Christianity

Stephen Mattson 07-02-2013
American flag and the Bible, SUE ASHE / Shutterstock.com

American flag and the Bible, SUE ASHE / Shutterstock.com

1) You Love To Argue, Fight, And Attack

There’s nothing quite like flooding people’s Facebook feeds with posts about the sins of gay marriage, abortion, and the Democratic Party or the volleyed claims of bigotry, hypocrisy, and self-interest.

American Christians seemingly love to argue with people and engage themselves in various culture wars. Whether it’s about the existence of global warming, prayer in schools, evolution, gun control, or homosexuality, you love to let people know that you’re RIGHT and they’re WRONG. Oh yeah, and if you don’t agree with me —You’re going to hell! Literally.

Your main forms of communication include boycotting, accusing, yelling, screaming, pointing, spewing, slandering, shaming, shaking your fists, and waving protest signs. In fact, you’ll probably write a venomous response to this piece in the comments section below.

As demographics shift and migration brings global Christianity to the church down the street, how will U.S. congregations respond?

Benjamin Corey 07-01-2013
2010 protest in Los Angeles, Juan Camilo Bernal / Shutterstock.com

2010 protest in Los Angeles, Juan Camilo Bernal / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: In April, Associated Press representatives said they would no longer recommend the term "illegal immigrant" in the influential AP Style Guide used by many in print media. However, the term is still used by many media outlets and in common parlance. Our hope is that more will follow the AP's lead and rethink its usage.

As the Senate recently passed long awaited immigration overhaul and the bill now heads to the House, the long-standing national discourse on the issue of immigration will likely heat up again. As we participate in these discussions, my hope is that we, especially as Christians tasked with peacemaking and reconciling, will find ways to build bridges instead of erecting walls. As a first step in this bridge building, I pray that once and for all, we will stop using the term “illegal immigrant.”

Here's why:

1. The term “illegal immigrant” is a misleading and dishonest term, which violates the 9th commandment.

The term “illegal immigrant” lends one to believe that an individual is currently doing something illegal, or that their presence in our country is an ongoing, illegal act. In regards to undocumented workers, this is simply not the case. The crime that undocumented workers commit is a violation of “8 U.S.C. § 1325: Entry of Alien at improper time or place,” a federal misdemeanor. Their crime is crossing the border at the improper time and place; however, they are not currently doing anything that is illegal.

Therefore, using this term that has a less-than-honest connotation, is a violation of the commandment to not “bear false witness against our neighbors.”

Photo courtesy RNS/ Warner Bros. Pictures.

Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros Pictures “Man of Steel." Photo courtesy RNS/Warner Bros. Pictures.

Superman has always had a bit of a messiah complex, born as a modern-day Moses in the imagination of two Jewish guys during the Depression and over the years developing and amplifying his Christlike characteristics.

So it made sense that Warner Bros. Pictures spared no effort in using the Jesus connection to attract the increasingly important Christian audience to see the latest film in the Superman franchise, Man of Steel.

The studio hired a leading faith-based marketing agency, Grace Hill Media, to hold special screenings for pastors, and it developed an extensive website of Christian-themed resources — including specially-edited trailers for use in churches and Man of Steel sermon notes.

Christian Piatt 06-26-2013
"Belief," Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

"Belief," Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

There are lots of biases and assumptions about Christians out there, many of which are founded in real-life experience. And yes, we Christians have done our share of damage when it comes to tarnishing our so-called “brand.” But there also seems to be this tendency to understand Christianity and its adherents as one generally monolithic group that can be described in simple (often negative) terms that they would never be acceptable to apply to any other group.

Part of this is because of the historic dominance of the Christian culture in the modern Western world. It’s the same reason that stereotypes of men on network sitcoms are pervasively unflattering, while the same stereotypes would cause a firestorm of negative publicity if applied to the female counterparts. Some of this is entirely warranted and necessary in tearing down false or damaging constructs of power. But sometimes, if we’re being honest, they’re just wrong. And stupid.

