Religion

Adam Ericksen 10-15-2013
 United Nations Information Centres / Flickr.com

Malala Yousafzai attends Delivering on the Global Education Promise, United Nations Information Centres / Flickr.com

Malala Yousafzai has captured our love and imagination.

Malala was recently a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By the end of the interview, Stewart was so enamored with Malala that he asked if he could adopt her. The remark was hilarious because it was true. After 5 minutes with this girl, who wouldn’t want to adopt her?

Malala is the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for education in the face of persecution from the Taliban. She explained on the show that, “Education is the power for women and that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful.”

In the face of persecution from the Taliban, Malala says she “spoke on every media channel I could and I raised my voice on every platform that I could and I said, ‘I need to tell the world what is happening in Swat and I need to tell the world that Swat is suffering from terrorism and we need to fight against terrorism.’”

But it was what she said next that stole our hearts. She reflected upon what she would do if a member of the Taliban came to take her life.

If you hit a Talib … then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat another with that much cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I’ll tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’

Dilapidated school, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Dilapidated school, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Most Americans share a common understanding that many public schools in poor neighborhoods aren’t great. It’s rare that I engage anyone who doesn’t know this basic fact on some level. But what’s less common is a deeper understanding of the extent of the problem. And sadly, even less common than that? Finding individuals who express a deep conviction that educational inequity can be eliminated. Faith communities are poised to add our voices to this much-needed conversation.

Fifteen million children live in poverty in the United States. Given poverty’s impact, many of these children already face additional challenges in their lives. For many young people, education can be “the great equalizer.” A high quality school can provide students with the necessary foundation to go to college and have a variety of opportunities opened to them. Poverty can become a thing of the past. But students growing up in poverty are more likely to attend low-performing public schools. In fact, only 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school. Only 9 percent receive college diplomas. And, not surprisingly, given our nation’s historical intersection of racial injustice and poverty, African American, Latino, and Native American students experience some of the nation’s biggest educational inequities.

Stephen Mattson 10-09-2013
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!

Christian Piatt 10-03-2013
Curious man peeking over wall, Media Bakery13 / Shutterstock.com

Curious man peeking over wall, Media Bakery13 / Shutterstock.com

Every day, my previously stable faith is replaced with a little more hungry curiosity. I consider this progress.

I posted this brief statement on my Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday and promptly received quite a bit of interest in return. Not surprising, really, that my typical readership would resonate with such a claim, but I also found some surprising affirmations from those I would not have expected to appreciate my sentiments.

I write fairly often about moving away from emphasis on a propositional faith and toward one that is more implicitly lived out in our daily experience. Said another way, I would much rather have the teachings and values shared by Jesus revealed through my actions and through what people see in me, rather than simply through any particular rhetoric that I offer them as an act of persuasion, or even coercion. This is also selfishly motivated, as I am increasingly convinced that, whereas a faith centered on the proclamation and defense of particular statements is one that lends itself to inertia, a way of life that reveals your values without explicitly having to state them is both more compelling to others and more fulfilling for ourselves.

 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.

Sandi Villarreal 10-01-2013
Courtesy Pew Research Center

Courtesy Pew Research Center

The top religion story of 2012 was the “rise of the ‘Nones’” — the one in five adults in the U.S. eschewing any religious label. That trend is now evidenced across the American religious spectrum, including in Jewish communities. About 22 percent of Jews now describe themselves as having no religion, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews.

“Fully a fifth today of Jews in the United States are people who say they have no religion. They’re atheists, agnostics, or, the largest single subgroup, nothing in particular,” said Alan Cooperman, co-author of the study.

The trend of disaffiliation mimics that of other backgrounds, particularly by age. For example, 93 percent of Greatest Generation Jews (those born between 1914 and 1947) identified as being Jewish by religion, while only 68 percent of Millennial Jews (those born after 1980) say the same.

