Faith

Tyler Francke 4-11-2014
ArtFamily/Shutterstock.com

I’m seeing that the issue is not doctrine; it’s attitude. It’s not theology; it’s posture. ArtFamily/Shutterstock.com

“You are not only a coward but a non-believer as well.”

It may not quite be at the level of Captain America’s vibranium shield, but my skin is a lot thicker than it used to be. When you start a blog that promotes something as insanely unorthodox as the idea that the author of Genesis 1-3 might have (like most other biblical authors) made use of a metaphor here and there, you come to expect that some fundamentalists are going to call Father Merrin and start reaching for the holy water.

It’s unfortunate — and, often, perplexing — but you learn to get used to it.

Even so, there are times I receive emailed messages like the one quoted above, and it hits like a punch in the gut. I know I should just ignore such trollishness. Usually I can. But not always.

Don’t worry, though. This is not a whiny column about how mean the conservatives are to us open-minded, forward-thinking progressives. Instead, it’s about how messages like this are helping me rethink almost everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith.

4-07-2014
I live in Washington, D.C., a city in which mistakes are messaged and shortcomings are spun. True confession and true repentance do not occur -- unless it is politically advantageous. Naturally, cynicism runs rampant.
4-07-2014
The last forty years — basically, ever since Roe vs. Wade — the Christian right has so dominated the way Christianity’s politics and social identity is understood in America, that when the new generation of “the Christian left” — folks like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne — came along in the last fifteen to twenty years, it felt like they were truly pioneers. But Walter Wink and Walter Sullivan are, like other “old timers” like Dorothy Day and Jim Wallis, wonderful reminders that progressive Christianity, while always somewhat marginal in America, is hardly an invention of the internet age. On the contrary, Christianity’s quest for peace and justice has deep roots indeed, and both of these men are exemplars worth remembering.
4-07-2014
Select titles from the Religion Nonfiction finalists are: Boring by Michael Kelley (B&H Books); Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue (Abingdon Press);On God's Side by Jim Wallis (Brazos Press/Baker Publishing Group); Playing God by Andy Crouch (IVP Books); Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear (B&H Books); and The Good Funeral by Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch (Westminster John Knox Press).
4-07-2014
Co-writer Ari Handel said in an interview with Cathleen Falsani of Sojourners that Ila was a way to explore Noah's love. "Obviously the notion of barrenness and infertility is a very biblical concept and it fits right in with the Noah story because it’s all about the death of life and the birth of new life; it’s all about second chances and next generations," he explained. "So I think she came out of those places. She ends up also becoming, as you see, in some ways a different kind of a voice — a humanizing voice — that is able to bring Noah back from his despair."
4-07-2014
In his popular arena workshop, the Rev. Jim Wallis urged people to be “examples of hope” in a secular world. “Our vocation as Christians is to offer unexpected hope,” he said, walking the stage, side to side. “And Pope Francis is the delightful surprise today.”
4-07-2014
“The more I listened to Jim Wallis, the more that word ‘engagement’ is what entered my mind. And all I could think of is that we are a very entertainment-centered culture, and I’m kind of entertainment-centered in many ways myself. But ‘engagement’ — that is the only choice that we can make as Christians. We have to be engaged in the world: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ You didn’t sit there and watch a movie about hunger; you did something about it.
4-07-2014
Sojourners founder Jim Wallis pointed to former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Here’s the blog post, in case you want a flash to the past.
4-07-2014
Fred Phelps died early Thursday morning. Phelps was best known for his deeply rooted hatred and promulgating the tasteless slogan “God Hates Fags.” His little group of mostly extended family members that comprised the 59-year-old Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, carried their signs with such ugly and painful statements all over the country. Phelps’ small cult got the most attention for their protests of military and other high-profile funerals, claiming that the slain soldiers deserved to die as a consequence of God’s judgment against America’s tolerance of gay and lesbian people. Such shameful and angry messages, understandably, caused great pain among the mourners and family members grieving their loved ones.
Joy J. Moore 4-04-2014

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle A

How an agreement on nuclear weapons can build a bridge to peace.

3-31-2014

Resources for living well in the midst of death and grief.

Christian Piatt 3-31-2014
Rock guitar, Sinelyov / Shutterstock.com

Rock guitar, Sinelyov / Shutterstock.com

I grew up with music in my life. At first, it was a combination of my dad’s Willie Nelson and Ray Charles with my mom’s old southern Gospel hymns. I’d sit under the piano, feeling the vibrations as she played “Blessed Assurance,” and then lie on the floor in front of the speakers as Ike and Tina belted out “Proud Mary.”

And then I discovered my own music, in the form of rock. Eventually, I sang lead in several hard rock bands around Dallas hitting all the local hot spots and singing until I was hoarse and exhausted. It was during my decade away from church that I did most of this, but I didn’t realize until recently that, despite the pretense of countercultural rebellion the music offered, it actually gave me some of the same things I experienced as part of organized religion.

