Christianity

Donald Heinz 03-21-2013
Soho Square, London, pablo / Shutterstock.com

Soho Square, London, pablo / Shutterstock.com

The commons was the name for the public space shared by all in New England towns. It is the root of commonwealth, a nice term for an entire civic entity, like a state, in which every citizen is viewed as a stake-holder. Its values are the opposite of those decried in the lament “private wealth and public squalor.” The commons are the opposite of gated communities. 

Today, there are two crises of the commons — one on the right and one on the left. One is indifference to the commons, even starving the commons. This means the demise of “social capital” (the sum total of all social networks and human investments in a community or polity) and civic values shared by all, and their surrender to utilitarian individualism and the dominance of the market. The other is the argument over what discourse style is appropriate to the commons — what language should be spoken and what subjects allowed in public life. Hint: lucid rationality is in, religion is out.

Adam Ericksen 03-17-2013
St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. jordache / Shutterstock.com

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. jordache / Shutterstock.com

I love St. Patrick’s Day.

The one day of the year when, for better or worse, Western culture allows me to claim my non-existent inner Irishman.

Kiss me, baby.

Okay. I’m done.

There are many stories and legends about the fascinating life of St. Patrick. One of the most famous legends recounts how this great 5th century saint banished all of the snakes from Ireland. Bad snakes. Bad.

My work at the Raven Foundation during the last few years has taught me to be suspicious of such legends. In fact, we might call them myths. Myths cover up scapegoating of human beings by telling the story in a more innocuous way. So, instead of saying we banish humans, we say we banished snakes.

Interestingly, the last glacial period (some 10,000-100,000 years ago, depending on whom you ask) beat St. Patrick to the snake banishing. But, Christian tradition has given Patrick all the credit. So, if there weren’t snakes around during Patrick’s day, what’s with the legend?

Stephen Mattson 03-15-2013
Chicago skyline,  rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Chicago skyline, rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

I used to lead and organize inner-city mission trips. Churches, youth groups, non-profit organizations, and well-intentioned philanthropists would excitedly arrive within the diverse and fast-paced world of Chicago and enthusiastically dive into whatever tasks we gave them. The work they volunteered for made a huge difference in people’s lives, but more importantly, it dramatically challenged — and changed — their own way of thinking about urban ministry.

For years “The City” has been the pet project of Christians throughout America. Billions of mission trips have been made to homeless shelters, food pantries, and poor neighborhoods, all in an effort to “clean up,” “rehabilitate” and “evangelize” in Christ’s name. Unfortunately, the inner-city isn’t as stereotypical as we want it to be, and our missionary zeal can often cause more harm than good.

Here is the most common myth that Christians mistakenly apply to urban areas: The Inner-City is Morally Bankrupt.

Jim Wallis 03-14-2013

Christianity is a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships.

Adam Ericksen 03-11-2013
Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /Shutterstock.com

Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /Shutterstock.com

Last Friday was International Women’s Day. It was a day of celebrating how far we’ve come, but also a reminder of how far we need to go. 

I’m reminded of an experience I had with a member of my youth group a few years ago. We were volunteering for a social service project. A member of the group happened to be named Eve and we thought it was fun to play up the joke. I’d start greeting people, “Hi! I’m Adam,” and then Eve would chime in, “and I’m Eve!” 

We always received the strangest looks, which, of course, is why we did it. But this time it was different. A man at the service project actually said, 

“Oh. So you’re the one to blame.”

Eve was able to laugh it off and respond with grace, but I was pissed. I instinctively scowled at the man. It was a deep blow to me because, once again, religion was being used to put women down. But this time it was personal. Religion was being used to put down a member of my youth group.

Of course, religion hasn’t always been good to women. Or, maybe it would be better to say that religious men have used religion as a weapon to make women feel inferior. Whenever we blame someone else it’s a sign of our own weakness and insecurities. We don’t have the courage to deal with our own inner turmoil so we blame someone else. This is classic scapegoating and we men have been scapegoating women in this way since the beginning of human history. It’s pathetic. International Women’s Day is a reminder to me that women and men need to work together to end the religious bigotry against women.

