Adam Ericksen is the Education Director for the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, pop culture. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary where he wrote his thesis “Love and Nonviolence in Christianity and Islam.” Adam is a youth pastor and chaplain. He is also a frequent speaker at conferences. Keep up with Adam by liking the Raven Foundation Facebook page and by following him on Twitter.
Posts By This Author
The Bible, Costco, and Fiction: On Foolish Christians and Multiplying Hot Dogs
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.
Why This Protestant Loves Pope Francis
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.
Mandy Patinkin, 'The Princess Bride,' and Justice, Revenge, and Jewish Spirituality
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.
Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey, and Christianity’s Identity Crisis
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.
Strange Fire: John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, the Holy Spirit, and the Satan
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:
Malala Yousafzai and the Tradition of Islamic Nonviolence
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.’
Beyoncé, Religion, and the Crowd: Desiring Mercy, Not Sacrifice
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.
Dreams of Justice: Syria, Barack Obama, and MLK
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 Justice
My 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).
Miley Cyrus, the VMAs, Sex, and Moral Outrage
I didn’t watch the Video Music Awards last night, but this morning I noticed that Miley Cyrus is getting all the attention.
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.
'Zealot:' How Reza Aslan Constructed a False Jesus
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.
The Spirituality of Fun.
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…
Spirituality of Kelly Clarkson: Misfits, Kenosis, and People Like Us
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 together
Keep your head up, nothing lasts forever
Here’s to the damned, to the lost and forgotten
… We are all misfits living in a world on fire
Some 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.
Islam, Terror Threats, and a God of Power
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.
Why I Love To Hate Alex Rodriguez
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.
The Bible and Movies and Violence – Oh My!
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?
OMG! Miss Utah Made a Mistake! Let’s All Feel Superior!
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?”
The Truth of Bradley Manning and the Mythical Cover-Up of America
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 WikiLeaks
In 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.”
Star Trek: Into Darkness: A Call to Change Course
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 Formula
In 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.
The Trinity and God’s Nonviolent Atonement
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.
God, a Tornado, and John Piper’s 'Satanic Theology'
Many of my liberal friends never call themselves “Christians.” Their hesitancy is usually a reaction against conservative Christians who, let’s face it, are an embarrassment to the name. You know what I’m talking about – those who make crazy claims like natural disasters occur because God is angry at homosexuals. And then there are those who use phrases like, “legitimate rape.”
Influential pastor John Piper provides the latest example. While most of my friends on Facebook and Twitter lamented the devastation wrought by the Oklahoma City tornado, Piper decided to show off his biblical acumen with this tweet:
"Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead." -Job 1:19
Piper’s tweet is a bit ambiguous. His reference to Job doesn’t say that God caused the tornado, but Piper has historically claimed that God causes these types of disasters. In fact, this wouldn’t be the first time Piper has tweeted something so theologically insensitive. A few years ago Piper claimed God caused a tornado in Minnesota because God was angry at homosexuals. Piper’s god is a fickle Cosmic Jerk.