Tag Archives: Christianity

It Is Well

I had the privilege of filling in on keys for the base Chapel service last Sunday (and for the next few weeks). The gentleman choosing music picked a song I hadn’t heard before, and it has a bit of a timing shift that makes it non-standard… so I needed to practice more than usual.

This past week, my daughter married her fiancé, and this coming week, she moves back to the States with him in preparation for his enlistment in the Air Force. She’s our oldest child, so this is a huge transition for Mom and me.

The message of this song really ministered to me in the midst of the struggles of accepting drastic changes, and all the bittersweet mixture of celebration for their love and separation from someone we love.

The waves, the wind, and all the storm of emotion within me–all of these still know His name, and know to fall silent when He commands “Peace, be still.”

Through it all, because of Him, it is well with my soul.

Whatever your storm, I hope this ministers to you as it did to me.

Under Illusion

I saw this political image making the rounds on my Facebook feed this week, and it got me thinking. Or rather some of the responses did.


One pastor seemed quite incensed that “under God” wasn’t in this version. To that individual, this image shouldn’t be shared as a result… despite the image caption making clear the intent of showing the Pledge as originally written.

In fact, the original Pledge by Francis Bellamy is even more different: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

I thought about the power of those two words, “under God.”

In Supreme Court decisions on the subject, the Chief Justice argued that “under God” is an acknowledgement of the religious heritage of the nation but is at this point essentially a secular declaration.  

The ‘God’ referred to is generic and devoid of any religious context. You can say it’s a monotheistic God, so it’s probably tied to an Abrahamic religion. But I don’t think that’s the Court’s intent or point.

I think they recognize, like we should, that two words in a pledge do absolutely nothing to impose any religious standard of behavior or belief upon anyone. No one draws nearer to God in a spiritual experience by reciting the Pledge. It’s not a hymn or worship song, it’s not a prayer to say by rote like Our Father Who art in Heaven or Hail Mary.

Yet the Righr, ever fearing that War on Christianity, focuses attention on those two words in the pledge, as though they constitute some magic cute to social ills that concern us.

Maybe if kids say “under God” then it’ll show what a good, Christian nation we are–regardless of the immorality we approve, condone, or even actively participate in.

I don’t think it works that way. Not on a national level, where we claim some divine favored status–spiritual immunity perhaps?

I’m positive it doesn’t work this way on an individual level, where so long as I say the right words now and then, all my faults and failures get a wink and an understanding grin before being brushed aside. 

After all, I’m part of the good Christian club, right? I ‘liked’ that image that 93% wouldn’t, and shared that poem about footprints in the sand. I voted for the guy who quoted the Bible in his speeches. And I totally got behind defending “under God” from those atheist social justice warriors. 

To paraphrase Jesus, perhaps today He’d tell us, “On that day, many will say, ‘Lord, did we not post in Your Name? And did we not block the atheists on social media, and fight against the growth of Islam in Your favorite nation? Did we not defend the Christ in Christmas, and stand up for the massive cross monuments on public property?’ 

And I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me. I never knew you.'”

It’s easy for me to sit and criticize. So I’ll be honest and admit that I’m just as in danger of missing the whole point as those whose opinions I decry here. I just don’t want to be content flailing about in a cloud of religious / cultural chaff and controversy. 

If I really believe what I claim, then it’s too important to get hung up quibbling and griping over minor details, caught under some illusion that I’m fighting the good fight for the faith.

Tumblr Theology and Facebook Faith

I love the Internet. Practically the sum of human knowledge is available to me at any given time, delivered to my iPhone in seconds. 

…Which makes the general ignorance and indifference in our culture all the more inexcusable.

Whether it’s a ridiculous conspiracy “news” post from the Right or a ridiculous slam on a mistaken interpretation of Christianity from someone on the Left, I have no stomach for it.

Here’s a gem that crossed my feed:

 

Something is very wrong… the simplistic interpretation of Christianity. But whatevs, it sounds funny, right?

Off the top of my head, I think of the verses where Paul deals with predestination. “Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated” is an Old Testament quote Paul used to discuss people that God apparently created knowing their undesirable end. If we’re honest (and knowledgeable) about our Christian theology, this puts a little asterisk on the modern Evangelical “God loves everyone” sales pitch.
But we have to get on those homophobic Christians and make them realize what misguided sheeple they are. Plus it’s comedy gold. It doesn’t need to be true; it just needs to get laughs.

