Friday, September 30, 2011
First off, I do believe some people need to get paid for ministry, maybe even me some day. But the criteria for me is someone who is traveling, starting and being an elder and pastor to churches all over. I do actually hope that someday I will have an RV and will travel to spend time with young churches all over the country as a guide and helper. It would be very difficult to do this and work part time, not impossible however, and I am hoping that my art work and furniture and pipe making will be my version of tent making.
Secondly, this doesn't mean you have to take a job as a construction worker, or banker. Some people like my friend Dave Andrews do "ministry" type work, which is paid work. Their second job is working in a homeless shelter, working with refugees, being a chaplain in a prison or hospital.
Thirdly, how can this work in a huge church? It can't! There shouldn't be huge churches. They by their very nature are in need of a CEO, they have the "elite" doing most of the work, and the "others" contribute only money and chores. What I am talking about is not just an economic thing for pastors, it is a re-imagining of the entire church structure. I am talking about smaller, organic groups, that may network for certain reasons, or needs.
Fourthly, if someone isn't always expected to be available at all times to do "spiritual" work, the "normal" people will have to actually use their own gifts and spiritual life.
And lastly to address my friend Simon Moyle, there are times when someone who is a spiritual leader is needed to address greater issues. I would say that these are actually second jobs, that the church may see as important, and hire people to do. For instance, a church might hire an artist to teach art to local children in the neighborhood because of school budget cuts. Or hire someone to do the cooking and organizing of a meal sharing kitchen. Or maybe even someone to address the issues of global violence.
The truth is, the church is broken and getting new better leaders is not the answer, but a re tooling of the whole structure is
Thursday, September 29, 2011
When we returned from Australia I was offered a full time job as a youth pastor at a suburban church which I turned down. I am also very aware of how to build a "normal" church capable of supporting a full time pastor. I would have no trouble finding a church to hire me as a full time pastor either. And to be honest... sometimes these options seem like something worth pursuing.
But there is a number of reasons why I will not do this:
First, I believe that it is the most incontrovertible separation between the clergy and the laity. It makes two classes, the pros and the amateurs. And I think that hinders the concept of true discipleship for all believers.
Second, I believe the paid full time pastor is taken out of the "real world" and placed in a pseudo religious world, where they spend their time doing religious things, and do not deal with real everyday problems first hand, but second or third hand
Thirdly, I believe that full time ministry creates two problems in regards to power and economics. It is much harder to say hard things to someone when they can effect your ability to feed your family. And once you are relying on this economic reality of a pay check it also makes it easy to play the game, in order to continue in your role.
Fourthly, I believe that the money spent on salaries, as well as buildings, are better spent on caring for people, especially the poor and marginalized in our communities and around the world
Fifthly I believe that planting churches is the way forward, and in order to do that they need to be easy to plant. Taking away the burden of a salary makes things much easier to do.
And lastly, I believe that the role of the professional minister has become so maligned, or glorified, that it must be abandoned in its modern context in order to have integrity in our world.
I know others disagree with me, especially those that are getting paid. I also know that with incredible integrity, these issues can on some level be dealt with. But I believe the best and most perfect way forward is with bi-vocational ministry, even if you feel over burdened at times.
That said some of the best, and most amazing people I have ever met, are full time ministers.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I go back and forth with this one, but based on my personality, in practice I generally fall to the side of, "not my responsibility what others think of me". I say what I feel I am supposed to say, and often I say it as bluntly and perhaps even rudely as possible. Jesus was not always nice, and in fact was often down right mean to those that stood in the way of change. Jesus says that the pharisees not only wouldn't enter into the kingdom of God, but were actively keeping others from entering in as well. And His words were not soft and comforting to those people.
Those that are in positions of stability and power in the modern structure have the most to lose by its dismantling. I have empathy for them, I understand, and I will show love and concern and even provide a helping hand as they journey towards living out a new reality. But those that dig their heels in and protect the bastardization of what Christ leaves as his present fleshly reality on this earth... well I don't have gentle words for them.
Does that mean I am lifted up with pride? am I hypocritical? Am I an elitist? Well, yes I am. But I am trying to be less so. I am trying to judge myself every step of the way. I am also saying that I suffer from these issues to. The difference is, I am not digging in my heels, being stiff necked and refusing to be moved. I am on a journey, and am willing to consider myself brother or sister with all those that say the same. But those that are already at their destination are as much the religious powers that be, as those the crucified Christ and I will not "be polite and humble" as they hurt God's people and his Way.
But what I do admit, is there are some things that help us to keep things in check:
Let your deeds speak louder than your words
Always realize your own sin, and your ability to deflect that upon others
Submit to the others in your community that see your failings as much as your success
Serve the least, the outcast, the marginalized, because there you find yourself
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
We discussed the film and its impact afterward and it was a wonderful night.
I highly recommend this movie, it raised more questions than it answered, but for me, it cemented the idea that creativity is so important to each and everyone of us. If we lose the ability to imagine, we lose the ability to hope.
