Tag Archives: choosing

Little lessons on friendship that make a big difference

There are a lot of ways to see things — that can be confusing. But the solution to the problem of deciding among competing viewpoints is not to give up seeing! — the solution is to develop better eyes. So Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18) so we can see how great is our hope and how deep is God’s love in the middle of a confusing world — including confusing relationships.

So there is one thing about the topic of this blog. If you want to have a good friend and be one, you might need a better way of seeing friendship.

Jenn, 13, chiseling out holes in the electrical boxes for the log house.

In a church devoted to community in an age condemned to self-sufficiency we have to pray Paul’s prayer a lot: “I pray that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened!”  The main reason we need to keep praying is because people can have terribly disappointing relationships in an environment that keeps promising wonderful ones! How could it be that someone could be in your cell and end up feeling like they have no friends? It happens. How could long-term members finally slide out the door thinking they are not dear to anyone? It happens — not all the time, but often enough for me to know about it. The same dislocations happen to marriages, so it is not surprising that in a covenant community we face similar break ups and cut offs that make us scratch our heads and sometimes weep.

We need to choose

I think one key ingredient that is important to the friendship we long for in the church is choosing. We need to choose, first, to be friends. Then our friendships have a better chance to survive. When we enter a relationship or are maintaining one, we intend to be a friend to someone. We don’t think it will just happen. We mean to do it. People don’t need to prove worthy, they need to prove unworthy (which is hard to prove to a chooser). They don’t need to be valuable, they are already valued. They don’t need to have attractive traits, they are welcome. If this sounds like we are expected to be like Jesus, that’s true. But you know you aren’t Jesus; you are choosing, everyday, to follow, develop and end up a lot more like Jesus than when you started. The main place we develop that character is in our loves, especially love of people. We intend to develop.

All this would seem obvious if we did not live in a society in which consumerism is the reigning ideology. People are cultured to think that a relationship should be worth it — worth my time, not worthless. A relationship should have value to me — produce further value, be according to my values. A relationship should be attractive — should be the experience I imagine, should have the features I desire. All that sounds like we are buying a car; it’s kind of crass. But we do it. Many of us have already subjected ourselves to OkCupid or, worse, Tinder. So we have already put our features on an ad and have subjected ourselves and others to the dismissive swipe of a thumb. Some of us have grown up in hook-up culture and have become either inept at or suspicious of commitment or even affection. There is a streak in most of us that thinks cars and people are mainly for having a good time and asking for more is either overbearing or unlikely to succeed.

Then Jesus calls us out of that wilderness and into what is increasingly a foreign land where people get taken very seriously, are graced, and are loved. It is a bit jarring.

So here are four thoughts about choosing to love. Maybe they will help. They are about building a love that begins with our willingness to make a covenant — a love that is looking for connection, not avoiding it like it is prison.

When you choose first to be a friend your love has certain characteristics:

Love fits.

People don’t have to fit in to your preconceived notion of what fits you or yours. You are not a “type” and they are not a “type.” You don’t care what their sign is, their Myers-Briggs letters, their enneagram number, their addiction designation or psychological diagnosis, their race or any other kind of label. You fit them in, they don’t have to fit. The act of fitting people in is the key to fitting together.

Love covers.

People don’t have to be behaving right when you meet them. You are not the last foolish thing you did and neither is anyone else. You know you don’t see people’s hearts right off. You don’t care if someone is the kind of friend you deserve, or the one you always wanted, or the one your parents thought you would have. Your choosing has those things “covered” in the same sense that “love covers a multitude of sins.” This doesn’t mean that we are just tolerant. It means we are gracious. We know people are sinners and we love them anyway. And they know we know, and know we choose to love them. The act of covering is the relational warmth we all long for.

Love forgives.

People don’t have to be afraid they will disappoint or offend because you don’t cut people off. They are not left to bear the consequences of not being perfect, you are on their side. You don’t pretend to be perfect and you don’t have that expectation of others, even though your mercy demands a response you might not always get. Love is more important than principle. You choose to not cut people off even when they are difficult, painful, ignorant, or not growing. You might be forced to thicken some boundaries or even shake the dust off your feet at times, but it will have to be a strong force. The act of forgiving is the mother’s milk of friendship, much more of intimacy.

