Communities like RLC (Red Letter Christians) are so important because the Church, those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ have more responsibility to be constantly examining our actions and behavior than anyone. This isn’t about being “self-hating Christians” or “criticizing the Church” it is about growing up. In the end, the wisdom and understanding needed to change the world and do real good will not come from the past, but from working together in the present
Archives For Things Spiritual
The Nature of God
Make no mistake, there are some horrible people in prison, people who delight in the power of causing others suffering. Some are mentally ill. Others have been wounded first and learned that way of life. There is no excuse for violent crimes.
I just want you to see their eyes for a moment. I want you to see the pain and the fear. Their eyes don’t change the past for anyone, but they tell us a deeper, more complicated story. They show us that there are some trapped people who can’t find an escape hatch. If they could, they’d use it in a heartbeat.
I like prison ministry because it cuts through all of the grandstanding Christians are tempted to do. A guy in blue prison scrubs can comb his hair nice and wear a cool pair of sneakers or sport an impressive tattoo, but even a prisoner on top of the inmate pecking order is still in prison. You can’t act like you’ve got your act together for long—especially if you’re going to open yourself to the Holy Spirit.
While volunteering in that prison I never felt like I could write about it. I didn’t want these men to become a writing project. As I look back on them, I think of their struggles and uncertainty. I pray for them. The reality is that many of them will end up back in prison. Change can take time.
For decades people have been prophesying about American Christianity’s demise. Church attendance is dropping, our culture is becoming increasingly immoral and the president is probably the Antichrist. Various pundits, experts and research groups have seemingly made a living predicting American Christianity’s downfall, and yet, while Christianity has become extinct in numerous parts of the world, it continues to live on—and sometimes thrive—within the United States….
There are faith communities for those who are conservative or liberal, egalitarian or complementarian, Calvinist or Armenian, traditional or modern, young or old, Norwegian or Cuban—you get the point. We often view are differences as a bad thing, as a sign of disunity and mistrust, but we serve as a sort of system of checks and balances. American Christianity is a beautiful patchwork of unique characteristics, all united in Christ, challenging each other, holding each other accountable and complementing our various strengths and weaknesses.
I am a very strong believer that what makes the U.S. so unique is our diversity. Most of us celebrate our differences without attacking others who think differently than we do. I firmly believe that our ability to do just that is what make for our longevity as a democratic country. I am in awe of our founding fathers being able to create the framework to make that happen.
I celebrate diversity in most things but I have seemed to lack that facility when it comes to my spirituality. I have not been able to understand that it is also a strength when it comes to why we continue to be for the most part a nation aligned with Christian values while so many other countries are quickly falling away.
But I came to this game to have something to live/play, not something to offer/justify; to find the Teacher within, not teach others that they’re ignorant of the importance of an ideal; to belong with others united in comraderie, not divided by heritage or heredity.
Like my Quaker friend in the quote above come to this game play and not to justify my existence. I hope some of my words here are taken as teacher and not to just push my ideals on you.
Pope Francis, laying out his hopes Wednesday for the just-begun year, urged people to work for a world where everyone accepts each other’s differences and where enemies recognize that they are brothers.
“We are all children of one heavenly father, we belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny,” Francis said….
“What is happening in the heart of man? What is happening in the heart of humanity?” Francis asked. “It’s time to stop.”
I want to end this first month of the new year 2014 with some inspiring words from the new pope of the Catholic church.He has the courage to speak out on so many issues that other fear to embrace. I admire him much for that.
These handful of sentences pretty much sums up one of my life’s primary purposes. I know I am just a simple-living senior citizen but even my contributions to the world mean something. I blog here and especially over at Red Letter Living hoping to convince just a few of you who might be acting otherwise that diversity is a good thing and loving each other is the main thing God expects of us. Why do we seem to gravitate toward the opposite feelings?
Pope Francis continues to pluck my heartstrings with his words. I can’t imagine a better religious figure for our times. I pray that some of his hope rubs out some of my doubt about the world.
It Forces Human Interaction
The common response among many believers is that God commands us “to be a good steward” of our wealth, which is the Christian way of saying “I don’t want to give away any of my time, energy, or resources to people who are just going to flush it away.” Thus, the accumulation of wealth is quickly adapted as a form of spiritual virtue, highly esteemed among American believers and attributed as a sign of God’s favor.
But giving directly to the poor forces us to actually interact with humankind, with the people God wants us to be with! Christians have a nasty habit of donating to charities and organizations simply because they don’t want to be uncomfortable or get their hands “dirty.” It’s their way of “helping” without having to actually do anything….
We now come to the final reason given my Stephen Mattson for helping the poor. I am a strong believer in the idea that you must give a face to something in order to make it real. In other words just talking about the poor in a general way does not give it much meaning but when you see a small child crying because he is hungry you see the face of the poor.