Friday, September 23, 2011
But as I got older, I started to have periods of something different. When I would shut down. When my usually extroverted self would want to crawl into a cave. Where I felt tired, felt like I couldn't do anything nor wanted to. What I learned later was: this is depression. Then even later I learned that I have a very mild form of bi-polar disorder called bi-polar 2
I am now on medication for this, but I developed a problem. The therapeutic dose for my medication causes me to have tremors. The doctor and I decided to lower the dose and see if the tremors went away... they did. But guess what came back?
So today I sit at work wanting nothing more than to go home, and sit alone playing a video game. I am tired, sore, and lonely though I have a wonderful family and friends. I feel tears constantly at the back of my eyes. I can't rejoice at good news and the bad news seems to stab me in the heart. I do not feel suicidal, nor do I feel hopeless. For me this is normally a short cycle, and I will most likely be myself by Sunday. But this is what depression is for me. And it sucks.
So why do I tell this? Because I think its healthy for us to acknowledge our difficulties, and especially our mental health issues. I think we need to take the stigma off of these things.
What I have learned is that this time also lets me be more empathic and caring towards people that suffer from depression on a much deeper level, and indeed all of those that have mental health issues. Please feel free to ask any questions, and know that I am fine, this is just part of my life.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
How many words do I get? :)
I think if I had to narrow it down to one sentence it would be: Follow the life and teachings of Jesus, (the way of the kingdom of love).
I believe that the world needs to wake up from the culture of domination, greed and individualism, both in and outside of the church. To take seriously the teachings of Jesus means to love unconditionally, to live non violently, to care for others especially those uncared for, and to practice a radical lifestyle of love.
What would you say?
ps If I got to say another thing it would be: I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit and on the slitted sheet I sit
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Well let me start out by saying a few things. First off I do completely believe in the social gospel, or liberation theology. I believe that we should focus on the poor, that it is not only a calling but sacramentally mandated for all. I believe that this is part and parcel of the kingdom of heaven, or empire of heaven, or economy of God. It is part of our discipleship, not a "special calling" for certain people.
Secondly, Phil is one hundred percent correct. If you believe and practice this ethic, you will alienate people. You will marginalize people. You will scandalize people. You will trade one group of rejects, for another. This is the truth, I am not going to deny it, nor try and make an excuse as to why it is not true.
But let me address this issue. God's love expressed in the "good news" of the kingdom of God, is not the same good news to all people. Because to some, God's kingdom is a deliverance from slavery. To others, it is a deliverance from mastery. For some it is a economy of life giving care and deliverance, and for others it is a radical call towards sacrifice. I would say that it is good news in both circumstances, but it may not seem so for the one who is called to the good news of sacrifice. The rich young ruler who was told to give up all of his prestige, security and wealth, to join the new world of discipleship, did not take the gospel as good news at all. He saw it as incredibly bad news, news he could not accept. And he was marginalized.
In fact Jesus seems to have no problem marginalizing people. Calling people sons of the devil, white washed tombs and poisonous snakes is not exactly welcoming and affirming language. Jesus had no problems drawing lines in the sand, and saying, you are not among us, and if you don't change you will by the very nature of your life draw judgment upon yourselves. Jesus created a marginalized class.
In fact a careful examination of some of the passages dealing with hell, are a perfect case for this. In the New Testament we find a few words for the English translation hell, but the predominant ones are hades, and Gehenna (the lake of fire). But when Jesus is talking about Gehenna, as the final destination of some people, he is not doing it in an other worldly context. There was a trash dump outside of the city called Gehenna. It was kept burning at all times (eternal fire), there was a constant influx of maggots and worms (the worm was not quenched) and dogs fought over what was found there (gnashing of teeth). If you were poor, a sinner, a race traitor (tax collector), ritually unclean, or a gentile, you were not buried in a Jewish cemetery, but your body would be dragged out and thrown into Gehenna. Jesus now addresses the rich, the powerful, the holy, the people that would never be thrown into the marginalized trash dump, and says if they don't repent, they will find themselves in the place where the marginalized are thrown. In other words, Jesus flips it. You who are looking forward to a place of peace and rest, are actually judged as unworthy in the eyes of God because of your status. This is radical, this could be called class warfare very easily. But it is also the gospel story.
So what do I say to my friend Phil? Yes, the discipleship I follow leads to marginalization of others. But does this mean that God does not love, nor care for these others? no, not at all. He wants to save them from their lifestyles that will not work in the future kingdom of God.
Isn't it the same thing, marginalizing one group is just as bad as marginalizing another? No, it isn't. Because unlike the lgbtq community, the poor, the racially vilified, the mentally ill or whatever other group you are talking about, the rich, the powerful, and the secure, can easily move out of their position, into one of solidarity. The rich can become one with the poor, and in the process be generous, and helpful. But the poor cannot just decide to be rich.
So what does all this mean? The truth is I am rich compared to many in this world. It means I am on a journey towards simplicity, and sustainability. My issue is never with those on a journey, but those defending their positions, which keep them complicit in the kingdom of the world.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
1. If you don't believe the same thing the radical fundamentalist new earthers believe then you aren't a real Christian. This one really pisses me off. You know what? These people didn't exist for 1,850 years of Christian church life. So how could being a real Christian mean you believed what they do? The truth is that Christianity from its very inception has been a very varied, and anarchic movement. Even in the very birth of the religion, the supposed non-negotiables, were disagreed upon. Even the very nature of who or what Christ was was in dispute. So just because I don't believe what Pat "I got a diamond mine" Robertson says, doesn't mean I am not a Christian, it just means I am not a Christian of his ilk.
