• THIS

    This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is June 2014. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. I’m just repeating things God has made clear to those who put trust in his word. You know, all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument:

    God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in people who will make any sacrifice imaginable to protect the Christian faith but refuse to be moved by the site of despair all around them. Who claim that their way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

    Really they are just refusing to be broken by the site of God’s suffering children. What kind of father is happy that his kid claims to be sweeping the floor as they’ve been asked while listening as their brother begs them to stop hitting him with a broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed. One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading

  • The Christian Gospel

    God the Father is Love as the one who encompasses all that is expressed in the created universe.

    God the Holy Spirit is Love as it interacts with the created universe.

    God the Son is Love experiencing the created universe in human form.

    Jesus shows us the power of a man who relies on God the Holy Spirit to know God the Father and discovers that he is one with the Father. He now asks us, his Bride, follow the Way of the Son, relying on the Holy Spirit in order that we would know God, in whose image we were made. Jesus showed us what we look like. The Holy Spirit tell us what we act like. God tells us who we are.

    The path is narrow, although easy enough to follow. You just have to follow Jesus’ words. It’s the path of the cross, however, because it means suffering the loss of whatever you take your life from that isn’t Love. Which, until Jesus returns is everything. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to take possession of you, you will never make it, so long as humanity, by and large, is unaware of the reality of who they are as image bearers.

    In the end times, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth will be joined in the hearts of the people who have discovered the holy of holies that is their innermost being. And when they come together, the Golden City will be born. It’s light will cover the surface of the whole world and all mankind will seek to join in the wedding party. Which will be the final defeat of the false idols of this world that torment and oppress suffering mankind.

    The church cries out, “come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

    Jesus whispers back, “Just as soon as you show yourself, my bride.”

     

  • What’s Up With the Nigerian Church?

    My brain is all confudled after all the technical difficulties over the last few days. And the $900 car repair bill. And the fact that my husband has been traveling and I have too many children and I’d really just like to go veg somewhere for a week without being interrupted multiple times an hour. So this post is going to be really unfancy, but I think it’s important.

    I mentioned recently that a small group of Nigerian Christians found the blog and reached out to me not long ago. And they are awesome. Real keepers. Some of our discussions have centered on the state of the church in Nigeria and their relationship with it. And what they share, while more extreme than what we usually find here in the West, is sadly familiar. There’s serious work to be done.

    First, a little background. In addition to being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Its population is divided mainly Christian and Muslim with Christians holding more power and wealth than Muslims. This disparity is at the root of the violence which has been in the news lately. Muslims have access to fewer resources than Christians and feel that they are being mistreated which is breeding violence and resentment.

    Much of the problem comes out of geography. The parts of the country with the most resources are largely populated by Christians and Christians hold most important positions of power. However, that power has not been handled responsibly. Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world which means that resources which could be put to use for the benefit of the people are siphoned off by those in power for their own use. People in the Christian parts of the country can at least improve their lot by catering to the moneyed elite who are busy feeding off the government and the country’s natural resources. People in the Muslim parts of the country don’t even have that possibility available to them.

    At the end of the day, Nigeria will not know peace until its government begins to serve its people. All of its people. Which is something the Christian church could be a vocal proponent of. Heck, they could just stand around reading out the writings of the Old Testament prophets and make their point. Given how religious Nigeria is, a church which spoke prophetically in favor of the needs of the poor over the desires of the rich could be a highly effective change agent. But this is not what is happening.

    I’ve just cut and paste portions of several conversations I’ve had with my Nigerian friends about the state of the church below. The dynamics they describe are familiar, although sometimes extreme. They show what happens when the errors of men find their way into church teachings. These errors are often viewed as minor or even desirable to those who are living in a place with a lot of stability and enough abundance to avoid serious suffering. But the fruit they bear in more challenging situations ought to alert us to the fact that we’ve embraced teachings which come from man and not God.

    Corruption in the church

    I am (ruefully) amused at your description of the American church. I think in many ways, the Nigeria church is about the same – but the challenge is that the American society is one where there is a significant amount of balance (which may not be very obvious from the inside) because of many dissenting voices and influences. Everyone, to a large extent is accountable – or appears to be – to someone.