Love believes.

People don’t have to wonder what you think and feel about them. You tell them. They don’t find out from someone else what you really think and they don’t find out after you are gone that all that time you really cared. Love speaks the truth. That’s not because we long for transparency or like hearing ourselves talk or feel better when we’ve unburdened ourselves (exclusively, at least), it is because we trust God and trust others. We believe in others – their capacity to learn and grow, to feel and love. We bring that grace to the relationship, not because we’re great, but because we choose to believe in hope and believe in opening up to transformation and believe in obeying the model of suffering love that blasts open tombs. The act of believing creates an environment where friendship can grow.

So look around the church at least, if not your marriage and family, and choose again. You may have stopped choosing and allowed the weeds of “unlove” to take root. Choose your freedom from what is ailing the world. Choose the freedom to be a friend first. Don’t wait until it seems fitting. Don’t wait to see the friend you deserve. Don’t expect to be unoffended. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat by being real. Then we’ll all have more friends because we will have you.

What prevents me from getting out of the bed I’m choosing?

I am thinking today about the wonder of being with God. I am pondering the pleasant problem of choosing to love God and to express my love. Jesus found me and here I am longing for God’s “courts.” That’s amazing! — and requires some meditation.

I have a commentary/translation on the Psalms sitting by my prayer chair at home. I often turn to it when I am spending time with God in the morning: The Book of Psalms by Robert Alter. I like his de-Europeanized translation and how he helps me understand how to sing the songs. This morning he got me thinking about a famous verse we sometimes sing in a song:

Better is one day in your courts,
better is one day in your house,
better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.

To be honest, I don’t know what we are supposed to be thinking when we sing that song. I usually just wait until it is over. (To keep being honest, I sit through a lot of songs my leaders present to me with no explanation). Is it about the courts of heaven and I am a courtier? Is it about the “temple courts” and I am supposed to think this worship time in “God’s house” is the best thing ever? Is it just a metaphor for being with God, like I am being hosted in His beautiful courtyard?

Continue reading What prevents me from getting out of the bed I’m choosing?

Suddenly we were talking about hell again

Suddenly we were talking about hell. Last night after the PM, it came up again, like it often does, because that is what everybody seems to have been taught about Christianity: it is heaven or hell. People don’t really believe in heaven or hell. But they would love to be Christians.

Reading Rob Bell won’t damn you

My friend brought up Rob Bell. He’s reading Love Wins and he thinks that his guilty pleasure in the book might put him outside the faith. No it won’t. This is what Rob Bell says in Relevant magazine:

“I believe…people choose hell now. I assume people, when you die, you can choose hell. So there is no denial of hell here. There is a very real awareness that this is a clear and present reality that extends on into the future. But the real question is essentially if millions and millions of people who have never heard of Jesus are going to be tormented forever by God because they didn’t believe in the Jesus they’d never heard of, then at that point we will have far larger problems than a book by a pastor from Grand Rapids.”

I haven’t really kept up with arguments about Rob Bell. Who is it that quibbles with him about what he is thinking? It sounds like he is just like my friend, getting his head out and realizing that people have been speculating about the afterlife for a long time. These days, people are recognizing that the Renaissance/modern views that have dominated theology for 500 years may not be all they’re cracked up to be – like those views probably aren’t nearly as serious about the Bible as they claim to be.

Ten-year-old faith on NPR

Before I got to the PM it was hell on NPR, of all places! On Snap Judgment a twentysomething woman was telling her lack-of-faith story. It was not as if she had closed the book, she just had other things to do. I am much more interested in what this woman says about heaven and hell than what Rob Bell wrote. I’d love to introduce her to the Jesus she’s never met.

She talks about her ten year old self realizing that everyone is going to die. Her mom tells her that she imagines death as a curtain opening to a white light. But then she goes to the store to pick up dish soap and that is about it from Mom.

This is the character of the piece. Afterlife would be nice, but the necessities and allure of the present: the mundane responsibilities and the boyfriends, are occupying most of the space where faith might reside.

Final Judgment in the Florence Duomo
Final Judgment in the Florence Duomo

But she gives faith a try. After seeing a painting of hell in Florence, she imagines an afterlife and decides she has more goodness than sin and will make it to heaven. She learns a prayer from her friend and makes a container for holy water in her bedroom complete with a toothpick cross taped to it.

