Monday, January 24, 2011

Civilian Affairs & Kingdom Dreams

I recently had a brief chat with a fellow Christian in the church I attend that revealed an interesting but potentially troubling view expressed in our movement. 

The brother recently attended an international leadership conference for our worldwide churches in the US, where one of the speakers shared about the urgency we must have in building the Kingdom of God. To underline the urgency, the speaker apparently shared (based on what the brother told me) that in a few years Islam will be the World's major religion and if it keeps growing at the current rate, it will be the dominant religion in the US. My immediate reaction was, 'so what?'. Why 'so what'?

Well it's not as if the World's major religion has been, or ever truly was Christianity as Jesus taught it, and I certainly wouldn't describe the US as a Christian nation (it's meant to be a secular nation actually). But if Islam was to dominate the World or the US, this is an American concern and perhaps a political concern, but not a Christian one. Even when Christianity dominated certain parts of the World it did so in some of the most horrific ways, not the ways Jesus taught. And the faith was even born at a time ruled by paganism and secular values, and thrived nonetheless. 

If we are to take Jesus and Biblical prophecy seriously then we know the Kingdom of God, "will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44), there's nothing to worry about. The only variable is who will endure with it. God is not in a foetal position in a corner of his office wondering what became of his country - after all he's not a conservative fundamentalist Christian American, or any kind of earthly citizen. In fact I don't think he has any interest in politics or nationalism of any kind. But we can appropriate God's image (thus committing some kind of divine copyright infringement) and have him represent our causes without his compliance, agreement or permission. 

If we're in God's army, the most dangerous enemy is usually within our own hearts, and where our hearts will be in a few years is purely up to us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Communion: Examination or Celebration?

The communion is Christendom's most holy 'sacrament', to borrow a Catholic term. Along with baptism, it's one of the few rites that Jesus actually told his disciples to engage in. Three, including prayer, if you want to be legalistic about it. But the idea is not to be legalistic at all, however, anything oft repeated has a way of either losing its meaning or gaining one that was never intended.

Jesus told us to ' this in remembrance of me' (
Luke 22:18-20), referring to the communion, and Paul chimes in with an admonition to examine ourselves before partaking in the same (1 Cor 11: 28). But what often happens during this rite is that we focus far more on our sin, shortcomings and weakness, and hence encourage guilt - because Jesus did so much for us and look at how we 'repay' him. The communion becomes the examination rather than a celebration. It becomes more a remembrance of what we have done (usually the bad) rather than the good Jesus did. The point of the examination is to be free to celebrate. 

We become like a freed slave who spends all his time musing at the chains that once held him. His now loosed chains take on major significance, and he spends more time with them than just enjoying his new found freedom. Paul asserts that 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free' (Galatians 5:1). That's an odd but profound statement. Many only go as far as the 'forgiveness' part of the communion, but, and this will sound weird, Jesus didn't die for our sins - he died so our sins wouldn't be a hindrance to our lives! 

We need to get out of that small confining space of 'forgiveness' alone. Staying there implies that God's forgiveness isn't potent enough for our sin. Understanding that our victory is a fait accomplis will allow us to move beyond 'elementary teachings' (because we fully accept them) and move on to living profoundly free lives. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Living in a Material World

While must approach our challenges and endeavours in this world with a spiritual attitude, not all problems and issues have spiritual solutions. 

At a retreat recently, the men got together to talk about some of their struggles and challenges in life. The majority of responses seemed to be 'spiritual', meaning folks were told to 'put God first', 'get spiritual' and 'stop being worldly' etc. Now in all things we certainly need to follow the preceding directives, but if someone is facing serious financial difficulty, burdensome work challenges, genuine emotional or psychological challenges or perplexing life choices some actual practical guidance and advice might actually help (that said, the spirit of challenge at the retreat was undoubtedly meant for the best, and only allowed for short responses rather than exhaustive solutions).

