Month: April 2014
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Archbishop of Canterbury – @JustinWelby – Callous & Careless

Justin Welby just stepped in it.

I don't know anything about this Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the Church of England). I do know that he has just made something up to explain blind hatred.

In this Huffington Post Religion piece, Welby talks about the supposed dangers placed upon African Christians by the decision of Western Christians to place a premium on the issue of marriage equality. I wouldn't begrudge him his comments, had he not said this:

If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we're going to kill the Christians.

Essentially, the Archbishop of Canterbury is excusing the murderous actions of a particular group with…I don't even know. This isn't a “slippery-slope.” It's barely even a “straw-man.” It's excusing sin. He might as well have said, “Our beliefs may get us killed, so let's not have those beliefs.”

Yes, let's have that sink in for a moment.

I'm not going to begrudge the Archbishop his beliefs where marriage equality are concerned – neither will I begrudge anyone else.

I will begrudge, however, a church leader being so callous and careless when speaking about such things.

Instead of calling for violence against Christians to cease, he calls for the church to capitulate in the face of persecution. It's just disappointing.

What say you?

 

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The Folly of Xians Voting with Their Wallets #WorldVision #Fail

Most of us are aware of the furor caused when the religious non-profit World Vision decided to allow the hiring of married, same-sex couples in their organization. As most of you also know, they reversed their decision two days later.

What you may not know are effects their decision had on their ministry.

Elizabeth Esther spent time speaking with Rich Stearns – World Vision president – about the contraversy. She writes beautifully about it here.

The bottom line? 10,000 children's sponsorships were cancelled. Not only that, but his employees were subjected to the anger of thousands of callers. Some people went as far as to call World Vision “agents of Satan.”

Really? Agents of Satan?

After reading Esther's article, I got to thinking about the relationship and coorelation between American political ideology and intra-religious, Christian ideology. I think many of us would agree that either side of the political, ideological spectrum is mirrored pretty heavily in the spectrum within Christianity.

In the political realm, it is common to hear talk of “voting with your wallet.” This is a phrase used when a company does something or supports someone with which you disagree. You, then, decide that the way to send them a message they'll understand, is to hit them where it really hurts – their bottom line. That's when you agree to – and have others follow suit – not buy their products or support them in other financial ways.

This financial strategy is successful in some cases. There's a good chance you've heard about Rush Limbaugh's sponsors dropping him after his dust-up with Sandra Fluke.

However, the situation with World Vision is a wholly other thing. 10,000 children lost their sponsorships because many Christians decided that the best way to send a message was to “vote with their wallets” and punish the organizations bottom line – which really did nothing but punish impoverished children across the globe.

It raises an interesting question: should Christians “vote with their wallets” in order to protect their sincerely held beliefs, no matter who is hurt in the process?

I think it is folly. I think it is borderline sinful, but I'm more willing to say it is folly.

In this situation, who are the real “agents of Satan?”

This is Esther's take – with whic I happen to agree on why “voting with your wallets” is not always a good thing:

I am a Catholic Christian and regardless of whether I agree or disagree with World Vision’s initial policy change, I have made commitments to three very precious and very REAL children. It is my DUTY to fulfill those commitments and not JUST because I’ve seen firsthand the incredible work World Vision has done in impoverished communities. It is my duty because I am a CHRISTIAN.

It speaks to something particularly Wesleyan. John Wesley spoke of something we Methodists like to call “social holiness.” Among other things, it includes the idea we have commonly come to refer to as “social justice.” It's outreach to the poor. It's accountability to the community, rather than just self. It's understanding that the faithful, Christian life is about more than just how I get to heaven.

My prayer is that there were very few Methodists who were calling to tell World Vision that they are “agents of Satan.” Not just because name-calling is not life-affirming, but because your sponsorship effects more than just someone in an office in Washington state.

I welcome your thoughts and criticisms.

 

Change the World, Not the Message

The church has a hard time with change. Some like the way things used to be. Some have been through change that was difficult or harmful. Some just lack the energy for it. Unfortunately, the culture isn't going to wait for us to decide to do it. I've said it numerous times before, but the

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‘Fight Club’ & The Art of Faithful Listening

As a preacher, I often lean on illustrations from movies to in order to further demonstrate truths of our faith.

Many might disagree with that approach.

Still more might disagree with how often I refer to the movie 'Fight Club' as an illustration of faithful community.

Let me explain.

For the most part, the movie is not a life-affirming or redeeming one. However, there is one scene between Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and one of the main characters (played by Edward Norton), where they share an encounter at a cancer support group.