We Christians have a way of insulating our ourselves from the very people Jesus meant us to be fully engaged with. We also have a way of justifying our inaction with phrases like “I will pray for you”. Strip this most common Christian phrase down to its reality is the same as saying “I don’t want to be involved with it so I will just pass it on to God to take care of.” Jesus insisted that we, like him, get our hands dirty and be our brother’s keeper. To lack in doing so is well, unChristian…
Mother Teresa was once asked in an interview, “What do you say when you pray?” She replied, “Nothing, I just listen.” So then the reporter asked, “Well then, what does God say to you?” Her answer: “Nothing much, He just listens.”
– Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals (Shane Claiborne;Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)
Love Trumps Efficiency
Even if the poor waste their resources, who cares? That doesn’t mean we should give up on them. Imagine if God started forgiving only those who deserved it? (Gulp!) We’d all be in big trouble. The amazing thing is, Jesus wasn’t what we would consider fair or efficient—His love was radically unfair! His disciples continually failed, yet Jesus didn’t abandon them, even after one of them (Peter) denied Him three times while Jesus was in the process of being executed (after being betrayed by another disciple: Judas)….
Unfortunately, many churches and Christians today are acting more like big banks, treating “charity” like a loan application, dispensing aid and resources only to the specific poor they deem “worth it.” Are they sober, mentally stable, spiritually healthy, and capable of work? Ok, sign these papers and we’ll give you a Gift Card to the local grocery store—but if you misuse these funds don’t come back!
This is a big one for me. So many Christians readily recognize the grace of God for themselves but will not personally pass it on to others around them. I am just a “there but for the grace of God go I..” person. I can see where some of the decisions I have made in my life could have resulted in me being one of “those people”. I can imagine that my going deaf in midlife could have turned me into a completely different person if my wife, and God, had not be in my corner.
The church that I was recently a member of did an admirable job of adopting a couple of families during the Christmas season. They provided them with gifts for the kids and some food for a couple of meals during those special holidays. But that was pretty much the sum total of their capital spent during the year to this area. For several months I put out the monthly bins at the church to collect food for a local soup kitchen only to see a pittance of cans at the end of each month. Finally being discouraged I stopped even that effort. I was told by the pastor that people’s lives are so hectic with their families they just didn’t have time for the poor. A poor excuse in my mind….
It is just very hard for many to see that Jesus intended love to trump efficiency every day. We all have to try to keep the words of Jesus in our hearts and in our actions on a daily basis, not just those special times of year….
Who Are We to Judge the Poor?
Americans are horrible savers. On average, we save less than 5% of all our earned income. Despite this, we routinely think of the poor as people who deserve their lowly status. “They squander their money away on drugs, alcohol, and bad habits!” is a common excuse for not giving anything directly to the poor.
The truth is, we probably aren’t that much better with our resources. While we complain about the habits of the homeless, we go to the movies, buy new clothes, watch Netflix, eat junk food, and squander our income.
The point is, it doesn’t matter how the poor became poor. God continually instructs His followers to be humble and nonjudgmental. So why do we keep condemning the poor, alienating them, creating laws to hurt them, persecuting them, and downright abandoning them
This is the third installment of the five reasons Stephen Mattson gives for helping the poor.
I can’t tell you how many times I sat in an Evangelical Lutheran adult bible class and heard the comments below.
“Those people who are homeless deserve what they got because…”
It seemed very easy to dismiss unconditionally helping the poor because they made some pretty stupid mistakes in their lives.
“If only they would just pull themselves up..”
“Doesn’t the bible say the poor will always be with us, so that must mean we don’t need to worry about it…”
There seemed to be a myriad of reasons spouted about why we don’t have to help the poor.
And then there are the words of Jesus who very directly told us again and again to do just that.
It is uncomfortable for us to welcome different people in our lives. We have to not only deal with learning new things, new ideas, and new patterns of behavior but we also have to deal with our own fears, insecurities, and prejudices. That is why is so much easier to justify distancing ourselves from other people under pretence that they are just “bad.”
Our “God Box” Is Shaped According to the People Who Make Us Feel Good
When life gets messy, hard, or lonely we tend to go through “religious change.” When our original religious views and “God box” no longer help us feel better, we decide it makes sense to open the box a bit and look around. As soon as we find a group of people who make us feel better again, we quickly “box them up” again. “Wow, I was so silly to believe X and Y, but now I believe A and B. You should believe A and B too.”
For many people “enlightenment” is simply moving from one God box to a different one. Sure, sometimes the second one is a little bigger than the first, but ultimately we still decide that “these people are good” and “those people are bad.” The people in our “God box” are OK, and the people outside are “crazy.”
