If you want self-help, ask Oprah for a book recommendation. If you want to know how to make more money, I’m sure Dave Ramsey’s got some thoughts for you. If you want to know how to vote, Rush Limbaugh can guide your hand.
But if you want to know God more, see Christ more clearly, discern the presence and work of the Spirit, then there’s only one place to go…
…but I warn you, it’s foolishness.
The preaching of the gospel concerns the foolish notion that an obscure 33 year old Jewish peasant, who claimed to be God, died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago under the accusation that he was inciting revolt against the government. It affirms the crazy notion that this peasant didn’t stay in the grave, but somehow rose from the dead, defeating death, the devil, and all the forces of chaos in the world.
Seriously, you have to be a fool to believe that stuff. That’s CRAZY talk! People get put in insane asylums for believing that kind of thing.
But that “foolery” is exactly what truly Christian preaching concerns itself with. It announces that the wisdom of the world is foolishness before the God of creation. It says the wisdom of this Jewish peasant, who never wrote a single word, trumps the wisdom of Oprah, the advice of Dave Ramsey, and the guidance of Rush. It says a guy accused of inciting a revolt against the government was actually the God of the universe.
If you want pragmatic religion you can find it in any Christian bookstore. But if you want the religion of a Jewish peasant who rose from the dead, listen to the foolish preaching of the cross. Through its lens the world looks upside down and maybe even a bit impractical, but then again, maybe that’s why Jesus said it was hard to believe and harder to live.
It’s foolish to love your enemies.
It’s foolish to give up this world to gain the next one.
It’s foolish to bless those who curse you.
It’s foolish to pray for those who persecute you.
It’s foolish not to enact revenge.
It’s foolish to be concerned with the betterment of others more than your own self-help.
It’s foolish to worship a God you can’t see.
It’s foolish to believe the meek will inherit the earth.
It’s foolish to give away everything you have and follow a crucified Jewish peasant.
It’s foolish to listen to preaching that honors these things as true wisdom.
And yet that’s the foolishness we’ve been called to hear, believe, and live in light of. Because, ultimately, that foolishness is the wisdom of the of the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.
Just heard that Glenn Beck says Obama’s faith is “a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it.” That’s a longer discussion, BUT I find it ridiculously ironic that he ignores the fact that the same could be said about Beck and his Mormonism! Since when have ‘most Christians’ ever considered Mormonism not a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
This post is not about political agendas, this is about the heart of the faith of “most Christians.”
Be careful whose gospel you are listening to, friends. They’re not all the same. Be just as aware of Beck’s gospel as you are of Obama’s. Don’t let your political allegiances blind you to attempts by Glenn Beck to create a political commonality with you that supposedly leads so naturally to theological commonalities. There is a big difference between Glenn Beck’s gospel and the gospel believed by ‘most Christians.’
On that note, be aware of your own gospel. It is easy to replace politics, power, materialism, or nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Your theology can be more orthodox than Glenn Beck’s, but ‘having it all right’ doesn’t make you a Christian. Believing all the right things, but still trusting the gospel of the American dream is to pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ, too. So I do not exclude myself from this warning – I am prone to give into such ‘gospels’, as well.
So, my warnings to you to be careful with Glenn Beck also serve as a warning to myself to be careful about the gospel I believe – Is it the gospel of the crucified, Jewish God-man who rose three days later and defeated death and the Devil? Or is it the gospel of the American political machine – no matter if it’s from the right or the left?
So, it looks as if I’ll be doing a frequent video blog for my new church. Which is totally cool. This first one, though, is just a quick self-introduction.
I’m just finishing up To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time since 9th grade. I can appreciate the story much more now than I could as a freshman in high school – the exceptional literary skill and the narrative’s fantastic subversion of prejudice of all kinds. And my favorite part, Harper Lee’s cynicism about all things church is both humorous and sad at the same time – not to mention, something probably completely justified.
In this story, the Christians are cultural Christianity Christians. They attend church because that’s what you do, but see no conflicts between the cultural Christian life and donning KKK garb, siding with racial prejudice, or incessant gossip and fear. In fact, the functional reason the cultural Christians meet together in this story is to condone and participate in such activities – in other words, Lee is pointing out the corruption of the church.
In Lee’s story arise the great themes of injustice, prejudice, compassion, fear, hatred, life and death, growing up, misunderstanding, gender roles, racial superiority, and friendship across cultural boundaries, but the church has nothing valuable to contribute to any of these themes. Preachers are the mouthpieces, not of God, but of their congregation’s prejudices. They are content with their 30 minute speeches each week, content with the cultural Christianity of their congregants, and content with the world as it is. Never do they feel compelled to question racial prejudice or hierarchy – even when it leads to the death of an innocent man!
No, their sermons are dry and dusty, communicating nothing of significance to the everyday life of the early 20th cent. American South. Preaching has become, not a prophetic witness against the assumptions of cultural Christianity, but a burdensome Sunday activity that all good Christians must endure because, again, that’s what civilized people do.
Harper Lee thus points out something inherent in cultural Christianity wherever it may be found. Once Christ has been tamed by a culture to the point where the community can no longer tell the differences between their thoughts and His, anything goes! Once a people forget to distinguish between the ways of Christ and the ways of their culture, all prejudice and hatred becomes religiously justified as the way things have been ordained by God. Once the radical Jesus is replaced by a Christ that looks like me, talks like me, votes like me, and fights like me, there can be no pursuit of justice.
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird justice is an impossibility, not merely because lacks community of champions for the cause of social justice, but because racial prejudice, hatred, and fear are never challenged by the would-be-prophets of the pulpit and missions group. Justice is on the backburner, taking second seat to more “important” issues like moralizing sermonettes, flower gardens, and gossip. God is nothing more than the cultural projection of a prejudiced people. There can be no justice with such a God.
