Homosexuality Is Ruining Traditional Marriage (And So Is Heterosexuality)

Gay marriage.

Two people who love each other, want to spend the rest of their lives together, and bring out the best in each other, who are both male or both female.

It’s a simple concept, really, but one that’s become perhaps the most hot-button issue in the U.S. because it clashes with evangelical Christianity, which pervades public consciousness and shapes policy despite the nominal separation of church and state.

The uproar from conservative voices is that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage.

They’re not wrong. They’re just not completely right either…because straight marriage, as it exists in our culture, is just as much of a threat to traditional marriage.

What is “traditional marriage”? The nuclear-family dynamic of the 1950s? The institution as carried through church history, therefore predominantly by Roman Catholicism? “Biblical” marriage? Images of Biblical marriage have made their way around Facebook for years now. Here’s one:

Biblical marriage.

I shouldn’t need to comb through the Scriptures like I did in my last series to convince you that there’s no such thing as “Biblical marriage”, or that if there is, it frequently looks nothing like “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman. That’s one problem with grounding a definition of marriage in our ancient sacred text. The other problem is cultural; the history of marriage, within the history of civilized humanity, is patriarchal and androcentric. Marriage, by tradition, is about a man acquiring a wife (or wives) for himself for the purposes of procreation, social acceptance/advancement, homemaking, and/or just because it’s part of the culture. Grow up, get a wife. That’s what you do. The woman has little to no say about whether she wants to marry the man. The remnants of this androcentrism are visible in the fact that, even today, most women take their husband’s last name at marriage, symbolizing a transfer from her family into his – never the other way around, because patriarchy means that it’s always the husband and father whose name carries the legacy. This is perfectly exemplified in the panel above labeled “Rapist + his victim”, which combines androcentrism (the raped virgin is obligated to marry her assailant – won’t that be a happy and enduring relationship? – and the man may never divorce her; a woman divorcing her husband was unheard of in this culture) and women-as-property (the rapist had to pay his victim’s father in cash for his new wife).

If not the Bible, where did we acquire this concept of “traditional” marriage? Like most enduring facets of Christianity, we got it from…the Romans. Some quick research on Wikipedia reveals the progression of the concept of “marriage”. Beginning with the nomads and extending to ancient Israel, a wife generally had her own private area in which to live, and was expected to perform wifely duties like sewing, cooking and farming. The husband’s responsibility was basically to care for her with food and shelter and not neglect her. Neither stated nor implied is any hint of love or romance – or consent or choice. The ancient Greeks had no wedding ceremony, simply allowing any two consenting parties (presumably heterosexual) to enter into marriage by mutual agreement. Yet this model preserved patriarchy: “Married Greek women had few rights”, and “Inheritance was more important than feelings” – even to the point that a married woman whose father died without having a son could be forced to divorce her husband and marry her closest male relative to preserve the family line. Then once we hit ancient Rome, we get a form of marriage called conventio in manum which required a ceremony to establish (or dissolve), made the woman legally separated from her family and part of her husband’s, and placed the woman under her husband’s authority. That, with some cultural tweaks, more or less reflects our concept of “traditional marriage” today.

But again, such ancient traditions of marriage viewed the institution as contractual, legal, social – not necessarily emotional, romantic, and consensual. No longer do we live in a culture with dowries, betrothals, and explicit patriarchal transaction of women as property. In our culture, men and women are free to pursue and reject one another, to date and court, to explore their “hearts” and search for their “soulmate”, their “true love”. A woman is not simply sold or given away by her father to a suitor; she is free to decide for herself whom she will marry. This is novel; this is radical; this is wonderful; but this is a far cry from any “traditional” concept of marriage. Our modern culture of gender equality, romantic love, mutual consent, and free choice has already undermined “traditional marriage”. It’s not homosexuality that’s ruining traditional marriage – it’s sexuality.