    Nigeria is different. Corruption is blatant and there is a significant amount of poverty among the populace, making them perfect fodder for the religious elite – the ‘pastors’
    ‘Pastor’ or the more emetic ‘daddy’ is the title given to every guy who starts a ‘church’. Largely, the product peddled is hope and the power that comes through ‘Faith’ and the Blood of Jesus. With these combined tablets, you can cure your poverty, sin, sicknesses, chase demons – and do anything…and rise above your neighbour.

    Because their belief systems do not match up to reality, the result is a duality; double standards where there is ‘holy speak’ on Sundays and among the ‘brethren’ and gross corruption and hideous godlessness Monday through Saturday.

    In Nigeria, what is important is getting wealthy. ‘No one’ cares how you do it.

    The result is such a complex system of religious rot in a highly religious society. Armed robbers have been known to pray before robbery and even pay their tithes and offerings. Some pastors bless the guns of some armed robbers. I have heard someone say ‘you are stupid in Jesus name’, seen gross exploitation of people in the name of tithe and first fruit, seen musical instruments for the ‘church’ prioritized over people’s lives and it goes on and on…

    Authoritarianism in the church

    Sadly, the way the society is structured, there is a great emphasis on (pseudo) community; so the older ones respect elders and do not speak out if they have a different view point. If the ‘man of God’ says something, you obey and if he does something wrong, you say nothing because the bible says ‘touch not my anointed’…
    No matter how much you try to explain the context or show that we are on equal footing before God, it seems so difficult for people to understand and/or accept because of what has been soldered into their psyche over time.

    It has become a norm, the order of the day…that you dare not say a thing against the so called man of God or disagree with him on whatsoever he taught or he teaches. This is one problem of on an African man, when an elderly person has spoken you have no opinion.

    People seem to believe their pastor more than giving attention to the reading of the scriptures. An average African man believes in Christ for Salvation but he’s quickly introduce into a kind of Authoritarian-ship of man. Trusting Christ for Salvation isn’t enough here unless you have someone that is control of your life…

    The sad part of it is “you must submit to someone, he must be your covering, you must give your tithe to him and blah blah blah….” I’ve only met few Christians that I can engage on the things of the Kingdom..the rest seem to love the Church things more than the Kingdom. 

    The Suffering Caused by Bad Theology

    Life is tough and God teaches you via processes and experiences. So it is not everytime prayers get answered the way we like and it is not everyone Jesus healed because he had to align with what the Spirit wanted to do, not just do miracles when he felt like it. So many people try to faith their way through pain and poverty, try to use the blood of Jesus to get through tough circumstances like it is an amulet, exaggerate ‘spiritual’ activity over pragmatic activity, ignoring the clear overlaps that we have when we deal with these spheres…and they get their fingers badly burnt. They lose jobs, they lose people, they cant pay bills, they run out of cash…and through it all, they fail to see that sometimes, hardship doesnt come about because of sin, or lack of faith…

    Continue reading

  • The Church and Me

    So, I happened to get into several conversations with church people yesterday. Now, by church people, I don’t mean people who belong to a church or work for a church or love a church. I don’t even mean people who have accepted and are trying to live within the boundaries set by a church. When I say church people, I mean people whose identity is tied up in a church or some brand or denomination in the church or a particular theology or even just a bunch of cultural assumptions which are supported by part of the church.

    Church people are people who will object to the way something is said rather than deal with the substance of what has been said. Or someone who keeps making arguments meant to address things you never actually said and don’t necessarily think. If they do listen, it’s only so they can look for footholds they can use to render what you say invalid. Or someone who, once they realize they can’t defeat the ideas they disagree with, falls back on looking for excuses to discredit and dismiss the messenger – “you’re obviously emotional/you don’t even belong to a church/you’re in rebellion” etc. Charges of hypocrisy are almost always involved. None of these behaviors are unique to church people. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it?

    I don’t usually talk much with church people. I mean, I have spent plenty of time talking with and listening to church people in the past. And I’m plenty happy to engage with them on matters where we’re in broad agreement. But usually, I keep my interactions with church people to a minimum because at some point we’re going to disagree and I either need to just bite my tongue which after a while just means giving up your right to have your own voice. Or I can attempt to have a conversation about it. Which is pointless once everything that can be said has been said and rejected on all sides.

