Friday, October 20, 2017

The Doomed

In light of this current difficult and polarized social, spiritual and political climate, we artist types need to open our big mouths and share the light a little louder. ~Maynard James Keenan

Until recently, Maynard James Keenan was one of the many hard-rock & rollers I’d never heard of. Then, through no fault of my own, I was exposed to his band’s new song, “The Doomed.” (Yes, it’s every bit as pleasant as it sounds.)

Though “The Doomed” ain’t exactly my jam, its message is jarring.

Behold a new Christ
Behold the same old horde
Gather at the altering
New beginning, new word
And the word was death
And the word was without light
The new beatitude:
"Good luck, you're on your own"

Blessed are the rich . . .
Blessed are the envious
Blessed the slothful, the wrathful, the vain
Blessed are the gluttonous
May they feast us to famine and war

What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
All doomed
All doomed

What’s your gut reaction to this?  

If your initial response is “righteous indignation” at such a “blatant attack on Christ,” I urge you to look again.

I don’t think the song assaults Jesus. Rather, it’s a blistering commentary on the church.

I think the artist is screaming: Christians are twisting the words of Jesus! They’re turning His teachings upside down!

I know. It’s more than a little tempting to think that God wouldn’t stoop to speak through rockers or bloggers.

But then again, there was that time when God spoke through a donkey…so…?

At any rate, the song strikes ambivalent chords in me.

I’m saddened that A Perfect Circle sees some things clearer than evangelicals. Yet I’m hopeful that more folks—inside and outside the church—will rediscover the true Christ and walk in His Way; that we will undergo a radical reformation.

Maybe it’s not only the “artist types” who need to “share the light a little louder.” 

Know what I mean? 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Two Masters

He’s an NFL quarterback and Christian who is misunderstood and maligned for his meek* witness on his knees. 

I’m talking about Tim Teb Colin Kaepernick .

One of the most interesting things about Kaepernick is his faith. Yep. Kaepernick is a Christian. He was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran and attended a Baptist church during his college years.

He sounds virtually Tebow-esque when he talks about his faith in God, saying, “I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field.”

Kaepernick has a Bible scroll with Psalm 18:39 tattooed on his right arm. Underneath is written “To God be the Glory.”

Lots of thoughts crowd my mind but I’ll express only two. (You’re welcome.)

First, it disturbs me that so many Christians despise—perhaps even hate—Kaepernick, our brother in the Lord. They’ve never met him; never spoken with him; and know next to nothing about him.

And yet they judge him.

Their harsh judgment of him—based upon nothing but conjecture and soundbites—goes against the clear teachings of Jesus: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).

That Christians judge Kaepernick is unsettling. Why they judge him is equally so.

Thought two…

Christians are crucifying Kaepernick in the name of Caesar.  

The rage against him and any other heretic who doesn’t respect—in the orthodox way—the sacred songs and symbols of American civil religion is quite troubling.

The early followers of Jesus refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. Instead, they humbly but boldly proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord.” Thus they refused to conflate the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Rome.

And they were hated for it.

Now…

You may be thinking (or yelling at your computer), “Hey Steve, you don’t know him any better than I do! You don’t know his motives…so shut yer word hole!

Of course you’re correct. I don’t know him.

But here's the thing…this writing really isn’t about him. This is about us. Where is our true loyalty, our true passion?

Dear reader, we can’t devote ourselves to two masters.

There may be a time when Christians in America need to choose between Americianity (the unofficial syncretic religion of the American empire) and following Jesus.

I’m thinking maybe it was yesterday.

____________________________ 

*It’s difficult to think of kneeling as anything but meek and nonaggressive. Also, a big THANK YOU to my buddy, Randy Hester, for informing me that Kaepernick kneels during the anthem at the suggestion of an Army veteran.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sometimes It's Personal (or it should be)

Nearly every Sunday, at Grace Bible Church, we pray for persecuted Christians.

Presently, hundreds of Iraqi Christians are imprisoned with no clue as to when they will be released, where they will live, or if they’ll ever see their families again.