I am not saying God hates homosexuals. And I am saying we  (Christians) have NO right or freedom to do so. 

Or consider this one:

 

Sick burn! Clearly not what the verse is addressing in context, but hey–that burn’s so hot the Devil recoiled.

The latter portion of Galatians 3 is about belonging to the family of God based on faith. “You are all sons of God through Christ” is the verse that immediately precedes this. So Paul elaborates that in Christ we are all on equal footing, regardless of race, social status, or gender. 
If Paul really meant this verse to do away with gender and bring in some kind of enlightened spiritual gender identity, then this same Paul would not have written in several other places about the different roles of women and men in the church.

We could discuss what those passages mean, and plenty of varied interpretations exist. But it’s clear from multiple verses that Paul did not think once you become a Christian, you no longer belong to one of the two traditional concepts of gender.

Whatever. It’s making fun of transphobic Christians and their outdated, oppressive beliefs. So who cares if it’s accurate? 

Again, I’m not saying we (Christians) should hate on transgender people. In fact quite the opposite is clear. We’re not called to hate or harm, but to love and disciple others. 

Instead of defending Christians hating (which I believe is indefensible based on Scripture), the point I’m trying to make is that a theology that survived and grew over the past 1900+ years isn’t likely to be properly captured or lampooned in the few words you can put on an image on social media.

And my frustration is directed at Christians too. We love to post things about how President Obama is doing this, or some atheist is doing that. But people don’t always bother to fact check before posting. 

I saw a headline claiming President Obama said the Statue of Liberty is offensive to Muslims, so he wants to remove it. 

My rule of thumb is, “If it sounds exactly like what your political extremists want to hear, it’s probably not true.” So I looked closer.

The so-called news site didn’t have any facts or proof. And the two-line “story” was about an impending government shutdown. The President supposedly said that if the GOP doesn’t send him a funding budget that covers Obamacare, he’ll veto it. 

Which would likely lead to shutdown. 

Which would mean potentially closing national monuments like Lady Liberty temporarily, until the government is funded again.

Nothing to do with Muslims, nothing to do with removing the statue. And this is on the very website making the claims in the headline.

Why would anyone trust this? Why would anyone share it?

It’s what they want to hear. Who cares if it’s wrong?

For nonChristians and Christians alike, there’s a danger in heaping up voices that tell us exactly what we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).

Ignorance can be fixed with information. But moving past apathy depends on the individual. 

And I’m not convinced enough of us care to be bothered with all that effort. 

Tolerating Questions

If anyone had any doubts about Ben Affleck getting into the role of Batman, those fears can be allayed. He goes after what he views as justice like the Caped Crusader pursuing the Joker.

Too bad the real joke is his viewpoint.

What am I talking about?

It’s been my experience that we in the Right-wing Christian community love to see militant Islam called out for its sins.

Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, as it may come across like we’re judging every Muslim by the bad apples… something we hate to see done to Christians. Comparisons might be made to Westboro Baptist Church, for example, or to the most recent televangelist or big name involved in a scandal. And we say, “But we’re not like that.”

What if the available data show that we are?

Recently I watched a portion of a Bill Maher show about Islam, and what (and to what extent) it motivates its adherents to do or support.

I’m not exactly a fan of Bill Maher or Sam Harris. But facts are facts, and statistical data are statistical data. We use these tools for a reason–they more accurately reflect reality than our biases and assumptions do.

For example, one person might be afraid of every Muslim that crosses their path, because “you never know.” Another might assume any Muslim encountered in the West is likely a moderate, friendly person willing to live peaceably with others, because why else would they be here?

But Bill Maher and Sam Harris address certain inclinations among a broad range of Muslims, based on surveys and poll data. And they get called out rather vehemently by Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof for their “racism” and their “bigotry.”

Here’s the video to that part of the show:

In a lengthy blog post, Sam Harris addresses his concerns. It’s worth a read. His overall point is: If one cannot discuss or question a belief or idea without being accused of judging an individual or espousing bigotry, then where is the room for discourse?

He states:

 My criticism of Islam is a criticism of beliefs and their consequences—but my fellow liberals reflexively view it as an expression of intolerance toward people.