My model for this is Jesus, my favorite feminist. [1]

So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I offer you the top 4 ways Jesus included women as full members of his posse.

Jesse James DeConto 03-08-2013
Stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

I read a lot of Trinitarian theology last semester at Duke Divinity school, most of it trying to discern how believing in a Triune God might affect the way people of different religious faiths relate to one another. The other great Monotheisms, Islam and Judaism, of course reject the Trinity as they reject Jesus as divine. But what if the Christian belief in the Triune God is the very basis on which Christians can accept Jews as Jews, Muslims as Muslims, and atheists as atheists? Different theologians have explored how the Trinity might be a good place to ground a Christian theory of religious pluralism. S. Mark Heim has gone so far as to say that God’s own inner diversity shows God’s intention for a diverse humanity, even including religious diversity. In other words: People might believe in a non-Trinitarian God because they were made by a Trinitarian God. Mind-blowing.

I wasn’t expecting to find resonance in Charles Darwin, whose name has been used in so much anti-religious fervor. But in his 1857 letter to Asa Gray, Darwin wrote about the “principle of divergence” and how “the same spot will support more life if occupied by very diverse forms.” We might not want to make a precise analogy to human society when Darwin concludes that “each new variety or species, when formed will generally take the place of and so exterminate its less well-fitted parent.” 

That line of thinking could easily lead us to euthanasia. But, taken with his observation that diversity fosters life, we might say that co-existence with others forces a species to adapt, and everyone is better for it. Consider the converse of Darwin’s statement: The same spot will support less life if occupied by a unitary form. There is something life-giving – Heim might say “divine” – about difference.

Kenneth Tanner 02-22-2013
Red carpet image, disfera/ Shutterstock.com

Red carpet image, disfera/ Shutterstock.com

On the road, listening to NPR's Terry Gross interview Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, and having recently spent two hours at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum seeing the Nazis photographed, not in the usual black and white, but in the full colors of the natural world, it occurred that the human impulse to be part of an exclusive group has deep, powerful roots in religion.

People join "true churches" for this same impulse, a motivation that could not be further from the intention of the Gospel, which, at the heart of its mission, contains the abolition of exclusivity of any kind.

Christ following is not about joining the best club, but about following where Christ leads, straight into the company of every person, no matter their situation or circumstances, in order to be a servant to them, one who lays down his or her life, like Jesus, for the life of the world.

We were made for Communion with God and our neighbor, who Jesus tells us is every person.

Scientology, National Socialism, and other cults, past or present, religious or tribal, are modern forms of Gnosticism. They say, in varying ways, "We have something (usually 'knowledge') not publicly available to everyone and you must join us, submit to us, to participate in our secret." It's important to recognize that this is also an offer of power.

Christian Piatt 02-21-2013
Nickolay Stanev / Shutterstock.com

Scene from Hell painted on the walls of Rila Monastery church, Nickolay Stanev / Shutterstock.com

Yesterday, I discussed some of the historical bases for our contemporary understanding of Satan. Today, I’ll consider how hell evolved as part of the Christian faith.

In Old Testament scripture, the resting place for the dead is called Sheol. While some believe this is the same as hell, there are indications to the contrary. In the ancient Jewish tradition, Sheol is a place of rest for both righteous and wicked, with no distinction.

Not everyone is happy about it either.

In the third chapter of Malachi, the prophet recognizes the consternation of faithful Jews who are frustrated that the wicked share the same fate. In Ecclesiastes, the priest Koheleth claims that serving God is vanity. For him, the fact that the righteous are treated the same as the wicked and vice-versa should be a call to eat, drink and be merry.

With respect to any relationship between Satan in the Old Testament and Sheol, there is none.