2. If you don't believe what fundamentalists believe you are a buffet Christian just picking and choosing what you like. This is along the same lines, however... and it is also not true. Though not for the reasons you might expect. ALL CHRISTIANS ARE BUFFET CHRISTIANS!!! You cannot read through the scriptures without in some way choosing to interpret some scriptures in light of others. For instance the fundamentalists take Jesus literally when talking about what you do under the covers, but not when Jesus talks about what to do with your wallet. You must make peace with a method of reconciling two seemingly opposing truths, my method is using Jesus actual life as the interpretive device.
3. All Christians are conservative republicans. Truth is, many are, many aren't, many don't fit into boxes of democrat republican, conservative liberal, and some are even radical anarchists like myself, and are so because of what we believe the bible and our faith teach us.
4. All Christians are hypocrites... well that is true, but I am trying to become less so
Thanks heaps to my brother for guest posting while I was away getting in touch with my inner hippie
First, I don't think the book of revelation is the most awesome book. I have struggled with it, even struggling just to read it, for my whole Christian life. I have the same problems with the book that Phil has. I have learned to appreciate it more seeing a better, more historical, look at it. It is definitely not the escapist mantra that you hear repeated in many circles. What I was explaining to Phil however, is this new commentary I was reading was really making me excited about the book, and seeing it in a different light. The commentary is part of the Brazos series, and is written by Joseph Mangina. It is wonderful, and I think everyone would like it.
Secondly, I don't really think I am like Shane Claiborne on acid. That is a ridiculous assertion...
I am more like Shane Claiborne on steroids and a weight room.
And lastly, I agree completely, that we are to love each other through our disagreements. It is very important that we learn to be the church united in love. I love my brother Phil, even though he cannot see the obvious errors in his thinking. :)
There is an old Christian legend that John the revelator, an elder in the church at Ephesus would be asked to speak to the congregation every Lord's day. And every Lord's day he would stand up, and say, "little children, love one another" and then he would sit down. Finally he was asked, "John, you walked with Jesus, you saw Him walk on water, you felt his resurrected body, you listened to his sermons, don't you have anything else to tell us besides love one another?"
John said, "when you learn to do that, I will tell you something new"
Well, I haven't learned to do that with everyone, or everything yet, but I do love Phil
Monday, September 19, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
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Hello I’m Adriahna or Ade, John Jensen’s daughter. I’ve been thinking and thinking what is
worth guest blog posting? I originally wanted to post on sexuality specifically homosexuality,
but lately I have to admit it all seems irrelevant. The last two years of my life I’ve been dealing/
struggling, whatever words are typically used to describe; telling your family and yourself that
hey…. I think I’m gay. I like this girl. I love this girl. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and
growth, and I must say I am in a very happy and secure spot in my life now.
The reason I say irrelevant is that I’ve been working with children a lot lately. I work at an art
studio for kids teaching them all kinds of art styles and how to use different mediums. I’ve been
working there almost a year, but recently quit my other job in order to focus on this art studio
and well… my well-being. I can’t explain what kind of growth and change occurs within the
self when working with kids. With my own experience seeing all these different types of people
interacting with others, most of all themselves, my whole perspective on life, and humanity has
changed drastically. I must note: you have to be open and listening, absorbing, and thinking.
Otherwise working with kids could be simply, working with kids.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth,
unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of
heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes
one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large
millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea…”
I just want to talk about one lesson I’ve been learning recently. I was doing some art
curriculum in our high school class rather than teaching. My friend was right next to me and I
commented, “man this is the loudest class I have, it’s weird you would think the little kids would
be more rowdy.” And his response was: “They know the most words.”
Being a lame artist who thinks the smallest of things is profound, I found this very profound.
Children know the least words. They speak with their colors in art. They speak with their big
hugs, and they speak with their tears. Every emotion a child feels, you will see it and understand
it. A child will never preach at you. When a young class gets loud I realized the reason for the
noise is that all the kids are talking about their unicorns and making strange noises with their
mouths. They blabber and laugh loudly; they fall off their chairs and can’t seem to stay still.
I have a really hard time with the kids who will quickly give up on a drawing and make up
their minds that they will not touch that drawing again. If you sit next to the child and try to figure out what it is exactly they do not like with their art work the harder it is to get them to
try. Words do not work very well, the younger they are. I have learnt that I have to literally grab
their paintbrush and start fixing the piece until they get mad enough at me, they want to do it.
I watch how frustrated they become with their piece of work because it doesn’t look how they
want it to. Kids dream big, and they have very great visions. Their worlds are full of colors and
the imaginary, and they do not use their words to create that world. When I imagine an adult
humbling his or herself like a child, I imagine no masks.
