Posted by Adam Ericksen 5 days 1 hour ago
Christmas is a time for celebration, joy, and family. But Christmas is much more than a sentimental holiday.Christmas is subversive.The Bible doesn’t tell us the specific date Jesus was born. Later Christians tradition gave us the date of December 25. It was chosen by Pope Julius around the year 350 and Christians have been celebrating Christ’s birth on that day ever since.But Pope Julius didn’t just randomly pick December 25. He was deliberate. As Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan claim in their book The First Christmas, when Pope Julius declared December 25 as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, he integrated “it with a Roman solstice festival celebrating the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.’ The Roman birthday of the sun became the Christian birthday of the Son.”That last sentence isn’t just a cute turn of phrase. It symbolizes the subversive quality of Christmas.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 week 1 hour ago
Unfortunately, we will not be able to watch Kim Jong-un’s assassination on the big screen this Christmas. We will not be able to cheer as the brutal dictator’s helicopter explodes in the air “ while Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ plays on the soundtrack.” We will not be able to fulfill this Christmas Day fantasy by watching The Interview because the terrorists have won.The FBI now claims that Kim Jong-un’s government is behind the act of terrorism. In retaliation for the movie, a state-sponsored North Korean cyber-terrorist group called “The Guardians of Peace” hacked into Sony Pictures and leaked sensitive information, including internal emails, future Sony films, and sensitive employee records. “The Guardians of Peace” also threatened movie goers with a “9/11 style attack” on every cinema that shows the movie.After the threats were made and many theaters decided to pull the film, Sony Pictures canceled the release of The Interview. Sony said in a statement:Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome. Washington and Hollywood are also in an uproar:“Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them,”tweeted Rob Lowe. Jimmy Kimmel claimed that pulling the movie was, “an un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.” Steve Carell said it was a, “Sad day for creative expression.” Sen. John McCain stated “yielding to aggressive cyber-terrorism by North Korea … sets a troubling precedent that will only empower and embolden bad actors to use cyber as an offensive weapon even more aggressively in the future.”And White House officials are exploring retaliation, saying security leaders “would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response.”The terrorists may have won the battle, but the United States will win the war!
Posted by Adam Ericksen 2 weeks 5 days ago
So much of Christianity has become about avoiding hell. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a hospital chaplain, it’s that God is sending Christians straight to hell.Christians need to stop thinking of heaven and hell as primarily places we go after we die. Heaven and hell are primarily realities that we experience here on earth.Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is among you.” For Jesus, the kingdom of God, also known in the Gospels as the kingdom of Heaven, is a present reality. You don’t have to wait until after death. In fact, you shouldn’t wait because it’s here. It’s now. It’s among you.Now, if the kingdom of God is a present reality, we can safely assume that hell is also a present reality. In fact, the word Jesus frequently used for “hell” was the term Gehenna. Gehenna was well known in the ancient city of Jerusalem as “the valley of the son of Hinnom.” Within the valley was a place called Topheth, where people would sacrifice their children, thinking that God demanded this sacrificial violence. As the prophet Jeremiah explains, this hell on earth is a purely human creation and God had nothing to do with this hell. Jeremiah said about those who sacrifice their children, “And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come to my mind.”God doesn’t command the fires of hell; it doesn’t even come to God’s mind! Who, then, does command those fires? We do! René Girard said it succinctly in his book The Scapegoat, “[We] create [our] own hell and help one another descend into it.”Hell is a place of suffering caused by spiritual, emotional, and physical violence. What does the kingdom of Heaven do when confronted with the violence of hell? The kingdom of Heaven goes straight into it.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 4 weeks 5 days ago
Are you feeling pressure to be thankful?We are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season. I’m reminded everywhere I go to “Be thankful!”Well, call me the Scrooge of Thanksgiving, but I’m just not feeling thankful. The more someone tells me to “Be thankful!” the more I feel a sense of despair.Be thankful? In the midst of Ferguson, Mo.? Jim Wallis writes that, “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” And what will white America do about it? Nothing new. One side will continue the status quo of racism by denying that it even exists and then they will blame the victims. I firmly stand in the other side that blames America’s deeply embedded structures of racism, economic injustice, and educational inequality. To make matters worse, America is sharply divided over the shooting in Ferguson. Each side of the division blames the other for tragic violence. Sunday’s heated debate on Meet the Press between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson is indicative of the deep racial tensions underlying not only Ferguson, but every city in the United States.My Facebook news feed and the media are telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Ferguson. Outraged. Hurt. Anxious. Guilt. Anger. Bitter. But certainly not thankful.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 8 weeks 5 days ago
Last week’s school shooting in Marysville, Wash., has us all asking the question again: Why did this happen?Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary gave voice to the despair many are feeling as we search for answers. “The question everybody wants is ‘Why?’ I don’t know that the ‘why’ is something we can provide.”Why did Jaylen Fryberg text his friends and family members to join him for lunch only to shoot them and then shoot himself? Whenever these tragedies occur we are tempted to blame the shooter by making him into a monster. We label the shooter “mentally ill,” claim that he was isolated from his peers, or was a generally troubled youth.The answer to the question “Why?” has usually been to blame the shooter. We make the shooter into a monster because it allows us to make sense of senseless violence. Why did this tragedy happen? Because he was evil.But Fryberg’s case won’t allow such easy answers. By all accounts, he was a popular and happy young man, seemingly incapable of causing such harm.This horrific shooting is so scary because no one saw it coming. If a popular kid like could commit such a heinous act, anyone could do the same. Fryberg’s case deprives us of the easy out of blaming another. The only thing left is to face our own violence.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 11 weeks 4 days ago
Rene Girard has a prophetic warning in his book Battling to the End about the West’s fight against Islamic jihadists:The West is going to exhaust itself in its fight against Islamic terrorism, which Western arrogance has undeniably kindled.That Western arrogance was on display last weekend on Real Time with Bill Maher. The tense debate about Islam between Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck has been shared multiple times over social media and provides a case study in Girard’s mimetic theory.One element that mimetic theory illuminates in this discussion of Islam is the scapegoat mechanism. Scapegoating is a non-conscious way of reinforcing a group’s relationship by blaming another group of people for our problems. The scapegoating mechanism is non-conscious because we always think that we are innocent and that our scapegoats are guilty. The video below shows a great example of the scapegoating mechanism when it comes to Islam. (Warning: It's an HBO show — there is some foul language.)