Ten year old faith is about as far as most of us get, unfortunately, and it proves about as sturdy as you might expect — or maybe as sturdy as your faith has proven to be. I guess whole denominations kind of practice ten-year-old faith, but none of them would say that’s all there is to Jesus.

Submitting to the latest hell

So back to this woman on Snap Judgment. For a week she prays, until a boy puts a love note in her locker. Then she forgets to pray. Love affairs continue to come and go. In high school she learns nihilism and existentialism. Post college she learns insurance claims, automatic bill pay, and how to move your car on certain days so you don’t get towed.

She is so vividly making a commitment all the time. But she is acting like she isn’t! Doesn’t that resemble a lot of people you know? They collect a bunch of thoughts that contradict and confuse them and leave it at that, as if automatic bill pay were real and Jesus a pleasant irrationality they can get to later, maybe. Like Bell protests, people choose the hell of submitting to the latest oppression and succumbing to the mundanity of whether to have a beer or not as their big choice. That’s hell enough.

But sometimes she still misses something to pray to. People die. The piece ends with her at work on a Saturday wondering what to do that night. She no longer believes in hell, maybe not heaven, maybe another dimension, maybe ghosts.  But like her mom was with her, when she asked her about things at ten, she hasn’t gotten far enough to make a choice. The end of her story is clever: “Then I feel a cold familiar feeling run through me, a knot in my stomach that gets tighter and tighter by the minute. ‘Damn,’ I think, ‘I really have to register my car.’”

I groaned out loud as I motored down Washington Ave. Jesus will knock on her door again and she will think He’s from some horrendous painting from Florence. Jesus will knock on her door and she will not even hear it because she fell asleep in front to the TV when she was finishing up The Wire. Jesus will knock on her door and she won’t even be home in her own life because she’s occupied with her list of little demands the system is making on her — as if that were her life. It is a poor worship she is choosing. Her little dish of holy water, as absurd as it was, made more sense than bending the knee to the DMV!

Five assumptions that might tickle the bone of contention

Every Cell Leader, if they are engaged with their fellow cell members, is going to run up against opposition. Not necessarily antagonism, but the natural opposition people feel when Jesus calls them to follow, even more when He leads them to form  a community centered around Him. It’s supernatural, not the natural to which they are accustomed. They aren’t being “bad,” they are entering the cell deeply influenced by large societal forces and their whole history.  They bring assumptions that immediately pressure the cell for conformity. They are not likely to automatically change their minds and habits to conform to our vision of what following Jesus is all about!  It is understandable opposition. (Besides, the society might be more “conformed” to Jesus than the church, sometimes!). Stimulating dialogue should ensue.

Good cells do not require good chips. But it helps.

One of the blessings of my work is the luxury of having stimulating dialogue all the time (often with chips involved!). Sometimes I am in the midst of a fascinating “issue,” but often I am just sorting out the intricate issues of being a Jesus-follower in an ever-changing, ever-falling world. In the past few weeks, I have had some deep conversations that have me thinking about the main issues we face when we try to form cells.

As a result, I have some “proverbs” forming in my mind that speak to the regular issues I discuss with people as they try to make sense of life in Christ as a cell. Here are five assumptions I think cell leaders should have when they are doing their work of nururing a circle of people coming to know Jesus and coming to know how to live as the body of Christ. Here goes:

Knowing things and knowing ourselves is more about being known than processing data.

Wisdom is revealed and received more than extracted from precedent or “the research.” When I say that, I mean that wisdom resides with God and is primarily revealed in Jesus. Nevertheless, a lot of people expect to discover God by endless data processing, since that’s what we do. Processing means progressing to them.

As a result, many people will assume that more knowledge means more progress, and progress is what we are all about. If the cell does not provide data, they may not think they are getting anywhere. If you bring up the Bible, they may be nervous, because the Bible is old data. They think that the present state of science, democracy and probably capitalism, is much smarter than everyone who ever lived before; humankind has progressed. They are also likely to think that the future will be even better; they might feel like they’ll be left behind if they attach to Jesus .