Stephen Mattson 06-25-2013
Photo of a woman with question mark sign, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

Photo of a woman with question mark sign, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

During the Christian spiritual journey, followers of Christ are forced to eventually face some basic faith-related questions. Here are a few of the most common ones:

1) What is salvation? 

What does salvation really mean? When does it happen and is it permanent? Do you choose your own salvation or is it predestined? Is everyone saved or just a select few? 

The idea of salvation is extremely complex, and our concept of it directly influences how we live, evangelize, and interact with the people around us. 

Mark Sandlin 06-10-2013
Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign / Shutterstock.com

Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign / Shutterstock.com

Lots of people claim to be “following Jesus” and then they do stuff like this. Sure, people who follow Jesus do these things all the time, but you can't say you are doing them because you are trying to follow Jesus' example.

(Clearly, this is not a complete list but it's a good place to start).

10) Exclude people because they practice another religion.

Jesus was constantly including people, and he did it with a radical disregard for their religion. We do not have a single recorded incident of Jesus asking for a person's religious affiliation before being willing to speak with them or break bread with them. We do have several records of Jesus seeking out those who happen to practice faith differently from him. There was even this one time when he used a hated Samaritan as an example of how we are supposed to take care of each other.

Photo by Helen Sloan/courtesy HBO

A scene with Catelyn Stark (l) played by Michelle Fairley from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Photo by Helen Sloan/courtesy HBO

Is there anything morally redeeming about Game of Thrones? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision?

The show is certainly entertaining, almost addictively so, and as Game of Thrones wraps up its third season on Sunday, the ratings reflect that popularity: a record of more than 5.5 million viewers have followed the ruthless struggles for power among the teeming clans of Westeros, the medieval-looking world created by fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin.

That success has also guaranteed that the show will be back for a fourth year of mayhem and passion, swords and sorcery, despite this season’s many violent endings. Or, as one tweet put it after the bloody penultimate episode: “Why doesn’t George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.”

But therein lies the moral problem for some: The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.

That, in turn, has prompted intense debates about whether Christians should watch Games of Thrones at all, or whether the show’s only possible virtue is depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.

Stephen Mattson 06-04-2013
Christianity and money illustration,  design36 and vso / Shutterstock.com

Christianity and money illustration, design36 and vso / Shutterstock.com

Christianity can quickly devolve into caste systems, where faith communities are divided by the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor. Instead of unifying ourselves in Christ, we are dividing ourselves by how much money we can afford to spend.

How much money is required to be a Christian? Imagine how much money we’ve spent throughout our lifetime on “Christian” activities and products (not including tithing or mission-related donations) — now imagine if we gave this money to people who really needed it.

“Consumer Christianity” has turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?

Tom Ehrich 05-21-2013
Sweet Lana / Shutterstock

Revolution vector. Sweet Lana / Shutterstock

Religious historians say that every 500 years, Christianity goes through a “massive transition,” as noted religion writer Phyllis Tickle puts it.

Around 500 A.D., “barbarians” sought to subjugate Rome by wiping out its underlying religion. Christianity went underground. In abbeys like Iona, monks painstakingly copied Scripture and civilization’s great writings, in effect saving Western civilization itself.

Around 1000 A.D. came the “Great Schism,” when the Western church based in Rome and the Eastern church based in Constantinople fought over creeds and doctrine, political power and cultural hegemony. That split endures to this day between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Around 1500 A.D. came the Protestant Reformation, when nationalism born of exploration in the New World and new commercial wealth demanded an end to Rome’s domination of European life. That split, too, endures.

Now comes a new millennium, and Christianity wears so many different faces that it’s difficult to speak of a single “Christian movement.”

Alfonso Wieland 05-14-2013
Photo from humanrightsfilmfestival / Flickr.com.

Photo from humanrightsfilmfestival / Flickr.com.

Sunday afternoon, March 28, 1982. If you were an evangelical Christian living in Guatemala, watching TV, your heart would have been beating faster and tears of joy may have flowed down your cheeks.