Posted by Adam Ericksen 12 weeks 3 days ago
The NFL has come under severe scrutiny for its handling of domestic violence during the last few months. Rodger Goodell has admitted to fumbling the Ray Rice case, has admitted that the NFL has a problem with abusing women, and he has committed himself to finding a solution.There are many reasons to be cynical about Goodell. Maybe the only reason he’s attempting to implement changes is because of public pressure, the loss of public sponsorship, and the fact that his job is on the line. But at least Goodell cares enough about something that he will implement changes to in the NFL that will hopefully lead toward better treatment of women.Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the U.S. Senate.The Senate Republicans recently rejected a bill proposed by Senate Democrats aiming to reconcile the pay disparity between men and women. Census data shows that in the United States “women who are employed full time, year round in the United States are paid, on average, 78 cents for every dollar paid to men.” That pay disparity is affecting 15.2 million households that are headed by women and it’s affecting nearly every household supported by a working woman.The bill is called “The Paycheck Fairness Act.” My Facebook feed was inundated with images and commentary lambasting Senate Republicans for rejecting the bill.Really?!? I thought. Surely, there must be a good reason for Senate Republicans to reject this bill. After all, realizing that women get paid 78 cents per every dollar a man makes and doing nothing about it would be economic violence against women. They must have a good reason!
Posted by Adam Ericksen 13 weeks 5 days ago
Here at Sojourners we have written a lot about nonviolence. We take seriously the words of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We believe that violence begets violence, or as Jesus put it, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Personally, I take seriously the words of René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, that we are now “confronted with a perfectly straightforward and even scientifically calculable choice between total destruction and the total renunciation of violence.”Many Christians look to the Bible to justify divinely sanctioned violence against our enemies. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but Christians are not Biblians. We are Christians. As Christians, we should be putting Jesus first. Not Deuteronomy. Not Joshua. Not Judges. Not David. Not Solomon. Not Peter. Not Paul. Not the Bible.Jesus first.And Jesus calls us to nonviolence. As one of the early Christians stated, the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolent love that embraces our enemies, is the way of the cross and the world thinks that way is foolish.We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 16 weeks 6 days ago
A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.They were forced to labor.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 24 weeks 2 hours ago
I am not a politician, so I’m not an expert on immigration policies.I am not an economist, so I’m not an expert on the economic benefits or burdens of immigration.But I am a public theologian. I try to understand how we can participate with God in setting things right, healing the world, and reconciling human beings with one another, with the world, and with God.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 28 weeks 3 days ago
It seems like violence will never end. Portland. Seattle. Las Vegas. Isla Vista. Almost every day in Chicago. Not to mention Iraq, Boko Haram, the conflict in Ukraine, and the continued war in Afghanistan.The Huffington Post just reported that “If it’s a school week in America, odds are there will be a shooting.” Since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, the United States has averaged 1.37 school shootings per week.And our culture is divided on how best to respond. One side declares we need to increase gun regulations. The other side insists we need more guns. The two sides are locked in a bitter political rivalry, using terms like “rights” and “responsibilities” and neither side will budge. One side will win the political battle concerning gun rights, but I fear that no matter who wins the battle it will only perpetuate the war.I’m feeling despair, and from my Facebook feed, I know many others are feeling the same way. After all, this is so much bigger than guns; it’s about a culture of violence. But please, don’t fall into despair. We have too much work to do.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 30 weeks 4 days ago
Matthew Vines has done us an incredible service by writing his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Matthew’s book is an articulate and engaging argument for Christians to support same-sex relationships. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in debate over Christianity and the support of same-sex relationships.I appreciate this book for primarily two reasons. First, Matthew presents scholarship on the topic in a thoughtful way that won’t bore you to death. If you’ve already done your homework on the topic you probably won’t find anything new, but by reading this book you will encounter scholarly arguments in an engaging way. There are other books on the topic, of course, but what makes Matthew’s book different than most of them is that this is an engaging page turner.Matthew skillfully debunks many of the arguments against same-sex marriage throughout the book and replaces them with arguments to support same-sex marriage. He not only takes a look at the biblical “clobber texts,” the six passages in the Bible often used to denounce same-sex relationships, but he also takes a look at the historical and cultural context of the ancient world’s view of sexuality. His argument is convincing. I encourage you to buy the book for yourself and for anyone you know who is open to hearing his side of the debate.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 31 weeks 3 days ago
