our country was founded on Christian ideals. Was it?

We hold these truths to be self-evident. . .life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Do you recognize this? A little blurb from one of our founding documents. Out of these values grows our national religion. Let me explain.

It is clear to me that Americans believe that we have "inalienable rights" that are to be protected at all costs. We are willing to suspend other values for the protection of these rights.

The vision of the current war was that once "they" get a taste of freedom "they" will want it as badly as we do. Unfortunately, we have taken a lot of lives as payment toward this hope (which unfortunately is not materializing).

We get angry and protest when the ACLU tries to "un-Christianize" something, like school prayer, Christmas or the ten commandments in court houses. We protect our rights at all costs.

We foam at the mouth when laws are advanced to give homosexuals the right to marriage. We have a right to keep marriage amongst us heterosexuals (because that's the way Jesus wants it, now honey please sign this pre-nup).

I've come up with a doctrinal statement for the religion of America. Here goes:

1. We believe that God has a law that we must obey and help others to obey by passing laws denoting what is good and what is bad moral behavior.

2. We have rights that we must protect, as giving them up would give Satan free reign to take our country away from us.

3. If we work hard, make wise decisions and obey God we have the right to a safe and comfortable lifestyle.

4. Our government's job is to preserve our way of life, recognizing that the religion of other countries is inferior to ours, thus making it acceptable (although sadly) to take foreign lives to preserve ours.

Let's compare. Jesus did not come as a law-giver. Jesus asks us to give up our rights for the good of others (even those we find distasteful). Jesus asks us to follow him in a lifestyle of serving, sacrificing and even suffering so those around us would know that they are loved.

No, the religion of America is not Christianity. It is nothing like Christianity. It is self-based. It is self-serving. It is self-help.

"Let's take America back for God" - don't bother. He doesn't want it, at least not on these terms.

Just some things we should talk about

The Other Christmas Story

Here in the physical world in the 21st century we have come to love our traditions and our spiritual concepts of Christmas. These concepts are developed from our line of sight into the spirit realm. We see as it were from one side of the picture. There is another side.

In the book of John's revelation, chapter 12, we have a record of the Nativity from a different perspective. I think this might be heaven's line of sight.

A woman who was very pregnant is seen in the spiritual realm (in the heavens). She is clothed with the sun and the moon, that is, she is beautiful and has much glory. At the birth of her son a dragon is present who wishes to destroy the child. The dragon is Satan; he hates the woman and he hates the child. With this perspective in mind it makes me wonder why Herod's massacre of the babies in Bethlehem is not part of our Christmas tradition. Who do you think was behind that atrocity? Joseph took his young family to Egypt and then came up out of Egypt just like the people of Israel leaving the oppresion of slavery fifteen hundred years before. This baby somehow is to be a second Moses, breaking the power of a violent Pharaoh who also massacred babies.

My point is that the Christmas story is a story set in violence. It is a comparison between this baby king and King Herod. It is a comparison between "peace on earth" and the Roman peace of the day. It is a comparison of power used to control and power used to serve. It is a conflict between the dragon (prime mover behind the power structures of this world) and the baby born in the heavens (the spiritual realm, which is unseen but more real than the seen realm).

I love my American culture (Elf with Will Ferrel is my peronal favorite). I just don't think that this American holiday of Merry Christmas has anything to do with the Nativity story.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Are we a Christian Nation?

For quite some time now I have wondered what all the hating is about in the political discourse.

Why was George Bush hated so much when he was in office. Yeah, he had some folksy ways of expressing himself and he could not pronounce the word nuclear correctly. And for this he was ridiculed even though he is undeniably a very intelligent man. To this day those who hate him say he lied about weapons of mass destruction to get us into a war. The problem is that many other world leaders including President Clinton and foreign heads of state also were convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and that Iraq had already used some of them on their own people. Those who hated Mr. Bush kept right on hating. Facts were not influential in the discourse.

President Obama is equally hated. There are those who are actively rooting for his failure and our subsequent failure as a nation because they hate what he stands for. It's as if new ideas only have merit if the right person comes up with the idea. When the wrong guy comes up with an idea it is dismissed immediately as dangerous for our country. Who knows if a national health care system will ultimately help the less priviledged in the long run. What I do know is that the present system is helping fewer and fewer people and costing more and more. So why not let a guy who talks a lot about hope and finding a better way have a shot at it? He can't do any worse than the last three or four guys. Oh, I forgot, he's gonna destroy our country - he's a liberal.