It’s hard for me to connect to a lot of people on a level that I need. I can do the small talk thing
really well, I am very good at socializing with practically anyone. I am John Jensen’s daughter,
I have to be good with my words. But what I need is a deep emotional connection to people
that makes me feel I am not alone. That’s what is hard to find. Grown –ups like to walk around
with their words and their clothes trying to hide who they really are, trying to project another
image. Children walk around with their clothes expressing who they really are, their emotions
protruding through their faces. They do not have any masks. They lie, but they aren’t lying to
deceive you into thinking they are someone they’re not. They lie to obtain a cookie.
Most of all… children do not care if you have different colored skin or are with someone of the
same-sex. They will embarrassingly point it out, but give them a minute and it’s like nothing
happened. They don’t give a shit about your theology, as long as you are nice to them. They still
hug you, they still love you. Children are little bundles of selfish, beautiful, and simple love.
They do not wear masks, and they know the least words. Experiencing a child’s love is the most
exciting and awesome experience because you know that they are not faking it. You know that,
that child genuinely loves you for who you are.
So I am challenged as a Christian to take off my mask daily, and love fully. I will try not to hide
my emotions and I will try to use little words doing so. So it’s all irrelevant; all this theology, all
of this arguing over who is right or wrong. I am gay and it’s irrelevant to a child. I love a woman,
and they love me, and I love them..
Thursday, September 15, 2011
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I would like to use this opportunity to address some of the misconceptions that Christians have about us atheists and agnostics. Christian is a very broad term, and please know that I am aware that I'm writing this for a forum that is read mostly be progressive Christians, people who I often find I have much in common with, not always the case when I'm amongst my fellow atheists. I don't think that ALL Christians hold the misconceptions I address here but in my every day interactions with religious people, mostly Christians, these ideas about who I am, how I live and what I believe as an atheist come up again and again.
We left the faith because of problems and hypocrisy in the Church.
I've had this one used on me, and even attributed to me in a book, by folks who feel like they're being very broadminded and empathizing with us as they work to build a better church, one that would no doubt bring us back into the fold. Well, I can certainly criticize many Churches but I did not leave the religion I was
raised in because of any church. When I was a Christian I was all about having a relationship with God and Church was secondary. I left due to my own intellectual doubts and this is the case with the majority of Atheists I've talked to who were formerly religious.
We reject religion because we want to live our sinful lifestyle.
Oh man, I wish this one were true. Sex, drugs and video games, oh yeah. The truth is, I'm in a 17 year monogamous relationship and for the last three years, a state sanctioned legal marriage even. I don't do any drugs that my doctor doesn't insist I do with the exception of coffee. No alcohol, no white sugar. I don't consume meat or dairy. I do listen to rock and roll and I do look at what some would call pornography but I'm very picky about it. In other words, my life is way to boring to be called sinful lest we risk that lusty word becoming watered down.
The question I'm always asked is “Where do I get my morals from?” Where do you get yours? Christians subscribe to many modern ideas about morality that are not in the bible, or at least weren't seen to be found there until recently. To me all morality is citizenship. I try to be a good member of the groups I am a part of. I am a father, a husband, a brother, an artist, a Sacramentan, a Californian, an American, a Human, an atheist, a comedian. I want to feel good about my contributions and about what I've consumed or taken from this world while I'm in it. And this world is everything to me. It's the only thing that I am confident
exists so I value and treasure it. Same goes with this life, mine and yours. From my perspective, it's the only one we got.
I could go on all day and it's a subject I find fascinating but the real point is, for whatever reason, we aren't amoral people. We make great neighbors. We have compassion and love and those things tend to make one want to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.
I had a pastor tell me that before he was a Christian he would've walked over a dying man rather than stop to help. That does not represent an atheist that represents a sociopath.
We have as much faith as religious people.
This one comes from the agnostic vs. atheist discussion and the fact that MOST atheists including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Chistopher Hitchens, describe themselves as agnostic atheists. We don't KNOW that there is no God and I'm sure you're all tired of our many silly examples of other things we are equally unsure of (Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russells's Tea Pot, Invisible Pink Unicorn) but the point, eloquently made by Bertrand Russell who I'll paraphrase here, is that we are only as agnostic toward current Gods as we are, and as you are, toward the Gods of Ancient Rome, who also can't be proven not to exist. It is more technically accurate to say we are agnostic it is more practically accurate to say that we are atheist. So no, I don't have faith that there is no god, I just possess no belief whatsoever that there is. Confusing? Yeah, semantics is like that. The important thing to me on the definition issue is, you can disagree with our use of the word atheist, but since we are the ones describing ourselves with it, remember our definition when discussing our beliefs with us. I spend an awful lot of time having beliefs assigned to me and then being asked to defend said beliefs.
To quote the great Elvis Costello “I'm not angry!” Angry people are loud. You notice them first. The atheists you notice are loud and angry. Most of us are nice people. Most of us have friends who are religious. Most of us, like most people, get angry about certain things and it may be when we're addressing those things that our paths are most likely to cross yours. I try very hard to stay polite and civil when discussing issues pertaining to politics, religion, etc. I'm not always successful but I'm not a particularly angry person and if you met me at a party we could probably have a good laugh while discussing how insane we found each other to be.
We eat babies.
Um... okay, you got us there. We do in fact eat babies.