How do you defeat Satan?That was the question the University of Harvard had to answer last week when the Harvard Extension School’s Cultural Studies Club planned a satanic “Black Mass” at the university.The Harvard community, led by Harvard president Drew Faust, was outraged by the Black Mass. Faust addressed the situation by stating, “The ‘black mass’ had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the church and beyond.” Although Faust was offended by the planned event, she defended the right of the Cultural Studies Club to proceed with the black mass. “Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs.”The Archdiocese of Boston also responded with outraged offense. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley claimed, “Why people would want to do something that is so offensive to so many people in the community, whether they’re Catholic or not, it’s very repugnant.”As a Christian, I understand the outrage. After all, the black mass mocks the Eucharist, one of the most holy events in Christianity. But, before we fester in our animosity toward the Satanists, I want to encourage us to take a step back and analyze this event from the angle of mimetic theory.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 33 weeks 3 days ago
On April 15, terrorists from Boko Haram abducted more than 200 Nigerian girls sleeping in their high school dormitory. The girls awoke to a nightmare of violent gunfire as the terrorists forced them into their vehicles and vanished.Recently the leader of Boko Haram has garnered media attention with his video arrogantly taking credit for the kidnapping. He added a religious element to his repulsive actions:“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women.”Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an impassioned response to Boko Haram’s leader that speaks for me: “Human beings are not for sale…This is the bastardization of Islam, of decency, of liberation, of all that is good and beautiful.”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 34 weeks 3 days ago
Dear White People,We need to take a long, painful look in the mirror. The image we see will make us uncomfortable, but, tragically, it is us.The image staring you back at you is the image of Donald Sterling.We have found a new sense of self-righteousness by uniting against Sterling for his racist comments. All of us white people can agree that Sterling is a despicable human being and he deserved to be banned from the NBA for life and to be fined.We are morally outraged. We hate Sterling with a united and perfect hatred.But make no mistake, we are Donald Sterling.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 36 weeks 4 days ago
Friedrich Nietzsche is a favorite whipping boy among Christians. It’s difficult to blame my fellow Christians for this. After all, Nietzsche is known for many provocative anti-Christian statements, but his most provocative statement might be that “God is dead.”And yet, in his latest book A God Torn to Pieces: The Nietzsche Case , philosopher Guiseppe Fornari makes a claim that is just as provocative: “In the end [Nietzsche] was much closer to Christ than many who would claim to be Christians.”Wait …Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many Christians? How could that be?Nietzsche understood the implications of what Christ did on Good Friday better than many who claim to be Christians. Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many Christians because he knew the Christ that he rejected, whereas many Christians don’t know the Christ whom they call Lord and Savior.Who was the Christ that Nietzsche rejected and that many Christians do not know? It’s the Christ who says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 37 weeks 3 days ago
Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is political. He influences people to live into the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act. But it was a political act unlike any other.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 37 weeks 5 days ago
When I was growing up, I had three older cousins who were my models for being awesome. They were funny, smart, athletic, and they loved baseball.And so I wanted to be all of those things, but the one thing I could do without any effort was love baseball.But I had one major problem. I’m missing the athletic gene of the Ericksen family. While I could share in the love my cousins had for baseball, I couldn’t share in their athletic ability. I lack coordination, which creates problems in every aspect of baseball. I once tripped while running to first base. Embarrassed, I ran back to the dugout and insisted to my teammates that I didn’t trip – I dove. But by the fourth grade, every baseball player knows that you never dive into first base. You run through it.In sixth grade I played third base. I fielded a grounder that took a bad hop – right to my forehead. I laid on the dirt, crying, and thinking that I never wanted to play again. I finished that game, but never replay organized baseball again.So, my baseball career was a failure, but I still love the game. The smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, a diving catch – my total lack of athletic ability allows me to appreciate those who have honed their athleticism.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 39 weeks 6 days ago
God is not like me or Fred Phelps. And I am thankful for that.Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died last week. Phelps and his church are infamously known for picketing the funerals of lesbian and gay people and the funerals of American soldiers with signs saying “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.”There is no doubt that Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church have spread a lot of hate and caused a lot of pain over the last few decades. From funerals to Lady Gaga concerts, the church’s website boasts that Westboro members have picketed more than 50,000 events since Phelps founded it in 1955.Why was Phelps filled with so much hatred? He explained his animosity in 2006 when he analyzed the tragedy of 9/11:We told you, right after it happened five years ago that the deadly events of 9/11 were direct outpourings of divine retribution, the immediate visitation of God’s wrath and vengeance and punishment for America’s horrendous sodomite sins, that worse and more of it were on the way … God is no longer with America, but is now America’s enemy. God himself is now American’s terrorist. If you didn’t know it before, you know it now: theology matters. What we say about God matters because, like all of us, Phelps was a reflection of the god he worshiped.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 42 weeks 3 days ago
