Category Archives: Following Jesus

An Update of sorts

My deadline of May 31st has come and gone. I think that at this time I am going to press ahead with a fiction. I’ve been able to get quite a few notes written. Mostly from memories, but some that ask questions. Maybe, too many questions. How do I start? How can I articulate complex emotions and passions in a way that doesn’t devolve into some kind of voyeurism? How can I honor God and be a blessing to others? How can I avoid ‘preaching to the choir’? Because, I have no desire to tell my story to a very narrow and somewhat ‘prickish’ segment of the culture. The story is not necessarily about, nor for, the kind of faith communities that I have been a part of. It is a story about human frailty and Yahweh’s faithfulness.
I have wrestled with how to present real people in real-life situations, (some of them not all that pleasant). Much stress and a few tears have gone into this part of the process. Thanks to our Good Creator, I came across a blog post by writer Wendy Murray this morning. She is a very sensitive person who has gone through a lot of trials. She loves Jesus and desires to honor him and his people. She struggled with some of the things that I am now striving to deal with. In her post she wrote:

As writers who also happen to be people of faith we have to be willing to look straight into the world as it is and at the people who inhabit it for who they are. They are real. They are weak. Sometimes they have sex outside of marriage. Do you know anyone who says the f-word? Have you said it in the past week?

For me, this was Ruach Elohim, God’s Breath, filling my lungs; my mind; my heart. Write what is real. Whether others accept or reject the story is not my worry. My task is to tell the story.
Thank you, Wendy!

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How the Holy Spirit can show up anywhere.

This past Sunday I went with my wife to the church that my son and his family have been attending. Before going, I went to the church’s website to get some information about them. I was not impressed. And, after attending the service, I was less impressed. It was the same church that I had left. Only it had a better grasp of technology. It was more polished. But, a rock that is polished is still a rock.
They are a typical evangelical church. They truly love Jesus. And, they truly think that they are following Jesus. However, they, like so many other fundagelical churches think that their way is the ONLY way to follow Jesus. I disagree alot.
Their service was very much a patriotic thing since it was Memorial Day. Now, I do not want to take away from that. I am all for the veterans who have given so much for this country. But, I absolutely think that the Church MUST stay somewhat aloof to political leanings and patriotism. Ours is a kingdom that is NOT of this world.
Their guest speaker was Vietnam veteran who had lost both legs to a landmine. Of course, the requisite sympathy was evoked. But, this guy spoke to me. He talked at length about following a call. To me, that is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I do not think that I am following the calling that God has given. I feel like I am prostituting myself in order to pay my bills and keep health insurance for my wife and me. His words haunt me. I am deeply troubled. Could this be Ruach Elohim, the Breath of God, speaking? Could this be the Spirit that Yeshua told Peter and the others would come and teach them all things saying that I had no faith? Maybe. I am not sure. All I know is that in the most unexpected place, God may have spoken.

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. 
 

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?

Hate what God Hates…Whatever that is


Last week I visited a local church. It’s one that I’ve visited a few times over the past few years. I find meaning in the liturgy there. It’s not like the evangelical free church that I was a part of for many years. This church understands the importance of symbol and celebration in a way that actually embodies, at least how I understand it, the work of God in worship. However, the senior pastor made a statement during a prayer that puzzled me. He prayed that we would love what God loves, and hate what God hates. Now, to most evangelicals, this sounds like a good prayer. It is asking God to show us how and where to direct our affection and our disdain. It seems to be asking for wisdom and discernment. Good things, right? But, there is more to this, I think. First, what does God love and hate? The prayer left this wide open to every speculation and opinion. Although, in his sermon he alluded to some moral concerns, primarily directed to young people, there was no direction for any of us to take in order to discern these things. So, I decided to take a quick trip through the Scripture to see if I could find anything that could help me to love the things God loves, and to hate what God hates.
First, I want to say that this is in no way a comprehensive study. Most Christians would not understand it if it was. This is a quick view that any interested person could do in a short amount of time. It is, in its brevity, accessible to anyone.
In the New Testament I found very few references to God hating anyone or anything. There is a reference to Mal. 1:2 in Romans 9. It reads that God has loved Jacob, but has hated Esau. In the Romans context, Paul was trying to explain God’s sovereignty in the form of election. God will have mercy on who God chooses. It’s not up to human actions. In the Malachi reference, it appears that God was explaining that through divine choice, God considered Esau as an enemy. Again, no reason other than God’s choice. PLEASE NOTE that this is an example of God’s own divine choice. It is not something that we could ever possibly act out on our own. We cannot hate Esau because we do not have a reason to. God alone gets to make that call. Besides, for the pastor’s prayer above to have any meaning for us today, we would need to know who the heck Esau is. We cannot hate Esau.
In Hebrews 1:9 we find that Jesus apparently hated lawlessness, but loved righteousness. Again, no definitions here. What did the writer mean by lawlessness? Kittel, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, wrote that in this particular instance, lawlessness could be synonymous with sinfulness. So, the writer was basically making the statement that Jesus hated sin. But, the sin, or lawlessness here appears to be that which Jesus hated in his own life! Not in anyone else’s. Because of this, God set him above his companions. Ok, so we can learn to hate sin IN OUR OWN LIVES. This text does not give us privilege to hate it in anyone else’s life.
There is a statement in Revelation that is a tad confusing. Apparently, God hated the deeds of someone referred to as Nicolaitans. No one really knows for sure who these folks were, nor what deeds are being referred to. Can’t hate what we don’t know about.
So far, there isn’t much that I can find that would help us to hate what God hates. Mostly because, it doesn’t appear that God hates too much.
The Hebrew testament has some interesting things to say about what God hates. Without giving specific references, I found that God hates dishonest gain. Hmm… If we were to bring that statement forward a couple thousand years, perhaps God would not be happy with Western economic systems that reward those who get ‘gain’ using any means, including dishonest ones. Of course, when these people or institutions are found out, there is a great public outcry for a day or two. Then, back to business as usual. Maybe we could find an object of hatred there. But, as Jesus told those who brought the adulteress to him, let whoever is without sin toss the first rock.
The Scripture is clear in many places that God hates idolatry…all idolatry. What can we learn from that? Most people would define idol worship as anything that a person places importance on at the exclusion of other things, especially God. That could be money, house, job, spouse/kids, lover, prestige, RV, or cable TV. Here again, though, it is idolatry that we have in our life that is important here. It’s not up to us to point out the idolatry that we may sense in others. We are pretty much incapable of having accurate discernment.
In Proverbs chapter 6 the writer gave a list of things that God hates. Now, with this kind of list, the main point is usually the last item in the list. In this one that item is one who spreads strife among brothers. In fact, all of the items are interpersonal things. Lying, shedding innocent blood, etc. God apparently doesn’t like it when people treat other people badly. Ok, I can understand that. So, how does that play out as we relate to the LGBT community? What’s that look like as we objectify and marginalize women? Immigrants? The poor? Just something to think about.
There are other texts that I could reference, but, I’ll finish with this one. Amos 5:21-24,
21 “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
22   “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the  peace offerings of your fatlings.
                   23  “Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
                   24  “But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Perhaps, now I’m just speculating here, God isn’t all that happy when people use that authority of the pulpit to speak for God. At least, when making general statements that are loaded with emotion. Maybe our church leaders would do well to make sure that the words that come out of their mouths are accurate and precise. From what I’ve found out, these are the ones who may experience God’s displeasure.

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.