You know what ruins marriage?  Divorce. Adultery. Pornography. Financial irresponsibility. Abuse – physical, emotional, and psychological. Greed. Selfishness. Laziness. Plenty of things.

But two human beings loving each other and wanting to commit their lives to each other? Ruining marriage? That shouldn’t be on the list. Homosexuals aren’t ruining marriage, they’re assimilating it, adopting it, enhancing it, and honoring it – the same way heterosexuals have been doing for centuries as they transformed it within their culture.

Faith like a Necklace

Last night after work I was talking to a few of my co-workers while sitting outside on the picnic tables. After a while the conversation changed when Michael said the he needed God in his life. I told him that He is right here. We began to engage in intentional conversations about the gospel but not everyone at this table was a fan of what we were doing.

We work at a hip tex-mex restaurant in the River Oaks/Montrose area of Houston, TX. If you don’t know about this area it is the place to be for nightlife in the fourth largest city in America. So nevertheless the sometimes-hostile environment of being a Christian in the service industry, but also between the bars, nightclubs, and hipster hangouts, a gospel centered relationship is not an easy one to build. But for some reason Michael and a few of my other co-workers feel comfortable talking to me about Christianity, no matter how much they do or don’t know about or agree with the faith. Sometimes the things I say about the Bible confuse them because that is not what they have heard about Christians or seen from the church.

These conversations are very difficult to walk though. I am a pretty open-minded guy and I don’t pretend to be anything that I am not, sometimes to a fault. Being in this place is sometimes hard for my faith because in all honesty I am a skeptic by nature. I have not always been a Christian much less a very good one, but the work that God has been doing in my life is progressive to say the least. All the questions that people throw at me I can field, sometimes with difficulty, sometimes with ease but always with conviction. See it was not very long ago that I was giving the same arguments to myself about Jesus. Trying to excuse my lifestyle by rationalizing my morals and what I believed about believing in “god”.

But last night as I was heading home I really started evaluating what my witness is. Do I offer a good witness to the world as a follower of Christ? What is the reason that people feel comfortable asking me these questions? Why do people enjoy getting into friendly debates with me? Is it because the Holy Spirit is drawing them near or is it because they think I am just a hipster with a cross necklace? Do I look any different to them than the next guy or do they see me as a minister of the gospel of Gods love?

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel,that I may share with them in its blessings. -1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV

How does this look for our lives, testimony, or the building of the Kingdom? How can we become more intentional but less influenced?

The line between looking like a hypocrite and fool is very thin. If your witness is to be just like those you are surrounded by but wear faith like a necklace then your character shows no grace. Grace does not exist so that we may continue on in our old lives. Your testimony then becomes foolish. But at the same time to be so disconnected from the reality of our society and the relationships before us is to ignore the message of Christ. To distance ourselves from the world and continue to live in the arrogance that is our own lives is a masquerade of humility. People are not drawn to either person. Maybe they are but that is how cults get started.

Thanksgiving Litany

Below is a Thanksgiving litany that I came up with and intend to use tomorrow at the dinner table. Just thought I would share!

Thanksgiving Litany

Thanksgiving is a time to gather and give thanks for what we often take for granted: food, shelter, clothing, relationships, and community. Let us take a moment to be silent and lift these things before God. Feel free to call them out.

(Silence)

While it is important to give thanks for God’s provision, it is also important to remember and pray for those who struggle to meet their basic needs. Take a minute to be silent before Jesus. Feel free to pray out loud, if you feel led.

(Silence)

The traditional Thanksgiving story is rich with erroneous and mythical information that attempts to cover up the mass extinction and tragic oppression faced by native populations during the colonization of America. I believe that it is important to recognize that the ground we stand on once belonged to the Lenape Tribe, who planted corn, squash, and beans, and were sustained by the Delaware River. The Lenape tribe was forced out of Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York, and pushed Westward due to the Indian Removal Act, which was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1830. Today many live in severe poverty in Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Ontario. Take a moment to pray for the Lenape people whose estimated population in 2010 was 16,000.

