Have you ever noticed that society allows fans to do things that, short of fandom, we would deem absolutely crazy? When do grown adults have permission to paint their faces with logos except on the day of the big game? When is hugging perfect strangers acceptable? After a 3-point shot of your favorite team beats the buzzer, it’s expected. Screaming at the top of our lungs is perfectly acceptable when we’re in a crowd of thousands doing the same.
March Madness wraps up this week and a tournament champion will be crowned. Whatever the outcome of Monday’s championship game, we can guarantee that there will be screaming crowds at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (The final may break the record of largest crowd ever to attend a NCAA basketball game with 75,421 attendees.)
Crowds change social norms. Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.
Next Sunday, April 13, 2014, is known as Palm Sunday. Around the world Christians will gather to wave palm branches.
“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.
A “fringe hatemonger” — that’s what I called Fred Phelps in a letter to the editor of The Washington Times in 1999. In response he announced in a news release that he was coming to Colorado Springs to protest the “… false prophet James Dobson and his fag-infested Focus on the Family scam.”
It also challenged my immature understanding of theology. “What if Phelps is right?” I worried. I buried these thoughts for years — though truth be told, they’d surface at nearly every mention of his name.
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?
A year ago yesterday — March 13, 2013 — Pope Francis officially became pope. Since then he has fascinated the world.
He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world. He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached.
It was a busy weekend on the eve of Lent for fans of spirited singer and spiritually-minded musician Michael Gungor. If you were not on the Gungor or Michael Gungor Twitter feed over the first two days of March, you might have missed the news about a new band, a new record, and a new mini-tour.
As the band called Gungor takes a short break from touring in support of its sonically and lyrically adventurous album I Am Mountain, the family business has reinvented itself with the proverbial “side project” so common with musical visionaries who cannot contain their creative output to just one brand name or band name.
But The Liturgists — a collective that includes Michael’s wife Lisa, brother David, and a host of other supporting musicians and collaborators — are not just another band, and the brand is “the work of the people.” The band’s Vapor EP is a warm and experimental worship text that includes a song, a spoken-word invocation and incantation, and a guided centering prayer meditation. On the group’s Ash Wednesday-week mini-tour, all the shows are free by RSVP and are not really shows as at all — not as indie-consumers even in the contemporary Christian scene have come to expect.
Abram left his homeland on a promise and a prayer. God called. Abram went. The Biblical text makes it seem so simple. There are no signs of struggle or doubt. There is no grief over what is left behind, only the forward look toward a new land and a new future. Leaving home for Abram seems so easy.
As I reflect on this week’s scripture, I’m in Lebanon listening to stories of Syrian refugees who left their countryand their kindred to find a place of refuge. Unlike Abram, they did not leave on the promise that they would become a great nation. They left because bombs fell on their houses. They left because food became scarce. They left because they watched their loved ones die in the rubble as buildings fell to the ground.
As we enter into this season of Lent, it is fitting for us to pause and listen to their stories. Remembering Christ’s suffering is more than an exercise in gratitude. It is a chance for us to stand in solidarity with those around the world who suffer each day. It is a challenge for us to take our own suffering (be it large or small) and connect it to the suffering of others and to the suffering of Christ on the cross.
It seems like an eternal winter here in Detroit. The Associated Press, citing a National Weather Service analysis, reports Detroit is experiencing the most extreme winter of any city in the country. I don't know about that, but this winter is "getting real up in here."
At Holy Redeemer, the church just north of Detroit where I serve as pastor, the weather has impacted 9 of 12 Sundays since Dec. 15. It's hindered our ability to gather for worship, dented budgets, and made it hard to maintain community.
You can set your watch by the storms that arrive late on Saturday night and clear by Sunday afternoon.
Yet, time and again the congregation at Holy Redeemer manages to surpass my wildest expectations of faithfulness.
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
Thus begins the spiritual drama of Lent, the forty days before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ wilderness experience. No human, not even Jesus, can escape the temptation of the devil.
Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John. As the Gospel of Matthew reports, when Jesus emerged from the water “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Jesus’ identity as God’s Son had always been true, but he received confirmation of his relationship with God at his baptism.