    Plus, I have a sharp tongue and a thick hide, so I am often much ruder and blunter than I ought to be. I can be a bit much for a lot of church people to take. And I get that.

    But yesterday seemed to be my day for dealing with church people. I would say I did my best to be nice, but I did have to apologize to someone for attributing his callous disregard for vulnerable human beings to his male genitalia. I have to give him props for accepting my apology and moving on. So maybe I didn’t do my best, but I tried my best. Which is all anyone can really ask.

    Towards evening, I inadvertently got caught up in my third conversation with church people of the day. (I sometimes forget that just because something is obviously true, doesn’t mean it isn’t controversial and accidentally said something that got several people all riled up.) I think I handled that one pretty well. I’d be practicing all day so I wasn’t all emotionally wound up. But for at least the third time that day, people assumed that I was angry at the church or highly emotional about it or had been hurt by the church.

    None of those things is remotely true, but then I went to my blog and noticed that on the front page are posts titled “Churches Don’t Like You When You’re Suffering”, “In the End Times, No One Listens to Their Pastor” and “The New Reformation”. And I realized that I may well be giving people the impression that I’m hostile to the church. Which is not the case at all. So perhaps some clarification is in order. Continue reading

  • Churches Don’t Like You When You’re Suffering

    Now, I’m not sure if I agree with what this person thinks that the church should be doing for people. I’m actually kind of a fan of doctors, safety nets and mental health services. But this really does capture the way the church deals with the suffering.

    I haven’t been involved in a church for a few years for a number of reasons. But probably the biggest obstacle for me was that I dread what happens once I can’t hide just how screwed up my life is. Just the thought of having to deal with the church’s reaction to suffering is exhausting.

    All of the “well why don’t you just go get help so you can get yourself fixed” questions that feel like accusations. The way that if I try to explain that I’m already doing what I can, I’ll just get bombarded with more suggestions and challenges and more questions about why I haven’t gotten myself fixed yet. Contrary to what people seem to think, I don’t really need an extra voice telling me that the reason my life is a mess because I’m screwing it up. If fixing my life were easy enough for you to find the solution off the top of your head, it would be fixed by now. Don’t you think?

    Churches tend to do pretty OK with an immediate, specific need or crisis. If you need meals made after the baby comes or while someone is hospitalized. If you need help moving. If you’re a single mom and your house needs paint. Things like that many churches do well. But if the problem is long term, perhaps permanent, churches tend to be bad places to be. There are only so many times you can call about your piece of crap car on the side of the road again. There are only so many times you can explain the details of your budget and why you don’t qualify for certain government programs.

    Usually what people really need is a $20,000 cash infusion. Or if that’s not possible, just a supportive shoulder to cry on now and again will do. But churches are really bad at that. If you are bold enough to make your need known, you may find a kind soul willing to listen. But the burden is on you to keep seeking out that kind shoulder when you need it. Which gets really wearing. And it just highlights the extent to which the relationship is not between equals. The person who is listening to you cry is not going to call you when they have a problem. They aren’t going to miss you if you don’t reach out to them. It’s like starvation rations for a relationship starved suffering person. It may be enough to keep you from dying outright, but it’s not nearly enough to help you recover. Continue reading

  • In the End Times No One Listens to Their Pastor

    Remember me writing about the church’s inability to deal with the reality of the world rather than clinging to their ideas about the world? Well, if you would like to see what this looks like in action, ask a pastor why people leave church and then ask 20 people who have left church about their experience. The overlap will be non-existent.

    Oh, I get where the church people are coming from. It’s easy enough to take “I never felt accepted” and hear “I’m unwilling to engage with people who don’t think like me”. Or hear, “I was turned off by the church’s fixation on sex and politics” and hear “I just want to be able to sin without anyone holding me accountable“. Or “I found peace in my heart when I walked away from the church” and hear “I just want to engage in navel gazing as spirituality”.

    I get the temptation to interpret people’s words in such a way as to affirm our assumption that they are in error. But what if we just took people at their word? What if we accepted at face value that people don’t find acceptance at church, are turned off by the church’s fixations and have found peace by walking away? What then?