I kind of think that God is much bigger and inclusive than any box we might use in his name. Jesus was not about excluding the “bad” people but instead about welcoming all. Maybe we should try to do the same?
To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.
Just a quick note to all my Christian friends out there and even the ones who are not, I impeach you to click on the link above before you finalize your New Years resolutions. You just might want to add something else to your list….
2) It’s Not a Sin to Be Poor
In a culture obsessed with consumerism, money is seen as the ultimate form of power and success, but it’s not a sin to be poor. For Christians, especially middle-class Westernized believers, it’s easy to assume the worst of the poor. We blame them for not working, being lazy, having drug addictions, making poor choices, and not trying hard enough.
We often equate financial worth with personal value, and we place the poor in the lowest system of our preconceived (often subconscious) human caste systems. We treat them accordingly—bad, and are continually blaming, humiliating, and shaming them through our condescending criticism, “instruction,” and judgment.
We need to remember that being poor in and of itself isn’t a sin and doesn’t make a person less valuable in the eyes of God—if only Christians could realize this.
This is the second post of five for reasons to help the poor as cited by Stephen Mattson.
I know the above comments are probably at the heart of many who have an ingrained prejudice against the poor. We blame them for things that at least partially are their own faults. We blame them for making poor choices that might have contributed to them being poor.
I, like many others evidently, was very turned off my Mr. Romney’s 47% comment. He basically said being poor was their own fault and we should let them stew in their own makings. We Christians far too easily treat the poor as if their sins are somehow worse than ours and that therefore they don’t deserve grace from us or society at large. Being firmly entrenched in the Quaker belief that there is the light of God in each and every one of us, I do my best to realize that being poor is not a sin and even if it were we should forgive that sin as God forgives ours. After all isn’t the phrase “forgive us our sins as we forgive others” found in the Lord’s prayer applicable today as it was two thousand years ago. It is about time we started living up to that pledge we recite so often.
1) Jesus Calls Us to Help the Poor
Jesus wants us to help the poor—without qualifications! He doesn’t command us to help just the responsible poor, the Christian poor, the likeable poor, the sober poor, or the hardworking poor, He calls us to love and help everyone—no matter what!
It’s amazing how we’re quick to recognize that God loves us unequivocally, that His grace covers all of our sins, and yet we put so many stipulations on helping the poor. If we accept God’s infinite mercy in our lives but refuse to pass it along to others—whether we think they’re deserving of it or not—we’re the worst of hypocrites.
On this blog I pretty much reserve my spiritual affiliations (or maybe afflictions) for Sunday posts. I am going to spend the next five Sundays going through a list of reasons from Stephen Mattson over at Red Letter Living about why we Christians should help the poor. I haven’t run across a more heartfelt list in my life.
Reason number one is that our founder Jesus calls us to help the poor. We Christians seem to be readily able to accept God’s grace but very reluctant to do the same with each other. There should be no qualifications attached to helping the poor. Jesus didn’t stipulate which poor to help and neither should we. There is good reason to call many who claim the Christian mantle hypocrites. This is perhaps the primary one.
I admit that I find the gospel of partnering with God for the healing of the world much, much harder than the gospel of God loves you and wants to give you a ticket to heaven.
It’s harder emotionally, physically, financially, socially and culturally. It’s tiring. Without the Holy Spirit, without worship, without community I’d give up and go back to that old gospel. It was easier in those days, for sure.
It was easier when it was about me and my blessing, my healing, my salvation and inviting other people to enjoy my amazing new life. It was much easier when it was about going to church. About finding a Sunday service that made me feel good and affirmed what I already believed. It was easier when I could modify some moral behaviours and then live for myself, my ambition, my convenience and my comfort around that. It was easier when, because I knew my eternity was sorted, I could spend my days accumulating experiences, success, approval, dollars, possessions, relationships and the accolades that come from “ministry”.
An apocryphal story is told of Fosdick meeting a young man for a walk in Central Park. “I’m jealous of your faith,” said the young man. “I’m afraid to ask questions, because I was raised in a faith that provided all the answers and to ask questions was to show unfaithfulness.” Coming upon a reflecting pool, Fosdick mused, “Son, your faith is like this pool: calm, bordered, shallow—you always know what it’s going to look like and what the boundaries are. But it’s not a “living” faith. It’s not going anywhere. Vital faith is like a stream bubbling up from a well deep within the earth. As it makes its way, it twists and turns, sometimes changes course, is deep and slow in some places and fast and turbulent in others, responding to the geographical reality. It’s joined by the waters of other streams and together they make their way back to their source.”