A man was speaking so thoughtfully, with the Bible in hand. He was teaching the audience, “If there is no peace within the family, there would be no peace in the world. If we want peace, we need at first to be at peace in our hearts.” He went on, “Guatemala is the chosen people of the New Testament.”

That 55-year-old man was Guatemalan General Efrain Rios Montt, pastor of the Iglesia  Verbo (Church of the Word), who had recently become president of Guatemala through a military coup.

On May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison after finding him responsible for deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule.

Morf Morford 05-08-2013
Under construction sign, L.Watcharapol / Shutterstock.com

Under construction sign, L.Watcharapol / Shutterstock.com

Seen on a rural hillside: “Under Construction.”

Someone had added, in letters almost as large, “No equipment, no budget, no crew and no work, but we have the sign.”

For the vast majority of Christians, this sign sums up their philosophy of discipleship.

In their determination to not be ‘saved by works’ they have cultivated a historically isolated, theologically sterile, spiritually impotent ‘faith’ that I can only describe as ‘Christian inertia.'

In this cultivated obliviousness they have forgotten, perhaps deliberately, that we are “created to do good works in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10).

They have somehow come to believe that ‘being a Christian’ is all about having the sign; being transformed (Romans 12:2) by the living word of God, far from being a thriving daily reality, has become an abstraction reduced to a bumper sticker or slogan.

Brandon Hook 04-24-2013
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Marini

Nataly Dawn, a singer-songwriter, wrestles with faith and judgment in some of her work. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Marini

A while back I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Nataly Dawn about faith and songwriting. Dawn grew up in France, went to Stanford for undergrad, and made it big on YouTube with a duo called Pomplamoose before signing with Nonesuch records and starting her solo work.

This interview was edited for length and content.

Nataly: I have to warn you, I’m in a little bit of a food coma; I just made a really big brunch. I had probably five pancakes.

Brandon: Wow. Impressive. That’s awesome.

Lisa Schencker 04-08-2013

Just because the nation may change its laws to “tolerate legalized acts of immorality” does not make those acts any less spiritually damaging, senior Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer said on Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 183rd Annual General Conference.

“The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality,” Packer said, “does not reduce the serious spiritual consequences that result from the violation of God’s law of chastity.”

Packer, president of the Mormons’ Quorum of Twelve Apostles and next in line to take over the church’s reins, didn’t specifically mention gay marriage, but his comments came amid controversy on the issue nationwide and a significant swing in public and political opinion toward favoring such same-sex unions.

Christian Piatt 04-03-2013
Modern stained glass, Chris Howey/ Shutterstock.com

Modern stained glass, Chris Howey/ Shutterstock.com

I’m no postmodern theology expert, so I’ll leave it to the pros to explicate more about what’s what in postmodern thought. But for me, the exciting work revolves around supplanting things like binary, propositional “truths” about God with more inductive, open-ended notions of the Divine that transcend religious doctrine or even our own mental constructs of God. This is both a necessary and a liberating process, I think, that indeed can lead the Church (big C Church, that is) toward something far more reconciling and healing for humanity than the modernist approach to faith we’ve employed for many decades now, if not some centuries.

It’s helpful to look back a little bit at where we’ve come from in our religious and theological evolution of thought and practice. At the risk of geeking out on something that puts everyone to sleep, I’ll try to make this quick and fairly painless. Interestingly, it can be argued that the more fundamentalist strain of Christianity can trace its origins back to the “liberal” thinking following the Enlightenment that suggested all things – faith, God, and religious thought included – could be explained by rational means. This hyper-rationalism sought to build up rhetorical constructs that made a case for God, so to speak, as well as buttressing the doctrines of the Church.

Cathleen Falsani 04-03-2013
Marcus Mumford in Verona, Italy. By Andrea Sartorati / Flickr.com

Marcus Mumford in Verona, Italy. By Andrea Sartorati / Flickr.com

Labels can be helpful when, for instance, applied to cans of soup or barrels of toxic waste. But they are less so when affixed to human beings – particularly when labels are meant to summarize, indelibly, one’s spiritual identity.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Marcus Mumford, the 26-year-old lead singer of the wildly successful British band Mumford & Sons, raised the hackles of religious folks (in some quarters) when he declined to claim the “Christian” label as his own.