I think it is obvious that two major power blocks are vying for control of our country. And I think you would be hard pressed to proove that either one is "Christian".
This blog "Stuffweshouldtalkabout" has been running for a month now and I have a clearer focus on why I started it and what it is for.

1. This is a forum for truth seekers to exchange ideas in the interest of learning from each other the truth about how our world works.

2. How we hold discussions, how we sort through ideas to find the truth - these are as important as our conclusions. For instance, do we know the difference between what we know to be fact and what we have an opinion on? Do we have the honesty in our personal convictions to allow Scripture to say what it says without importing our ideas about what we want it to say? Are we aware of how history has shaped our understanding of Christian theology and even our approach to what truth is?

3. And ultimately this blog exists to ask the question: Are we interested in following Jesus or just talking about following Jesus?

You see, I believe the world is built on power strutures that invite us to join them. Are you conservative or liberal? Are you a capitalist or a communist? Are you heterosexual or homosexual? Are you Christian or Muslim? Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Are you American or anti-American?

Jesus explicitly presents to us a different kingdom, a different set of values, a different power structure. In fact, you might just want to think of him as mister opposite. He constantly refused to join the conversation at a point given him by the power brokers of his day. Instead, choosing to introduce a distinctly unique and often radical other-worldly option.

Do we embrace or destroy sexual behavior we don't agree with? Jesus does neither. He protects the women caught in adultery. He loves her.

Do we ignore and avoid those who mistreat us or do we use our strength to exert some form of violence to stop those who are mistreating us? Jesus does neither. He asks the one who does injury to him if he would like to do it again, mocking the antagonists bad behavior and not allowing it to dictate to him his options for a response.

So I ask you, do the power structures mentioned above (conservative, liberal, captitalist, communist. . .) look like Jesus? If not, why are we so eager to join our support to their causes? Why do we settle for the choices that people who are not in love with Jesus give us? Can you name for me one power structure that existed in Jesus' day that he did not oppose? I see Jesus as a radical subordinate revolutionary. That is, he submitted to the authorities in the world he lived; at the same time offering a better way characterized by love, forgiveness, inclusion, service and sacrifice.

I don't think we are a Christian nation, but I think we could become a nation of Christians.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I don't think that means what you think it means: part 2

Jesus' entire recorded life displays a value on peace and non-violence in such a way that it has grabbed my attention and arrested my theological development. He says, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." (Luke 22:25-26)

Greg Boyd (a pastor from the St. Paul, Minn. area) refers to this teaching from Jesus as the conflict between "power over" and "power under". It is Boyd's assertion that there is nothing in the life of Jesus which would allow one of his followers to employ violence as a representative of the kingdom of heaven. Obviously, worldly powers like police forces and national armies would by their very existence demand the use of violence to accomplish their goals. Should I as a follower of Jesus participate in these vocations? Would I as a follower of Jesus have the same value system or goals as other soldiers or officers? Can I use violence even in a "good" cause and still claim solidarity with Jesus?

I am not sure that I can. Furthermore, I think the readiness with which we as Christians have aligned ourselves with political positions that the powers of our world have declared, weakens the church and draw us away from the "power under" model that Jesus lived. It's as if we settle for the choices that the world presents to us as the only viable positions on a subject.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice? I suspect the answer to that question is meaningless if the follower of Jesus is not ready to help a young pregnant woman in her time of need. As James says, "You can tell me what your faith is, but I will show you my faith by my deeds." Would I give of my time, energy, money, and family to support a confused teen through her decision to give birth or not, to keep the baby or not? What am I willing to do if I decide to love unwed mothers. Certainly, "power over" displays of picketing and harassing do not look like Jesus. "Power under" asks the question are you prepared to serve and sacrifice for young single moms.

Just something we should talk about.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

why does God let bad things happen to good people?

Why is there so much evil in the world? Where did it all come from? And why doesn't God do something about it?

In the beginning God told Adam and Eve to fill the world and to rule and subdue it. The garden was devoid of evil - it was good. When Adam and Eve chose to grasp for the knowledge of good and evil so that their eyes were opened and they became like God, they were choosing to submit to a power structure other than their Creator's. Adam and Eve and their children traded the value system and the culture handed them by their loving Father for the value system and culture of a deceiving snake.

Put another way, God did do something about evil. He created a perfect place that had none. Then he put us in charge of it. We chose and continue to choose to opt for actions and values that have nothing to do with the life-bringing authority of God. Rather, we grasp for what we want over and over again - affirming and aligning ourselves with a power whose sole agenda is to lie, steal and destroy.

