Category Archives: Theology/Spirituality

Posts that exhibit a greater emphasis on the nature of theology or spirituality.

Death of the Superhuman

In 2009 I interned with my campus ministry group in collaboration with a local church in St. Louis, MO. I was one of the teachers in a supplemental summer school program.

It was hard work.

It stretched me.

I had some difficult kids, but I cared for them.

One particular day, one of my little girls was sick. We didn’t want her around the other students in case she got them sick, but we couldn’t send her home. So I had her lay down on a couch, put my by button down shirt over her (we had no blankets), and we read together.

The girl had a twin sister and the three of us grew very close to each other.

On the last day of the school program us teachers brought the students back to the neighborhood they lived in and I walked the twins home. They screamed goodbye as they ran across their front yard to their front door. I knew I would never see them again, but they didn’t.

In that moment I realized both how much influence we have in each other’s lives AND how little.

This is reaffirmed for me everyday in my career as a teacher. For a short time in our lives we are given immeasurable influence on other people and fractions of a second later it could all end.

It teaches me that I’m far more important than my lowest thoughts of myself. It pushes me to strive to be better. It encourages me to continue to offer help and influence in the world around me without fear of failure.

But right now I’m tired.

I’m physically exhausted.

I’m emotionally burdened.

I’m mentally stretched.

I’m financially insecure.

This experience also humbled me. It taught me that I’m not nearly as great as I think I am. I have limits. I wasn’t meant to save everyone. I wasn’t meant to save anyone. I was meant to do the best with the time that I was given.

In my exhaustion I’m not discouraged.

I’m determined.

I’m perseverant.

I’m focused.

I’m resting and recharging before I venture out to search again for the tension between influence and humility.

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Robin Williams and Knowing Where You’re Going When You’re Dead

Tragedy has, apparently, befallen us all. I must admit I had no idea that so many other people held Robin Williams as similarly close to their heart as I did. I could not honestly tell you the number of times I watched Mrs. Doutfire, Jumanji, and Hook in my lifetime. They all spoke to the silliness and care for others I feel inside myself. Similar but more mature inspiration  found me as an adult in movies like Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society, and World’s Greatest Dad. These were my favorites, and I’m sure you have your own.

As so many people have stated, he was a lovely man who sought only the best for others. On multiple occasions he visited people in the hospital dressed as a nurse speaking semi-foreign languages to cheer them up. His daughter Zelda seems to have best captured what this loss means,

“Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls I’ve ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.”

In spite of the tragedy of a lost brother, friend, father, and inspiration; some people find it in their own best interest to question and criticize those who believe that Robin has now found peace or has been “freed.” Some going as far to imply that his soul might possibly be headed the opposite direction of heavenly bliss (leave it to the religiously superior to dump on the beautiful words of our broken hearts).

I believe that not only is this assholicly inconsiderate, but scripturally false.

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a parable about sheep and goats. The sheep are brought to his right hand to experience eternal glory and the goats are sent packing. I believe that we cannot judge whether or not someone is a goat, but we certainly can tell who the sheep are. Let me explain.

In Matthew 7 Jesus makes it clear that we will know true prophets by their good fruit, what does that good fruit look like? I believe it looks like the sheep in Matthew 25. People that did something for the “least of these.” Does this mean we are limited to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick and lonely? Of course not! Jesus also shows his servant heart when he washes the disciples’ feet in John 13.

The heart of a servant is set as an example, and what is the goal of the servant’s heart? Jesus tells us in John 10 that it is so that we might spread joy/life so that other might have it abundantly.

We, as distant admirers, do not know the heart of a man like Robin Williams; but we do know that he inspired us to live more fully and to seek out much joy.

So how is it that we CAN know that he is “freed” and “at peace?”

In the parable of the sheep and goats Jesus says that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.”

You see!? The recipients of the “good fruit” have tasted the fruit of that tree and know that it is good. The beneficiaries share a connection with Jesus Christ, the judge. This is why it is possible for us to know that someone is worthy of the Kingdom.