I am not saying that spiritual direction isn't necessary, but there are some issues where a financial advisor, a psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor, or just a wise and insightful stranger or friend can help. We can offer very helpful spiritual insight without necessarily helping someone reach any closer to solving a problem or coming to terms with their issues. They may leave trusting in God - but no wiser regarding the issue. 

CS Lewis noted that God, '...wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.' (Mere Christianity, 1952). In the same breath he cited Jesus admonition that his disciples be, '...innocent as doves and crafty as snakes.' (Matthew 10:16), we may be spiritual creatures but we are at least 50% human and living in a material world. We can't afford to be naive to the genuine challenges of life that necessitate a certain 'worldly' savvy and understanding.

Moses, and hence the entire nation of Israel and by extension, Christendom benefitted greatly from the very practical wisdom of a non-Jew (and obvious non-Christian) in the form of Priest of Midian, Jethro - his father-in-law. Jethro contributed to God's plan by devising a structure of governance for the Jews and the modern day Christian church when he advised Moses on how to administer justice by, effectively suggesting a discipleship structure (Exodus 18: 17-27). 

Now Jethro could have told Moses to 'get spiritual', but he went one better and told him to 'get smart' and showed him how. 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

God Loves You...BUT

Yes, that must be the biggest ugliest 'BUT' known to man. Even bigger than Martin Lawrence's prosthetic butt in any of the Big Mamma's House movies. It's nasty.

Why do we use that ominous 'but' and what is the impact thereof?

I've heard and said that 'but' from the pulpit on many occasions - I cringe to think about it. Throughout Christendom we build up the unconditional love of God - how amazing it is, how deep and wide, how unending and unfailing, how all redeeming. And rightfully so because that is what it is. But too much grace makes people hard to control, so we must restrain the unbridled freedom with healthy doses of fire and brimstone or threats of disease and stroke, should this precious resource be abused and exploited. We attribute any misfortune to punishment and judgement. Nothing new really. We build up God's 'unconditional' love and then in one fell swoop tear it down with quid pro quos, provisos, clauses and lots of fine print all condensed into one small word. 

So what is the result of adding that small three letter word after 'God loves you'? The same impact it has at the end of any statement: it completely negates whatever comes before. That big ugly 'BUT' denies all the hard work of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus himself. They've all wasted their time because of someone's oversized conjunction. We say something like, 'God loves you BUT if you don't repent you'll go to hell'. We imply that at some point God does not in fact love you. Truly the very epitome of false doctrine - if there's anything that satan or Rumpelstilskin would want you to believe, it's that God doesn't really love you - or he does but only sometimes. In fact, only when you're perfect. 

Romans 5:8 says that, 'While we were still sinners, Christ died for us' and 1 John 4:19 says that, 'We love because he first loved us'. God loved us at the height of imperfection, so those committed to at least aspiring to perfection are maybe winning some approval from God - but not more love. Everyone is privy to the fullest extent of God's love. Everyone. 

What some fail to realize is that punishment or discipline is not the absence of love. Consequence is not the absence of love, but that 'BUT' subtly suggests it is the end of love. 

For the Christians who read this and interpret every misfortune as punishment consider, 'There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love' (1 Jn 4:18). 'Punishment' is not in the Redeemed's vocab. Note it doesn't say 'perfect punishment drives in love'. Oh, and that 'perfect love' is God's, not ours. Let him worry about being flawless.

So what should we say? 'God loves you FULL STOP'. He loves you when your foolish choices blow up in your face. He loves you when you're hot on the trail to hell and when you hate him, yourself and everything else. He loves you when you've given up and packed it in. You may have even written God off, BUT....

Sunday, April 18, 2010

If You're Going to Be an Atheist Do It Right!

Ok, to be certain I am a theist - and hence prepared for the onslaught of venom likely to be attracted by this missive. The idea is to express certain observations I have made through my exchanges with atheists and through the material I've read that's been generated by the atheist/theist debate. 