The real question is why do WE let bad things happen to good people?
Their is so much evil in the world because our response to evil is to conform to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:2) and to help it multiply by repaying evil for evil (Rom. 12:17). We have come up with some "good" ways to stem the growth of evil (self-defense, military defense, incarceration, the death penalty, etc), but invariably we use a little evil for the greater good of the general population. And violence always births more violence (Mt. 26:52).

Now I would suggest to you that nations/governmental powers have to behave like this to preserve themselves. However, the people who are followers of Jesus, who are strangers or aliens in this world (1Peter 2:11) and citizens of another (Phil. 3:20) have aligned themselves with Jesus, who did not consider being like God something to be grasped at. Rather he chose the weakness of serving and the humiliation of death (Phil. 2:6-8) as his strategy to rid the world of evil.

When Christians figure out the centrality of Jesus' example of sacrificial love and live it consistently we will give the world a choice, as Jesus did, to overcome evil with good (Romans12:21). Why aren't WE doing something about the evil in this world?

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I do not think that means what you think it means

The kingdom of heaven. What is it? And how does it work? Is it democratic? Is it theocratic? Is it communism or socialism? Is it a monarchy? How does it operate? What is its power structure?

Jesus said (Luke 22:25ff) "The kings of the gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves . . . But I am among you as one who serves."

I think Jesus is saying something here that is very specific and very direct. The power systems of this world (government, religious, business, etc.) exercise authority from above as "lords". And the virtuous amongst these "lords" call themselves "benefactors" (one who gives aid, support or help, especially financially).

Jesus specifically says, "you are not to be like that". What did Jesus mean? Is he saying that any authority that exercises power over someone from above is not of his kingdom? Is his assertion that he is amongst us as one who serves an endorsement of exercising power from beneath, from a place of weakness? As a servant?

What does this teaching have to say in the discussion of using military force to rid the world of evil? What does this teaching have to say about the moral majorities agenda to pass laws legislating behavior (ban on homosexual marriage, overturning roe vs. wade)?

What does Jesus mean when he says we are not to use power and authority as the world uses it - instead we are to serve?

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

for teachers 3

A long time ago in a galexy far, far away. . .
Most peole who take the time to investigate what Jesus taught relegate him to some other place and some other time. We are often not sure what to make of some of the things he said. Is Jesus relevant to today's issues or is he just a general guideline from which we need to figure out what he really meant for today's world? Did he simply live too long ago and too far away from the reality of our lives?

Jesus had a real life in a real culture with real historical events. I think it is impossible to understand the teachings of the man without investigating the world he lived in. For instance, Jesus believed stuff that he was taught by his culture, by his parents, by his teachers. In the same way that our upbringing consisted of what our culture, parents and teachers taught us, Jesus' world-view was shaped by his.

One facet of his upbringing was his indoctrination into the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament was the only Bible of his day). It was not uncommon for young Jewish men to have huge sections of the Law and the Prophets (these are sections of the Hebrew Scriptures) memorized. This appears to be true of Jesus.

But, you say, Jesus came to set us free from law and rule-keeping. It's for freedom that he set us free. I am free to follow the Holy Spirit - I am not bound by the laws of the Old Testament. This sounds consistant with good orthodox (stuff that Christians have believed for a long time) theology. The only problem I have is that Jesus taught, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (sections of the Hebrew Scriptures); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18)

So how do Hebrew Scriptures fit into the world-view of a 21st century follower of Jesus? There have been many schools of thought as to how to understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5. Some of them are:
1. Spiritualizing - Jesus was not being literal, he was promoting an ideal which we are free to use as a measuring stick as we study the Hebrew Scriptures. Put another way, Jesus was affirming the relevancy of the Hebrew Scriptures without requiring that we observe all the laws found there.
2. Judaizing - Jesus was being literal, he was demanding an adherance to Jewish religion as part of his kingdom. Jesus expected his followers to keep all of the laws contained in the Hebrew Scriptures.
3. Contextualizing - Jesus was giving context to who he was and what he was teaching. It would be Jesus' assertion that you cannot understand who he is and what he is teaching without seeing him in the context of Hebrew Scripture.

Where do you fall? What was Jesus saying? Your ability to think critically and answer this question will radically change who you think Jesus is and what it means to follow him.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Verbal Regurgitation

We say the silliest stuff. We mimic things others say without thinking about whether we agree with them or not. Verbal regurgitation - it would be humorous if it wasn't laced with bile.

