Bible

Why You Ought to Leave the Church

Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place? Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

Recently, a large wealthy church decided to break up with my denomination. I’m not 100 percent sure I know why. But the no-regrets explanation they wrote implied that religious differences between us were too severe for them to stay committed to our relationship.

Religion has a way of making people do extraordinary things to create peace and unity. It also, as we know well, has a destructive capacity to turn people against one another. It can make us grip our convictions so tightly that we choke out their life. We chase others away, then say “Good riddance” to soothe the pain of the separation. Even more alarming, too many religious people insist on isolating themselves and limiting their imagination about where and how God can be known.

All these realities take on a sad irony when we read about God promising to be outside the walls, present with different people in different places. What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place?

The Black Presence in the Bible: Uncovering the Hidden Ones

Photo by Onleilove Alston

Black Madonna at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Onleilove Alston

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” -Psalm 68:31

The Bible is a multicultural book. This statement may sound controversial but archeology, history, and the text prove it to be true. In 2013 this controversy played out in the media when viewers of The Bible miniseries were upset that Samson was played by a black man. A second controversy occurred when a Fox News broadcaster confidently declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, yet when people researched original depictions of Saint Nicolas, they found pictures of a dark brown man. It appears that our faith has been distorted. As we celebrate Black History Month and prepare for Lent, how can uncovering the black presence in the Bible aid us in mourning against the sin of racism? One of the effects of racism is the whitewashing of history and sadly this has taken place even in our biblical studies.

The Roman Catacombs show biblical scenes painted by first- and second-century persecuted Christians, and their paintings clearly show people of color. What would Roman Christians gain from painting these characters black? What did these early Christians know and accept that seems unbelievable today?

An Open Letter to Christian Men (From One of You)

Word Collage on Stop Violence Against Women. Via mypokcik/Shutterstock

Christian men - males who are caught up in the ancient, raw, and radical Jesus movement, this is to you:

It's high time we say something, do something - good Christian men, stand up. Women are being raped and sexually abused across the world, and we continue to theologically shrug our shoulders. It's just the way it is, we say.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we turn a blind eye to the ways in which our holy scriptures have sanctioned this throughout history.

How to Be Perfect

Spectator medal at Sochi 2014 Olympic games, Iurii Osadchi / Shutterstock.com

Spectator medal at Sochi 2014 Olympic games, Iurii Osadchi / Shutterstock.com

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Seriously, Jesus? Have you even met some of us? Have you seen the depths of our jealousies, the breadth of our greed? Have you noticed how insatiable our egos are? How deeply insecure we all are?

Perfect?

You cannot mean what you seem to mean.

What then do we do with this seemingly impossible call? For many of us, this is one of those passages in the Bible we seek to explain away. Jesus can’t possibly mean what he says here. We reckon that he must be calling us merely to aspire to perfection. Or we conclude that in calling us to perfection, we realize how very far we are from it and thus lean on God’s grace. But certainly, absolutely, without a doubt, Jesus cannot be calling us to be perfect like God is perfect.

Right?

When Facebook Is the New Daily Moral Reference

Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Maybe it’s fitting that I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this very clickable headline from the AP: “Go Figure: Facebook Read Daily More Than Bible.”

Ouch. That one hits pretty close to home. That aimless scrolling through my Twitter feed could just as easily have been time well spent in front of the Good Book. Has my daily devotion to social media really eclipsed my daily devotion to spiritual practice?

After 10 years of operation, Facebook has usage stats that put it in the stratosphere of dedicated readers. Just over half of adults in the U.S. and Canada use Facebook daily. The same cannot be said for the Bible or other religious texts. Really, it’s not even close.

The AP story notes that Facebook “says worldwide it has 757 million daily active users. Of those, 19 percent are in the U.S. and Canada, so that's more than 143 million people checking Facebook daily.”

Compare that to these numbers from the same article about those who read a religious text every day: “A 2006 CBS News poll found 15 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible or other religious texts daily. There are about 267 million adults in the U.S. and Canada. That means about 40 million people reading the Bible daily.”

In a country where 79 percent of adults claim some sort of religious affiliation, less than a quarter of that number statistically reads their religious text daily. Historically the term “People of the Book” has referred to the Jewish people and their reverence for the Torah, their holy law. Perhaps those of us in the U.S. should call ourselves “the people of Facebook.”

Bad religious puns aside, personally, I’ve never been one to read my Bible with much consistency, and certainly not on a daily basis. While I’ve tried my fair share of daily Bible reading programs, plans, and even Bible apps, I’ve yet to develop the habit of daily reading.