Likewise, we cannot know whether someone is a goat, because we don’t know what good fruit they might be producing for someone else.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Before you question the peace of someone’s soul, perhaps we should concern ourselves with finding peace in our own souls.

Rest in peace, Robin; and thank you for your inspiration.

 

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Hypocrisy of Language: “Homosexuality is a sin.”

In Genesis 1 God speaks the whole universe into creation. In John 1 those words become living, breathing, human flesh and live among us as a man named Jesus of Nazareth.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1).

All four gospels are filled with people worshipping Jesus “The Word” Christ. Philippians, though, tells us that Jesus had a very different view of himself.

“Though he was in the form of God, (Jesus) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Colossians reminds us that in Jesus the whole fullness of God dwells, but he never used this to his advantage.

One such example of this is in John 8; Jesus refuses his God given power of judgement to condemn a woman caught in adultery.

Philippians extends this refusal of power to us saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves.”

Which brings me back to the title of this post and why it is hypocritical to voice that homosexuality is a sin… because whether you believe that being gay is a sin or not; saying so is a sin itself.

In the verse from Philippians ‘vain conceit,’ is better explained as, ‘pride that produces no results.’

Again, we go to John 8 when Jesus is confronted in the city temple by a group of men dragging along the woman caught in adultery, they ask him whether or not to kill her according to Moses’ law.

We already know that Jesus doesn’t condemn her, but his full response is, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Jesus does not tell us to, “Love the sinner, and hate the sin.”

Rather, Jesus encourages us to, “Love the sinner, and hate our OWN sin.”

Jesus knows that condemnation does not produce results (it doesn’t show the love of God); which is vanity. Jesus also knows that all condemnation does is stroke our own ego; which is conceited.

Whether or not you believe being gay is a sin, saying it out loud has never caused someone to become a Christian or feel loved by you, by God, or anyone else that is connected to you or your God (read: useless). That’s vanity.

The only effect of saying that homosexuality is a sin is to convince yourself that you are somehow better than someone else or that you are mistakenly doing God’s work by calling out sins in the world… that’s conceited.

Saying things that alienate others while making ourselves feel better is the very definition of selfish ambition. It also doesn’t show an attitude of considering others better than ourselves.

If you are somebody who believes with me that Jesus is the son of God and as such carries the very fullness of God; then you either need to stop using that as an excuse for your words of pride and selfish ambition (because Jesus doesn’t agree with you) or stop speaking words of condemnation and alienation.

Christianity is not about making personal beliefs known and forcing others to live by them regardless of the consequences; it is about humility and looking out for the interests of others ESPECIALLY when we carry the power to do so (Philippians 2:1-11).

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Pacifism and Veterans Day

I’m from Wisconsin and outside of Madison and Milwaukee and some of the other college towns it’s populated by G.O.B.s (Good Ole Boys). I grew up camping, fishing, and playing tackle football in the backyard. In two weeks I’ll be north of Highway 8 sitting twelve feet off the ground in a wood framed box with indoor/outdoor carpet stapled to the sides; and if you know what I’m talking about… “you might be a redneck.”

In places like that military service is respected above all else. My grandfather, uncles, cousin, roommates, teammates, co-workers, best friends, and one of my groomsmen have served/are serving; they’re in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

I also grew up a conservative Christian. I supported President Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As my faith has evolved and my study of Jesus Christ has deepened I have become a strict pacifist.

When I first made this change in ideals I was worried for a long time about alienating my close friends and family who served in the military. I think Jack Johnson said it best, “…awful thing to make somebody think that they have to choose pushing for peace or supporting the troops…” and I certainly felt that way. How could I oppose war and support service men and women?

I suppose this mindset was worsened by the few servicemen I DID speak to. They were the types of individuals who joined the military to, “Go kill some towel-heads.”

I was liberated from my conflicting feelings by an unlikely source, Douglas MacArthur; the famous American general. Known for winning the Medal of Honor, the WWII campaign in the Pacific, and being quoted as saying “Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons,” MacArthur seems like the last place a pacifist would go to be affirmed.

But General MacArthur isn’t afraid of what most war supporters don’t admit.