Below are favorite sayings of the last few decades of our country followed by what a vast majority of those who use these phrases mean, although they would never admit to it. And unfortunately, too many of these are people of influence who decide policy for our country and in our churches.

Trickle down economics
Trust the rich to take care of the poor

Support our Troops
because American lives are more valuable than the lives of foreigners

Immigration Reform
We were here first (wait for it)

Take America Back For God
Let's legislate morality

Protestant Work Ethic
Working hard entitles me to comfort and safety

Prostitution is a victimless crime
I don't know any prostitutes personally

All paths lead to God
I'm too much of a coward to have any personal convictions

My Church is the Outdoors
I don't value worshipping God with my friends

The Holy Spirit is my Pastor
I have trouble submitting to authority

God is in Control
Here, chew on a Bible verse cause I don't care enough to cry with you

The Sanctity of Marriage
We heterosexuals can't stay married and we don't want you homosexuals to show us up

If you can think of others please feel free to chime in. I know that many people use these phrases after much thought and that they are authentic expressions of what they believe. I am not commenting on this thoughtful expression, rather I hope to rile a few people who throw these and other phrases around without thinking about what they actually mean.

Friday, November 20, 2009

was Jesus really that radical?

So, was Jesus really that radical?
What's so new about his kingdom?

The church I grew up in is full of good people. People who have good values and treat each other pretty well. People who work hard and pay their bills and even some of their debt to society. What is confusing to me is that we never looked that much different than the good people in other kingdoms, following other teachers. Good Jews, Catholics, Capitalists, and Patriots had the same value system, voted for the same politicians and had the same stance on moral issues.

What's so radical about Jesus?

As I have dug into the teachings of Jesus for myself and on-purpose decided to question the belief system I was handed I found something that I had never been taught. I cannot take credit for this understanding of Jesus as others before me have perceived the same thing. [John Howard Yoder in his book The Politics of Jesus is a good example.]

We will call this concept revolutionary subordination. In short, Jesus taught freedom. Not just freedom from sin but freedom from all the systems or powers of this world [ie. government, economics, religion, etc.]. This is the revolutionary part. Unfortunately, for the modern moral majority he didn't just leave us to figure out for ourselves what to do with this freedom - he actually lived in such a way as to display for us what his kingdom was all about. This is the subordination part.

Jesus served the very people his kingdom came to oppose. He sacrificed himself for the very people his value system stood against. While being free from the systems or "kingdoms" of his world he did not abolish them by forceful overthrow of them. He spoke against the religious "kingdom" that had enslaved the Jewish people. He spoke against the economic system which had created a wide chasm between the upper and lower classes. He even stood against the political system of his day and establised a kingdom that exercised authority in a radically new way.

But ultimately the kingdoms that Jesus opposed put him to death. It's as if Jesus was able to ignore the natural fear of oppresive authority while he taught that his kingdom opposed the kingdoms of this world. He was radically revolutionary without using the methods of this world.
He established a value system - a personal ethic - that not only is different from the world's values but executes itself in a different way.

The best example I can think of is the popular ethic of "the lesser of two evils" or maybe the
"greatest good for the greatest number". Who hasn't made a decision according to this ethic?
Jesus is never recorded using this ethic. Rather, he asked the question, "What is my father doing?" Even if his decisions seemed to effect no change or negative change he was not bound by the "greatest good" or the "lesser of two evils".

He positioned himself to be in radical opposition to the world and its powers and authority while at the same time giving himself to and for those who opposed and hated him. This is a radical ethic. Does it exist on the earth?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

for teachers 2

On September 11, 2001 a horrible event exposed the vulnerability of our country. Most people remember the event as two plains crashing into two building and their subsequent colapse. Over three thousand people died that day. Horrible. Devastating. Scary.
Our president assured us that we as a nation would recover and would protect ourselves from future attacks by hunting down those responsible. Thus we declared war on Afghanistan and eventually Iraq.

I believe this declaration of war is the horrible event that exposed the vulnerability of our country. The ability to use force to achieve your objective is a dangerous position to find yourself in. It presents options that maybe shouldn't be in the playbook. Now I am not suggesting that America become a nation of pacifists, I am simply wondering how our professed Christianity figures into our response to such a horrible event.

In Matthew 5:7,9 Jesus says, "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. . . Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."

What I didn't hear on September 11th or the 12th or the 13th was, "We claim to be a Christian nation - we choose to forgive, we choose to show mercy and pursue peace." I must admit, I was furious and I wanted revenge (not one of my better moments as a disciple of Jesus).