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”Thus begins the spiritual drama of Lent, the forty days before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ wilderness experience. No human, not even Jesus, can escape the temptation of the devil.Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John. As the Gospel of Matthew reports, when Jesus emerged from the water “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”Jesus’ identity as God’s Son had always been true, but he received confirmation of his relationship with God at his baptism.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 45 weeks 5 days ago
There’s something about Michael Sam that we are missing and I hope the church will see it.Michael Sam is the college football star who “came out” in an interview with ESPN and the New York Times . He graduated in December and will be drafted in the upcoming NFL draft. Sam was the Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year and a first-team all-American. He came out to his teammates before the season started and at the end of the year they voted him their most valuable player.But it’s not his superior football skills that the church should pay attention to. It’s his spirit and his sense of identity.Throughout his interview on ESPN with Chris Connely, Sam smiles, clearly comfortable in his own skin. A few highlights of the conversation that are worth pointing out:
Posted by Adam Ericksen 46 weeks 4 days ago
The highlight of the Super Bowl for me was Coca-Cola’s "America is Beautiful" commercial. The images of the American landscape are amazing and the song was beautiful. At first I was a bit confused by the different languages singing "America the Beautiful" (I’m slow…), but I caught on about halfway through. When the commercial ended, I looked over at my wife and said, “Wow. That was beautiful … Not worth four million dollars, but that was good.”For the moment, let’s deal with any cynicism that the Coca-Cola Company is simply trying to sell us their product. Of course they’re trying to sell us their product; that’s why they spent millions on their ad, but along the way, Coke pointed to the reason that I love the United States. I love my country because it is a nation that welcomes the “Other.” Indeed, we haven’t always been good at this, and we still struggle with it, but the United States is a nation of immigrants. Even Native Americans, who have tragically been excluded from the land they’ve lived on for thousands of years, were originally immigrants who were welcomed by this land. This land has a long history of welcoming people into it, and so any act of excluding immigrants goes against its ideal of welcoming the “Other.”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 46 weeks 5 days ago
Tom Junod of Esquire wrote an insightful piece about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman titled “ Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret: The cost of holding up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves .” The whole article is worth reading, but these words are especially important:"There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets … no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off. He used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves; indeed, his whole career might be construed as a pre-emptive plea for forgiveness to those with the unfortunate job of cleaning up what he — and we — might leave behind."In his roles, Hoffman played unacceptable, despicable, and broken characters. In other words, he played our cultural scapegoats. But the beauty of Hoffman’s work is that he humanized our scapegoats. Of course, his characters were unacceptable because they were guilty of being repellent jerks, underserving of love or sympathy, which is exactly why they made good scapegoats. The function of a scapegoat is to unite us in hatred against them, so the scapegoat who seems to us to be completely guilty, like a cartoon villain, the better sense of unity we can form against them. The best scapegoat is one who even agrees with us about just how terrible he is. As Junod writes, Hoffman “used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves.”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 47 weeks 5 days ago
Call me old fashioned, but our culture hit a new low at the Grammys when 33 couples were married. Some of them were gay and lesbian couples.Indeed, it was a bad day for marriage.First, Macklemore sang "Same Love," then Queen Latifah officiated a wedding for 33 couples, and then Madonna sang her 1986 single "Open Your Heart."Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Macklemore’s Same Love. I love its pro-same-sex marriage message because of my Christian faith, not in spite of it. I’ve written about why Christians should embrace same-sex marriage here, here, and here, but Macklemore’s theological argument in the song is as good as any.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 49 weeks 4 days ago
(Editor's Note: This post was adapted from the author's speech at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver.)When I was in seminary, one of my best friends came up with a brilliant theological … pick up line:"Hey, baby. What’s your hermeneutic?"Despite the genius of that question, we soon discovered that anytime you start a pick up line with “Hey, baby” you’re in some trouble.But it’s such a great question. Think of all the relationships that would have avoided painful break ups if they just defined the relationship in the beginning by answering the question “What’s your hermeneutic?"