First, “You don’t win wars by dying for your country you win wars by making the other (man) die for his.” This fact alone is a baseline fact for my pacifism. Jesus taught that we should love, pray for, and serve our enemies. General MacArthur and I disagree on how to approach an enemy, but at least he can respect the lives of our enemies and fallen soldiers by admitting what the deaths actually mean.

Second, “The soldier, above all others, prays for peace, for it is the soldier that must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” As I have talked to more and more soldiers and past soldiers I have found this to be a much more common attitude among them. Whether it be their support for diplomatic solutions, isolationism, or even a quick end to military action; more soldiers view war as a last resort.

The soldiers whom fall under the category of “warhawk” are the minority, not the majority. Just like the majority of pacifists struggle with the belief of opposing violence and supporting men and women that have made a decision to put their lives on the line for the sake of us all.

I’m a pacifist, but I love and respect my soldiers. So thank you for your sacrifice. If I could have you know anything, please know that my respect for the lives of our enemies does not negate the respect that I have for you.

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Lies my BIBLE teacher taught me: Blame Others

In the field of psychology there is what is known as self serving bias. Self serving bias leads us to believe that good things in life are our own doing and the bad is because of people and things outside of our control.

For example, the good, “I got a raise because I’m so hardworking and dedicated,” versus the bad, “I got fired because the boss hates me.”

See the difference?

My actions are responsible for causing the good, my boss’ preference is to blame for the bad.

There is also what is called the fundamental attribution error. This is essentially the same thing, but reversed and pinned on someone else.

For example, “He got a promotion because he went to the same school as the boss,” versus the opposite, “He got fired because he is always late and messing things up.”

While the Church isn’t the group that created this bias, it also isn’t doing anything to stop it. In fact, most churches seem to do a great deal (subconsciously, I’m sure) of spreading it.

When someone outside the church sins we love to point the finger at all the things they do wrong as an explanation, “He doesn’t pray enough, she doesn’t read her Bible, he doesn’t come to church, she really isn’t a believer, he needs to grow up, she just needs to make better choices,” etc. etc.

However, when we find ourselves chin deep in sin we’ve been taught to use Romans 7 to explain that it’s the sin inside of us and not our own fault.

Really..!?

Actually, I agree with that.

What I don’t agree with is when we flip it around on members of our own body and on to non-Christians, as well. If we really are to own that we believe the best of ourselves, then we must also believe the best of others.

Plenty of studies have been done on “Teacher Expectations” for behavior and academic achievement. When others believe in you, you perform your best. When other don’t believe in you, you perform poorly.

How much better would our world be if we believed the best of each other, rather than the worst?

How much better would our world be if we used our religion to love and pray for our enemies, rather than condemning them?

How much better would our world be if our Church actually looked like Christ?

Research says… a lot. Church, it’s time to step up, take responsibility for our own actions, and give others the encouragement to be the best they can be. Stop with the, “Love the sinner hate the sin,” and start with the “Love the sinner, hate my OWN sin.”

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Lies my BIBLE teacher taught me,” is a series of posts about general statements that have been emphasized by the prevalent attitudes and beliefs of Western Christianity. It is NOT a list of doctrinal statements that the Church is or was teaching at any point in time.

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15 Minutes for Jesus

I’m jumping to the chase here, I HATE the ’15 Minutes for Jesus’ mantra.

The idea, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is that if you could spend just ’15 minutes’ of your time when you wake up, at lunch, or when you’re going to bed in quiet reflection/prayer/reading the Bible your life will be better. I’m not saying it isn’t a good idea, I’m just saying I hate the emphasis on it.

GUILT TRIP!

First of all, besides being totally sad and pathetic; asking people the question ‘Can’t you spare 15 minutes for Jesus?’ really is a total guilt trip.

“I know I went to a public university and took a ‘secular’ job; but are you really going to try and make me feel bad for watching SportsCenter, too?”

Guess what? Some people seriously HATE reading and some people can’t sit still or quietly; it is against their nature to do those things. And while I’m all for challenging ourselves to step outside of our personality traits and ‘natural’ lifestyle, I don’t think that guilt is a healthy way to go about it.