Christians certainly believe we are coming to a good end, so we like progress. And we believe individuals and societies can and should get better. But we know God has always known better; knowing God in every era is knowing better, and being known by God as God promotes our discovery of our eternity is best of all.

Blindly applying the latest “best practices” may flip vulnerable people “out of the frying pan and into the fire. “

People often tell me I will be on the wrong side of history if I don’t adapt to what’s coming around. I am trying to be adaptable. Last night I actually suspected I might be TOO adaptable. Students from Ohio came to the meeting and thought they had arrived at a different spiritual planet! One of them said, “I think one of my friends went to a church like this, once,” as if they visited Sea World and saw whales doing tricks. I like to be on the edge of what is next, not “out of this world.” We need to reach into what is coming and reach back into what was.

However, we don’t need to blindly adopt whatever the scientists and pseudo-scientists invented in the last 100-500 years, certainly not the last 50 years, certainly not what the latest movement popularizes as best practices — as if that should be a new normal.  As my mom said, “Just because someone is popular does not make them good” — that might have been Jesus, not Mom, not sure.  When the bandwagon crashes, the most vulnerable get most hurt.

We must not underestimate just how unwilling most of us are to suffer.

There is a lot of pressure to make being ourselves feel good and to never suffer being disliked, disrespected or disabled. Dis is becoming a forbidden syllable. (And don’t dis me because I said so!) We are not supposed to experience dis-ease, dis-comfort, or dis-appointment. If you are the cell leader that perpetrates any dis there may be instant dis-tance. Don’t be afraid, just keep talking about it.

Some things about us are not going to change this side of the age to come. We can be comforted, happy and stable, but we might not be perfect or perfectly related. Being saved is better than being perfect. Being who one is and letting God accept us and change us is better than demanding that society (or the church) supply a perfect environment for our perfect life.

Expressions of faith change over time to match an era and its needs, but that’s not improving the faith, that’s just being clear.

We Jesus-followers have always adapted to whatever society we are in, most of the time for good, sometimes with spectacularly wrong results.  In the US we tend to have rich people arguments, assuming the whole world is like us (or would like to be!).  In the Congo, our brothers and sisters are debating something else.

My basic thought about everything is, “What provides for redemption?” Not, “How can I make my religion adaptable to what’s happening now?” I’m not ashamed of Jesus. God does not need updating, as if he were a style. But, at the same time, love speaks the language of the loved one.

Being chosen is the beginning of freedom.

Most people seem to think that choice is the end of freedom. For instance: if Libyans get democracy, everything will be fine (just like it is here!). I don’t think many people consciously think this, but they act like they believe that endless choices, like consumer choices, make them human. Human rights is often a discussion of “choice.”

I agree that having rights is sure better than being dominated! But I hasten to add that the philosophy of choice is also a domination system, and being free from conforming to it is my right in Christ. Having many or few choices does not make me more human and certainly not more spiritually free.

This is a tricky argument to have while munching on a cookie during a cell meeting. But it will undoubtedly come up, because a lot of people think morality is about rights. Since Christians are all for morality, then we must be about rights. It is surprising to people when we go deeper than that and talk about how losing our right to be “free” of God has given us freedom to be our true selves back in relationship with God.

All this over chips?

How many giant issues can one pastor fit on a page? Thanks for getting this far. My life feels like a lot of giant issues squashed into a little brain — my days have been full of stimulating conversations that can’t get finished in a short amount of time.  It is also like a cell — full of fascinating people with more issues to consider than there is time in a meeting.

Any help you can give in how to state redemptive truths positively and not just join the flame-throwers on the net, in the Congress and on TV will be appreciated.

Intimacity

I would like to hear what you think about my new word: intimacity. (Actually, the word is googlable, but they usually mean intimacy.) I am working with it this way: intimacity is our capacity for being intimate.

During the Advent retreat, I had a moment of clarity on the prayer walk I was assigned to complete. I realized that I and the others I had been talking to were all struggling with getting to the place where we could connect. Most of us were relatively obsessed with it – clinging to life rafts of intimacy (even if they gave us splinters), chafing under the bits of our loneliness, restlessly scanning our horizons looking for moments when we might feel together, touched, or at least relevant. But one of the missing factors in our equations of connection was our own intimacity.