Posted by Adam Ericksen 50 weeks 5 days ago
Last Thursday, as I carefully navigated my way home from work on the slippery streets of a few Chicago suburbs, I was listening to a talk radio program. The host reminded his listeners that he broadcasts from sunny Arizona, and then he said, “I know that many of you have had large amounts of snowfall. I recommend that you sit back and enjoy the beauty of the snow.”At which point I yelled some expletives about what he could do with his recommendation and promptly changed the station.It’s been a brutal winter. Indeed, we’ve already had “large amounts of snowfall.” Yesterday in Chiberea (that’s an amalgamation of Chicago and Siberia, for those keeping score), the high was negative 13 and today the high will be positive 3. Yay for staying positive, Chicago.Staying positive about the weather is becoming more difficult. The snow, while pretty, will be here from late November to early March. It. Gets. OId. And schools have been canceled for two days in a row. Listen, I love my kids, but they’ve been stuck inside for the past five days. We are all experiencing cabin fever.But there’s one thing about Chicago winters that I can appreciate. The relentless snow and the extreme cold provide an opportunity to build a sense of community. Neighbors suffer through this weather together. We check in on one another to make sure people are surviving and staying warm. And, of course, we create a sense of community by uniting against the weather. The snow and the cold become our common enemy. Or, as René Girard’s mimetic theory puts it, the weather has become our scapegoat.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 3 days ago
Now that Dec. 25 is over, the real war on Christmas can begin.Because, you see, that other “War on Christmas” that begins in late November and ends on Dec. 25 is a manufactured war. That war is fabricated by a television network that, despite the Bible’s repeated message at the birth of Christ to “not be afraid,” wants Christians to live in fear of some secular agenda to destroy Christmas. After all, there’s nothing like fear and a manufactured war to raise television ratings.That’s a manufactured war because, as Diana Butler Bass has brilliantly pointed out, the season from late November to Dec. 24 isn’t Christmas. It’s Advent. If anyone were waging a war on a Christian season during the early part of December, it wouldn’t be on Christmas. It would be on Advent.The real war on Christmas begins on Dec. 26, but no major television network will tell you about it. The real Christmas season, known as Christmastide, begins on the evening of Dec. 24 and lasts 12 days, ending on Jan. 5.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 5 days ago
I know. We’re all a little fatigued about the Duck Dynasty and freedom of speech controversy. As many have pointed out, everyone has been free during this controversy. Phil Robertson was free to make his statement to GQ. GQ was free to publish it. A&E was free to suspend Robertson for making comments that it thought hurt its image. And, despite that justification, A&E is free to air Duck Dynasty marathons on Dec. 24 and 25. (Yes, on Christmas Day you can watch 12 1/2 hours of Duck Dynasty. A&E is taking this controversy straight to the bank!) We are free to watch, or to not watch, future episodes of Duck Dynasty. We are all free to take sides. And bloggers are freely adding to our Duck Dynasty fatigue by writing endless blog posts.This blogger asks for your forgiveness in writing yet another post that adds to our fatigue. So I’ll keep this brief.There is something about freedom that we are missing in this debate, especially from a Christian point of view. When it comes to freedom, we want to fight for the freedom to do or say whatever we want. This is the highest point of freedom in the United States. It’s a freedom that is based on freedom for individual rights. It’s a freedom that says that I should have the right to say whatever I want without any negative consequences.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 1 week ago
It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve decided to relax about him. I refuse to beat myself up over his presence anymore. He’s okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong — he’s annoying and I have concerns. And I know that many of my fellow parents will disagree, and that’s okay. This makes me cringe, but that little Elf on the Shelf can stay.After some debate, my wife bought the Elf on the Shelf in 2010. If you aren’t familiar with the Elf on the Shelf myth, it goes something like this: Apparently Santa is incapable of knowing if children have been bad or good on his own, so Dec. 1 to Dec. 24 that Jolly Old Elf sends his little elves to houses to spy on boys and girls. Their job is to check to see if children are being naughty or nice. So, each morning before anyone is awake, our Elf flies in from the North Pole and hides in a different spot in our house. When our children wake up — noticeably earlier in December than any other month — they look for him. Yup, it’s hide-and-seek every morning with the Elf. Then, the National Security Agency Elf spies on our children throughout the day. When our children fall asleep at night, the Elf flies back to the North Pole to provide Santa with a report on how our children have behaved. Then the Elf promptly flies back to our house, hides in a new place, and the morning hide and seek ritual begins again.Truth be told, my children love it. They. Love. It. They can’t wait to wake up in the morning and search for that little Elf.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 2 weeks ago
President Obama’s “selfie” with prime ministers Helle Thorning Schmidt of Denmark and David Cameron of Great Britain has been making the rounds on social media. Many of Obama’s detractors have taken the opportunity to criticize the President’s picture taking prowess, bringing on “Selfie-Gate.” Take John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, for example:First lady Michelle Obama sits off to the side, somber, dignified, as the world remembers Mandela. Yet next to her like some goofy adolescent who hasn't yet been taught how to behave properly at a memorial service — her husband — is snapping a memorial to himself.Hold on a minute there, Kass, because South Africa is teaching us a thing or two about how they “behave properly at a memorial service.” Sure they mourn.But they also dance.From the video and images that I’ve seen, there was festive atmosphere at Mandela’s memorial service. This leads me to wonder what “proper behavior” at this memorial service looks like.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 3 weeks ago
I was driving home from work a few weeks ago and found myself suffering from a little radio ADD. I flipped through every station on my programmed radio console with a sense of emptiness. Each station was playing what sounded like the same song with the same beat over and over again.How can I find meaning in my drive home with the drudgery of the same bland music?I finally gave up on my search for meaning and stopped on my favorite top-40 radio station, Chicago’s 101.9 The Mix. And there it was. Someone was singing these words:I will love you unconditionally There is no fear now Let go and just be free I will love you unconditionally.“Wait a minute,” I thought. “The Mix is playing a song about God?!? Had The Mix been taken over by a Christian radio station? Had K-Love or Moody Radio joined messianic forces with Rafael and Ted Cruz to enforce Christian Dominionism all over American radio?”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 5 weeks ago
The religion section of The Huffington Post published an article on Tuesday about how some Christians are responding to Costco. Unfortunately, it wasn’t about how Christians are celebrating the fact that this big-box store not only makes a profit and actually pays its employees a living wage.That, after all, would be Good News.No. These Christians have their panties in a bunch because Costco had Bibles labeled as fiction.*Gasp*
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 6 weeks ago
