Category Archives: Advancing the Reign of God

What in the ‘World’ is the Church Thinking?


Recently, I’ve read a lot about social and cultural ills, and, how the Church ought to respond to them. Some of these have to do with specific events. I read one this morning that just put me over the top with incredulity. David Hayword shared a story that I found totally unbelievable. Here is a link to David’s blog, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/06/money-women-and-guns/.
Last week I read a post by Frank Schaeffer about human trafficking. This is an issue that is of paramount importance. And, I commend Frank’s voice on it. He has highlighted the role of social media to the modern-day slave trade. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2013/06/facebook-and-google-must-do-far-more-to-stop-the-slave-trade/
I could go on and on about the growing economic disparity between the so-called 1% and everyone else. I could mention how our elected leaders are owned and operated by various special interests…special interests that are only concerned about their own interests. Tony Jones wrote a very insightful piece about this at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/06/08/our-eternal-war/
So, what is the Church saying and doing? From the sermons I’ve heard and the people I’ve talked to, it seems that we are really, really concerned about personal piety and creating a counter-cultural presence. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging these. (Although, I think the counter-cultural thing is counter-productive. But, more on that some other time.)
I hear so-called Christian leaders speak out against LGBT folks on a regular basis like these people, who, incidentally, God loves. I hear our leaders worrying and complaining because their children masturbate. I listen to well-meaning folks break down to tears because alcohol exists…or tobacco, or pot. I listen to high profile ‘leaders’ talk about gender roles as if they had a hotline to God. Oh, and don’t get me started about science and evolution. What a ‘slippery slope’ these topics present to the ‘faithful.’
So, we reject the culture. We build structures that shield us from the tainted influences of this ‘fallen’ world. We build crap. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2013/06/evolvingfaith/
I think that it’s far easier to identify specific ‘sins’ and issues that differentiate us, that make us exclusive, than to deal with the real task of building God’s reign here, now, on Earth. What does that look like? I certainly don’t have an exhaustive answer to this. I do know, however, some of the characteristics of it. From Jesus, himself, I see his understanding of this vocation. From Luke 4:18-19 we read, “18. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed,  19. To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”(NASB)
I don’t see a lot about complementarianism in this. I do see a mandate for caring for the distressed and marginalized, however. James adds more insight into the heart of God. He wrote in chapter one of his letter, “Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God our Father is to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, to keep oneself pure from the world.” (trans. mine.) Many evangelicals will say, “Aha! Keep pure from the world. That means individual moral purity. Exactly what we’ve been preaching!” My response is, “Not so fast.” What is James’ understanding of what we translate ‘world’? He used ‘Cosmos’ for this. The idea contained in this language has to do with world systems, not individual piety. The systemic abuses of greed and power undergird this verse. Systems that continue the marginalization of entire groups of people are included here. Embedded privilege is condemned in these few words by the apostle. While we nit-pick about masturbation people who Christ loves and gave his life for are set apart as ‘other’ and judged to be something ‘less than’ us. While we look for ways to define who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ girls and women are abused and subjected to horrific conditions so that men might cling to their power and privilege. Workers are denied living wages so that some corporation can pay handsome dividends to its stockholders. Hundreds can die in a factory in Bangladesh in order to pad some executive’s pockets with pictures of a guy named George. LGBT people are forced to choose between honesty and self-loathing because some religious leader preaches hate-filled sermons to the ‘faithful.’
No, our responsibility to God and God’s good creation is to be a royal priesthood and holy nation. A place of safety for the distressed and marginalized people of the world. Not to defile ourselves by being a party to the very systems that cause the distress and marginalizing.