He writes his concerns about how the discussion was framed as “racism” and “bigotry” as a question of whether Liberalism can be saved from itself.

I daresay the question applies to us in the Christian community just as much. I’ve seen honest questions about theology or discussions of how beliefs impact action descend into accusations of hatred, intolerance, bias, and willful ignorance–and these claims come from Christians towards non-believers.

Questions and discussions don’t weaken us; they make us stronger. Hiding from questions, shutting down discussion, eliminating any possibility of debate or dissension in the ranks–this just shows we have weaknesses to hide, vulnerabilities we dare not reveal to the world.

We read that we are to “always be ready to give a defense for the faith” (1 Pet 3:15). That means we have to be willing and open to hear questions people ask. We can’t take everything as a personal attack, a restriction on our freedom of religious expression, or an example of hateful intolerance.

When we hide behind name-calling and assumptions about the other person’s motivations, we’re doing ourselves no favors.

We may not have a perfect answer at the tip of our tongues. But do we at least have a listening ear?

Roaches in Every Corner

A cockroach!

The little beast scurried across the floor as soon as the light came on. I chased it with a shoe, determined to end its occupation of my house. And with a little effort and a shot of hairspray to slow it down, I succeeded.

But then something funny happened.

Everywhere I looked, there were imaginary bugs in the corners of my vision. Something seemed to move over there in the living room, so I jumped into action, checking behind shelves and under the couch. What was that in the hall? Did I see something move near our shoes? Ten minutes of searching put that fear to rest. But then I would swear I saw a bug in the bathroom, hiding behind the toilet.

Once I had seen one bug, I imagined dozens. Each time I regained a sense of peace, the tiniest apparition of a bug or spider sent me scurrying trying to exterminate them.

I wonder if evangelical Christians sometimes feel this way.

So there’s this little movie called Frozen that came out around Thanksgiving, about two sisters, one of whom has a big problem. You may have heard of it.

Apparently, there’s a religious (Catholic, I’m told) blogger on the Interwebs posting that Frozen pushes “the homosexual agenda” on kids.

What evidence supports that claim?

1. Elsa, the princess-turned-queen, never pines after any of the guys in the movie. This is decidedly unlike Disney, so it must be a hint.
2. There’s an ambiguous scene where a shopkeeper points out his family in the sauna, and there’s another man in there with the kids. Is that his brother, or…?
3. “Let It Go” – essentially the movie’s theme and the winner of an Oscar for best song – could be construed as a message to come out of the closet and stop hiding who you are.

20140326-135128.jpg
If anything, the obvious proof of the homosexual agenda in the movie is Olaf, with his show-tune style song and dance number. That just can’t be straight. (/sarcasm)

Don’t mind the fact Elsa’s trying to control powers she doesn’t fully understand, while trying to fix the weather crisis she brought upon her nation, while trying to stop a coup d’etat, while dealing with her family troubles. She’s not busy or anything. Certainly has time to make googly-eyes at the zero potential suitors presented in the movie. She must be gay.

Cockroaches scurrying everywhere!

I’m not surprised by the fears this blogger has passed on to others. It doesn’t shock me that Frozen is the newest potential target in the religious war on All Things Bad.

I just think it misses the point. Several points, in fact.

Let me be clear. I hate how easily the word “homophobia” gets thrown around in response to these discussions. We don’t fear people who are homosexual, just like we don’t fear anyone else we disagree with on political or religious issues.

Christians are in some ways just like everyone else I know. We fear change.

The world around evangelical Christianity is changing constantly, and we in that camp struggle on many fronts:

      What do we do to keep up?

 

      Wait, should we even be keeping up with the world?

 

      Or should we stick to our traditions?

 

      What message should we communicate to non-Christians then?

 

      And meanwhile, what messages are our kids getting from the culture around us?

 

    What fights are important right now?

In panic mode, when we think we’re seeing sin around every corner, we might get a little crazy trying to clean house.

Not long ago, I heard Christians upset at Hunger Games for its depiction of violence against children. No one disagrees with the idea that children killing each other is evil. That’s kind of the point of a dystopian fiction, to show a world of “what if?” where the unthinkable has become the norm. These Christians overlooked Katniss’s view and actions showing life has value, and instead attacked as wrong the very thing the author put in as what’s wrong in that society.