Thank you, Harper Lee, for doing what the preachers of all ages tend to forget. Thank you for being a prophetic voice in a world that believed (believes?) God is indistinguishable from white, middle-class preferences and prejudices. I am grateful for your crtiticism.
Food service is a tough job. It gets tougher when the customers are rude.
Tonight my wife and I were at Dairy Queen waiting in line to order. The man in front of us, speaking to the Latino* worker, said rather directly, “I need a #8…and get me a #4.”
My first thought was to tell him he doesn’t “Need” anything.
My second thought was that he was being incredibly inconsiderate to the man taking his order.
Because of how rude the guy in front of me was, I went out of my way to be more polite than usual – and asked for my food instead of demanding it as a “need.” You should’ve seen how the cashier’s face lit up. Seriously. It was like nobody had treated him nicely all day until that moment. It gave him a sense of self-worth. And though the pragmatics of it don’t matter as much as that, I got great service!
Don’t demand when you can ask for it. Go out of your way to affirm the humanity of those working in food service (and other parallel positions). They get treated like crap all day. Imagine the impact of the revolutionary idea that ALL PEOPLE, especially the poor and lowly, are loved by God. And what other hands and feet…and smiles….does God have than ours?
*The only reason I mention that the worker is Latino is that I’ve noticed repeatedly (though I’ve done no empirical studies on the matter) that Latino workers seem to get treated like this more often than even pimple faced teens. This may betray, not only customer rudeness, but also subtle forms of racism. Don’t quote me on that, I’m just speculating. But it’s possibility.
Because I think these conversations are so valuable, and because I enjoy having many different voices and perspectives in them, I want to provide some principles for engaging religious discussions online. These should help you not only in challenging other people’s ideas, but also in receiving criticism and feedback for your own thoughts.
Don’t take offense easily. It is notoriously difficult to discern someone’s ‘tone’ over written communication. This means that people can be easily misunderstood. Please understand that you will be misunderstood at times and that therefore you should be patient with others, knowing that you may be misreading their ‘tone.’
Make sure you go out of your way to understand what the other person is saying. I cannot tell you how many times I have had accusations thrown at me or complaints made about my opinions by someone who simply didn’t read my statements carefully enough to really understand my point of view. When you write something, you want people to respect you enough to read what you wrote closely. Therefore, you owe that to the other person – take the time to understand them before you criticize them. You may find that when you truly do understand their perspective, it will seem less threatening than you originally thought.
Understand that people’s theological and religious beliefs are not determined first and foremost by logic. I know for some of you academic types this may seem odd, but it’s reality. People’s religious beliefs are formed through years and years of ingesting tradition (including traditions of interpretation of Scripture), experiences, and preferences. Sometimes these items are really close to home – like the person who believes something because their father taught it to them. Disagreeing with this person about their beliefs is MORE than just disagreeing with them; it is disagreeing with their beloved father…and that gets hairy. So be patient with people. Know that there is more at stake than being right and reasonable. People have deep seated memories, affections, and dreams tied up in their religious beliefs. Even when they’re wrong, we can be respectful. After all, I don’t want someone ripping my father apart, and neither do you.
Gentleness is the key to success. It doesn’t matter if you’re right if you’re a jerk about it. Or in a more Scriptural way of speaking, “If I have all knowledge, but do not have love, I have gained nothing.” The logical truthfulness of your argument must be accompanied by an embodiment of the gospel. Go out of your way to avoid comments that seem rude, unloving, or snide. Go out of your way to let the other person know that though you disagree, you would like for them to understand that you are doing so in love and respect. I cannot tell you how many potential fires I have put out simply by letting the other person know that I respect them and their opinions, even while I disagree with them.
Don’t be afraid of criticism. Take criticism as an opportunity to grow in your faith, to see the world differently, and see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s weird, really, that in every other area of our lives we receive criticism happily – at work we receive it from our supervisors, at play we receive it gladly from our coaches and trainers. But in the religious world we’re so afraid of someone challenging our relationship with God that we take it personally when someone criticizes our beliefs. We take it as a personal attack. If you want to be challenged in your faith, you’ve got to get over this. If you want to think more deeply about God, you’ve got to stop fearing someone telling you where the weaknesses in your position are. Iron sharpens iron. Butter doesn’t sharpen iron.
Polemics get us nowhere. There is no value in creating caricatures of other people’s beliefs and then bashing them based on the caricature instead of the actual intricacies and nuances of their position. This doesn’t generate further knowledge or love. All it does is divide believers from one another, inhibits genuine discussion, and creates feelings of animosity. If we truly love and respect someone, we will treat their beliefs fairly and represent them fairly. If their beliefs are crazy (some some are!), let the insanity reveal itself. Such beliefs don’t need your help; when someone eats a box of Crazy-o’s for breakfast, it’s pretty easy to see.
I have no doubt that this list isn’t exhaustive. But this post is long enough and I’ve developed my thoughts enough to make my point. Don’t be easily offended, make sure you’re really understanding the other person’s position, understand that religious beliefs aren’t primarily logical for most people, all the knowledge in the world means nothing without love, don’t be afraid of criticism, and don’t use polemics. I have made mistakes in all of these categories. But that’s why I’m now able to point them out. Have fun. Learn from my mistakes. Love God. Love each other.
Here’s my latest sermon on the Plagues of the Exodus. Specifically I spent my efforts in Exodus 10:21-29, the plague of darkness.
Sermon Correction: I mention at the end that all 4 gospels record darkness at Jesus’s crucifixion. After searching again today, I can’t find the reference to darkness in John’s gospel. Which tells me that either I was wrong and it’s not there, or I just can’t find it.