Privileged, and Mostly Oblivious to It

I am a white male. That’s what I’ve always been. That’s what I always will be. I can’t help it. It’s how God made me. If everything was equal, there would be no problem with that. But, things are not equal. I am privileged in this culture. And, God did not make me that. The systems that have been built over centuries have ensured that I would have a privileged position in society. These systems are so deeply embedded in our culture that most of us who are privileged don’t even realize that we are. It’s just ‘the way it is.’
Recently, Tony Jones, a highly educated, white guy made a presentation that rubbed some people the wrong way. One of the people in attendance,Christena Cleveland, called Tony out for being exercising his privilege. Jones responded with obviously hurt feelings. Now, at first, I didn’t see all that much that was offensive in Jones’ remarks. Shoot! I’ve probably said similar things myself! As I reflected on it, though, I became more and more uncomfortable. Then, a few days later Jones, I think in an attempt to show how egalitarian he is, posted a request for women and feminists to join in his blog. Again, an understandable response from a privileged person who sincerely believes that he is above reproach in these matters.
This morning I visited the blog of Caryn Riswold. She pretty much dissed Jones’ offer. And, she challenged readers to go and read what people who are NOT privileged have to say. One of those links led me to Cleveland’s blog. I spent the next 30 minutes reading a 5 part series that she had posted. What great stuff! You see, we who enjoy privilege are blind to it. We simply can’t understand why ‘others’ don’t like us. We don’t get it when marginalized and oppressed people don’t ‘get’ us. In fact, many of us don’t realize that there are any oppressed people out there. After all, we live in a land of equal opportunity. But, as the old cliche goes, “some of us are more equal than others.”
I am adding a link to Cleveland’s series. I would encourage anyone who happens to stop by here to take the time to read it. It is of utmost importance if we are trying to be the Body of Christ to understand where the other members of that body live and breathe and have their being. It is important, no necessary, that we embrace kenosis, emptying, as Jesus did if we are to live as God’s people. 
 

Good news from Cleveland this week. Maybe, we can make it even better.

Well, it’s been nearly a week since the news broke that Michelle Knight, Gina Dejesus and Amanda Berry had been found and released from hell. I was in the kitchen when my wife started to carry on about something. I walked to the living room and she said that Amanda had been found. We watched intently as the story of horrific imprisonment and abuse began to unfold before our eyes. Relief! The families’ hopes had been realized. Gina’s mother had been the ‘point’ of years of hope for her daughter. “Never give up hope!” became a rallying cry for her and the countless others who supported her and Amanda’s families.

But, for me, something wasn’t quite right about how the story was being told by the local media. Everyone on air kept talking about the ‘good’ ending to this decade long ordeal. Yes, every year that passed dimmed the hope that the girls would be found at all, let alone alive. And, here they were! Yet, there were years unaccounted for. There was the loss of innocence. There was the loss of family and friends. There was the loss of self as each of these young women became the ‘property’ of one deranged individual Man. And, this is the story that is missing from all of the good news. One human male thought that he had the right to abduct, imprison and abuse these women. One man, Ariel Castro, took his male privilege to the extreme and subjected three young women to inexplicable horror. But, is he only one man? What is it that causes a person like Castro to consider for even a moment that he has such ‘rights’ over other human beings? Why did he think that it was ‘OK’ to take girls for his own twisted pleasure?
A person whom I have come to deeply respect for her views on issues of sexuality and abuse of privilege, Jennifer D. Crumpton, blogged the day before these young women were found and released. I had read her post and viewed a linked video that night. She wrote about the ‘rape culture’ that is so pervasive in our society. I’m not going to tell her story, but she talked about how male privilege covers up male abuse of others. We live by a double standard in which an abuse victim is re-victimized by media and peers while the male abusers are referred to as ‘boys being boys.’ How ridiculous and perverted! We allow male privilege to rape, imprison and kill, then we all act horrified when an Ariel Castro appears. Ariel Castro, who was embodying the very ‘rape culture’ that we allow to flourish in our midst.
Yes, it is great news that Michelle, Gina and Amanda have been freed. It gives hope to the thousands of other families who have missing children. I hope and pray for all of these that they, too, can be reunited with their loved ones. But, the awful truth is that we continue to allow our culture to embrace gender violence in the name of male privilege.
Please read Jennifer’s post:
And, take 20 minutes to  view the linked video of Jackson Katz, PhD.
Perhaps, if we can use the God given minds that we have, and open our hearts to God’s Spirit and to one another, there may be a truly ‘good’ ending to this story.

Grace…the Real Power of God

A couple of days ago during my morning time with Yahweh, I read from Acts. In chapter  4, I read the following:
            v. 33b – And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them All
            34 – that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who     
                    owned land or houses sold them brought the money from the sales
            35 – and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
I found this interesting. The writer, presumably Luke, starts by writing that God’s power was evident among the community of Christ followers. When I think of God’s power I think of healing and deliverance and other acts of power. But, he described the activities of the people as evidence of God’s powerful actions. It seems as though God’s grace and power were revealed through the love and generosity of the people. Lives were changed, i.e., transformed, in such a way that it was visible through these gestures of love a care.
As I reflected on God’s work as we read in the entire Bible, I see most of it deals with this kind of caring for one another. We spend so much time in so-called ‘deep’ theology that the simple acts of devotion go by and are missed. Our church leaders spend so much time trying to build fences to keep the sheep penned up that they give us neither time nor opportunity to simply live and love. But, these couple of verses in Acts shows that the leaders were distributors of God’s grace. Grace that enables people, all people, to detach from the cares and worries and false security offered by this world’s systems. Grace that causes people to develop empathy for others. Grace that is reflected back to the Giver through acts of service and kindness.
Nothing deep. No creeds. No doctrine. No magic beams. Just simple love. Jesus did leave that to us as a command. He never said to go and believe orthodoxy. He said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

