Christianity

'Gothic Piles' No Longer Necessary for Finding Faith

Riverside Church in New York City. RNS file photo

On a Greenwich Village street where male prostitutes seeking customers shout out their dimensions, I walked past an open but empty church on my way to the subway.

In times past, flocking to church on Sunday morning was a beloved family routine, even here in bad old Gotham. Now they’re trying nontraditional worship on Sunday evenings.

It’s a struggle, both here and elsewhere in the 21st-century Christian world. Buildings with “beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God,” as Luke described the temple in ancient Jerusalem, are falling into disuse and disrepair — not because Caesar attacked and took revenge on an alien religion, but because the world changed and gathering weekly in “Gothic piles” no longer seems necessary for finding faith.

'12 Years a Slave:' A Film of Moral Gravity

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight
'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

I pre-screened 12 Years a Slave the same weekend I saw Gravity. The two films couldn’t be more different, although they do have some fascinating (if not immediately obvious) commonalities.

As for commonalities, they’re both powerful and both deserve to be seen. Both are about people trying to get home — one, in a harrowing adventure that takes several hours, the other in an agonizing 12-year struggle. The protagonists of both movies demonstrate heroic resilience and courage. One struggles with physical weightlessness, the other with a kind of social or political weightlessness. 

Although Gravity impressed and fascinated me, 12 Years a Slave affected me and shook me up. Now, several days later, scenes from the film keep sneaking up on me and replaying in my imagination — three in particular. 

8 Ways to Survive Christian Culture

Christian rock band performing in Ukraine, Nadiia Gerbish / Shutterstock.com
Christian rock band performing in Ukraine, Nadiia Gerbish / Shutterstock.com

Christian culture, along with the spiritual leaders, churches, institutions, communities, and other entities it consists of, are supposed to make our faith stronger. But in many cases the opposite happens, and it actually causes our faith to die. In religious environments often surrounded by cynicism, hypocrisy, hurtfulness, and disappointment, it’s easy to give up on Christianity. Here’s how to prevent spiritual burnout:

1)    Avoid Legalism

Historically, Christianity has always struggled with legalism, where churches often forced beliefs and practices on people with domineering power. Legalistic groups thrive on strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, and authoritarian judgment.

Various agendas — that are valued more than the loving gospel of Christ — are promoted and pushed onto people. And it wasn’t that long ago (in fact, it still exists) that American believers were expected to be anti-gay, conservative, pro-choice, anti-evolution fundamentalists.

If fear, condemnation, and shame are used as spiritual weapons to gain power, influence, and control — run!

Mapping Gandhi's Faith Journey

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. once said that the greatest Christian of the 20th century was not a member of the church. He was referring to Mohandas Gandhi. A remarkable number of King’s fundamental beliefs—the use of active nonviolence as a tool of social reform, the commitment to loving one’s enemies—can be traced back to the influence of Gandhi, which means that one of the defining figures of 20th century American Christianity was profoundly shaped by the example of an Indian Hindu. As King said in 1958 of the civil rights movement, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.”

But what of Gandhi’s influences? How did a skinny, middle-class, mid-caste Indian, so scared of public speaking as a student that a classmate had to read his speeches aloud for him, come to lead one of the great liberation struggles of the past century? A new book by Arvind Sharma, professor of comparative religions at McGill University, makes the case that the source of Gandhi’s strength was his spirituality. And while the heart of Gandhi’s faith was Hindu, as King’s was Baptist, the influences were remarkably diverse.

Pointing out that most of the biographies of Gandhi really tell the story of Mohandas Karamchand (the name he was given by his family), not Mahatma (a title that means “great soul” and is given to saints in India), Sharma’s book Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography sets out to give an account of the Mahatma. Sharma quotes Gandhi directly on the importance of highlighting the dimension of spirituality in any attempt to understand him: “What I want to achieve—what I have been striving and pining to achieve these 30 years—is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain moksha [the Hindu term for liberation]. I live and move and have my being in pursuit of this goal.”

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Meet the ‘Nominals’ Who Are Drifting From Judaism and Christianity

 Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com
Deposition from the cross. Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

They’re rarely at worship services and indifferent to doctrine. And they’re surprisingly fuzzy on Jesus.