(Silence)

Now I am going to recite a special prayer offered by former Principal Chief Chief Thomas Strong Swiftwater of the Lenape people of Kansas City at a recent First Nations conference.

Ke-shay-la-min. Oh, Gitshe Manatoo,
Creator. Oh, Great Spirit.
Gut-ta-mak-ton-hay. Kin-knee-ke-nan e-le-nan,
I speak humbly. Watch over us.
Un-gunda-wakan- will-le-knee-o-knee-can.
Give us your blessings.
Wa-knee-shee. Wa-ne-shee. Wa-knee-shee nuka,
Thank you. Thank you, Father,
Wa-knee-shee nu-ka-lay. Gut-mak-ton-nack.
Thank you, Dear Father. I have spoken.

A Conversation on Worship

The following post is an impromptu discussion between three authors who contribute to this blog: Matt, Sean, and Byron. Raleigh also sneaks in at the end. The initial spark was a conversation in Sean and Matt’s house community regarding passion in worship.

Matt: I think our generation’s “worship music” is usually carefully constructed to elicit emotional response which feels like spiritual response.

Sean: I find this to be strongest with Pentecostals.

Byron: I think one of the bigger issues behind that is that most people have an “emotional attachment” to religion and not a spiritual understanding of worship. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the music per se.

Matt: Great point, which makes me think it’s probably a hybrid of both. Listeners tie themselves emotionally to the music, musicians feed off that and try to produce emotional pieces.

Byron: I don’t know if this is strongest with Pentecostals though. I subscribe as Pentecostal…I see it being more cultural. However it is very interesting. What defines worship though? I would hope the worship does and not the music. I remember reading a story (fictional) about a pastor who would release nitrous oxide through the vents at his congregation. Makes me sad to see the way the outside world views our practices.

Matt: I agree; part of my point was that lots of evangelicals conflate “worship” with “worship music”, and that I prefer to seek more organic expressions of worship, in whatever form they come. Sean “led worship” at house community last night by, instead of leading a song, bringing a blank canvas and inviting everyone to contribute to it with whatever paint or crayon or pencil or other drawing implement as they felt led. That was pretty cool.

Sean: I think that while all senses should be engaged in worship (as the orthodox and Catholics do well) that the sensory elements, music included should be used to enhance the worship experience rather than to define or compel it.

Byron: I a bajillllion percent agree.

Sean: I have a lot of experience in Pentecostal churches. The larger ones I see two things going on. Trying to be too “culturally relevant”, i.e. replacing every secular thing with a Christian alternative. Especially in music. This is brought over to worship. Trying to make it “cool”, ” relevant” and to compete with the world. The other is to stir up a fervor. The problem I have with this is that it creates a culture where that is the only way we see worship. And it compels people, especially youth, to emotional responses that often lead to them going to their 10000th altar call.

Matt: The Church should be transforming the world, not conforming to it. This goes for music too. Why isn’t the Church producing music and art that the secular world then feels compelled to copy?

Sean: 100% agree, Matt.

Byron: I would just be watchful about typecasting or generalizing I guess. Just because you and I feel more comfortable in organic worship doesn’t mean their worship is any less appreciated by God.

Sean: Byron, you’re right. I never once doubted their sincerity in doing it. It’s the worship leaders and those who may or may not cause things that we mentioned.

Byron: I’m sorry you have had a negative view of Pentecostalism, Sean. I see ditches on every side. I see the dangers of charismatics with 1000 altar calls the same as I see the dangers of apathy in others. We must maintain a walk of worship that is straight and narrow and navigate through the ditches of this world. I really love worship and try to teach honest worship as often as possible.