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Keith Lowell Jensen is a comedian and filmmaker. He is currently touring the west coast of US in support of his most recent CD and DVD release, Cats Made of Rabbits. His website is www.AtheistComedian.com. He needs an editor badly.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Unitarian Universalism is a religion without a creed. Instead of creed, our membership in this faith rests on covenant. We agree to walk together in the ways of Love, to serve one another and the church, to seek truth.We are a direct expression of Liberal Religion. That is to say, we are a religion--one created fifty years ago through the mutual cooperation and partnership of two other religions- -and we use, in our common endeavor, the forms and language of religion. We are a church, engaged in ministry to and with its members and our community.
We are a religion, indeed, but being a Liberal religion means that while some of those forms might be similar to others’, our use of religious language, ritual, and the ways in which we minister to and with one another may not point to the same ultimate truths as other churches. In this faith, we pray, we speak of grace, we learn from Jesus, we do ministry to make lives better and to bring healing and wholeness. There are thousands of congregations and churches that do the same. But for many of them, the conclusions that they will come to about Life, the Universe, and Everything will be very different. We approach the questions, while many of them are sharing answers. The opposite of Liberal, here, is Fundamentalist. We do not belong in this faith because of our affiliation with any particular political party or outlook, or because we prefer either coffee or tea. We belong to this faith because our approach to the questions of ultimate value and worth and meaning and purpose is a religiously liberal approach.
Fortunately for us, while we have no creed, we do have a heart. A center. While we have no dogma, we do, in fact have doctrine--core understandings of what Liberal Religion and Unitarian Universalism are that are teachable, sharable, and can even be said concisely. I have made a commitment to all of you and to myself to find a better way to share the heart of Unitarian Universalism and Liberal Religion, most especially in my Southeast Texan context. It names our religious identity--how we fit into the world of religious context. It also names our doctrine--the beliefs we carry that help us slay giants in our lives and in our world. Here’s how it goes:
Unitarian Universalism emerged fifty years ago out of two historically Protestant denominations, which asserted the unity of God, the humanity of Jesus, and that there can be no hell because nothing can separate us from Ultimate Love. We believe in Possibilities, Love, Courage, Responsibility and Hope.
James Luther Adams, Unitarian minister, liberal religious theologian and professor at both the University of Chicago and at Meadville Lombard Theological School, articulated this heart for Liberal Religion. He called them the five smooth stones of religious liberalism, after the five smooth stones used by little David. They are our center, the heart of our shared faith, names for the tools that we carry with us and which help us find our way.
The first smooth stone is this: Revelation is open and continuous. There are those on the opposite side of the religious spectrum who believe that revelation is set down in one book only, and is sealed. Sealed! We, on the other hand, believe that not only is revelation not sealed, but it comes in a variety of forms. The truths that we learn, that get us closer to being the people we are capable of being and the world we are responsible for building, come to us in many ways. A bible verse, yes. But also a Buddhist sutra, a therapist’s observations, a work of fiction. In words, yes. But also in the particular tension of a chord in a particular song, in the way the light hits the trees just so, in the silence of a Quaker meeting. Revelations--glimpses of truth, of meaning, of purpose--may break into our lives an any moment. Any person we meet, like us or different, may contain just the next piece of revelation that connects our personal lives with the broader human and cosmic story. Thus, we covenant to promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people. They are all potential instruments of revelation, along with our books and learning and contemplations and dreams and scientific conclusions. We are open to all of that. We believe in possibility.
The second smooth stone reminds us that authentic human relationship is consensual. It is mutual, and never coerced. Our churches are built on covenant, not on hierarchies. Our membership, too, is based in the mutuality of covenant, and not on the tests of a creed. Likewise, our relationships with one another are mutual ones. “We need not think alike to love alike” said the 16th century Transylvanian Unitarian minister, Francis David. Our love for one another does not rest in our willingness to be persuaded. Our love for each other does not depend on the same understandings of God. Our community does not depend on a pecking order. Rather, it depends on all of us choosing to be a part of this faith of our own free will. It depends on our walking together...and on helping one another back to the path when we stray from it. We believe in love.
We know that the love between individuals must find expression in the community as a whole, as well as in the wider world. The third smooth stone of Liberal Religion is our obligation to the establishment of a just and loving community. When a certain political commentator recently attacked the pursuit of social justice in churches as an expression of communism and nazism, I recoiled. Does Glenn Beck know nothing of the life and work of Jesus? I stand with James Luther Adams, who notes that “a faith that is not the sister of justice is bound to bring us to grief.” In this faith, we understand that we have a moral imperative to create communities, large and small, that are just and loving for all people. We believe that we must be on the side of justice and love--we believe in the courage that such building can take.
We must gather our courage because of the next truth, the fourth smooth stone: We deny the immaculate conception of virtue. Good does not appear, set down among us by a giant heavenly hand. There is no goodness, as such. There is, instead, goodness in specific forms and expressions, like policies, institutions, or actions. Good is brought about by hard work, and our human hands must be set to the task of building the forms of goodness. While the moral arc of the Universe may bend toward justice, it will only do so when we are engaged in helping to direct it. Our hands and lives must take on the obligation that we acknowledge as part of our very humanity. The just and loving community is not created ex nilhio, anymore than the earth was created in six days. It is created when we look into the eyes of another, when we walk together, when we bridge divides, when we insist on equality for all people, when we change our personal and social systems to heal this wounded earth of ours, when we speak up for the voiceless, when we raise our fists against oppressions, when we acknowledge our own participation in broken systems and seek to make amends. We can not sit on tidy porches, sipping tidy drinks, while off in the distance the battles rage on. The just and loving community does not just appear. We know that ultimately, we must get in there and be part of its birth.