Ryan Ahlgrim 09-30-2013

A pastor's journey of trust in the face of doubt.

Christian Piatt 09-25-2013
Richard Dawkins, Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

First things first: with all due respect to interim host John Oliver, I for one am thrilled to have Jon Stewart back on The Daily Show. I know it is sad to say, but I actually missed him while he was on summer hiatus. Welcome back, little buddy!

Last night, Stewart interviewed Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, who was promoting his newest title, An Appetite for Wonder. The most interesting moments in the interview revolved around Stewart’s question to Dawkins about whether science or religion ultimately would be responsible for hastening our journey down this path of apparent self-annihilation. What followed was a fascinating, if not entirely satisfying, dialogue about the “downsides” of both disciplines.

Stephen Mattson 09-09-2013
Right and Wrong image, marekuliasz /Shutterstock.com

Right and Wrong image, marekuliasz /Shutterstock.com

Turning our faith into a set of rights and wrongs is partially based upon our own insecurities, but our fears are often warranted by how others respond to us.

“You attend that church?! Oh, that’s your pastor?! You went to that seminary?! You’re reading that book?! You like that theologian?! You belief that?! You like that type of worship?!”

It’s happened to us all at least once — someone labels our faith as wrong.

Question after question, one after another, on a daily — almost hourly — basis. If we aren’t careful, our faith and spirituality can quickly devolve into a set of distinct questions and responses.

In a corporate culture driven by hard data, statistics, evidence, trends, sales, surveys, and measurable information, our beliefs can be treated like a quarterly business summary — dissected, analyzed, and studied.

Our relationship with God turns into a cold and calculated set of methodologies, hypotheses, and professional-driven structures — the intimacy, raw communication, and love slowly disappears.

The mystery of God becomes something meant to be overcome, explained and defeated. And our church institutions become modeled after Fortune 500 companies instead of reflecting the vibrant early church communities of the New Testament.

Brandan Robertson 09-03-2013
Excess baggage illustration, bezikus / Shutterstock.com

Excess baggage illustration, bezikus / Shutterstock.com

I am an evangelical.

But what does that label even mean anymore?

A few days ago I was sitting around chatting with a few new friends at my Bible college. One of them was a young Canadian and another was a middle-aged former U.S. soldier. We ended up on the topic of politics and how many companies and businesses in the United States give millions to political and social causes and somehow we ended up talking about McDonalds.

My USAF friend made the statement: “McDonalds is terrible because it gives millions to causes and organizations that you [speaking of me] directly oppose: LGBTQ rights campaigns, Planned Parenthood, etc.” I was taken aback because my new friend simply assumed that because everyone in this conversation was an evangelical meant that we all held a certain set of political ideals and social standards. For him — for millions of others — evangelical meant something far more than a theological persuasion. In the midst of this awkward moment, I decided to reveal my identity as a politically progressive/liberal evangelical, which automatically caused an immense amount of tension to arise in our conversation. How could I, a Bible-believing evangelical, possibly support the LGBTQ community’s right to marry? How could I think that Planned Parenthood was doing any good and that President Obama’s plan to rapidly decrease the numbers of abortions in the United States was progress in any way? Let’s just say that the conversation ended on a pretty tense note.

This encounter really caused me to re-reflect on the magnitude that the term evangelical has been hijacked by political and social agendas over the past decade and how a new generation of evangelicals is emerging that does not at all identify with any of the social and political baggage that has come to represent evangelical Christianity. Which brings me back to my original question: What does the label evangelical even mean anymore?

I can tell you this — it doesn’t mean that I am a Republican. It doesn’t mean that I am a Democrat. It doesn’t mean that I am pro- or anti-anything.

Business Bible, Siarhei Tolak / Shutterstock.com

Business Bible, Siarhei Tolak / Shutterstock.com

Too much religion can harm a society’s economy by undermining the drive for financial success, according to a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The study of almost 190,000 people from 11 religiously diverse cultures is raising eyebrows among some of England’s religious leaders for suggesting Judaism and Christianity have anti-wealth norms.