Take it in good humour too - that's how it's least in part.

1. If God doesn't exist then stop hating him. Truth: I've interacted with folks who claim to be atheists but hate God with a passion. Now if God doesn't exist why would you hate him? Wouldn't that be like hating Santa? Or hating the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Proper atheists just hate people who believe in God and/or religion. But hating God means acknowledging his presence which would render you a theist...and that won't work in the whole endeavour to not believe in God. Which takes us to point 2.

2. Since there is no God then everything is our fault. Right, as we proceed with hating and ridiculing everyone who isn't us (and we theists have fabulous experience doing this - I'm willing to give lessons...for a small fee) one must remember that religion is completely man made and therefore religion is not the problem at all, but mankind who invented it. So, the obvious solution to this religion business is to round up all theists into camps and systematically destroy...oh wait. Aright forget that - did that, didn't go down well. But clearly it's something to consider. Bear in mind that when it comes to culling you do have the White Supremacists, Doomsday Cults and the Hadron Collider to contend with so act fast before stocks run out!*

3. If everything is a product of evolution then so is religion. Let's be fair now. Evolution suggests that all we are is a product of what we were, and what we are is producing what we are becoming...or something. So, if everything we are, from our moral compass to our opposable thumbs is a product of evolutionary forces, why too isn't religion? And if it is then why be upset about it? One may as well be upset with a volcano for erupting. That's what is does - erupt. So religion is some kind of moral volcano, yes causing mass destruction and flight cancellations, but leaving in its wake a crusty foundation that eventually provides the basis for life and...R&B or snooker, among other things.

4. Kick a friend or stranger - it's ok! The absence of a final judgement is relieving even for a theist, I will admit that. With no objective morality imposed by God or after-death accountability, anything goes! Right and wrong are completely subjective and based on cultural mores, contexts and POV's. In fact, that POV that morality is subjective, itself is based on cultural mores, contexts and POV's and is therefore as valid as any other POV which makes all POV's equally valid and invalid, and therefore allows us to go and randomly kick someone! Further, folks who rape, steal and kill are simply acting in accordance to their specific genetic and cultural influencers - which takes us to point 5. 

5. Science has all the answers, so stay away from everything else. To be a proper atheist one must avoid all other frivolous pursuits and interests lest you find yourself engaging in some metaphysical consideration like philosophy, or even literature, history and Sesame Street, none of which are products of science (never mind that science is a product of Philosophy - that doesn't count...because I say it doesn't)! History is definitely not a science - you can't observe the past - and then you have to make up stuff about things like Stonehenge and the Easter Island Heads, which were probably just the teen hangouts of their time. Look at the sprawling malls of today. Surely they are destined to be considered Mecca's of worship and plasma TV's household gods by future archeologists (well after the nuclear winter has subsided).  It would also be appropriate to refer to one's child as 'offspring' and should be made patently clear to them that you really don't 'love' them per se, but are simply acting out one's genetic programming and endeavouring to perpetuate the species, it's nothing personal. They really shouldn't get all excited about 'daddy coming home'  as it offers negligible advantage in natural selection. 

6. Listen to nothing a theist has to say. Let's face it, theists are irrational. Only a set of lunatics would believe in an invisible all knowing, all loving, all powerful God and try to be 'better' and 'righteous'. Hence nothing a theist says or does can or should be trusted. If there is anything a theist invented, discovered or produced - DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE IT! This would only encourage them. If a theist shouts 'get out of the way a truck is coming!' at you, stand your ground they are chatting their usual groundless, irrational rubbish. Wait for an atheist, who is far more trustworthy, to warn you of the oncoming vehicle and then, and only then should you take evasive action. If no atheists are present then natural selection has done its work!