Yeah, it’s really important to know what the Bible says, but if teachers are changing the presentation of math, science, history, and language arts to meet diverse learning needs… shouldn’t the Church be open to it as well? What’s wrong with Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter?

Lowering God’s Standards

Second, What ever happened to “…at all times, pray!”? Isn’t the ’15 Minutes’ thing severely reducing the standards the Bible has set?

In The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton argues that worship goes beyond singing and services, “It also includes the enactment of God’s love and justice, mercy and kindness in the world,” “Worship can encompass every dimension of our lives.”

I would argue much the same about prayer, Bible reading, and reflection. They don’t stop at the bottom of a cup of coffee, or at the amen, or even when you drift lazily into sleep. They encompass every dimension of our lives.

Prayer at it’s most basic level is communication with God. Considering non-verbal communication between human beings, how much more so are we communicating with God non-verbally? I don’t need my eyes closed, hands folded, or even a specific state of mind to be praying… I just need open communication.

If we take the Holy Spirit seriously, our mere existence is communication with God. The fact that we wrestle with doing the right thing is evidence enough of prayer. Where we fail (and why people advocate ’15 Minutes for Jesus’) is because we suck at doing the right thing. We suck at doing what God tells us.

Total Cop Out

Which leads me to my third reason for hating the ’15 Minutes for Jesus’ mantra… it’s a cop out.

It’s what we do to cover our butts because we don’t always do the right thing. Romans 2 says that it is the “doers” of the law, not the “hearers” that will be justified in God’s eyes. We don’t need more time meditating on loving our neighbor, we need more time DOING it. I think we would be much better served thinking of creative ways to love our neighbor and encouraging one another to take those actions.

Could 15 minutes set apart for God help us take those actions? Sure. Is it efficient? Probably not. Is it necessary? Not at all. So let’s quit it with the guilt trip, realize how hopelessly enveloped by God we already are, and think of something better to say.

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Repeating sins of the past

Everyone knows the cliche’, “History repeats itself,” but just like teenagers feel invincible to car crashes, we all feel immune to history actually rearing its ugly head and biting us in the backside. For some reason Christians REALLY can’t figure this out (intentionally or unintentionally).

Loss of Culture / Babel

The loss of culture in the modern era is absolutely astounding. The BBC has reported that in the last 50 years over 200 languages that are native to India have been lost due to coastal, rural, and nomadic immigration. Poverty and War has sent millions of refugees worldwide far from their homes and cultures. In the United States there has been an especially vocal group advocating a single, national language.

Whether it is intentional or not I can’t help but see a modern day Babel being built. Have we forgotten the story about the danger of a world with one language? One culture?

Revelation 7 speaks to the beauty of humanity, every nation, every tribe, and every language united by Christ and singing in their own voice. No single human possesses all the characteristics of Jesus of Nazareth, but every characteristic is represented somewhere and in some person and culture here on earth.

When we hear that our war, our pollution, and our greed are the driving forces behind the loss of culture we should take that as an indictment of how we are currently living. We need to REPENT and modify the way we interact with each other and creation so that when we are at the throne our entire choir is present.

Serving Two Masters

Jesus once said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

When confronted with a question about taxes, Jesus later says, “Whose head is (on the money)? And whose title?” His point being that money has the emperor’s image and belongs to the emperor.

So what do 1950s Americans do?

They decide to put “In God We Trust” on all of our money and go about acting like every time we spend a cent we are serving God in some sick, twisted, roundabout way! As if putting God’s name on our money excuses us from choosing between God and wealth!

Sin is a crafty devil; haunting our every step and we are the ones to blame for letting it seep into our world. We need to be wary of not only these two examples, but any others that are subliminally challenging our freedom in Christ.

Coincidentally, both of these problems can be solved by personally and communally participating in the Old Testament Jubilee. We must sacrifice of ourselves in order to preserve the earth and each other. We must give freely from our personal storehouses to reduce our dependence on wealth. And we must ultimately (and ironically) live in a way that is consistent with the United State’s ORIGINAL motto, “E plurbus unum.”

Out of many, one.

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