We need intimacy with God and others to stay in the process of growth. But intimacy is exactly what is broken between us. And we never seem to know why. At least I am often a bit foggy on just how I operate. I think we all have a tendency to think all our relationships just mysteriously happened. We might be a bit in denial about what we bring to the situation – namely our capacity for intimacy, or intimacity. Our ability (or usually lack of same) needs to be named. We need to develop.

If we ever get to figuring out what’s wrong or undeveloped with our intimacity, we often spend a lot of time and energy starting at the wrong place: with other people. We lay awake nights wondering why they broke up with us. We minutely (and often wrongly) list what is wrong with us, based on off-hand comments and body language. We dissect the lacks of our parents and how we adapted to them detrimentally. We flood our therapists with stories (thank God for Circle Counseling!) about how we are stuck and stumbling. But our broken relationships with other people are often symptoms of a core issue: our intimacity in relation to God.

During Advent, we get another chance to see God’s great intimacity. God, who is so totally other than us, becomes so totally one with us – in our bodies, in our sorrow and sickness, in our unforgivenness and death! All the tender feelings we feel when we see Mary holding the baby should seem as amazing as they are – God just came out of her womb, vulnerable, open to the mother/father love he IS. The beginning of my own intimacity starts with reconnecting with the source of it. Trying to get there through endless attempts at human relationship repair is kind of backwards.

But I, and probably you, do quite a few things backwards. Just in our small group during the Advent retreat (which was actually rather intimate, even though we’d mostly just met), we all demonstrated our fear of being vulnerable. I know that the whole experience got me pondering how easy it is for me to resist the impending experience of lack of connection rather than resisting what I do to help create it. I am working on seeing my withdrawals and avoidances as sins against the call of the baby Jesus to be trustingly vulnerable.

We can share the Lords ability. Once he was born of the flesh. But what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Post-resurrection, our intimacity with God is even greater. The more we open ourselves to that Spirit-to-spirit relationship, discipline ourselves to receive the love, repent of the sin that has tangled up our relationship with God so far (mainly not being open and receiving), we have a chance to relax enough to explore how we can connect with all the people we would love to love, and would love to love us.

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Reorientation — education is not the key to your future

[I had a short offering to give last night at the “Re:Orientation” event. I thought I’d put an even shorter version out here for you to see what you think. We were presenting an alternative to what universities usually say during orientation.]

Friday we were going out to 69th St. to buy a birthday present with my 2-year old grandson, who loves to ride El. A nice man got on the train and started talking to him and I ended up talking a little, too. He ended up saying, “I like Obama, but he said he would bring the young people home. And that is not happening. Instead he wants to send more to Afghanistan. “ Like every president,  Obama says he wants world peace and then sends 18 year olds, mostly poor ones, to die to protect Citibank and Exxon. No wonder there were well-organized anarchists in Pittsburgh on Friday to represent the angry 18-year-olds. We have more un-kept promises from a new president (who makes a lot of promises!). The future looks like more of the past.

Is education the key to your future?

But that is generally not what the University teaches. Long before we go through the college orientation, the institution of “school,” in its many forms, has generally taught that the future will be better and it belongs to the educated. The omnipresent president was telling that to elementary school kids a couple of weeks ago.

Washington University in St. Louis was orienting physically-challenged students this year with this statement. “Work-based learning experiences can help a student make career decisions, network with potential employers, select courses of study, and develop job skills relevant to future employment. Through the interaction of work and study experiences, students can enhance their academic knowledge, personal development, and professional preparation.” That’s a standard statement of common sense in the university world. Of course they gave a shout out to acquiring knowledge and developing personally, but the big reason to go to school is to prepare for your future job, to make yourself into something that is employable. The future is all about getting a job so you better get the education to get the job.

reorientation

Education is the key to your debt

But there is a lot more to education these days than they tell you. It is like this: the real future is about desperately needing a well-paying job to pay off the huge debt you incurred to get the education to get a future.

The Wall Street Journal on Sep 4 had an article about student loan debt. For instance, Zack Leshetz, a 30-year-old lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has $175,000 in student loans from his seven years in college and law school. Lately he has had his eye on the real-estate market. “Everyone says that it’s a great time to buy a house,” he says. But that is not an option right now, thanks to $800 a month in payments—and another chunk of student loans in forbearance, which means payments are halted while interest accrues. “I find myself living paycheck to paycheck.” He has also been engaged since March, but has held off on marriage. “There’s no way I can pay for a dream wedding, or even just a regular wedding,” Mr. Leshetz says. “I feel like I’m putting my entire life on hold.”