When Pope Benedict XVI retired in February, I wrote an article in appreciation for his papacy. While he served as a great model of humility in stepping down from his role as Pope, what I appreciated more about Pope Benedict was his first encyclical, turned into a book called God is Love . In it, Benedict wrote these profound words:Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world — this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present encyclical. (93)God is Love is a powerful written reminder of the essence of Christianity. I hope more Christians of all stripes will read it.Indeed, I appreciate Benedict for writing those beautiful words, but I love Pope Francis because he’s publicly living those words.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 7 weeks ago
If you were on Facebook or Twitter last week, you probably saw the CBS interview with Mandy Patinkin. He’s probably best known for this line from the classic movie The Princess Bride:“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”The Princess Bride was released when I was 16. My friends and I would throw that line back and forth whenever we competed against one another. Monopoly. Basketball. Chess. Nintendo. Rock, paper, scissors. It didn’t matter. Like anyone with a pulse during the late 1980s, we repeated that phrase endlessly. It was our favorite line in the movie.That and “Mawwiage …”But that’s not Mandy’s favorite line.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 7 weeks ago
Christianity is facing an identity crisis that boils down to one question: Who is God? It’s the question that Rob Bell tackled in his latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God and it’s the question Rob and Oprah Winfrey discussed this week on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday ... From nearly the beginning of religion, the human experience of the sacred has been marked by ambivalence. The gods were fickle and you never knew where you stood with them. They were loving and wrathful, forgiving and judgmental.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 9 weeks ago
I first heard about the Strange Fire controversy when my Twitter feed started tweeting up a storm on Monday. The drama centered on a confrontation between two conservative mega church pastors, John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll. Most of my Twitter friends are theological liberals, and we liberals love it when our conservative brethren get in fights.Woo-hoo! A scandal! This scandal, like most scandals, was overblown. Driscoll says that MacArthur and his people were “gracious that they let me on campus at all.” What was Driscoll doing “on campus?” He crashed MacArthur’s conference on the Holy Spirit called Strange Fire to meet with people and hand out free copies of his upcoming book, A Call to Resurgence, which has a chapter on the Holy Spirit. Conference officials told Driscoll he had to stop, and so he did. Driscoll’s books ended up in the hands of conference officials. The drama between the two has to do with whether Driscoll gave the books as a gift to the conference or if conference officials confiscated them.Like all scandals, the drama distracts us from what really matters, which is the conference theme. The work of the Holy Spirit is vitally important for Christians, yet the Holy Spirit is usually treated like the ugly stepchild of Christian doctrine. (No offense to ugly stepchildren.) I think MacArthur radically misunderstands the Holy Spirit. The conference website provides an overview of its mission, which will help me explain his misunderstanding:
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 10 weeks ago
Malala Yousafzai has captured our love and imagination.Malala was recently a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By the end of the interview, Stewart was so enamored with Malala that he asked if he could adopt her. The remark was hilarious because it was true. After 5 minutes with this girl, who wouldn’t want to adopt her?Malala is the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for education in the face of persecution from the Taliban. She explained on the show that, “Education is the power for women and that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful.”In the face of persecution from the Taliban, Malala says she “spoke on every media channel I could and I raised my voice on every platform that I could and I said, ‘I need to tell the world what is happening in Swat and I need to tell the world that Swat is suffering from terrorism and we need to fight against terrorism.’”But it was what she said next that stole our hearts. She reflected upon what she would do if a member of the Taliban came to take her life.If you hit a Talib … then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat another with that much cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I’ll tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 14 weeks ago
Maybe you are like me and you need a bit of good news this week, because it’s been a week of bad news. There was the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard, leaving 12 people killed. Then there were the racist comments about the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri. She is the first person of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America, yet the news of the event emphasized racist tweets. It was almost as if people were competing over who could be the most racist: Some referred to her as “the Arab,” and other tweets claimed, “this is America, not India,” and one even called her “Miss 7-11.” Not to mention the continuing escalation of tensions throughout the world involving Syria.It was a depressing beginning to the week. I mimetically absorbed much of this violence, hatred, and racism. Misanthropy settled into my soul and I began to loathe myself and the entire freakin’ human race.But then I saw this video of Beyoncé performing in Brazil, and my hope in humanity was restored.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 17 weeks ago
What’s happening in Syria is awful. You see the pictures and your heart breaks. It’s horrific. Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. special envoy to Syria, said Wednesday that, “With what has happened on the 21st of August last week, it does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people: hundreds, definitely more than a hundred, some people say 300, some people say 600, maybe 1,000, maybe more than 1,000.”The Huffington Post has a slider with the title, Syria War In August (Warning: Graphic Images). Of course, every life matters, but as a father with three young children, seeing the picture of a Syrian man crying out in pain as he carries the body of a young girl – words fail.Violence and JusticeMy wife knows that we promote nonviolence at the Raven Foundation, and that I lean toward pacifism. Wednesday night, as we discussed Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s continued threats of violence, she asked me, “Well, what do we do if a government uses chemical weapons against its own people?”The question haunts me. These are times that try the soul of anyone committed to nonviolence. We all want justice. We all want the violence to stop. We don’t want any more people to cry in pain as they carry the body of a lifeless child.And so President Barack Obama seems to be ramping up the war machine. Ironically, as he plans for possible military strikes, on Wednesday he delivered a talk honoring the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream.” As we hear the drum beat of war, we are reminded of King’s dream of justice. In his speech King said:We must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. … We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. … [We] will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.Our popular understanding of “justice” is mired with violence. For King, true justice was always based on love and nonviolence, because violence always carries with it a fatal flaw. As he wrote in his book Strength to Love, “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace” (18).