Melissa Browning 02-06-2013
Chaikovskiy Igor / Shutterstock.com

Chaikovskiy Igor / Shutterstock.com

It was Earth Day, 1988. I was in my fifth grade “Earth Science” class, a place where one might expect to talk about the importance of caring for the earth. But this was not what we were talking about that day. At least, we weren’t talking about it until one student asked our teacher about the hole in the ozone layer and whether or not she should stop using hairspray. Our science teacher replied by saying that hairspray wasn’t a problem because the end of the world was coming and the whole earth would be consumed by fire anyway.
 
While my science teacher did not speak for all people of faith, she also was not a lone voice in the crowd. Caring for the earth is not something Christian churches in the West have been particularly good at. We were late coming to the conversation and have been slow in mobilizing our efforts. This is ironic considering that the foundational stories of our faith, the first words in the book we call holy, commission us to be caretakers of every living thing. In a world where climate change is evidenced in super storms, wildfires, heat waves, droughts and floods, it is urgent that people of faith return to our first responsibility of being stewards of the world in which we live.

Christian Piatt 01-24-2013

Rev. Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill church, has a true gift. Just when I think I’m making at least a modicum of progress toward tolerance – if not actual Christlike love – toward the guy, inevitably he does something to make me despise him all over again.

On the Monday, before President Obama’s inauguration ceremony, Driscoll sent out the following message to his more than 300,000 Twitter followers:

Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.

As of Thursday morning, the tweet has received more than 3,400 retweets and nearly 1,350 favorites. Driscoll’s next tweet was about an iPad Mini giveaway.

David A. Sánchez 01-09-2013
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Construction work continues for US President Barack Obama's second inauguration. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

It is an odd juxtaposition, December 21, 2012 and January 21, 2013. The former date representing the “so-called” Mayan apocalypse where the usual suspects prepared for the end of the world – many of whom were Christians awaiting the second coming of Christ –  and the latter date, which is the day President Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term.

In my estimation, this odd 21st-century connection reflects the event known as the baptism of Jesus as described in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22. Initially we see that there is an expectation elicited by the preaching prowess of John the Baptist. The unnamed “men” wonder in their hearts if “whether perhaps he was the Christ” (Luke 3:15 RSV). John, then goes on to describe what he understands to be Christ-like qualities when he proclaims, “[One] who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” (Luke 3:16).

Tripp Hudgins 01-09-2013
Photo: Man holiding a Bible, © Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Man holiding a Bible, © Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

The only reason that I am Christian is because I am spiritual-but-not-religious.

Right. That's it. 

Let me first say that in my own thinking, I don't separate these two things, religion and spirituality. I get that many do and I can see the rhetorical advantages to doing so. I just don't do so for any other reason than popular conversation has done so.

Here's why, and please forgive the autobiographical nature of this post. It's a testimony of sorts and dreadfully difficult to summarize. I'm pretty well convinced that I'm not all that unique in what I'm about to share. Also, if you have been paying attention (assuming you've known me for some time or been reading my blog) none of this should come as a surprise. 

The only reason that I am Christian is because I am spiritual-but-not-religious.

Krystal Brewer 01-07-2013
Photo: Movie image, © ffsettler | View Portfolio

Photo: Movie image, © ffsettler | View Portfolio

“You’re a Christian? But you’re so nice!”

I’ll never forget these words, spoken to me by a friend of mine from my college’s theatre program. He was one of my more eccentric friends, more blunt than most, and he was also very openly gay. His exclamation of surprise may be the instance that I remember the most, but he certainly wasn’t the only person during my college years to express their surprise at the thought of Christians living by principles of love rather than intolerance, or at the very least, indifference. 

Christian Piatt 01-07-2013
Perry Ferrel singing with Jane's Addiction in 2012. Mat Hayward / Shutterstock.c

Perry Ferrel singing with Jane's Addiction in 2012. Mat Hayward / Shutterstock.com

I know this sounds totally bizarre, but I had a moment of clarity about the value of human life in, of all places, a kid-themed pizza joint yesterday. No, they don’t exploit their workers (that I know of, short of submitting them to overstimulated kids all day). It took a few steps for me to get there, so bear with me.