Persecution of American Christians…or maybe Not


There’s been a lot of chatter out there in the blogosphere about the perceived persecution of Christians in the U.S. This is not a new thing. In fact, when I was in high school way back when they had film projectors and chalk boards, I wrote a term paper for U.S. History entitled, “Christian Persecution in America.” Of course, back in 1972 there were no real sources to draw from, so I got some interviews from friends, a couple magazine articles about the Jesus Movement, and I think the lyrics from a couple of Larry Norman songs, and got an ‘A’ on the paper. (More likely from my ability to B.S. than to any real substance.) But, if one was to listen to some of the conservative evangelical leaders today, persecution is real and rampant ‘from sea to shining sea.’
I’ve been in meetings and informal get-togethers with these folks and listened to them rant against the government and secular society for a number of years. They bemoan the loss of the 10 commandments displayed in public space as well as the ban on school prayer. Abortion, Gay rights, feminism, immigration, and probably acne, in some circles are not only blamed for every social ill in the culture, but the culture’s embrace of these issues is also cited as the main example of how Christians are being persecuted. They believe that the continued secularization of the culture is a plot by the godless to eliminate God from their lives. It has become personal.
My problem is that I’ve seen evidence and heard stories about real persecution. A quick look at TheVoice of the Martyrs website shows how Christ followers are suffering for their faith. Type ‘Christian martyrs’ into your favorite search engine and many links are available to peruse. Some of them may be helpful in finding places where our sisters and brothers are systematically subjected to suffering that we in this country simply would not be able to understand, or withstand. I think that it would be a good idea for these people to spend some time in places like Iran, Somalia, North Korea or Indonesia. Then, perhaps, they would have a better understanding of what persecution really is.
What people in the U.S. are experiencing is actually something called ‘marginalization.’ The White Euro-American worldview and culture has enjoyed two centuries of privilege. It’s hegemonic hold on most, if not all, influence on the culture is now being threatened by those that have been marginalized. As the culture shifts to a less sectarian model, those who had the reins of power and influence are feeling that slip away. They no longer can simply make statements and policy without some pushback from people who may be adversely affected by those statements and policies. This is something that the predominant culture has not experienced. So, to them, it looks and sounds like persecution. But, like I mentioned earlier, this is NOTpersecution, but marginalization.
Now, this could simply be the continuing march of cultural evolution. Humankind is growing up. As we grow and mature those who have been forced to live on the fringes of the culture and society are saying, “Enough!” In a way, we may be living through a kind of cultural coup staged by these people. They are not revolting against God or God’s anointed. They are revolting against the pain and suffering that comes from living on the fringe. And, I say to this, Good! It’s about time that the self-righteous protectors of virtue, Mom, apple pie and the flag have the opportunity to experience life outside of the mainstream of culture. It’s about time that the privileged share in the lackof privilege. It’s about time that those who claim to be Christ followers spend time living in the margins where Christ lived.
Let me take a moment to share what I think is our proper place in the culture. Ours is not to direct society; ours is to serve. Those who want to be disciples of Jesus must remember that it was our Lord and Master who said that his kingdom was not of this world. We have, however, forgotten that. From Constantine forward the Church has enjoyed the power and prestige of being kings among men. (At least in the West.) Popes and emperors and Metropolitans have lorded it over people and extended the so-called Magisterium to influence every area of life. This has served to foment conflict and the enforcement of boundaries that have defined who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ This would be funny if not for the fact that those who have been deemed ‘out’ have had to bear the pain that these designations bring. Now, those who have grown accustomed to sitting on the ‘Seat of Moses’ are finding it difficult to step away. Power and riches are not so easily lost. So it is with White, patriarchal hegemony. We don’t like to share. Worse, we don’t want to serve those whom we consider ‘others.’
It is, however, OK if ‘they’ become like ‘us.’ This is even the focus of our so-called evangelism. We welcome others to come in and be transformed. The lives they have led need to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit so that they can enjoy the good things that God has for them. This is christianese for, ‘Come in and become like us.’ The problem is that there are those who will not become like us. These are the ones who Richard Twiss referred to when he spoke about White Christians saying that God loved the Native Americans, but hated their dance and their drums and their ceremonies. It is all well and good to accept our idea of Christ, but your ideas and culture must be left outside. These ‘others’ that we purport to welcome are African, Asian, LGBTQ, women, homeless, Arab, and a host of other human beings. They will bring their worldview and culture. And, it will NOT be our worldview and culture. These people, in all of their diversity, are the colors on God’s palette. They are the spice that God uses to flavor. They are beloved of God. They are not a threat to God. Why should they be a threat to us?