We believe in human responsibility.
God knows that there is work, yet for us to do, and that task of building the beloved community can seem, at times, impossible. But our faith does not fail us. In the fifth smooth stone, we are given hope. The fifth smooth stone assures us that resources are available--both human and divine--that can help to bring about the changes we seek. These resources are a reason for ultimate optimism. James Luther Adams, writing on the other side of World War II, is quick to point out that this does not always mean immediate optimism, but rather in an enduring spirit of humility and renewal which is the foundation of continuing progress. Optimism and hope is a part of our tradition--our Unitarian forbears proclaimed their unwavering faith in “the progress of mankind onward and upward forever!” There are resources that are human--our collective knowledge and experience, our never-ending drive toward life, our capability to love, our ingenuity and creativity. There are resources that are divine--the mysteries of grace and coincidence and synchronicity, the unfolding book of the Universe, an unassailable and ever- present interconnectedness and overarching Love. Because revelation is open and continuous, no doubt we will discover more resources along our way. Our optimism is justified. Thus, we believe in Hope.
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
There are giants in our midst. Forces that stand between us and wholeness, between what we are and what we are capable of being. Forces that seek, by their own might and power, to render the beloved community merely a pipe-dream, a naive vision of silly liberals and our disgusting bleeding hearts. There are giants in our midst. Consumerism. Polarization. Fear. Hatred of the stranger. Intolerance. Jingoism. Violence. Apathy. Greed. These are the battles of our age. These are our battles. And we will not fight these with a sword; we will not shield ourselves with unwieldy armor. It is not our way.
Here, on the front lines, we can stand with our feet firmly planted, holding the legacy and the tools of our faith. Five smooth stones. Possibility. Love. Courage. Responsibility. Hope. Used with a little skill, giants don’t stand a chance.
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Rev. Ellen Cooper-Davis is the minister of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, and a proud Twitter-follower of John. You can find her @Rev_Mother online, or on her blog, Keep the Faith.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
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Although seemingly most-likely-to-become-friends in a packed room, for we both have good looking tattoos, great taste in cigars, even better tastes in sing malt Scotch Whiskey, we both married up, and we both believe that Mark Driscoll is a misogynistic ass. In other ways it’s not like John and I have tons in common – John is a self-proclaimed Christian Anarchist (whatever the fuck that means) and I lean towards a self-sustaining capitalism, which makes John quiver with nausea anytime I mention that to him – so I try to do it as often as I can. John believes that the book of Revelation may be one of the greatest books in all of scripture and I think it should be yanked out of the bible because of the shitty theology, songs, and book series it has inspired. John sometimes acts like Shane Claiborne on crack, calling all to a radical social gospel, which I feel is needed; however, I also feel that the social gospel is incomplete at times, creating margins of a different kind. John is a house church planter, and I am church planter that has no desire to create a house church - although I find the house church a valid and a beautiful part of the greater body of the Resurrected Son; it simply is not my particular calling.
I could spend this entire blog post sifting through the differences that John and I have and though that would be fun (at least for me it would be), I would rather focus on why (despite our differences) we still call each other “brother.”
Over the years I have realized that not everyone is going to agree with me – no matter how much I try to persuade him or her to do so. I’ve also learned whether you are a self-sustaining capitalist pig such as myself, or you subscribe to anarchy with a Christo-centric twist, we as the body of Christ have conditioned ourselves not to listen to one another, but only kill time waiting for our turn to promote our views. Pete Rollins in his book “How (Not) To Speak Of God” articulates this point in a more detailed way and he suggests that we as “Christians” only wait for our turn talk and we have lost the art of conversation. We as “Christians” have bought into the farce of apologetics, thinking that it is still a relevant way to communicate, while closing off ourselves to the richness of diversity of different opinions.
Apologetics encourages us to take the posture of proving a point, rather than creating a dialogue. We get so worked up when someone disagrees with us, taking their views as personal attacks, getting angry or upset. We often then respond like a honey badger stalking its prey, not giving a shit who or what gets damaged by the verbal carnage that we are about to inflict. And for what reason do we do this? To prove that we are right? We’ve limited conversation to attack and counter-attack. The notion of apologetics is right or nothing – harmoniously believing the same thing at the end OR being right/wrong and having no ground to move forward. Apologetics is more about talking AT than talking WITH someone. We simply don’t know how to speak with someone AND agree to disagree.