Back in the early 00s, it was Harry Potter. Witchcraft and wizards, we shrieked. What might our kids learn from this? Maybe it gets them interested in other spiritual content, Wicca or pagan systems that believe in magic. We can’t have our kids running around with wands, painting lightning bolts on their heads! Forget that it got kids reading. Forget that throughout the storyline, it’s clear that the love of Harry’s mother triumphed over Voldemort’s evil, and that the love and loyalty of friends is strong enough to defeat Voldemort at the end.

I’m pretty sure Pokemon was a subject of consternation. What are all those creatures with magical powers, and why do kids have to use them to fight each other, like little Michael Vicks? Video games are favorite targets for both the church and society at large. “Evil” rockers of the day took the place of the last set of so-called devil worshippers; the Dad who heard about the dangers of Ozzy Osbourne now found himself preaching fear to a son holding a Marilyn Manson CD. Even the Teletubbies earned the ire of evangelical preachers. Why does that purple one have a purse?

In the 80s, we flipped out about Dungeons and Dragons and told horror stories of what it did to unsuspecting children. D&D is full of magic, and Dragons are obviously signs of the devil based on Scripture. I’m sure there were plenty who condemned Star Wars. The idea of the Force looked like a trap of New Age philosophy hidden in a new and interesting spin in a sci-fi epic, luring kids (and adults) in with starship battles and lightsaber fencing.

What’s that scrambling across the floor in the corner of my eye?

When we look at what’s popular in the culture only to see what might be wrong with it, we often miss the point of what’s right. There are messages we can affirm, themes with which we’d whole-heartedly agree. Conversations can start on these subjects, opportunities to explain our position to a world that thinks we’re defined by being “against.”

And we won’t have to freak out at every little bad thing we think we see… because most of the time, they’re not there.

To bring it full circle, what’s my take on Frozen? I’ll post that tomorrow, as an example of what positive themes we can get from a movie someone decries as “evil.”

God is the One, v3

Welcome back to this Sunday Psalm series looking at Psalm 23, considering the various ways David reminds us that “God is the One we need.”

He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3 NASB)

True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. (Psalm 23:3 MSG)

God is the One who restores.

The Hebrew here is a word for turning something back or away, but not necessarily a return to a starting point. A lot of languages are like word pictures where a particular word can have multiple meanings based on the context it’s used in, and this is no different. This word can mean “to come back, to carry something back, to deliver something or fetch something, to recall, recover, refresh, relieve, rescue, retrieve.”

I get the picture that the Shepherd finds this lost sheep going off the path, headed astray, and He picks it up to bring it back to the flock. He’s not bringing it back to the same place; the flock is on the move. But He brings it back so that the lost sheep can follow along with the rest, on the paths that the Shepherd is taking.

Isaiah said of us that “all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Isa 53:5

Sheep aren’t to be trusted with directions.

Plz can has Google Maaaaaaaps?
Sorry, that’s baaaaaaad.

God is the One who gets in the mess with us.

The good news is that God doesn’t leave us in the muck where we often find ourselves. David writes “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.” (Psalm 40:2 MSG)

The Shepherd doesn’t abandon the sheep, doesn’t say “He got in this mess, he can get himself out.”
“How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG)
“But the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Isa 53:6

God is the One who guides.
David continues the thought here. The Shepherd doesn’t merely get the sheep out of the mess they’re in. The Shepherd is taking the flock somewhere. He has a destination in mind, and there are specific paths that lead to that goal. The Shepherd is not telling the sheep that “all roads will get you where I want you to be.” He only chooses the right way. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
Similar to the very first point from two weeks ago, the first way that “God is the One,” this reminds me that God is not shrugging off sin with a “boys will be boys” and a shake of his head. He calls our going astray an act of rebellion and open hostility. He isn’t willing to accept and call good whatever path we choose. And why is that?