Son of God is Hollywood’s take on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. While the producers clearly tried hard to use modern filmmaking techniques to bring scripture to the big screen, the attempt fell flat somewhere between the use of action-sequences, swelling music reminiscent of old Westerns, and unconvincing acting — Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who managed to look irritatingly self-satisfied for most of the movie.
Since faith is such a personal, spiritual experience, it begs the question: Is it possible to make the life and ministry of Jesus into a film that accurately reflects Christianity, or does such an effort cheapen beliefs?
By turning water into wine, Jesus used his first miracle to keep the wedding feast going.
Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:7-10)
But maybe Jesus won't be the only one reigniting the party with homemade wine. A new device called The Miracle Machine promises to make pre-aged wine in about three days.
It’s called The Miracle Machine (of course) and it’s basically a Sodastream for wine. Like its under-21 counterpart, the Miracle Machine uses water, yeast, grape concentrate, and finishing powder packets to create decent DIY-quality vino, virtually out of thin air. Just connect the machine to its corresponding iOS or Android app, input all the ingredients, and, in true miracle fashion, wait three days for your wine to rise triumphantly from the ashes of discarded flavor packets and tap water.
Just to be clear, Jesus didn't have to wait three days for his wine.
There are tour guides who speak / all the human tongues, and we are trampled / for being famous blades / but then are resurrected.
Tony Kriz is, in many ways, the definitive postmodern Christian. He’s a Christian writer, teacher, and he even lives in intentional community with fellow Christ-seekers. He comes from an evangelical background, and, though he claims portions of the theology of his youth, he also continues to reinvent himself as he forges the path of Christ in his cultural context.
Known first in the public eye as “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s bestselling book, Blue Like Jazz, he is a voice and a presence unto himself. He’s more inclined to meet friends over a beer than he is to join a particular congregation in worship every Sunday. He is both deeply embedded in the Christian conversation and cultural identity and, at the same time, a stark contrast to what tradition dictates a “good Christian” should look and act like.
I shot a handful of questions his way after a recent book discussion we conducted at First Christian Church in Portland. Here’s what he had to say.
Novelist Chaim Potok captured the strain of transition from religious traditionalism to artistic expression in the fictional character Asher Lev. Asher, a young painter prodigy and son of a Hasidic luminary, is drawn to a Brooklyn museum where he surreptitiously views crucifixions and nudes. He then goes on to paint such scenes.
Asher’s mother tries to understand her son’s artistic longings, yet says in exasperation, “Your painting. It’s taken us to Jesus. And to the way they paint women. Painting is for goyim, Asher. Jews don’t draw and paint.”
Asher responds, “Chagall is a Jew,” but his mother cuts him off.
“Religious Jews, Asher. Torah Jews. Such Jews don’t draw and paint.”
Returning from a trip to Europe, Asher’s father sees the crucifixion drawings. In a rage, he asks his son if he knows “how much Jewish blood had been spilled because of that man?”
The first half of “Son of God” features an upbeat and kindly Jesus spreading the good word in familiar, if occasionally over-simplified, biblical phraseology.
Then things get bloody — thought not quite as graphic as in 2004′s “The Passion of the Christ” — when Jesus is seized, beaten, and crucified. The production values are modest and the special effects uneven in this PG-13 repurposed and condensed version of the History Channel’s miniseries The Bible. (That series drew flack for casting an actor who resembled President Obama in the role of Satan. The film sidesteps any hint of controversy by keeping the devil out of this story.)
Son of God, which opens Friday, takes no real chances, opting for a moderately involving re-telling of an oft-told story.
Tired of cursing the darkness, my husband Mark and I wanted to shine a light. To do this, we set up a production company called LightWorkers Media. The Bible miniseries, born out of this intention and released last year, grew so popular that we were able to make it into our Jesus film, Son of God.
The Bible series was in its third week when Jesus began to appear on the big screen. There was great excitement that Jesus was coming, with our trailers, various talk shows and even Twitter buzzing with anticipation.
He was beautiful and strong and kind and compassionate. His presence uplifted and encouraged people. It was everything we had hoped for.