That is what I love about my friendship with John: we agree to disagree on many things and yet we still call each other brother. He has even invited me to speak to his house church and I would one day love for him to come speak at the mega-church that I work at (note the irony here: The Eucatastrophe is by far *not* a mega-church). We find value in each other despite our differences. We love each other despite our differences. It’s not that I think John and I have evolved into a version of Christianity that is better than anyone else’s. Hell, if you look at us, you may think we haven’t evolved at all; some say we may look more like the missing link (especially when John grows his Castro beard out). I think we have at least learned to try to listen more, not just wait for our turn to speak, and have agreed-to-disagree when we don’t see eye to eye on an issue (or many issues in our case).
I am not interested in what is right or what is wrong, but what is healthy. And I think healthy is finding value in our differences – as long as both voices are being heard in the conversation. I love John and I love the voice that he brings to the table. And though I don’t always agree, I try to listen to where he is at, truly hear him out and engage with his perspective; I believe he tries to do the same with me….or at least he fakes it well.
John and I are not the end-all-to-be-all on every topic and perspective, even though we both like to believe we are at times. In all honesty, we are only but one example of how we can learn to listen to one another, agree to disagree, and be a part of the greater community of God.
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Phil (aka The Whiskey Preacher) is a Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ) minister who co-founded The Eucatastrophe with his crazy-smart beautiful wife Stephanie in the fall of 07 in downtown Fort Worth. You can find more of Phil’s writing & other musings at www.whiskeypreacher.com
Monday, September 12, 2011
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There are times when the Bible really speaks to me. Then there are those texts that make me cringe; that make me wish whoever that ancient guy who felt inspired to write things like “Blessed is anyone who smashes your babies’ heads against the rocks.” had just kept it to himself. Go ahead and read it, it’s in Psalm 137. When I come across these passages, it’s tempting to skip them, to explain them away, or to muter some bull about God’s ways being higher than our ways. Don’t me wrong, God’s ways are probably way higher than mine. But even my lowest ways know it’s not cool to dash little ones against rocks. And if I think God will bless me for it, they will likely put me in an institution. But there it is, in the Bible, glaring at me like a ripe zit on a cute face. Here’s the whole Psalm. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful, except for the zits at the end:
Psalm 137 1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. 2 We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. 3 For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: "Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!" 4 But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. 6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don't make Jerusalem my greatest joy. 7 O LORD, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. "Destroy it!" they yelled. "Level it to the ground!" 8 O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. 9 Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!
To give it context, one can, and should, check out what commentaries and history books have to say about difficult passages like this. “Dashing infants” is mentioned in 2 Kings 8:12, Isaiah 13:16, Hosea 10:14, and Nahum 3:10 as well. Killing infants was common in Ancient Near Eastern warfare, not only among the Israelites, but among other tribes as well. That doesn’t make it right, it just means the guy who wrote this Psalm didn’t make it up.
If we dig further into the context, we see that this Psalm was written during the exile. Israel had been attacked, and Jerusalem burned by the armies of Babylon in 537BCE. The exiles were carried off to a foreign land after seeing loved ones killed, homes burned, and everything they had worked for taken away. You can hear the agony in their voice as they recall weeping on the ground in a land not their own.
As we have seen in very recent history, torture changes people. Trauma does something to the mind that is indescribably awful. In the process of grief, anger flares up and thoughts of forgiveness, civility, or hopes for safety are clouded by fantasies of vengeance. In this Psalm, we have exactly that. But it’s not just a fantasy, it’s a prayer to God. And perhaps that is the important part; the writer felt comfortable enough with God to pray awful things honestly and not edit them later.
I wonder; could freely expressing our worst thoughts to God interrupt the cycle of violence? Could writing it down “get it out of our system” enough that we don’t actually go smash any heads? Maybe. But this psalmist doesn’t say, “I want to smash heads,” he says, “blessed is the one who smashes heads.” He’s making a theological statement. When I’m angry I make a lot of theological statements too.
But if he’s wrong, and I think he is, then how can this still be scripture? I would posit that the reason this can still be holy, even while it is inconceivably immoral, is that it is only one half of the conversation. Just as the writer felt free to express himself to God and make theological claims, so God feels free to respond, just as honestly. And that is our task in interpretation. What would God say back? From my experience, I’d guess God might respond with, “No, I won’t bless you if you do that. But I love it when you’re honest with me. Let’s wait till you can think clearer to talk about revenge. Right now, just know that you’re safe.”
What do you think God would say to this traumatized writer? What has God said to you when you were hurt and burning mad?
Sometimes the Bible drives me nuts. But, difficult texts like this remind me that the Bible is only half of a very ancient conversation. Perhaps the Bible is holy, not in spite of, but because of this frustrating limitation.
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Katie Jo Suddaby is a five-foot tall rabble rouser from Upstate New York. Currently in the final stretch of her seminary education, she hopes to be ordained next year, in the American Baptist Church. Katie Jo is a big fan of nerdy things like Star Trek. She has a little dog named Gus. In her spare time, Katie Jo walks said dog, wrestles unsuccessfully with her lawn mower, does Buddhist sand painting, and cooks vegan delicacies like mac-n-not-cheese and peanut butter and jelly.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Karl Rahner may well be the most important theologian of the last 500 years for both Roman Catholics AND non-Roman Western Christians. And if you are an evangelical or a mainline Protestant, he may be the most important theologian you've never heard of. It was the theology of Karl Rahner that was the basis for the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church which happened October 11, 1962 - December 8, 1965. (Yes, his theology is important.)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poem, Aurora Leigh includes one of the best metaphors for the Sacramental Universe.
|Scott Mutter's Church Aisle|
Perhaps the greatest joy of the notion of Sacramental Universe is a spirituality that is grounded in the Incarnation and the stuff of everyday life. Unlike the gnostic forms of Christianity, it does not seek to catch God out of the air, but to see God more clearly in the world around us in our everyday lives, and experience God physically and tangibly.