*If one seriously considers culling, the possibility that a pure blood atheist spontaneously believes exists, as some have been known to do. This can be easily remedied by culling all those who have the possibility/propensity for any faith-based approach. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Underlying Meaning - a poem

Misery and his co-conspirators rub their hands in glee
A quick shoulder peep and a public whisper
Enough to draw suspicion from me.

Huddled sneers tip toe after good fortune.

Oblivious Collusion taps on my shoulder
Well-meaning and well mean, he offers outdated fantasy in lieu of well wishes
My demons need no assistance, thank you very much!

Just when I thought Murphy had lost his gangrenous touch.

So easily catching and contagious, this disease of the imagination
Disguised as faith it proposes to be canonised
The muddled herd only needs a moment of ear time.

One word is a word too many. 

I will not be written by another's fancy or things-to-do
There is simply not enough time for it
Not to deny the dents and obvious imperfections.

Do not tolerate the additional weight of another's broken perception.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Live By Faith Not By Imagination

I was told by a fellow Christian the other day, that some challenges I was facing were a result of my lack of commitment to  church activities, and suggested that God was disciplining me for such. He followed up by sharing how blessed his life was (a result of his superior commitment it was implied). This invented narrative does a few things (perhaps more, but these are the ones that come to mind):
  1. Makes God out to be a manipulative, petty and abusive jerk
  2. Suggests the proposer of the narrative has some inexplicable insight into God's intent behind misfortune or difficulty that no one else has
  3. Implies that only good things happen to good people and all bad things are a result of bad behaviour
Job experienced this forced narrative when his 3 'friends' implied that his misfortune was a result of some unconfessed, unidentified or maybe even unconscious sin. We often engage in the same exercise when natural disasters occur, or perhaps personal misfortune in our own or others lives. We seek some reason for the misfortune and often settle on punishment or trial, and not without good reason: Hebrews 12 tells us to 'endure all hardship as discipline' and James 1 tells us to that trials exist to perfect our character. However, they don't tell us exactly why bad things happen, but rather how we should respond to the inevitability of 'bad things' (which as far as I can tell happen to pretty much everyone). 

To be sure, inventing reasons for trouble isn't living by faith, but living by second-sight. We create a 'reality' that doesn't require faith because we 'know' what is going on and why. We often take our cue from the Bible itself, mistaking descriptive narrative for prescriptive, projecting reported, after-the-fact explanations and descriptions on our own lives. We forget that the characters themselves were as confused, clueless, hopeful, discouraged, determined and faithful as we are when in the middle of pain. We have the privilege of a fully explained, behind-the-scenes view of events that the participants themselves never had - and we try to have that view of our own lives. But the best view we can have is wisdom and hindsight.

Job's 'friends' got a rebuke (please note, I am not even 1/16  the man Job was) for, of all things, misrepresenting God Himself. Chastising Eliphaz God says (Job 42), 'I am angry with you and your friends because you have not spoken of me what is right'. They made God out to be mean, abusive, petty, impatient and harsh. We like that God though, because it is easier to control people/situations (or at least have the illusion of such) with his regular and unpredictable smite-iness. It also makes those with the magical ability to 'know' the sole possessor's of life's meaning and God's will. This god however, leaves us hapless, insecure, guilt-ridden, indecisive but most of all, resentful of the true God who is always in our corner rooting for our inner success and growth. 

I made it clear to the Christian that I don't believe in 'that' god (and sincerely hope he doesn't continue to purvey the idea) and didn't bother to get into the problem of the other 'appropriately committed' church members who have illness, financial trouble, or challenged children. What was their sin? And how do you explain their misfortune given their greater commitment? Ironically, we spoke about an opportunity overseas that he was negative about, that could have been construed as a 'blessing'. But why bother?

All said, I have much to change being far from perfect, and appreciate the benefit of an active church life. Though there is no doubt that some actions have definite consequences, I have given up trying to decipher events in mine or others lives, and instead work on what I can - my character and faith. What would life be like if I engaged in some sick Spiritual Russian Roulette? I don't even want to imagine it.