Of course, only the most uneducated would think of rock music as some monolithic think that was barely held together by the pursuit of sex, drugs, and fame. There were rules. There were codes. And my lord, there were categories.

Any time you asked a band what style they were, inevitably they’d sigh and equivocate, finally listing off a handful of bands they most certainly were not like. No one wanted to be categorized, and yet we were more than ready to label all others and fit them in to their neat little musical denominations.

Stephen Mattson 3-28-2014
WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com

Jesus was the sacrifice. WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com

“Christianity” is often used to manipulate, control, shame, judge, and hurt others. It’s influenced by politics, popularity, wealth, success, pride, hate, fear, selfishness, and a desire for power. The poisoning of our beliefs — or theology — happens subtly, under the pretense of tradition, teaching, education, discipline, authority, respect, and religion.

We often treat theology similar to politics, where our beliefs and doctrines are based on which ones benefit us the most.

We strive to get everything we can from our faith, and this can lead to spiritual narcissism, where we become obsessed with maximizing the benefits for ourselves while withholding them from others.

Rarely do we adhere to — or agree with — theological ideas that benefit someone else more than us. Sacrificing our own comforts for the sake of others is absurd — which leads to a sense of divine favoritism.

Joe Kay 3-28-2014
Anna-Mari West/Shutterstock.com

Are we committed to letting in or keeping out with our keys? Anna-Mari West/Shutterstock.com

One night after working a college basketball game, I stopped to use the restroom before heading out of the arena and making the drive home. I pushed on the heavy, gray door and found that it was locked.    

Uh-oh. This isn’t good.     

Neither were my options.    

I could wander around the arena hoping to find an unlocked restroom; they might all be locked by now. I could try to make it home — probably wouldn’t work. As I stood in front of the locked door trying to decide what to do, I heard a woman’s voice from down the hall.

Tyler Francke 3-27-2014
Twentysomething man taking a selfie, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Twentysomething man taking a selfie, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”

The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse, and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.

This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering on full-blown alarm.

Like a true Millennial, I don’t think things are all that bad (heck, I wouldn’t know where the panic button is even if I wanted to press it). Actually, as a Christian, I think there is a lot to be excited about in the generation that’s poised to inherit the world … after we move out of our parents’ houses, that is.

3-26-2014
Remembering Dom Hélder, 1999: The periodical “Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice” wrote of Dom Hélder at the time of his death in 1999: "The gospel is so contrary to the way of the world that it has to be shown, not merely told. Dom Helder Camara is one who showed the way. Helder Camara was the Brazilian Catholic archbishop who became renowned throughout the world as the inspirer of Latin America’s liberation theology movement. Barely five feet tall, Dom Helder never embraced the pomp and ceremony of his rank. He wore a plain brown cassock and a simple wooden cross. As a young priest he served in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro. It was here that he first began to speak of the unjust structures of poverty, saying, "When you live with the poor, you realize that, even though they cannot read or write, they certainly know how to think." In 1955, Camara founded CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, the first organization of its kind in the world. In 1960, during the preparatory meetings for Vatican II, Dom Helder brought to Rome the agenda of a "preferential option for the poor." He even suggested that the pope give the Vatican and all its art to the United Nations for its work with the poor, and live in a humble manner as bishop of Rome. Camara himself refused the episcopal mansion, choosing instead a modest three-room house behind the church in Recife, Brazil. When Mother Teresa asked him how he managed to maintain his humility, Camara replied that he had just to imagine himself making a triumphant entry into Jerusalem—not as Jesus, but as the ass. Dom Helder Camara died on August 27, 1999, at age 90, lying in his hammock surrounded by his closest friends. We offer these memories of Dom Helder from more of his "friends," far and wide. —The Editors”
3-26-2014
Interfaith conversation involving evangelical theologian Jim Wallis on the role of clergy in the elevation of and working for the "common good"
3-26-2014
The Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition, made up of organizations promoting peace, many churches, adjudicatories, the Unitarian church members of the Niagra Foundation, Jewish South Street Temple, and Muslim representatives have organized the weekend Peacemaking event to stimulate conversations among the three faiths to promote understanding, friendship and possible continuing activity as a peacemaking community. Past speakers include Jane Goodall, Jim Wallis, Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Helen Caldicott, Matthew Fox, William Sloane Coffin and Joel Sartore.
3-26-2014
Kara Lofton/Sojourners

Mike McCurry sits at his desk. Kara Lofton/Sojourners

“Public theology is the way in which faith professes action in the public square,” explained Mike McCurry.

This idea — that there is a connection between your spiritual faith and what you do in politics — is an underlying theme in McCurry’s journey from press secretary for former President Bill Clinton to joining the faculty at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., as professor of public theology.

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