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 17 weeks ago
I didn’t watch the Video Music Awards last night, but this morning I noticed that Miley Cyrus is getting all the attention.Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe gives voice to the moral outrage that many are feeling. She just couldn’t stop lambasting Miley for her performance:That was really, really disturbing … That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed … probably has an eating disorder … That was disgusting and embarrassing … I feel terrible … That was really, really bad. They [MTV] should be ashamed of themselves … She is a mess … I don’t want to see that ever again on this show … It was pathetic.Well, Mika’s vehemence intrigued me, so I found the video on YouTube and watched it. It's bad. Awkward might the best word I can find to describe her performance, and it only became more awkward when Robin Thicke joined her onstage. Then it became awkward and demeaning. And I was instantly reminded of why I don’t watch the VMAs.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 18 weeks ago
Reza Aslan begins of his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, with a prescient warning: “Scholars tend to see the Jesus they want to see. Too often they see themselves—their own reflection—in the image of Jesus they have constructed” (xxxi).I don’t think Aslan had himself in mind when wrote that statement, but you should be warned: the Jesus in Zealot is Aslan’s own false construction.His central thesis is that the Jesus of history, and the God Jesus believed in, demanded violence in the face of political and religious oppression. Here’s one of the relevant passages:[F]or those seeking the simple Jewish peasant and charismatic preacher who lived in Palestine two thousand years ago, there is nothing more important than this one undeniable truth: the same God whom the Bible calls a “man of war”(Exodus 15:3), the God who repeatedly command the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews, the “blood spattered God” of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63:3) the God who “shatters the heads of his enemies,” bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Psalm 68:21-23)—that is the only God that Jesus knew and the sole God that he worshipped. (122, emphasis in the original.)The problem that I have with this passage is indicative of the problem that I have with the way Aslan constructs his Jesus. He constantly picks and chooses which verses from the Bible he uses to support his claim that Jesus was a warrior messiah whose goal was to violently overthrow the Roman and religious establishment. He peels away all passages that conflict with his construction so that he can show us what Jesus was truly like.Well, what Aslan thinks Jesus was truly like.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 19 weeks ago
I love Fun.. I especially love the wacky period at the end of the band’s name. But my Word doc has the green squiggly line under the two periods of that first sentence. I hate that green squiggly line — it’s not fun. It’s there to tell me that I have bad grammar. Not this time, Word doc! I shall right click and ignore you!Fun.’s (okay, now there’s a red line! Once again I shall ignore…) Some Nights is full of philosophical and spiritual gold. It asks questions about identity, friendship, violence, and the purpose of life. But, for me, these words stand out the most:My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she calls “love”When I look into my nephew’s eyes…Man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from…Some terrible nights…ah…
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 19 weeks ago
Kelly Clarkson’s latest single is a pop culture anthem with a catchy tune. It’s called “People Like Us” and it has a spiritual depth that struck me when I first heard the song.Clarkson identifies with certain people in the song – “people like us.” Who are people like us? Cultural scapegoats, outcasts, marginalized, misfits, and the damned.People like us we’ve got to stick togetherKeep your head up, nothing lasts foreverHere’s to the damned, to the lost and forgotten… We are all misfits living in a world on fireSome may criticize Clarkson’s motivation for identifying with cultural scapegoats. After all, she’s been a pop culture diva since her appearance on American Idol more than a decade ago. Is she identifying with the marginalized because ever since Lady Gaga did it in 2011 with Born this Way it’s now the cool thing to do?Whatever her motivations, I think it’s amazing that it has become “cool” to identify with cultural outcasts. And as opposed to criticizing her motivations, I want to affirm them. Whether Clarkson realizes this, as a powerful and influential person who identifies with cultural “misfits” and the “damned,” what she is doing in “People Like Us” is modeling an example of Christ-like love.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 20 weeks ago
Last Saturday Muslims throughout the world celebrated Laylat ul-Qadr, usually translated in English as the Night of Power. It is part of the month of Ramadan and commemorates the night when Allah came to Muhammad with the first revelation of the Qur’an. The Night of Power is based on chapter 97 of Islam’s Holy Book. The Qur’an has 114 chapters, which are generally ordered from longest to shortest. So, chapter 97 is short enough to quote in full here:In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy,We sent it down on the Night of Power. What will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months; on that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every task; [there is] peace that night until the break of dawn.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 20 weeks ago