God is the One who is worthy.
He guides us for His name’s sake. It’s not simply because He cares for the sheep, but He cares about His reputation.
“I will not share My glory with another.” Isa 45:8
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NASB
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Php 2:9-11 NASB
He protects His reputation. He makes sure everyone knows He is all He claims to be. It’s about Him, not us. His love and care is not because of something we’ve done to deserve it. It’s because of who He is. He stoops down to shepherd us, not because sheep are special, but because He is humble. “Your gentleness has made me great.” Psalm 18:35

God is the One who is true.
The Message puts “for His name’s sake” as “True to Your word…”
His promises and His mercies come to us because He is faithful. He will not go back on His word. We don’t earn blessings like a paycheck, by doing good deeds and cashing in at the Bank of Heaven. We don’t go to God with a list of what He owes us since we’ve done so much for Him. But we do get to go to Him based on His faithful and true nature. Like the child who reminds the father, “you promised,” the responsibility and the commitment are on His end. God our Shepherd is reliable even if we are not.

God is the One who gets into the mess with me, lifts me out, and points me on the way to truth, which is why He is worthy of praise.

Simply Reasonable

Still useful
Remember me?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s kind of a big deal around here.

The trouble is, sometimes we forget the value and the importance of those core principles and ideas that allowed this nation to prosper for the last 200 years. And sometimes we forget that we don’t have these rights because a piece of paper in Washington D.C. says so. These rights are written down on that piece of paper because our nation is founded on the idea that people inherently deserve and possess these rights.

These memory lapses seem to come around every four years or so, like Leap Year’s Day. Strange, isn’t it?

Some atheists decided that they had a message for the two main political parties during all this buildup to the elections. These atheists want to make their case that religion doesn’t belong in politics and that the political parties should pursue ideas, not ideologies. You may agree or disagree, and you can be vocal about it. You have that right. It’s written down on that piece of paper.

The atheists used their money and resources to create billboards, and then sought advertising agencies willing to put up the images near the national conventions of both parties. There was no such agency in Florida. For whatever reason, none of them wanted to carry a controversial message about religion. They have that right. It’s also written down.

An agency in North Carolina was willing to put up the atheist organization’s message.

So these billboards were spotted in the last two weeks:

The offending billboards

You might strongly disagree with the messages. (I do.) We have that right.

However, the billboards are now being pulled down, as a response to a reported flood of “vitriol, threats, and hate speech against our staff, volunteers, and Adams Outdoor Advertising,” according to Amanda Knief, managing director of American Atheists, quoted in a Fox News article.

And that’s where our rights cross the line.

When my free exercise of religion or speech threatens the safety of another person, then maybe I’ve missed the point of both my religion and my freedom. 

I’ve said before, as a religious person, it’s reasonable to support everyone else’s right to express their religious views, even if–or especially if–those views differ from my own. As soon as we permit the government or the public to decide what is an acceptable religious view and what is not, then we are giving up the principle behind those rights written down in Washington.

It’s not my job just to make a case for my own faith and for my own freedom. It’s my job to make the case that everyone else should have the same freedom as me to express their point of view without fear of violent retribution from government or from their fellow citizens.

This all makes sense from the civic political perspective. I can’t go around threatening the free speech or free religion of others without expecting the same treatment. I can’t push for government to make laws that limit free speech or free religion (or lack of religion) for others without expecting that some day the same government might limit my freedoms.

It’s also sensible from the perspective of Jesus’ teachings. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, right? I’m not sure what my fellow believers are asking for “them” to do unto us, if we’re engaging in threats and vitriol just because some atheists don’t believe what we believe.

Newsflash: That’s kind of the point of atheism.

Of course, this is North Carolina, where religion and politics have clashed quite often in the past few months. North Carolina recently voted on an amendment to their state constitution prohibiting gay marriage, or defining marriage as one man and one woman, or however you want to put that.

North Carolina was also in the spotlight thanks to Pastor Charles Worley of “electric fence” fame, who suggested maybe we could lock “all the gays” behind an electric fence and let them die off. (To be fair, he did suggest dropping food and supplies into the fenced area so they could not starve to death… so, I mean, there’s the Christian compassion we were all hoping for, I guess.)

I think the latter is worse, to be honest.

To be fair, everyone can say what they want about other religions, about atheism, about Democrats, about Republicans, about anyone who is “not like me.” As much as I may disagree with their speech, I defend the right of Americans to say what we want. We can shout down voices of ignorance and hate.

Threats of violence are not the way to do it.

To my fellow believers who have raged against those billboards: You want to do something useful with your anger?

Go prove them wrong.