It occurs to me that it requires an antagonist to be able to choose peace. It requires an offense to be able to choose mercy. It requires an atrocity to have the opportunity to forgive. These are only ideals until they are actually called upon in a real life event (like Sept. 11th).

In Matthew 5:39 Jesus teaches us to "not resist an evil person. If someone strikes us on the cheek, to offer him the other cheek". And then in verse 44 "Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you."

I am ashamed not of my anger, or my desire for retaliation, but rather that I didn't hold these emotions up to the light of Jesus' call to love my enemies. I carressed my anger and I wallowed in my desire for revenge for some time before I even considered my pledge to follow Jesus.
Unfortunately, too many Americans with decision making authority found themselves behaving just like me.

Obviously, it is dangerous to follow Jesus. There is no guarantee that showing mercy and forgiving your enemy will keep you safe. After all, Jesus showed mercy and forgave his enemy and look what they did to him.

Why are we as Christians not known for this. After all Christian means "like Christ".

Saturday, November 7, 2009

for teachers

Two thousand years is a lot of time. That's how long of a gap we have between the historical events of the New Testament and the time we live in. Seeing as I have placed all my hopes in the hands of the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth I think it's wise to check out for myself what he taught and not just trust those who taught me. After all, the unexamined life is not a life worth living.

The purpose of this posting is to invite teachers (those with the heart to give away what they have and the skill to do it well) into a conversation about what the Gospels say Jesus taught.
Most of what I will present will be observations that I have made regarding Jesus' teaching. These observations are for the purpose of drawing a response out of you as to how you understand the teachings of Jesus. In other words, "What will you tell people that Jesus taught?"

To begin I want to start with what Matthew records as Jesus' first teaching. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Here are three observations.

1. If you track Jesus' teaching throughout Matthew you will find that he rarely teaches on salvation but rather injects salvation language as simply a doorway into his constant message of The Kingdom of Heaven.

2. The lion's share of the teachings of Jesus are about the Kingdom of Heaven.

3. The invitation to repent seems to me to be Jesus' posture toward anything that is not of his kingdom. Put another way, we are invited to rethink our lives and compare everything we are and everything we do to his kingdom. The assumption is that we would lay down our previous values and join Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Be careful here at the beginning. Your decision as to the purposes of Jesus' teaching will expose you to some pretty radical ideas. Repenting or rethinking your life may bring you into conflict with those around you that you care about. Welcome to the life of the teacher!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I recently shot an e-mail out to a bunch of my friends to start a conversation about how we know what God is like. Obviously, for you to care about this conversation you have to believe or at least suspect that their is a God. It seems like an obvious question to me - "What is God like?"

Many of us have been handed our understanding of What God is like by parents or pastors and I am not sure it is common to check up on these authority figures - however I do think it's quite healthy to do so.

So to start this conversation let me begin by asking three questions.

1. Are there different kinds of revelation of what God is like or are all sources equally authoritative?

2. If one were to accept Jesus' assertion that if you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father, does this promote the historical record of the life of Jesus to the top spot of authority on what God is like?

3. If Jesus' life and teaching is the most authoritative revelation of what God is like does this mean that other Scripture takes a back seat as we have this discussion and if Jesus did not address a particular topic does this mean we are free to go to other Scripture for an answer, or is Jesus' silence significant?

I so want to be an accurate representation of Jesus in my community. He is the most amazing man ever to walk this earth and I love him dearly. It seems that there is a conversation we owe ourselves if we are to claim to be the body of Christ.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Like every person loosing their virginity I am sure that this entry (and exit) will be characterized by bad timing and a glaring lack of technique which will expose my ridiculous lack of experience in the blogging world. Never having done this before I simply want to inivite you into a conversation about stuff that everybody thinks about but very few people talk about honestly.

So here goes. If God is loving why is the world's perception of the Church generally so negative?

Does God hate stuff like terrorism, homosexuality, and abortion as much as we do? And if he does hate it - what exactly does that mean?

I've seen pictures of people picketting gay pride parades with signs that say "God hates fags". Does he?

I wonder about the zeal with which we are hunting down terrorists and the extent of the collateral damage that we are willing to live with as we "make the world safer". For who?

Dr. Tiller (an abortion doctor from Kansas?) was murdered and many (myself included) nursed the sentiment "Good, at least now he can't kill babies." Does this heart posture reflect the heart of God or has something distinctly not God crept into our hearts as we react toward evil in our world?

Just some stuff that we should talk about?