Tom Ehrich 08-28-2013
Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s surprise decision to retire does more than throw the technology industry into a frenzy of speculation. It raises the problem of succession.

From major corporations to startups led by visionary leaders, from universities to churches, the departure of the top leader can stop momentum and usher in months, perhaps years, of uncertainty.

Even though dealing with succession is a primary task for a board of directors — some say it’s their preeminent task — relatively few boards take the assignment seriously. They focus instead on the easier work of jousting with the top leader and shilling for institutional investors.

What should be an orderly process of preparing for leadership transition instead becomes a lurching from one standalone regime to the next.

Many board members want the rush of being co-managers of the institution. This is especially true in churches, where boards enjoy making day-to-day decisions about operations. Since a strong central leader would get in their way, many church councils discourage strong clergy and reward compliant permission seekers.

Tom Ehrich 08-21-2013
Christian imprint illustration, SoulCurry / Shutterstock.com

Christian imprint illustration, SoulCurry / Shutterstock.com

Out of nowhere, I felt an urge to listen to Willie Nelson’s epic album Stardust, a collection of pop standards that went platinum when it was released in 1978.

As I listened to “Blue Skies” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” I remembered buying this album for my father. I thought he would enjoy a fresh take on these songs of his youth, his travails during the Great Depression, and the war that defined his generation.

I don’t think he ever listened to it a second time. He loved the songs, but he couldn’t bear the fresh take. He wanted Gertrude Lawrence, the original voices of Tin Pan Alley and Depression-era hopefulness, the crooners that carried his generation to war and back home again.

I understand. The music we hear at our first dreaming, first love, first dance becomes the soundtrack of our lives.

For many people, the same is true of faith. Our images of God, songs of worship and language of prayer tend to be those we acquired at first awareness. Many more images, songs and words will come later, but none might resonate so deeply as those that were imprinted on us early on.

Jeffrey Weiss 08-21-2013
Steve Jobs The Economist cover, via Bill So / Flickr.com

Steve Jobs The Economist cover, via Bill So / Flickr.com

The new movie about Steve Jobs is short on anything explicitly religious. Like its main character, however, it’s got a thread of transcendence running through it.

The truth about Jobs and religion may be that, in this arena as in others, he was ahead of the cutting edge.

The film isn’t making the purists happy, in part because it takes too many liberties with history. But it’s not a documentary. I’ll go against many of the reviews and say that Ashton Kutcher does a pretty good job at representing the personality found in Jobs’ speeches and in what has been written about Jobs — particularly in the massive authorized biography by Walter Isaacson.

One quote in that book, from one of Jobs’ old girlfriends, pretty much captures the character in the film: “He was an enlightened being who was cruel,” she told Isaacson. “That’s a strange combination.”

Christian Piatt 08-19-2013
Photo by Nate Baker-Lutz, used by permission of InterVarsity Press

Photo via Wild Goose Festival Facebook page, Photo by Nate Baker-Lutz, used by permission of InterVarsity Press

I just got back a few days ago from a campsite outside of Asheville, N.C., the site of the third annual Wild Goose Festival. For those who are unfamiliar with the event, imagine and old-fashioned days-long outdoor revival, combined with Bonaroo and a traveling circus. For several days, authors, activists, artisans, musicians, and seekers converge to engage in spontaneous community, share ideas and to inspire one another.

It's not every day that you can walk by a makeshift tent and listen to Phyllis Tickle succinctly summarize the history of Christendom in 45 minutes, and then wander over and pick up a vegetarian pita sandwich while on your way to hear the Indigo Girls perform. Impassioned conversations emerge all on your walk about everything from child trafficking to the state of the institutional church in the 21st century. And you're only momentarily distracted by the guy on stilts, wearing a hat covered in goose feathers who wanders by for no apparent reason.