You may be thinking: “Ohhh…hate ISIS!”

I know. Right?

Except I’m not talking about Iraqi Christians in Iraq. I’m talking about Iraqi Christians in America.

What’s that now?

Yeah…I’m talking about Christians in America being persecuted by the US government.

With the Trump administration threatening to deport more than 1,400 Iraqis . . . This summer, hundreds of Iraqis were behind bars in holding centers around the United States, slated for deportation to Iraq. The majority were Christians . . .

“Not only would they be breaking up families that have been here for decades . . . but they would be sending an already targeted minority to a country that no longer welcomes them.”

 . . . Many Chaldeans suspect it was no accident that ICE conducted its largest round-up on a Sunday, when many would be on their way to church. (Christianity Today, October 2017)

At GBC we not only pray for the persecuted, but also for the persecutors. This is exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Now, before your head explodes faster than you can stand for the National Anthem, please understand: I’m not equating ICE to ISIS. (That would be stupid.)

But as I imagine the fear and helplessness that Iraqi Christians are experiencing in the US, at the hands of the Trump administration, I think about something else Jesus said.

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me. 

Jesus takes it personally. Maybe we should too. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Great Divorce

I suppose it’s time to make it official: The “Christian Right” (CR) and I are splitsville.

Some of you have seen this coming for a few years now. Others are undoubtedly shocked—what with us being together since high school and all. (We even made it through my college years.)

It’s difficult to say how these things happen really. I guess it’s never just one thing. I think more than anything we just sort of drifted apart…

I know I’m not the same person I was back in high school when I first fell for CR. And, honestly, I think CR has changed some too. (For example, CR used to be so focused on the family and was always talking about how character matters and such. CR got weird and stopped talking like this a little over a year or so ago. It was like these things never really mattered.)

I don’t’ know…maybe I started seeing CR a little differently when I first bumped into a guy named Ron Paul. All his talk about not killing foreigners got me to thinking: Was there ever an American war that CR wasn’t absolutely giddy for?

Our relationship only got more strained as I started rethinking “wars” of all 
sorts—the “war” on terror, the “war” on drugs (every bit as effective as yesteryear’s “war” on alcohol), and the granddaddy of them all: the culture “war.”

The wise words of Edwin Starr come to mind. 

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing

Speaking of absolutely nothing, it started to feel like that’s what CR and I had in common after I stopped fighting folks all the time.

Greg Boyd didn’t help us any. His “Myth of A Christian Nation” only put more doubts in my mind as I wrestled with new thoughts and feelings. I started to suspect CR wasn’t all I had imagined.

I don’t mean to throw Greg under the bus. There were others. But in all actuality, Jesus is mostly to blame. I began to focus, and I mean focus, on His teachings. You know…the red letters.

It slowly dawned on me. Conservatives and Progressives are walking the same way—the way of Empire. Both want coercive power over others.

What do conservatives want to conserve? The Empire. What do progressives want to progress? The Empire.

Jesus offers an entirely different Way. Finally, I could see it.

I was going to have to choose.

And then there was the political dumpster fire of 2016. That was the last straw, my Meatloaf moment.

“I would do anything for love…but I won’t do that.”

As I parted ways with CR, for the most part, I felt relief. But there was also sadness and a few “What now?” moments.

Can CR and I still be friends? I don’t know. CR has anger issues.

Breaking up is hard to do and this ain’t no Hallmark movie. 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Basement Statement

What’s my opinion of the “Nashville Statement” you ask?

Well…

In my estimation it’s yet another salvo needlessly fired in the unending culture war.

I say "needlessly fired" because as far as I can tell, it has accomplished nothing other than to harden people in their already held positions. I see no one reading the statement and significantly changing his/her mind. The initial fruits of the document are more anger and fighting.

Does our culture need more fragmentation? Not just the culture—how about the church?