I have a long history of hating the-man-who-shall-not-be-named. In fact, my wife no longer lets me watch the Yankees. That’s because we have children and she doesn’t want them to hear me launch f-bombs at the television whenever my arch-nemesis stands at the plate.It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to love him. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so the Seattle Mariners are my favorite team. He began his career with the Mariners, but after a few years of stardom, he let it get to his head and he joined the Texas Rangers. “It’s not about the money,” I remember him saying. But that was disingenuous. The Rangers crippled their team by providing him with the biggest salary in baseball history.It was heartbreaking. I once heard that whenever hearts break, they either grow bigger or they become calloused. Well, my heart calloused. Along with other Mariner fans, I took a certain satisfaction in knowing that the Rangers, now led by the-man-who-shall-not-be-named, were horrible. In his three years in Texas, the Rangers were one of the worst teams in baseball and never ended a season above last place in their division.And I loved it.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 26 weeks ago
Whenever I hear someone lament that kids these days need to read their Bibles, I tell them that the Bible should be rated R for violence, nudity, rape, drug deals, and even genocide – and that’s just in the first book! Of course, as a youth pastor, I’ve found that the best way to get kids interested in the Bible is to tell them that if someone made it into a movie, it would be rated R.The Bible and movies tell stories. Gareth points out the importance of stories in his article “It’s the Movies’ Fault/It’s not the Movies’ Fault” in which he brilliantly states that, “we could benefit from recognizing that the relationship between storytelling and the formation of human identity is crucial.” Indeed, the stories we tell are crucial to the formation of human identity, but the Bible and movies tell stories that are permeated with violence. So, the question becomes, how do we make sense of those violent stories in terms of human identity?
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 27 weeks ago
The Internet is abuzz with Miss Utah. Marissa Powell was asked at Sunday night’s Miss USA Pageant:“A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does that say about society?”Powell responded: “I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are continuing to try to strive … to … figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem right now. I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to see how to … create education better. So that we can solve this problem. Thank you.”Her answer was painfully incoherent, and as you can tell in the video, the poor girl knew it. There’s a bit of irony in the question that has been missed. Maybe we should be asking, “What does it say about our society that we still have these kinds of beauty pageants?”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 28 weeks ago
According to Gil Bailie’s groundbreaking book Violence Unveiled, the word myth stems from the Greek wordmu. Those two Greek letters combine to form the powerful concept behind all myths. Mu means “to close” or “to keep secret.” Bailie claims that “Myth closes its eyes to certain events and closes its mouth.” Myths are the lies and the cover-ups that we tell about our own violence. Truth, on the other hand, works against myth to reveal our violence.Ancient cultures told their myths, of course. Unfortunately, we moderns, who think we’ve progressed so much since our ancestors, tell our own myths. The United States government’s military trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is a case in point.Manning’s Leak to WikiLeaksIn 2010, Manning was arrested and accused of the worst military crimes, including espionage and aiding the enemy. He secretly released an extensive archive of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Some believe Manning is a traitor, while others believe he is a heroic whistleblower. As the New York Times reports, “There is no doubt that he did most of what he is accused of doing, and the crucial issue is how those actions should be understood.”
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 29 weeks ago
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fascinating and complicated story that is well worth watching. Instead of providing a summary, I want to explore three related aspects of the movie: sacrifice, blood, and hope for a more peaceful future.Live Long and Prosper – The Sacrificial FormulaIn a reference to my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the current movie’s Spock (Zachary Quinto) restates the sacrificial formula: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” This formula has generally been used throughout human history to justify sacrificing someone else. As René Girard points out, from ancient human groups to modern societies, whenever conflicts arise the natural way to find reconciliation is to unite against a common enemy.Of course, there’s a lot of this going on throughout the Star Trek franchise. One conversation in Into Darkness explicitly points this out when Kirk (Chris Pine) unites with his enemy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and explains it to Spock:Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.Kirk: Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.
Posted by Adam Ericksen 1 year 30 weeks ago
You may not realize this, but senior pastors throughout the world were on vacation last Sunday. Not because they were celebrating the American holiday weekend of Memorial Day. No, senior pastors the world over were conveniently on vacation because it was Trinity Sunday.Of course, I can’t blame pastors for taking a nice weekend vacation and leaving the challenge of preaching the Trinity Sunday sermon to their associates. I’ve always had a hard time with the Trinity — not because of the math. I was always horrible at math. I frequently tell people I became a pastor and a blogger because I failed Algebra. So, the concept that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 has never been an issue for me.