Welcome to Wild Goose.

Bob Smietana 08-13-2013
Screenshot from USA Today video report on the case.

Screenshot from USA Today video report on the case. Video courtesy USA Today

A Tennessee judge should not have barred a couple from naming their child “Messiah,” said the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

On Thursday, the parents of the child appeared in Cocke County Chancery Court in Tennessee because they could not agree on a last name.

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the mother, Jaleesa Martin, to change her son’s name to “Martin DeShawn McCullough.” It includes both parents’ last names but leaves out “Messiah.”

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew told the 7-month-old’s parents.

Stephen Mattson 08-08-2013
Imposter illustration, Scott Maxwell / LuMaxArt / Shutterstock.com

Imposter illustration, Scott Maxwell / LuMaxArt / Shutterstock.com

The “secular world” has liars and thieves, adulterers, cheaters, and hypocrites. It’s a place full of child molesters, domestic abusers, and addicts. Where loneliness is rampant, mental illness is on the rise, and individuals routinely try to numb their pain via drugs, alcohol, and sex. Divorce is everywhere, pornography infects the minds of millions, and infidelity occurs on a regular basis.

The church often presents itself as an alternative to the “real world,” a place where these things don’t exist.

Many churches refuse to admit that these problems are affecting them. In reality, there is little statistical difference between Christians and non-Christians relating to these issues. Christians don’t receive a special pass that protects them from experiencing mental illness, suffering, struggling with addiction, abusing other people, being abused, or failing.

Our faith in Christ gives us hope and strength and courage, but it doesn’t erase reality, and it isn’t meant to create a flawless utopia where we can escape from the world’s problems. But many churches attempt to do just that — trying to create the perception of perfection.

In some church communities, there is the appearance that porn, sexual abuse, and rampant sin don’t exist. Even non-sinful things (mental illness, poverty, etc.) are treated as stigmas that are intentionally shunned. This is often misinterpreted as holiness — it’s not.

Stephen Mattson 08-06-2013
Broken faith concept,  jcjgphotography / Shutterstock.com

Broken faith concept, jcjgphotography / Shutterstock.com

The truth is that our faith and spirituality is often dependent on hundreds of different relationships, factors, institutions, and circumstances that we directly correlate with God.

When our Christian expectations are shattered, it’s easy to blame God. We mistakenly idolize the things that are associated with God, and assume that if one of these aspects failed then God failed.

“Christianity” will fail us. Our churches will attack, our pastors will lie, our mentors will manipulate, our friends will betray, and when this happens, our beliefs will be shaken to their core.

 

Evan Dolive 08-05-2013
Young girl with annoyed expression, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

Young girl with annoyed expression, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

I live in Texas. To many of its millions of residents, it is the greatest state in the union. We like things big and we like them to be bigger than every other state blessed to be in the Union. Texans are proud of their state; chalk it up to early indoctrination of Texas history throughout the life cycle of Texas Public Education.

But being in Texas, especially East Texas, means that we are sitting squarely and firmly in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The Bible Belt is a term used to describe the area where conservative Christianity is the prominent player in the state’s religiosity; generally this term refers to a high level of conservative, evangelical Christians. This does not mean that you can’t find conservative, evangelical Christians outside of this arbitrary boundary, but for some reason they seem to cluster in these areas in high concentrations.

I didn’t grow up in a church that beat people over the head in church or judged people for they way they acted. I felt loved and welcomed in a place where people were friendly and they loved serving God. I learned about Christ and God’s love for humanity. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear more Christians speak more and more on the necessity of evangelizing to people or even being “saved correctly.” I can remember on several occasions a certain church in the town I grew up in going door to door and asking people if they were to die tonight would they go to Heaven. I can remember thinking that it was an odd tactic to get people to come to church. It seemed so stand offish and so self-righteous that it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Martin L. Smith 08-02-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

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