This is not all the university segment of “school” says about your future, but this is certainly in there: education is the future – it won’t be cool if you don’t stay in school. But the secret message is that debt is your future – get the education and then become a slave until you pay for it.

Reorientation toward the alternative

I want to present an alternative. Using a university to gain wisdom and skill is fine, but Jesus has a lot more in store for us than university education provides or than we can afford to pay for.

The quote below is part of an account in the Bible in which Jesus and the disciples are talking to a man who has “made it,” so to speak, but who is still intrigued with Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!
[The kingdom of God is where God rules and Jesus is followed]
Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
[The “Eye of the Needle” is a small gate in old Jerusalem that is a challenge to big camels]
Those who heard this asked, (If it is that hard) “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with people is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said  to  them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God  will fail  to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Luke 18:24-30

The university makes promises it does not keep. Jesus keeps his promises. But that is not my basic point. Jesus is calling for a basic reorientation.

The promise of Jesus

Your future is taken care of; live your life now. Jesus doesn’t ask you to wait until you get an education to be someone. As you know, education can only be a useful tool in the hands of someone who is someone; it doesn’t make you anything. Jesus makes you someone who can use an education.

You don’t have to wait until you pay off your debts to engage fully in life. If you had to pay off all your debts, financial and spiritual, you’d never get finished, and you would just incur more debt, anyway. Jesus forgives you your debt to him — the heart-debts you owe to God for turning away from him and pursuing education and career like they can save you, or pursuing anything else. He gives you the future free of charge.

We, as the people of God who follow Jesus, organized as Circle of Hope, have never waited for college-age people to grow up before we invite them to show up. They are welcome to be a full part and to own the church. We are not looking for people who have paid off all their debts and come in with no encumbrances of doubt, sin, and other baggage, we can forgive you, too, and let you get on with it. We don’t want anyone to use all their energy on serving a false hope and end up a full-on slave.

We invite you to join us in doing the most important thing you can do in your twenties — even while you are getting an education, or struggling to pay for your apartment or to pay off your debts. You are valuable to God. Together, our resources make a huge difference in God’s hands. This is what we always say — Re-orient with us and see. Come along and be yourself in Christ with us and see.

About “Losing My Religion”

I have been pondering the de-evangelization of a few of my friends, lately. So it struck me when a blog kept popping up on the WordPress “hits list” about “Losing My Religion.” I have one friend whose new buddy is a Moslem. I have another who has “these Buddhist friends.” And I know all sorts of ex-evangelicals who are struggling to overcome years of trying and failing to “get it right.” They are losing their faith, too — or, at least, it is being undermined. There are a lot of attacks on faith in Jesus being waged, some with good targets in bogus Christianity and others attacking the truth. It is not an easy day to be a follower of Jesus.

So this person’s top-twenty reasons for losing faith kind of stung me. He seems to be losing what I call “crap Christianity” not any real faith. I think most people should lose what he is losing in order to form an actual relationship with God! So I feel compelled to try brief answers to his brief statements, just to get my two-cents worth in – and maybe to dissuade someone from thinking they are losing their faith when they are just asking the right questions.

His thoughts are in italics, my replies are not. I hope you’ll add to my thoughts, as well.

[This post is so long, you may as well take more time and go here, too, before we get started]

“I began to question why the god of the Bible is more believable than all other gods worshiped on earth. With the mountain of evidence staring me in the face, my faith began to die.”

Trading faith in God for an assessment of evidence is a definite change of world view. My faith is evidence of things unseen. Jesus is revelation, not another fact among many with me at the center living a life of endless sorting.

I finally moved past guilt and admitted to myself that I no longer believe in Jesus or the god of the Bible. Surprisingly it was a relief. Not because I wanted to run wild and sin freely, but because I no longer felt the weight a Christian carries. The weight of guilt, unworthiness and fear of god’s judgment.

This seems like a true sign that a person has only met religion, not God. The whole point of the work of Jesus is to free us from the weight one feels, not induce it! We may sense a weight of glory, but hardly of judgment.