    I believe that people are being drawn away from the church by God. I think that people are leaving and have peace about it because they know that they know that they know that they are on a path towards God that has taken them out of the church. At least for now. The rise of the nones and the spiritual-but-not-religious types is actually a sign that we are seeing the fulfillment of scripture.

    The bible tell us to expect a time such as this: Continue reading

  • You Can’t Fight Reality Forever

    Is the church dead? No. But plenty of people seem to be preparing the obituaries and making the funeral arrangements for that inevitable day. Inside Christian circles, the pessimism over the prospects for the church is palpable. There’s a real sense among many that some threshold has been crossed and that it’s all down hill from here.

    There are a few die hards who are still trying to “take the culture back for Christ”, but increasingly there’s a recognition that the church went to war and lost. Even the dominionist movement, which has gained some footholds in state politics, seems to exist purely for the purpose of alienating everyone else. Their time will pass, once they’ve done enough damage that even the call the “take the culture back” isn’t enough to garner votes from nostalgic and frightened Christians.

    Now, I do not share this very pessimistic view of the direction Christianity is heading. In fact, I’m rather enthused about the future of the church. But I understand the defeatism which is being driven by the realization that the church went to war and lost. Badly. On every issue which the church decided to take a stand, they lost. Not only did the wider culture not embrace the church’s positions, the things which the church felt important enough to declare war over are the very reasons people give for leaving the church. And let’s face it, that kind of rejection stings.

    Over the last few years, copious pixels have been used analyzing and lamenting the reasons for the church’s impotence in the face of the freight train of cultural change. Some have traced the beginning of the end all the way back to the Enlightenment. Or Constantine. Or the hippies and women in pants.

    So what happened, really? It seems to me that the answer is pretty simple: reality.

    For much of human history, our understanding of reality was pretty limited. The sun circled the earth. God or gods controlled the weather. Sicknesses were demons or curses or God’s vengeance. Counting and measuring were for economic transactions, not studying. In this environment, one of the purposes of religion was to explain a reality which was otherwise unexplainable. Part of the power held by Christianity was that, in addition to being a spiritual path, it provided narratives and explanations for reality that worked well enough to be plausible.

    Along came the Enlightenment and with it the rise of Empiricism. (Empiricism being the idea that knowledge is gained by observing and measuring what can be experienced through our senses. As opposed to rationalism which favors using logic in order to construct an understanding of reality.) Basically, we went from learning about the world by thinking about how things might work or should work to observing how they actually do work.

    This shift in our approach to understanding the world frequently had an unsettling result; it turns out that the world didn’t work very much at all the way we thought it did. And not only that, we could prove it. Conjecture and supernaturalism were no longer realistic methods of explaining the world around us. And unlike religious or philosophical ideas which could be rejected or accepted based on our own judgment (or the judgment of authorities), rejecting the findings of empiricism meant rejecting proven reality.   Continue reading

  • What Not Judging Is and Is Not

    I wrote last week about not judging as a form of spiritual discipline. It occurs to me that part of our problem with not judging is that there’s a great deal of confusion regarding what is meant by not judging. So I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts regarding my understanding of it.

    Primarily, not judging means being open to correction. My parents used to always say to me, “you think you’re always right”. Which was true. If I thought I was wrong, I would change my mind. Why would I knowingly hold onto a belief which I knew was wrong?

    The truth is, we all work from the assumption that what we think is correct. That’s not the problem. The problem is that when we judge, we cut ourselves off from considering that we might be wrong. And we’re always wrong about something. Otherwise we’d be God.

    We get into trouble when we fail to accept that our understanding of what is right is always going to be inadequate and flawed. Unfortunately, a lot of churches actively encourage us to judge by insisting that their teachings are indesputably correct. Adopt church teachings as your own, and you never have to face the limits of your own understanding. In fact, holding firm to your faith, they teach, requires that you refuse to be open to the possibility of correction.

    Of course, this is simple idolotry and not faith. It is churches claiming for themselves authority which only God is able to hold. And contrary to what some Christians try to tell you, the church and God are not interchangeable.