These are the Jewish Americans sketched in a new Pew Research Center survey, 62 percent of whom said Jewishness is largely about culture or ancestry and just 15 percent who said it’s about religious belief.

But it’s not just Jews. It’s a phenomenon among U.S. Christians, too.

Meet the “Nominals” — people who claim a religious identity but may live it in name only.

Is Christian-Owned Hobby Lobby Boycotting Hanukkah?

Photo courtesy DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons
Hobby Lobby store in Ohio. Photo courtesy DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons

Hanukkah comes early this year. But it apparently never comes to Hobby Lobby.

The national craft store owned by conservative billionaire Steve Green seemingly refuses to carry merchandise related to Hanukkah because of Green’s “Christian values,” and some Jews are taking offense.

“I will never set foot in a Hobby Lobby. Ever,” wrote Ken Berwitz, the New Jersey blogger who brought the Hobby Lobby Hanukkah flap to light in a Sept. 27 blog post.

Berwitz’s outrage has spread to other bloggers who are taking Hobby Lobby to task as a store that courts the general public, but refuses to stock anything related to Judaism — even in communities with significant Jewish populations.

Rewriting the Lord's Prayer: What If How We Prayed Matched How We Live?

Lord's Prayer, Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com
Lord's Prayer, Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com

After reciting what we call the Lord’s prayer one Sunday, I got to thinking about how many times I’d said those words. Thousands? But how many times have I actually thought about what the words mean?

If we pay attention, it’s a prayer that makes us very uncomfortable.* These words of a peasant Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago challenge so much about the way we live — all of us, regardless of what religion we follow. If we’re honest, most of us don’t like it and have no intention of living by what it says.

Which presents a question: Isn’t it a problem if we pray one way and live another? Shouldn’t our prayers reflect how we actually try to live?

Along those lines, perhaps we should rewrite the Lord’s prayer and make it conform to what we really believe. In that spirit, here’s a rough draft of what it might sound like if the Lord‘s prayer was actually our prayer.

Stop Blaming Youth for Christianity’s 'Demise'

Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com
Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com

Expressions like "the world is getting worse and worse" and "we are living during the end times" are commonly thrown around within evangelical circles, and it needs to stop.

Are things really getting worse? Sure, church attendance might be down, fewer people are identifying themselves as 'Christian' on surveys, and the percentage of atheists continues to rise, but that doesn't mean the apocalypse is right around the corner.

Yet, I continually hear pastors and Christian leaders lament these evil times and Depraved Generation. They emotionally and emphatically condemn this fallen world and seemingly fulfill their own false prophecies by promoting a pessimistic outlook of the future of Christianity — simultaneously validating their theories by judging our future of Christianity: the youth.

The common scapegoat for Christianity's current “demise” is often blamed on young people, who are stereotyped as being more liberal, progressive, post-modern, and susceptible to spiritual relativism than ever before. They're the ones who have bought into the lies of the Emergent church, the temptation of the Prosperity Gospel, the sinfulness of our media-saturated world, and have become addicted to entertainment and denied the inerrancy of Scripture.

Dear Pastor Rick Warren, I Think You Don’t Get It

Screen shot of image on Rick Warren's Facebook page
Screen shot of image on Rick Warren's Facebook page

Author's Note: As of sometime Tuesday afternoon, the original Facebook post and tweet of this image has been removed. That is wonderful news. He has also issued an apology on Dr. Sam Tsang’s blog (linked later in this post) but not on his Facebook page or Twitter because it has all been removed. However, I am leaving up my original post because deleting something doesn’t actually address the issue, and the subsequent comments by supporters were never addressed. Those supporters may think the post was removed because he got tired of the angry Asians who don’t get it. Right now, it feels like I’ve been silenced. Pastor Warren actually did read many of the comments voicing concern about the post and responded with a rather ungracious response. My kids constantly hear me talk about the consequences of posting something up on social media and the permanence of that. 

You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you wake up to Facebook tags and messages about “something you would blog about.”

My dear readers, you know me too well.

This photo appeared yesterday on Rick Warren’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. Apparently the image captures “the typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” Hmmm. I didn’t realize Saddleback was akin to the Red Army. Warren’s defense (and that of his supporters) is one that  I AM SO SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING!

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