Stagnation, not change, is Christianity’s deadliest enemy. Vital faith has always been dynamic, flowing, and moving. So one of the biggest challenges for thinking Christians today is facing those who conceive of “true” Christianity as something that never changes. While many faith communities have invested untold energy arguing over changing the style of liturgy and music used in worship, what really need to be addressed are many of the basic theological tenets espoused by that liturgy and music.
Take, for example, a contemporary worship song in which God is praised for knowing where every bolt of lightning strikes. This might be comforting for those who want to believe God controls the world like a puppet master. It is, perhaps, less comforting for those who have been struck by lightning.
For many religious people, it takes some serious readjustment to change those theological underpinnings and recast Christianity as something fluid. Some are too controlled by fear—of change, of uncertainty, of being called heretical—to make the shift. They keep trying, desperately, to hold on to old conceptions as if their eternal life depended on it. But there are alternatives.
Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity (Felten, David;Procter-Murphy, Jeff)
One thing most New Testament scholars agree on—and they don’t agree on much—is that Jesus’s main aim was the kingdom of God—not some saccharine vision of a future in heaven, but a clear political statement about the here and now.
From the Book: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity (Felten, David;Procter-Murphy, Jeff)
It continues to amaze me that there are Christians –both preachers and politicians- who seem to be much more interested in defending the honor and the interests of the very wealthy than they are to lending support to the less advantaged ones among us. Their priorities are the opposite of those reflected in scripture (James 2:1-7; 5:1-5). They will speak up for low taxes on the rich but not defend livable wages for the working poor. They will call for deregulation on businesses but not stand up for better consumer or environmental protections. They sound much more like the devotees of Ayn Rand than disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Ayn Rand worship by many including of course Rep. Ryan who says he is Catholic greatly confuses me. Ayn Rand was an in-your-face atheist who proclaimed empathy to be one of the biggest detriments to mankind. Isn’t Jesus Christ the absolute bedrock of empathy? How do those who call themselves conservative Christians reconcile those facts? I just don’t know….
What do we do as Christians when confronted with these harsh realities? The Bible urges us to “remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself!” (Hebrews 13:3). Jesus knew what it was like to have a loved one incarcerated. His cousin, John the Baptist, was falsely accused and arrested (and eventually executed). Perhaps this is why Jesus, in Matthew 25, tells his disciples “when I was in prison, you visited me.” As a victim of false imprisonment and injustice, Jesus entered into solidarity with the incarcerated and exposed the flawed justice system of his day. Of all people, Christians should be the most skeptical of prisons. A simple survey of prisons in the Bible will reveal that prisons were mainly used to oppress minorities, exploit the poor, and silence the prophets. And the prison system today continues to do so.
One of my favorite Christians and author is Shane Claiborne. Several years ago he established and still lives in a strong Christian community in a very poor neighborhood in Philadelphia. He definitely takes the words of Jesus to heart both physically and mentally. He also has a very unique sense of humor which makes his books and writing very appealing to me. One of his books entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals is much in the line with the words above.
Lets face it if Jesus were around today he would very likely be shunned by almost everyone including, and maybe even especially, the current Christian religious establishment and especially the conservative evangelical variety. He would be thoroughly trashed by the likes of Fox News Channel as being one of those dying heart liberals who care too much for those lazy people who won’t lift themselves up by their bootstraps. He would simply be too radical for most in those groups. He would be called one of “those” people. You know what I mean. This simple but obvious fact saddens me greatly. When did taking care of the poor and visiting prisoners go out of style with many of my conservative friends?
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
The above quote is from one of the bloggers in my Feedly stream. Rachel is a young religious blogger and author with a pretty large following of which I am one. The list above is part of a longer one about why so many young people leave the church once they get out on their own.
I am definitely not a millennial as Rachel dubiously claims to be but I am certainly attuned to her list as many of the reasons I no longer attend a denominational service.
But this post is really intended to be about a mini-epiphany I had when I read this article. Almost everything on her list also could be said about the Republican party. I’m not sure if this is a chicken/egg thing or an egg/chicken. Either way it means lost membership to the associated organization. I really mourn the continuing growing insignificance of both the church and the Republican party. I really want both to stay relevant in world today so I am hoping that eventually they will give up their stubbornness and destructive thinking and start listening to all the Rachel Held Evan’s out there.
This is a continuation of our study of Thomas Jefferson to discount the belief that he intended the United States to be a Christian nation. He started out and spent much of his life as a deist. That is he believed in the presence of God in the world but did not proclaim it as a Christian presence. Later in life after he was president he undertook a serious study of the Christian Bible and other religious documents.
He took this study to the point of making his own version of the New Testament. Many are confused by the Jefferson Bible. They wonder why he as a faithful Christian would even attempt to redo such a holy document. Below is part of the explanation why he did this: Continue Reading…