Times when it’s best to just Shut Up!

I read a blog today written by a man about women and abortion. The author is a retiree from the L.A.Sheriff’s Dept. named Tony Miano. I think that this is important to remember. I’ll reference it later.
Anyway, the blog is at:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/borntoreform/2013/03/do-women-regret-their-abortions-enough/
In it Miano laid out his position on abortion and the woman’s responsibility in it. Now, I’m a man and I will not get into this debate. Which is something that Miano should have done. What I do want to address is his argument and method. Particularly, I want to focus on his language and theology. Both of which are poor.
His purpose in writing appears to be to encourage women to reconsider the choice of abortion, or to reflect on the consequences of the abortion after the fact. In this process, he seems to want these women to turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. Of course, he provides the usual steps to take to do this…through faith, repent and ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior. Prior to this invitation he does his best to show these wayward female souls the error of their way. He accuses them of “murdering their unborn child,” of deciding to “kill their child,” of wondering about “such depravity that leads a woman to slaughter her own child.” He is magnanimous enough to “give abortive women the benefit of the doubt and assert that most women later regret killing their unborn children.” He hopes that women will regret and feel what he refers to as “godly grief” that will produce repentance. Now, for some who read this may support Miano’s effort. From a modern, literalist point of view he seems to be heading in the right direction. Abortion is sin, therefore, those who have abortions are sinners who need God’s grace. But, Miano doesn’t stop there.
First, he has singled out women as the sinner, or from his law enforcement background, they are the ‘perpetrator.’ As such, they must be brought to justice. This is misogyny. For every woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy there is a man who did the impregnating. Now, I realize that in the U.S. the father has no say in this issue. There may be many who oppose the choice of the woman. But, that doesn’t negate his responsibility in conception. Miano did not mention men’s responsibility at all.
Second, he is standing on a soap box deriding human beings for whom Jesus came. Many of the women that he simply wants to give the “benefit of the doubt” are dealing with issues and feelings that NO MAN can ever understand. In this he is spouting vitriol from a position of privilege. This would have been a time when it would have been best to shut up.
Third, he misrepresents God. By painting the Father of Jesus as One who is out to get vengeance on wayward people is a horrible misreading of the gospel. Jesus came to usher in God’s realm and to reveal God’s character as One who loves the Good Creation and those of us who inhabit it. To use Christian code to bash people is just wrong.
Fourth is his arrogance. He is clear that how he has read and understands the biblical text is absolutely the only proper way to read and understand it. Sorry, Tony, but it’s not. Perhaps if he would have actually gone to a reputable institution of higher learning he would know that. But, nothing in his posted resume indicates this. He was in law enforcement. In this position he would have accepted the dualism of right and wrong and black and white. There is no room for gray or colors with this thinking. And, of course, he is always right.
Miano advertises himself as an ‘itinerant preacher.’ But, I wonder what it is that he preaches. It seems to be hate and judgement. I’m pretty certain it’s not the Good News of Jesus Christ.

My Perspective on the World Christian Movement Pt. 2

As promised, here is part 2 of my musings on missions.