Yesterday, my daughter, Zoe, turned four years old. It’s a crappy time of year to have a birthday party, since lots of people are out of town, and those who are around are more or less partied out from the holidays. On top of that, we just moved here a few months ago and hardly know anyone. So to try and make up for all of that, we let her pick anywhere she wanted to go for dinner.

Not surprisingly, she picked John’s Incredible Pizza Company, which is like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. Not high on my list of choices, but hey, it wasn’t my birthday. Zoe’s grandparents are in town and they invited a couple other family members who live nearby to join us. One of Amy’s distant cousins brought along her husband or boyfriend (still not sure which), and I remarked after the dinner to amy that he bore a striking resemblance to the alt-rock front man Perry Ferrell, of Jane’s Addiction fame.

“What ever happened to Perry?” Amy asked. Short of founding the Lollapalooza Festival and hitting every Coachella festival ever held, I had nothing. So I Googled him.

Christian Piatt 12-12-2012
Photo: National Christmas Tree, © Robert Crow / Shutterstock.com

Photo: National Christmas Tree, © Robert Crow / Shutterstock.com

I sat behind a couple of folks on a plane to Seattle this morning who were discussing their distress about a so-called war on Christmas.

“Memorial Day is a holiday,” said the man in a santa hat with disgust. “July 4th and Thanksgiving are holidays. Christmas is, well, Christmas!”

“Absolutely,” nodded the woman next to him. “It’s just more evidence of this war against Christmas.”

On the way off the plane, a flight attendant made the grave mistake of wishing the man happy holidays. He stopped the line of outgoing traffic behind him (including me) to correct her. She demurred, looked toward her feet and smiled sheepishly.

We Christians have a long and storied history of playing the martyr, whether there’s actually anyone persecuting us or not.

Tripp Hudgins 11-12-2012
Ethiopian cross. Photo illustration by Cathleen Falsani.

Ethiopian cross. Photo illustration by Cathleen Falsani.

I cannot
think that you don't
sound
or breathe
weep
or grieve
I will not
think that you don't
want
or ply
the cosmos
with love
or grace
seeking
us
lost again
I can believe
I can lose you
I can thwart you
I can set you up
I can watch you fall
to die
again
you breathe
weep
cry
sing
and I
am here seeking
better signs

Sandi Villarreal 11-09-2012
Colin Anderson, Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Colin Anderson, Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Oh, ladies. Just when you thought we were emerging again from the sudden backtrack into 20th-century gender politics, this happened. (Before continuing, I warn: this is the most offensive bit of so-called Christian, “red pill” patriarchy that I have ever read.)

A blog post written on the website of the Christian Men's Defense League — yes, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of white American Christian men is apparently a thing — blames Mitt Romney's loss Tuesday night on what the author brilliantly coins "the slut vote." 

Hat tip to Gawker for finding the cached version of this post, as it was quickly locked down post-publishing. You can view snippets of all of author “BSkillet’s” witticisms HERE

Most disturbing in this man's tirade against so-called "sluts" — and trust me, there's a lot in there to creep us out — is that he is doing so from a Christian perspective. The banner of the blog cites Psalm 144:1, "Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle."

The verse of choice is interesting, to say the least. I usually cringe when I hear terms like "war on religion," "war on women," etc., but if anyone is waging it, it's this guy. 

There is so much here that completely defies logic, but I thought I'd pull out a couple of gems for our review. 

Tobias Winright 11-02-2012

Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War. Palgrave Macmillan.

Silas House 11-02-2012

Caroline Herring makes truth-telling a mission in her music.

Anne Marie Roderick 10-22-2012
Anne Marie Roderick

Anne Marie Roderick

Editor's Note: Anne Marie Roderick tells her story of why she's NOT part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

It’s not surprising that a third of my peers say they are religiously unaffiliated. Our religious lives are too complex these days to fit in neat boxes with one-word labels.  I may be a “Christian,” but does that mean that I am like other Christians? Not necessarily.

There is sometimes more truth in being a “none” — in stating what we are not — rather than trying to pin down exactly what we are. But, I choose to affiliate anyway. Here’s why I am not a “none:"

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