    If we want to follow God and learn his ways, we have to always, always, always be open to having our judgment corrected. Not judging, to me, doesn’t mean refraining from seeing what’s right in front of your face. It just means being open to having your understanding or judgment regarding what you see corrected. Continue reading

  • Colonizing Cities for White American Jesus

    No one likes to think of themselves as racist or prejudiced. Even the KKK denies being a racist organization. Which for some people just affirms the deeply held idea that there’s something wrong with people of color. If there wasn’t something wrong with them, people of color wouldn’t have so many problems now that racism isn’t a problem. How can racism be to blame when there are no more racists among us?

    Of course, racism and the residual effects of centuries of being raped, robbed and pillaged continue to be an issue. If we’d ever like to get to the day when there really are no racists among us, we need white people to be a lot less clueless. Like, for example, we need for this to become unthinkable, particularly for Christians:

    When I asked the white pastor of a large suburban multi-campus church to . . . reflect on whether he has earned the right to do ministry among the oppressed, he responded by saying, “Obviously, the pastors [of color] that are already in the community aren’t more qualified to minister in that neighborhood than I am. If they were, they’d have made a bigger impact by now. They’ve had their chance. Now it’s mine.”

    Or this:

    One older African-American pastor said he’s heard chilling reports of meetings, in which representatives from many of the suburban churches have gathered around a map of the city and marked each church’s “territory,” as if Buffalo was theirs to divvy up. The indigenous leaders were not invited to these meetings, nor have they been contacted by these churches. It’s as if they don’t exist, their churches don’t exist, and their expertise doesn’t exist.

    Those quotes come from a really excellent article by Christina Cleveland called “Urban Church Planting Plantations” which ought to be required reading for every suburban pastor. And for you too. It’s super good.

    I had heard talk of urban church planting and knew that most such church plants fail miserably. Often they become money holes for the church supporting them. Even relatively successful ones find that instead of ministering directly to poor, struggling communities, they are attracting a crowd that doesn’t actually live in the area the church is supposed to be ministering to.

    In fact, the last church our family was seriously involved in was an urban church plant supported by a large, predominantly white denomination. They had a long history of working for racial reconciliation and so did better than most. They hired African American pastors and ministers who were at least somewhat familiar with the community. They were even paying for additional education and training to bring the pastors up to the denomination’s standards. But at the same time, we were driving 40 minutes each way to get there. Urban ministry is much harder than Pastor “It’s my turn” thinks.

    Continue reading

  • God and Laughing

    God loves laughter. Humor makes us laugh because it triggers delighted surprise to hear that things we fear – being alone, being unloved, being ridiculed  - aren’t as awful as it seems. And when it is awful, it isn’t as serious as we thought it was. When God gave us a sense of humor, He was telling us not to be so afraid. ~R. Trotter, The Upside Down World

    I have a real soft spot for humor. It is one of the great joys of life. I’d give up sex, wealth, tasty food and reading before I’d want to give up a sense of humor. Hell, we all know old people who made just that deal; they lost all the other joys of life to aging, so now they just sit around and laugh and laugh. And they’re having a hell of a time doing it. If they have anyone to listen to them.

    (Actually, that would make a great TV show. Travel the country visiting the funniest old people and record them talking. It would be like one of those “kids say the darndest things” type shows except the old people’s jokes will actually make sense. And tell us something about life.)

    I was really introduced to comedy by my husband, who I still reside with largely because of how much fun it is to sit around and laugh with him. My family did not do comedy when I was growing up, largely because comedians are crude and crass and talk about sex and drugs. As if they’ve done them, even. Which, you know, isn’t an entirely unreasonable concern. I suppose.

    At any rate, I’ve watched a good bit of comedy over the last however long I’ve been married. And yes, some of it has been crude and crass and fixated on the most obnoxious abuses of sex and drugs imaginable. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’m a big fan of Garrison Keillor. His “Lake Woebegon” stories are masterpieces humor that doesn’t rely on offending or scandelizing anyone. Plus, he gets how religion and sex actually works.

    I have this theory about humor which says that along with just being enjoyable, the primary purpose of humor is to help us learn. Researchers know that when a person is presented with information while they are laughing, they are more likely to accept that information than people who received the same information from an informational or persuasive presentation. Of course, they could have learned the same thing by observing parents with their kids. If you can get a kid to laugh, they are much more willing to admit error or change their minds.

    Continue reading