Sean: The key is balance. And as Matt said so well last night, most churches fail there. Most people fail there. I wouldn’t say I have such a negative view. I was a part of it a long time and therefore am more critical of it. I came to Pentecostalism from a Lutheran church. It was a reactionary move for sure. I was seeking out meaningful worship. I grew and had a lot of positive experiences there for sure. What I don’t like is luring kids into “worship” with lights. Drums. Guitars. That rarely prompts deep understanding of what worship is. Mostly it’s a cool Christian concert. “Why go out to a show on Fridays? Jesus can provide the same thing at church. We got all that too!!”

Byron: I led an expository sermon over “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan. The theological implications of that song are amazing. Yeah it’s catchy and moving, but I think it’s because it is true. The relational aspect of Jesus is what breaks us and heals us. When people actually sat down and meditated on the words, it was like a light bulb went on. I’d hate to say that people need to be taught how to worship. But maybe we do? Not “how”…that seems dogmatic. Maybe “why” and “when”.

Sean: I think rather than how, we need to be taught what worship is.

Matt: I think worship is a discipline, something that requires devotion, and I think too many people engage in “lite” worship that neither enables nor beckons them to be intentional about it. Like you said, Byron…someone could sing a “worship song” a hundred times, but never “get it” till they sit down and study the words!

Byron: I really like a lot of different aspects of worship. I just don’t want to pin one down as “gospel” because I think true worship is honest service to Jesus. And God alone knows our intentions as the Holy Spirit will guide us to wisdom.

Sean: I don’t either. I think many churches do that though.

Byron: Most interesting was going to Circle of Hope and the holistic/hallels and breath prayers. Amazing! But Jesus Culture is pretty awesome too. The reason why is that we serve an awesome God. We worship a lot differently than our brothers in Turkey but that doesn’t make us any more free. That just makes me want to worship even more because God is so good.

Raleigh: I think people do need to be led a little bit. At Circle of Hope, we often have instruction on how people can participate, especially if it is something new or something we haven’t done before. We also introduce songs in foreign languages (we do at least one each week) by explaining that we do this to connect with others. There seems to always be a little explaining. It helps people feel more comfortable and helps them to connect.

Byron: I really enjoyed my time at Circle of Hope too. Not because of the worship, or even Rod’s message, but because of the corporate community we shared through Jesus. And I hope that is in every church across the world. If it’s not, we should pray for it. And yeah, I don’t sing very well in Portuguese.

Matt: Closing thoughts?

Raleigh: I think we need to continue having discussions on worship. Creating “authentic worship” is difficult. I believe that we often over-think or add in (consciously and unconsciously) emotion-inducing elements to worship music, which can be emotionally manipulative. We want to avoid this and let God lead worship. It’s not about putting on a show, but letting God move through us. Worship is a communal act that we all take part in.

Byron: I don’t want to be the one to separate what is secular and what is sacred. I believe this to fall under permissible and beneficial. I listen to a variety of music, mostly Christian to be honest. I know most people hate the concept of Christian music, I don’t believe music can be Christian because music cant be “saved.” But I believe it can be redeemed. I listen to music that edifies my spirit and encourages me and makes me muse on the ways of life. I bet Mogwai would be upset if they find out that I have them on my worship play list right next to Chris Tomlin. We allow so many other things to lead us to sensory emotionalism every day, from music to art to movies and even food, but never do we define those as being anything like we are breaking down worship to be. I don’t think that the reason we have 1000 altar calls is because of lighting or weird time signatures. I think the reason why people do not understand grace is because we have missed on discipleship. I see worship in two parts, congregation and personal. We miss the congregational too often. The reason why worship is difficult to pin down as to being anything set is because it was never meant to be set. Some worship in silence and some worship with hands out stretched. Some do back flips and some lay prostrate soaked in tears. Do I find any of this unbiblical? No. David danced before the Lord naked saying he will be even more undignified in the presence of our King. Totally biblical; would I want to see that in a service? Not really. But if it’s honest and genuine then who am I to judge what is appropriate? Anyway it’s not really my place to say if it is honest or genuine. If the fruit is there, then we celebrate; if not, then God will judge accordingly. Truth of the matter is this. I don’t think it matters if we worship with a light system and e-bows or bongos and goat teeth. Because worship as truly defined is to take part in a religious service and to love someone deeply. The bible defines worship as service or to bow down. Do I think that leaders get this twisted? Of course. But that happens everywhere regardless of our subscriptions, Pentecostal, Reformed, Anabaptist, or Orthodox. When we get swept up in the external activities of worship, we can miss God’s heart which is the reason we worship. I understand emotionalism is prevalent, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think if we stop there and don’t take it into the homes with fellowship it creates loneliness. We were designed for community just as much as we were designed for worship. I don’t want to put rules on something that is meant to bring us freedom.