I'm not sure if one must yell “Spoiler Alert!” before mentioning details from a movie that is 15 years old, but…Spoiler Alert!

Neither of these characters has cancer. However, they have inserted themselves into a series of support groups because – as you gather through the course of the movie – they lack basic and healthy connections to other human beings. This is certainly a problem for our culture – especially Christian culture – but I digress.

In an exchange which causes them to finish each other's sentence, Norton begins by saying, “When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…”

To which Bonham Carter replies, “…instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”

This raises an interesting – and possibly life-changing – question: Do you find yourself really listening to others, or just waiting for your turn to speak?

I would argue that the faithful life and existing in faithful community is more about listening, than it is about being able to say the right and faithful thing.

I'm preparing to be commissioned as a probationary elder in the United Methodist Church this May. As a part of that, I am taking a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Essentially, you serve as a chaplain in a group learning environment. I'm happen to be serving as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chaplains are called upon to minister into many different situations. You could be paged to a belligerent patient's room, you could be asked to pray for someone before they go into surgery, or you could be called to the bedside of someone who is being terminally weaned from life support.

In each of these situations, the faithful have obtained a list of platitudinous sayings or supposedly helpful scriptures that are meant to act as “silver bullets” to correct behavior or soothe the hurting soul. However, that shouldn't excuse the fact that, short of our platitudes, we have a way of finding a place to insert our thoughts and feelings – rather than allowing the other person to find a caring soul within us. My role as a chaplain is not necessarily to find the right words to say to someone, but to hear the other person as a creature of sacred worth. Only after I have listened, should I consider attempting to offer some type of spiritual intervention into their lives.

Should I tell the belligerent patient to ” be slow to anger?”

Should I tell the patient going into surgery that “God doesn't give us more than we can handle?”

Should I tell the family of the terminal patient that “God needed another angel?”

Think about the last time you spoke to someone who was pouring their heart out to you. Were you just waiting for your chance to tell them exactly what you think you should do, or waiting to share with them a particular scripture that speaks to them in times of trouble?

I hope not.

Am I saying that scripture is wholly unhelpful in our times of trouble? No.

Am I saying that each of our carefully or hastily shared platitudes is worthless? Possibly – but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on.

I am saying that maybe we should be more attuned to the inherent worth in others. If we understand the other person as a creature of sacred worth, maybe we should be willing to listen, empathize and validate, rather than just listening for opportunities to insert ourselves into their trials.

There is a difference between listening and “listening for your turn to speak.” As those seeking to live in faithful community with each other, the faithful thing to do would be to learn to tell the difference.

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@BartEhrman & the Line Between Scholarship & Sensationalism

On March 25th, Bart Ehrman's latest book came out, and I haven't read it. However, after reading his HuffPo article about it, I've decided I'm probably gonna read something else.

The thesis of his article – and the book, one can easily gather – is:

It is not hard to make the argument that if Jesus had never been declared God, our form of civilization would have been unalterably and indescribably different.

He proceeds to spout a contrarian stream of logic that challenges the origins of the faith. In an abbreviated counterfactual, Ehrman comes to Constantine:

If Constantine had not converted, masses of former pagans would not have accepted the faith in his wake. The empire would not have become predominantly Christian. The Christian religion would not have been made the official religion of the state. The Christian church would never have become the dominant religious, cultural, social, political, and economic force of the West. We never would have had the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, or Modernity as we know it. And most of us would still be pagans.

While I trust Ehrman to be a more faithful and virtuous scholar, this paragraph reminds me of the leaps Bill O'Reilly made to connect modern, conservative political thought to the teachings of Jesus in Killing Jesus. The thesis Ehrman spouts is a fairly contraversial one – and he knows it. At the very least, this book will be talked about in many academic circles. However, it could also get picked up by national press, and even television shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – like some of his previous work. How exciting for him?

Essentially, Ehrman claims that the insistence upon Jesus' divinity by a small group of Jesus' friends is the only way Christianity could have grown into the world-wide force it is today.

This is thin at best, and straddles the line between scholarship and sensationalism. Irresponsibly, I might add.

My Wesleyan heritage tells me that scripture, tradition, reason and experience should work together to inform my faith. Many in the Wesleyan tradition are fighting hard against this heritage, but I still find value in it. I use this dynamic to further understand my faith. Ehrman's book appears as if it will lie well outside the realm of what I consider valuable to further understand my faith.

So, again, I'm probably gonna read something else.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Comments welcome.

 

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