On Scripture: A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1-9a)

Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1 – 9a). Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

This has been a hard winter — from Minnesota to Alabama. It’s been a very hard winter for Tanya and Red and Jamie and Andre and Adrian and Mercy. They are my neighbors here in New York City. It’s not that the heat was shut off in their apartments because they didn’t pay their bills. They have no apartments. Since last fall, they have made their beds on the steps of Riverside Church, under the scaffolding at Union Seminary and on the benches near Grant’s Tomb.

“Will you be warm enough tonight?” I asked Tanya. “Oh, we’ll be plenty warm,” she said as she showed me their outdoor bedroom: the first layer was carpeting, then stacks of blankets for padding and many more blankets for covers. “Once you’re in here,” said Red, “it’s too hot to keep your jacket on.” I was grateful to hear that because, well, then I wouldn’t feel so terrible going inside my warm apartment.

Justice Delayed: About That Time We Executed A Child With A Bible

UAlbany National Death Penalty Archives

UAlbany National Death Penalty Archives

The difficulty of restorative justice, is that some things simply can’t be restored.

Certainly, not 14-year-old George Stinney. He’s been dead almost 70 years.

We can however, restore his name — and sometimes, that’s all restorative justice can do. Restorative justice works to make whole what has been unjustly lost and reassemble that which has been unjustly broken, to the greatest degree humanly possible. While we can’t restore 14-year-old George to life, we can both restore his name and work to restore the community responsible for his death.

Often we forget that restorative justice isn’t just about restoring the one who was wronged; the one who committed the wrong is also need of restoration. In this case, the latter is the state of South Carolina.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Still from 'Usoni.' Via the series' Facebook page.

Still from 'Usoni.' Via the series' Facebook page.

CNN reports on Usoni , a futuristic television drama produced in Kenya that is about reversed immigration. The show depicts Europe in 2063, where life has turned unlivable after a deadly series of natural and economic disasters.

Europeans are desperately seeking a way to get to a livable continent south of them: Africa. The hardships in making the trip are unfathomable, and once the immigrants arrive, they are unwelcome, harassed, and rejected. The story follows a young couple, Ophelia and Ulysse, who are seeking to make their way with their unborn child to the land of promise.

Yes, the comparisons today to those seeking to immigrate to Europe (with obvious parallels to America) are intentional. Marc Rigaudis, the Kenya-based French filmmaker who created the program, is making a point to help us walk in the shoes of those whom we know the Bible calls “aliens and strangers.”

The chilling trailer depicting people like me being treated as illegal immigrants is enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

In 'David and Goliath,' Gladwell Provides Fresh Perspective on the Underdog

Courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company

Courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company

What if what you thought were advantages were actually disadvantages? And what you thought were disadvantages ended up being what actually makes people successful?

So embarks best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell of BlinkThe Tipping PointOutliers, and What the Dog Saw in his new book: David and Goliath. In the same clear, concise style that made his other books so intriguing, Gladwell challenges yet another widespread assumption — that being the underdog tends to make one an underdog forever.

Instead he argues that being the underdog can give one the upper hand. In his signature approach, Gladwell supports his hypothesis with a series of narratives, from the classic case of David and Goliath to the forgiveness one Canadian Mennonite woman was able to work towards after her daughter was murdered. Like his previous books, David and Goliath is both entertaining and thought provoking and obliges readers reflect over their lives and reconsider personal “disadvantages” that actually required them to learn skills they otherwise might not have had.

Top 12 Pastor Stunts: Living as an Atheist Is Just the Latest Ministry Gimmick

RNS photo courtesy of Toby Crabtree/Saddleback Church

Dr. Oz measures pastor Rick Warren’s waistline at a “Daniel Plan” forum. RNS photo courtesy of Toby Crabtree/Saddleback Church

A California pastor made headlines this month when he announced that he will live like an atheist for a year to see what it’s like on the other side of belief. But Ryan Bell is actually just the latest “stunt pastor” to use unorthodox means to draw attention to his message.

In recent years, other church leaders have challenged congregants to have sex (with their spouse) for 30 days straight or have dressed like homeless people or lived in a tiny box or on a spacious roof in order to gin up attention, attendance, or funds.

This kind of reality-show piety has a history, of sorts, especially in Christianity: A fifth-century ascetic, Simeon Stylites, achieved great fame by living — subsisting, really – atop a pillar for some 37 years.

But the rise of the entertainment industry, combined with a focus on marketing techniques to preach the faith or build up a church, have sparked a penchant for ministry gimmicks that go well beyond the old dunk tank.

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