Sean: I think that the concept of authentic worship is a challenging one for sure.  Its all too easy for us to get stuck in the “way our church does it” as the “correct” notion of what worship is.  We have to constantly be reminded that worship is an activity that is subjective and personal and should pervade every aspect of our lives as Christians.  And that means that it can take on many different forms.  So I encourage everyone to experiment with different ways of worshiping God and in bringing new experiences to the corporate worship of our churches and to our own daily private worship.

Matt: I love this conversation. I think it is more edifying for us to discuss and share viewpoints than for any one of us to come blog about our individual idea on worship. The Church is made up of different people who worship authentically in different ways. As long as someone is led by the Holy Spirit, however that comes out – in song, dance, meditation, clapping, or any other inward or outward display – that is true worship. No one should feel coerced to worship in one particular way if that’s not true to who they are. The Church should be a place where worship can be expressed in all ways, for the glory of God and the uplifting of all. I pray for all the Church to be revitalized by the Spirit so that their worship will be pure and true.

Wealth in the Kingdom, pt. 2

Last year, I wrote a post analyzing a couple of scriptures regarding what to do with wealth. Further discussion has made me want to explore this again, from a different angle. Previously, I wrote about what those who are already in the Kingdom should do with their wealth. But lately, a different subject has come up: 1) Do we welcome the wealthy into the Kingdom? and 2) If so, how?

I think the answer to the first question is…almost obvious. The doors of the Kingdom are open to all; we are not to reject anyone. The wealthy are as welcome as any other sinners. However, we do have to be a bit more careful than that, as Jesus reminds us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24) Entering into the alternative community of Heaven requires sacrifice. It is costly.

Another relevant, and challenging, teaching of Jesus comes from an often-misapplied parable in Luke 14:25-33. Jesus is speaking of the costliness of entering the Kingdom, and compares it to building a tower. The lesson here is spiritual, not economic. Before building a tower, you have to make sure you have the money and resources to complete the project. Similarly, before you choose to follow Jesus, you must “calculate the cost” and assess whether you’ll be able to pay it. The “cost” is not subjective or metaphorical. Jesus makes it explicit in verses 27 and 33: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” and “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

Are the wealthy welcome in the Kingdom? Certainly; but their wealth is not. At least, that’s what I’d like to say – but we have to be a little more nuanced there as well. As it turns out, the wealth is welcome, provided that it is entirely detached from those who originally accrued it. Let’s look at how the apostles handled welcoming the wealthy into the Kingdom in Acts 4:32-35:

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

A lot of wealth was brought into the Kingdom as the Gospel spread to both poor and rich. But nobody brought their wealth intending to retain it (yet — as homework, continue reading into Acts 5). This passage is really, really intense. Imagine being able to speak statements these today! “All things were common property to them.” “There was not a needy person among them.” This is not anarcho-communist idealism. This happened. This was the lifestyle of the first-century church. This is the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God.

In closing, wealth is not something to be embraced, it is something to be repented of. That’s what was happening in the apostolic community. People who were rich recognized that they were being unjust to the poor and sought to make things right by repenting of their wealth and allowing it to be distributed to those who needed it (cf. Zaccheus in Luke 19:8; also see John the Baptist’s concept of “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” in Luke 3:11). In a community that is operating on God’s economy, no one is wealthy, yet everyone is able to live. In this way, all are wealthy in the root sense of the word.