83% of LGBT people were raised in the church and 51% left the church after they turned 18 years old. Do you know why? The reasons aren’t primarily theological; they are relational. Only 3% of LGBT people who left the church said they left because of the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. The main reasons why they left had to do with relational problems not theological ones. They were dehumanized, isolated, shunned, or simply kicked out of the church once it was discovered that they experienced same-gender love. So my question is this: Will the NS [Nashville Statement] help or hinder these profound relational problems?

That’s a good question! Here’s another one: Is anyone being drawn closer to Jesus because of the Nashville Statement?

I don't see how. Neither does Josh Daffern.

What’s the greater purpose behind the Nashville Statement? To defend the biblical view on gender and sexuality, I get that. But the manner in which this statement defends it is so abrasive that it actually runs counter to a much larger goal, and that’s called the Great Commission. If we as Christians are called to love people into the Kingdom (regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity), this sure is a funny way to show our love. In fact, this statement will in fact drive a wedge further between us and those we’re called to love. Instead of drawing lines in the sand, we should be building bridges. To me that’s one of the great fatal flaws in the Nashville Statement: this seems to do more harm than good in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Some believe the Nashville Statement will at least help the church to focus on God’s word. But dear reader, Christ-followers focus on the Word of 
God—Jesus—by trusting Him and His Way every single day: no Nashville Statement needed.  

Okay, enough of my opinion. This is what I know about you.

Jesus knows your name. He knows your story. He loves you deeply, selflessly, and without reserve. And He always will.
 

I’m thinking folks like us need the Savior from Nazareth far more than the Statement from Nashville. (But then…you probably already knew that.) 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Statues and The Image of God

Until recently, when Americans of a certain age heard General Lee they pictured this.

Not this.

But the times, they are a changin’.

For example, it used to be that White supremacists had to slink around at night bedecked in bedsheets and dunce caps. Nowadays they proudly show their faces in the orange light of...ahem…day.

Still, why did they descend on Charlottesville to defend a statue? (I’ve a hunch that the vast majority of them were visiting their "beloved site" for the first time.)

Remember when racists gathered in Arkansas to protect the 10 Commandments statue? Me neither.

So I don’t think they just have a thing for statues. There must be something more…

The Robert E. Lee statue is a symbol. And like all symbols, it evokes different things in different people. Some value it as an artifact of culture. Others view it as a reminder of oppression. Many see it as some old guy on a horse. (Ignorance is bliss?)

One thing’s certain; General Lee himself wanted no such monuments of war.

I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.

Regardless of one’s perspective, it’s rather difficult to argue that the statue stands for heritage not racism, when the folks vehemently protesting its removal are neo-Nazis, not history teachers. 

Again, symbolism is subjective, but more than this, a symbol’s meanings evolve. What a symbol stands for today may not be what it conveyed yesterday or what it will communicate tomorrow.

Yes, symbols can be very powerful; but even so, what are the statue’s actual effects on society?

Will the lives of African-Americans in the USA be better once it’s removed? How so?

Will its removal alter the study of history as we know it? How so?

Suffice it to say, I think the statue has extremely minimal real-world impact—except, of course, for the 3 people (and those who loved them) who were killed because of hate-filled people using it as a pretext for violence.

Jesus says that humans are much more valuable than sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

I’ll bet He thinks they’re much more valuable than statues too.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jesus, Fire & Fury

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States . . . they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.
~Donald Trump

Will only the U.S. have option [sic] called “preventive war” as is claimed by it? It is a daydream for the U.S. to think that its mainland is an invulnerable Heavenly kingdom.
~Korean People’s Army (KPA)

All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. . . . Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
~Jesus

The stark contrast between the Way of Jesus and the ways of Empire couldn’t be clearer. Even so, do you think Jesus’ teaching “just won’t work” in the “real world”? Is His “wisdom” only so much wishful thinking? (Be honest.)

However we may answer; Christians within the USA—by and large—have not followed Jesus in the way of peace.  

Richard Hays observes,

One reason that the world finds the New Testament’s message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry.

In other words, despite Jesus telling us that we can’t possibly serve two masters, Christians doggedly persist in their attempts to do so. But to what end, dear reader?