His top twenty reasons for losing his faith.

1. God is wrathful, jealous, hateful, and kills nations of people like it is a bodily function. He is certainly not just or “holy” in nature.

The formation of the chosen people of Israel is not the last thing God did. Postmodern people parse Bible data as if what one did when he was twelve is equal to what one did when he was fifty. Humankind has been growing and God has been very creative in working out how to redeem us. We relate to God, not assess his immutable character, as we see it.

2. The act of throwing people into infinite torture and punishment for not believing a Jewish guy from 2,000 years ago was God’s son, or unknowingly worshiping the wrong god, is extremely cruel and sadistic.

Which is why I don’t believe that. People who follow Jesus rise from the dead to everlasting life and those who don’t follow don’t have the life. There will be a painful recognition of this lack for those who don’t, but no eternal torture.

3. The statements, “God works in mysterious ways,” or “It will all make sense in heaven,” are little more than irrational cop outs. This God allows horrible atrocities to be committed against innocent men, women and children every day.

I mostly agree; those are cop-outs. I don’t throw God out for inept or wrong-headed followers.

4. Bloody animal and human sacrifices are illogical demands by a divine god as payment for petty wrong doings. These actions are no different than the rituals of archaic pagan religions. Not to mention the bizarre ritual of symbolically drinking human blood and eating human flesh.

Archaic pagan religions may be smarter than sanitized, atomized, OCD, postmodern religions of no religion. Regardless, a bloody, bodily, connective God who connects with us in Jesus is beautiful.

5. If God loves us and wants us to know and believe in him, why be so completely invisible? What is the purpose of being so illusive to those who believe and worship him?

For one thing, God is not us, so it takes some multi-dimensional capacities to have a relationship. More to the point, turning our backs makes him invisible. Nevertheless, Jesus is visible. The body of Christ is visible. The works of God’s Spirit are visible. The creator is visible in the creation.

6. God never manifests himself or performs miracles as he regularly did for the Israelites in Old Testament stories.

I’m not so sure about that. The OT is the condensed version of hundreds of years of history. If one condensed the last 2000 years into the same amount of written material, the miracles would be incredibly dense.

7. Prayers are never answered. Certainly not in the way Jesus described. Prayer has absolutely no affect on the world around us.

Nonsense. Even I have my own anecdotal evidence to refute that. God responded to my prayer last night.

8. Jesus did not fulfill major Old Testament prophesies or even fulfill his own promises and predictions.

So? Chances are he will. But I am not sure he was obligated to do anything but what he was sent to do, anyway. People do, however, make a big deal about how Jesus “proves” his validity as Savior by being the fulfillment of prophecies, so it is a worthy criticism. If Jesus were Nostradamus, maybe he would be untrustworthy.

9. The authors of much of the Bible are unknown. And of these unknown authors, the men who wrote the gospels likely never even met Jesus considering they were written 40-70 years after his death. A far cry from reliable testimony.

The man who wrote these questions does not even use his real name on his blog, so he is unknown as well – he has an ironic complaint. Regardless, hundreds of people validated the testimony of the gospel-writers. The whole community of believers has been assessing the testimony and validating it for centuries. It is hard to imagine a more reliable and tested revelation. But everyone writing the Bible thinks God will verify the testimony himself, anyway.

10. The Bible is repeatedly contradictory with itself, reality, and the laws of morality. Couldn’t God inspire a less poorly written book?

Of course the Bible contradicts itself if all one thinks it is is a moral lesson or systematic theology. The whole Bible is not meant to be morally exemplary. When King David has Uriah set up, that is hardly a suggestion to “have someone killed effectively.”

11. The Bible is open to interpretation. Everyone interprets it in the way that suits them best or serves their purposes.

Of course we interpret. We are humans, not robots. Hopefully, we discern, not just compare notes.

12. Throughout history, Christians have justified horrific actions by the Bible and its teaching.

So? They were wrong. They have also caused amazing transformation.

13. The Bible promotes hate and persecution against women, homosexuals and those who worship other gods or no god at all.

No, it actually promotes their wholeness. What’s more, the western world’s promotion of human rights is a direct expression of the Christian respect for human dignity and individual value. Democracy is basically Christianity without God, which is what makes it so attractive and dangerous.