You see, Marcus is the son of John and Eleanor Mumford, who are the national leaders of the Vineyard Church in the U.K. and Ireland, an arm of the international evangelical Christian Vineyard Movement. Last year, he married actress Carey Mulligan, whom he’d met years earlier at a Christian youth camp.

And the music of Mumford & Sons, for which Mumford is the main lyricist, is laden with the themes and imagery of faith – often drawing specifically upon the Christian tradition. They explore relationships with God and others; fears and doubts; sin, redemption, and most of all, grace.

Tripp Hudgins 04-03-2013
Light trails from fast-moving cars, ssguy / Shutterstock.com

Light trails from fast-moving cars, ssguy / Shutterstock.com

Nuanced or not, are Christians, especially evangelicals, perceived as being against things like peacemaking? Or is it that their version of peacemaking is backward looking toward some halcyon day of yore (or 1950s America)? At this point in the book, Rob spends a lot of time walking us through the development of justice in the Bible from “eye-for-an-eye” to “turn the other cheek.” I want you to read this chapter for yourself and make your own conclusions about what Rob sees and tell me if you see it, too.

Rob's thinking is that people are gradually cluing in to God's vision of a world without retributive violence. “Revenge always escalates,” he writes. Always.

Phil Haslanger 04-02-2013
Stop domestic violence poster, Lurin / Shutterstock.com

Stop domestic violence poster, Lurin / Shutterstock.com

A caller into a Christian radio station was telling the hosts about some of the strains in her marriage. Soon, she was talking about the physical abuse she was receiving from her husband.

And the response of the hosts of this Christian radio show? “What are you doing that is making him so mad?”

There’s a sad history in too many Christian churches of pastors telling abused wives that their duty is, as one author noted, “to trust that God would honor her action by either stopping the abuse or giving her the strength to endure it.”

I don’t think that view is as common in churches as it once was. And in many churches pastors and other faith leaders will act thoughtfully and quickly to come to the aid of a victim of abuse. But the undercurrent of tolerating abuse lingers.

A renowned theology professor from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Bruce Ware, preached a few years ago that when women refuse to submit to their husbands, men will sometimes respond with abuse. He did not condone that, but he seemed to accept it as inevitable.

Tripp Hudgins 04-01-2013
Young woman meditating, Luna Vandoorne / Shutterstock.com

Young woman meditating, Luna Vandoorne / Shutterstock.com

It's the Monday after Easter, and I couldn't think of a better day to talk about God being with us. Adam Ericksen wrote about the dance of doubt and faith on Good Friday, the challenge and beauty of embracing the fullness of the journey. Rob takes that all one step further in this chapter: With.

There is, I believe, another way to see God, a way in which we see God with us— with us, right here, right now. This isn’t just an idea to me; this is an urgent, passionate, ecstatic invitation to wake up, to see the world as it truly is. 
(Kindle Locations 1201-1203)

Suddenly I have “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones playing in my head. Excuse me for being a child of the 80s.

My take-away? This God doesn't choose sides like we do.

Adam Ericksen 03-27-2013

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Board Member Tripp Hudgins and I will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Thank you, Tripp Hudgins, for your “Open Letter to Rob Bell.” As always, you are inspirational and thought provoking. The letter provides a great introduction to our blogalogue on Rob’s latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I want to emphasize one point you make and relate it to the first chapter of the book, called “Hum.”

You claim that, “This book is not about a ‘new’ thing. It’s simply about God and how we come to know God in this world.” This is such a great point because Rob isn’t making up new ways to talk about God. Throughout the book, Rob explores what God has done in the past and how God continues to pull all humans into a global future that has “greater and greater peace, love, justice, connection, honesty, compassion, and joy” (19).

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