Randy Woodley, a Cherokee himself, in his book Shalom and the Community of Creation, observed that a large majority of native Americans understand that there is “some sort of primal power in the words of oral tradition.”[1] The transmission of ontological truth was trusted to be passed orally. They heard the words spoken “from the heart” and accepted them as truth. Yet, we in the West find it necessary to dispense with that and teach these people to read. We teach them to read the scripture, that’s good…right? In our arrogance we fail to discern that many of these people view our sacred text with suspicion. The reason? Woodley answers in a response of some native Americans: “We know that the white man translated the Bible and he could have removed things he didn’t want us to hear or he could have added things that are not true.”[2]Hmmm….
What if we had, rather, taken the time to listen to those who lived in the land? In a previous blog I wrote that maybe the Europeans were lead by God to visit other lands. But, not to conquer. And, certainly not to force their particular brand of Christianity upon the native population. Rather, what if they were lead to these lands to learn from others, to humbly listen to the stories that the indigenous people had to tell. But, Euro-Americans have a tendency to talk first and listen, well, never. (This, too, is arrogance. To think that what we have to say is more important than what anyone else on the planet has to say.) Had we listened we could have learned about the land and the people, about their special relationship to the cosmos. In dialog we could have then, maybe, shared our story. We could have had an opportunity to see where our different cultures merged and, just maybe, we could have found connecting points that would have allowed the open sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not to make others change to be like us.
But, to let our story and theirs join as equally viable realities. We could have let go of the need to control the story and let the people of the land take and assimilate it as they felt best.
Now, of course this raises the question of syncretism. And, as I’ve read about missions, this seems to be at the crux of much errant thinking. Let me digress a bit…The two major ancient churches both consider themselves the one true Church. Both the Roman and Orthodox confessions claim to be able to trace their origins back to the Apostles. Both claim to have the only accurate traditions. And, both hold tenaciously to what they perceive to be that one, true, apostolic tradition. All other claims to faith are, at best, considered heterodox. At worst, they are considered heretical. Now, I’m not a math major, but I can see pretty quickly that both cannot be right. And, to add to the confusion, along came the reformers in 16th century who also claimed to have the only true faith. What I want to point out by this is that we in the West have a long history of trying to prove that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. We have developed an unsustainable dualism that has allowed abuses that would make Hannibal Lecter blush. Now, how would things have looked had we actually built our faith on the teaching of Jesus? We would have been compelled to accept others as created equal to us. We would have had to learn to listen. Yeah, there’s a lot of red text in the gospels, but Jesus really listened to people. How many times did he ask someone, “What would you like me to do for you?” How often did he “look at,” really “look at,” others with respect and compassion? He did not, like we have in the West, simply assume that he knew what the other needed. Even today we assume that we in America know what is best for people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We do not take the time to listen to what theymight think that they really need.
So, back to the problem of syncretism. Who said that we need to control the Gospel? Who said that ours is the only true expression of Christian faith? No one has. We seem to think that the Church and the Gospel belong to us. Therefore, we have some right to control how the story is told and how it should properly be understood. I think that there is Someone far more qualified to do that than we. Jesus told his disciples that he was going to send a Teacher. This Teacher would be Someone who would walk beside them and show them how to live in God’s new realm. Paul wrote about the work of the Holy Spirit. He wrote that it was the Spirit who provided gifts and direction for the Church. Now, it is true that these gifts are realized as people cooperate with the Spirit. But, it is God the Holy Spirit who is the director. I think that trusting in God trumps our fear of syncretism.
We Euro-Americans would do well to hear what we have actually done to indigenous people with our White, male, hegemonic, arrogant approach. What we have thought of as Good News about redemption in Christ has not had the effect that we may have thought it would. Again, I turn to Randy Woodley:
The gospel, as it has most often been preached to Native Americans, does not promise us restored balance or harmony. Actually, too often, the gospel preached to Native Americans and other indigenous peoples around the world was quite the contrary to good news. We have mostly heard the gospel as “bad news.”
The “bad news” of Jesus Christ requires people to forsake their own ethnic identity for the identity of the dominant culture. The “bad news” of Jesus Christ means trading in shared communal values for economic systems based on greed and the success of the individual over the group. The “bad news” of Jesus Christ requires indigenous peoples to accept their status as those meant to be colonized and to cooperate with their own demise. The “bad news” of Jesus Christ askes us to draw our theology, values, and meaning as people from a culture that wishes to make us self-haters.[3]
What to do? I don’t want to come across as having the answer. I don’t. No one person, or group of people does. However, a good place to begin searching for one would be to humble ourselves before Yahweh and pray for forgiveness. Forgiveness for our arrogant disregard for the wonderful diversity that Yahweh has built into humanity and the Good Creation. Forgiveness for twisting Yahweh’s Word to fit our own perceptions. Forgiveness for trampling on our sisters and brothers in God’s name. Forgiveness for not listening to the people of the land, thereby trampling on the Good Natural resources that these Others were called by Creator to be stewards of. Richard Twiss said that the Native American community does not need missionaries. It does not need us to just send money. It needs us to join in real relationship as full partners.[4] I think that maybe it’s not too late to repent and embody the love that Jesus Christ, the God who walked among us, revealed is at the heart of God.


[1]Woodly, Randy S., Shalom and the Community of Creation, An Indigenous Vision, William B. Eerdmans,
  Grand Rapids,  2012, p. 140.
[2]Woodley, 2012, 141.
[3]Woodley, 2012, 150.
[4]Richard Twiss: Hope For the American Church, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHKtDoKoD80, last accessed Mar. 20, 2013.