14. According to the Bible, nearly 70% percent of the people in the world will burn in hell because they don’t believe Jesus was the son of God.

Another ironic complaint. If you don’t care about God, why would you care about being with God? Just go ahead and die. Again, I don’t think the scripture fully teaches that people burn in hell forever. They may go to ash; but all dead bodies, do.

15. The only reason I was a Christian was because I was indoctrinated into the religion as a child as a result of the culture and region of the world in which I was born.

That is too bad. A lot of people never gain faith because of that.

16. Christianity has no more rational or factual foundation than any other religion on earth that I openly reject.

These points are all just personal reactions, so it is hard to understand what is behind them. Maybe the writer has done some great thinking, but it does not appear so. Having done an awful lot of research, myself, I think religions are much more different than people have been lead to believe by postmodern, dumbed-down, pluralism promoters. The similarities are great; people come up with great stuff and long for love and life, but Jesus is a deeper foundation. Faith in Jesus is rich and very satisfying rationally, too.

17. The Christian church is disjointed and can’t even agree with one another.

That’s for sure. This is the best reason so far, that I can see, for not being a Christian. I’m often surprised that God keeps drawing people to himself by means of the church. But it happened last night after our 7pm meeting.

18. Christians are not at all ethically or morally different from non-Christians.

I think that is a good reason to become a Christian. We need to be saved. My morality does not prove Jesus, but my immorality proves my need for Him.

19. Today, powerful church leaders steal, lie and molest young children. The church repeatedly attempts to cover up these atrocities, only to reluctantly apologize as a last resort.

I think the author is mostly talking about the Roman Catholic church, which should either reform or disperse. The number one reform that needs to happen is ending the requirement that priests are celibate.

20. It is absolutely irrational to continue to believe archaic teaching with the amount of knowledge we’ve gained through science and technology. The Bible reads like a book of primitive folklore, not divinely inspired insight into our true reason for existence.

The Bible is hardly the only source of inspiration for Christians, as the Bible teaches. I agree that everything about God is not summed up in the Bible. But it seems crazy to think that knowledge is summed up in “science and technology,” which is what plenty of scientists say.

What do you think? Any faith out there? Having any stories about speaking back to the de-evangelizers?

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day

When Gwen and I were on the Dingle Peninsula last summer, we did not expect a new grandson to end up with the name Brendan! It is a good name. On May 16, when we remember St. Brendan the Navigator (484-577) I would love to help launch the next generation of daring souls looking for the fullness of their life in Christ. Maybe our own family’s Brendan will be among them.

Each generation has a boatload of people who will set off into the “deep,” looking for God in all the places the Lord can be found. I don’t think it is such a coincidence that Jesus looked for fishermen to be his first disciples. The Lord found another good disciples when he met Brendan near Tralee in Ireland.  St. Brendan’s voyage was an inspiration for hundreds of years for seafaring and church planting daredevils. When Brendan got back from his journey of discovering himself in Jesus (and discovering America!) he founded several communities that added to the missionary fervor of the Celtic Church.

I want to be like him, so I ended up on pilgrimage to the place where his daring journey began…

Brendan’s Creek, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
…and where it ended.

 

Clonfert Cathedral, where Brendan is buried

In the devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer I have been using, there is a nice prayer in honor of Brendan. The Northumbria Community suggests we use it on this day. I offer it to you.

Lord, I will trust You,

help me to journey beyond the familiar

and into the unknown.

 

Give me faith to leave the old ways

and break fresh ground with you.

 

Christ of the mysteries, can I trust You

to be stronger than each storm in me?

 

Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?

 

I will show others the care You’ve given me.

 

I will determine amidst all uncertainty

always to trust.

 

I choose to live beyond regret,

and let You recreate my life.

 

I believe You will make a way for me

and provide for me,

if only I trust You

and obey.

 

I will trust in the darkness and know

that my times are still in Your hand.

 

I will believe You for my future,

chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

 

Focus my mind and my heart upon You,

my attention always on You without alteration.

 

Strengthen me with Your blessing

and appoint to me the task.

 

Teach me to live with eternity in view.

tune my spirit to the music of heaven.

 

Feed me,

and, somehow,

make my obedience count for You.