This way of seeing holds the potential to make any of us an ordinary mystic. And as many ordinary mystics know, Brother Lawrence’s practice of seeking God’s presence in the mundane – even when he cleaned toilets – is a model for seeking Christ.
Open your eyes...
|Mary Jane Miller's Christ is Present at All Times from the series "Line,Blur and Halo"|
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Friday, September 09, 2011
Ok, I would be able to enjoy myself, and I am not that stimulating. But this gives me an excuse to have some wonderful people post on my blog.
Over the next few days you will hear from among others, my eldest daughter, my brother the atheist comedian, and some dear friends from around the interwebs. I hope you will tune in, comment, and maybe even argue a bit. Just be nice, cause when daddy gets back you don't want him to be in a foul mood.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
It is one more instance where making the blind see seems more of a miracle if its spiritual rather than physical.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
And how he responds to the religious people of his day, especially the leaders and devout disciples.
AND FAIL TO RECOGNIZE THAT WE HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH THE WHITE WASHED TOMBS, AND THE SNAKES, THAN JESUS FRIENDS.
and yes I am preaching to my own self righteous self
I will be posting more today, and til we leave but I am trying to get guest posters for while I am gone. If you would like to post a blog here, please comment on this thread and we will work it out.
Friday, September 02, 2011
Now Simon is way more "radical" than I. And there are other folk that are more radical than he. Its not a competition, but an orientation towards following the radical, revolutionary Jesus.
My whole life I have been a bit of a radical. I would jump off the top of the monkey bars in kindergarden, just because it was scary. I bull fought at 15 years of age. I skateboarded in swimming pools and vert ramps, and was a mma fighter. I like radical, I am inclined towards radical. And I naturally would place this inclination towards my faith.
Following that reasoning, I wanted to live in South Central, or North Long Beach, or some where really "hardcore", when we returned to America. I really want to be... radical. But the truth is, most of this is my ego. Ego and pride are not the way of Jesus. Through a series of dreams and the interpretations of these dreams by community members, and circumstance, we wind up in a neighborhood that is in between, not hardcore, but not sleepy suberbs. The Popeyes chicken on the corner does have bullet proof glass, but we don't have gang violence next door. And I am convinced we are where we are meant to be. And we are living as faithfully as we can to the radical call of Jesus in our present place. We are sharing our breakfast on Sundays with the homeless in the park, we are cultivating a small community garden, we are living in a shared housing situation, learning more about open purse living. We are doing stuff that is heading in the direction of radical, and to be honest, we want to be more so.
So, what is my point? My point I guess is this: Following Jesus is a journey, and it is our direction that is really the point. There are differing gifts, and differing applications. We will not all look like Jarrod McKenna, Shane Claiborne, or Simon Moyle. But we cannot stop our journey by saying, "well I am just not called to that" Ours should be, for everyone of us, a constant challenge towards a more complete following of Jesus, which calls us to radical love, radical confronting of the powers, radical opposition to oppression, and radical deconstruction of the kingdoms of this world. It is this orientation towards becoming more like Jesus, that is the goal.
So for some of us that are out on the fringe, the truth is most likely that we have embraced this crazy discipleship maybe sooner, maybe through our personality, or maybe because of great teaching and mentors, and we need to stand strong in our calling. But in that we need to gently call people to take steps in the direction of Jesus, and His radical cross carrying way, with lots of grace and encouragement. NO ONE, INCLUDING THOSE "RADICAL DISCIPLES" CAN STAY WHERE THEY ARE, WE ARE ALL CALLED TO KEEP DRAWING EVERY CLOSER TO JESUS AND THE WAY OF THE CROSS
I hope that makes some sense
Thursday, September 01, 2011
1. Marriage is sometimes very difficult, and we need help. Be honest with yourself, and others, and ask for help when needed. It doesn't mean you are weak, it means you are trying hard to be a consistently growing relationship
2. Two halfs don't make a whole, own your own shit, and deal with it. Two wholes make a whole, encourage each other in your personal growth.
3. Quality time comes from quantity time, make time for each other. Even if it means your pocket book suffers. My wife and I have one day a week that is our together time, our churches even learned do not call John and Raquel on date day unless it is an emergency, and you can't reach anyone else. This time is so important.
4. add on to number three, go away once and a while, we try and get two weekends, and one week long camping trip a year, just the two of us, nobody else. We need to reset, and its hard to do that in the middle of life.
5. be committed to fightings as hard as you can to make it work, and then trust God.
Now let me say that if you are getting abused, then get the hell out of there. In fact I will come help you move out.
And, this should not bring any guilt, if you have been divorced or are really struggling, I get it, its all love. Just sharing what has helped Raquel and I get through some really tough times, and share some great ones.