Mogwai fear Satan, but I don’t.

The following post is from my friend Adam. It was taken with permission from his blogsite: http://forithaca.wordpress.com/

I haven’t been inspired to write much in the past few years, but I’m feeling so today.

Recently, I’ve been confronted with the word satan in adjective form and I’m wondering if this is a useful word.

When forced to describe it, without much thought, my mind turned to the word nuclear, which is reminiscent of satan in that people’s hyper-sensitivity to the terms are based on a pop-culture depiction of them and not a scientific or scriptural one — even for some that believe in science or scripture as truth providing. Satan is not depicted as evil, but more evil than evil. Not merely supernatural but super-super-natural. Caricatured by some as an idol of the most malicious and avarice beings imaginable. The under world of LOTR captures the grotesque-ness I’m trying to communicate. Anyone who believes in the supernatural ought to dismiss any effects culture has had on educating them on something our culture took and twisted from their own beliefs. Just as anyone who believes in science ought to dismiss the error that nuclear is tantamount to harmful radiation or weaponry.

This error has caused the misnomer (or mis-acronym?) MRI. It is Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMRI) but the “n” was dropped; it was too disconcerting for many to think something nuclear was happening to them. In reality, we are nuclear; filled with billions of nuclei that we rely on for existence. And while we do not rely on satan for existence it is not unusual, at times, to share the mind of one who is going against the will of God. The bible narrative certainly includes some of God’s chosen that have. In my desire to continue developing an understanding, I think it’s helpful to look at these stories.

When Jesus predicts his own death, Peter boldly declares “This will never happen to you!” Jesus’ response is striking to say the least: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me…” At first the response does not seem to follow from what Peter has said. Certainly, if I were telling my closest friend that I were going to die by torturous methods, I would find comfort and care in a response like Peter’s. It seems honorable. But, Jesus is carrying out the most central part of history for those that believe in his death and resurrection. The next thing Jesus says is more revealing: “…you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Apparently it is satanic, according to Jesus, to be disoriented, to try to stifle God’s plan, to prevent the expression of the gospel which is of incomprehensible and irrational love. Notice too that what Peter desires does not appear base and evil. Satanic things often do not. Many translate the word Satan, used here, from the greek to mean “adversary” and that is an appropriate synonym. Few, I would assume, figure that Peter in this story is possessed and possibly not even under the direct influence of any supernatural agency. Satanic here means an attempt to prevent the things of God. Whether it derives from within or outside of us seems the trivial part of the story.

In writing this blog I’ve had a few hindering thoughts, that caused hesitation, such as how weird people will undoubtedly think I am. Those that do not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus may wonder why I believe in cooky apparitions. And those that do might be offended, or well-read enough to say, “Now, now child. Let me instruct you on your foolish misunderstanding.” While writing about satan isn’t grand or a master plot of God’s, starting a conversation on a matter of spiritual awareness, when compelled, seems to be following the will of God, no matter how small a part. And it is quite small in every regard. But, to be stifled of doing something too small, because of that fact, is a satanic argument. If I don’t do good things because they are not big enough, I may never do good things. If I don’t feed or talk to the homeless man on my street because I cannot fix his homelessness, I may forever neglect to offer a drop of God’s love in a place where I can. This is the “belt of truth buckled around my waist” (Ephesians 6:14). Among others.

Generally, I avoid christian parlance. Its redundancy lulls me to sleep and floats by my mind without triggering a thought. But, that’s precisely why I find the word satanic helpful. It’s not apart of the current idiom. It causes a bit of a jolt. It’s awakening. And I like that.

Life After Easter

He is risen!

He is risen indeed.

So…now what?

I am very pleased to announce that this post has been published on Jesus Radicals. You can read and discuss it here.

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