Taking Action

Over the last year or two, I have been actively participating in taking social action by the simple click of my mouse with organizations such as the sierra club, amnesty international and change.org.

These organizations make it extremely easy to join in signing petitions and send messages to the president, senators, and corporations. Usually all you have to do is click take action at the top of their page and a page comes up different issues you can weigh in on. Click and issue and it brings you to a page where you fill out your information and a carefully constructed response that is already filled out for you with a note saying, please personalize your response, giving you an option to edit the text.

I usually try to add something along the lines of: As a christian, I believe it is our job to take care of the planet and all living creatures, or As a follower of Jesus I believe it is my job to ensure social justice for all of humanity. I think making known that my views are not just derived from my own philosophical worldview, but my relationship with God and his command to love others is extremely important.

Is this an effective form of taking action? I believe that these organizations have done many great things and have actually made change through a more grassroots way of organizing, but how effective is it really? I think that is the wrong question to ask. We shouldn’t focus on how effective something is. We should focus on doing the right thing. Following Jesus today may not seem like the best way in overturning the current systems of oppression, but if we believe in his revolution of love, we have to understand that taking small steps can produce great outcomes in the long run. We need to have faith that God will work through us and that even if we can’t see positive change in our short lifetime, his plan will redeem the world.

So do I acknowledge this extremely easy type of participation in attempt to bring about social justice? well, yes and no. It doesn’t take that much time and many of the things I have fought for have actually won: Bills and laws have been created to protect humanity and the environment, regulations have been placed on corporations to reduce pollution and waste, and most importantly, awareness has been raised in the public through different media sources responding to the masses of people fighting for a better world. Overall, I think this type of participation is a million times better and more effective than voting, but it’s not true participation. An even more affective tool might be demonstrating and protesting to get your voice out there to people. Standing up for issues that are important to the kingdom and equality of all individuals and the collective community. But I believe true participation in God’s kingdom involves us to actually love our neighbor, to share things with others, to feed the hungry, to cloth the sick. Making these direct actions has a lasting impact on people and is a great witness to the kingdom. I say we all strive to take simple steps in getting to know people around us, listening to what they have to say about areas in life in which they are suffering, taking care of their needs, and trying to just understand different viewpoints.

I want to conclude by urging you to check out some of these organizations who fight for civil and human rights. Taking up a small amount of time in your day to hold the leaders of this country accountable is extremely important. I also want to encourage you to try to get to know your neighbors better. Do you know the person across the street from you? on either side of you? Do you know their needs? How can you help them? How can they help you? I certainly don’t know my neighbors, and need to be held accountable to getting to know them myself!

links to organizations that are doing many great things:
Amnesty International
Sierra Club

Yay, Government

We are saddled with a judicial system which is heavily weighted in favor of “law enforcement”, and a judiciary which in far too many instances shares the reactionary sensibilities of agents and prosecutors, hopelessly biasing even this imperfect system’s “due process” safeguards against political defendants. We are cursed with an executive branch which makes it a point of honor to enforce orthodoxy by often overriding whatever pittance of justice leaks through. And we are plagued with a legislature which, while typically professing to be appalled at these circumstances, has failed to ever do anything tangible about them. The entire seamy complex is bound up in the context of a public largely propagandized into believing that almost everything is other than it is.

[…] The only true alternatives are to abandon ourselves to the totality of a police state, or to move forward in conscious, active opposition to it.

–From “Agents of Repression” by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall

Wedded Bliss

This past week I got to experience the awesome joy of spending time with my great friend Raleigh during his last days as a bachelor. Friday evening, he married his girlfriend of eight and a half years in a gorgeous ceremony on the grounds of the Winterthur estate. It was a fairly traditional, elaborate, expensive ordeal – the way a wedding happens in the movies. There were groomsmen in suits, bridesmaids with up-dos, photos, seating arrangements, a rehearsal and rehearsal dinner the night before, a reception with dancing and speeches…it was the full-blown wedding experience through and through.

I know Raleigh pretty darn well, and I have to say he would have been just as happy with the polar opposite wedding…a few friends and family members gathered in a field in plain clothes while a preacher unites the couple in matrimony.

Oddly enough, that’s about what’s going to be happening with me. God recently brought into my life an amazing woman who, even though she is a wedding hairstylist, sees eye-to-eye with me on the idea that many weddings are blown way out of proportion (and budget). We’re planning on our wedding being an open, non-traditional celebration of God and love. It’s going to be a party. I don’t know whether there will be groomsmen or bridesmaids; I don’t believe there will be much formal attire. I don’t care. Why let the nebulous concept of “tradition” tell me how I should marry? We’re going to do it our way.

Am I saying that’s right, and the traditional wedding – the way Raleigh and Leah married – is wrong? No. Nor am I going to let tradition tell me it is right, while my lady and I are wrong to take matters into our own hands and adapt it to our whims. Marriage is a once-in-a-lifetime (ahem…well, it should be) experience, a celebration of joy and love – and as long as that’s what it is, it doesn’t matter what that looks like! My parents got married at their pastor’s house in front of three witnesses; this year, they will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary. There’s no right or wrong way to GET married. After all, the wedding is only one day – it’s the marriage itself that lasts a lifetime. Far too many people focus so much on the wedding, then can’t keep the marriage together.

I have no doubts that Raleigh and Leah, having already been through so much together, will have a wonderful and lasting marriage. And I have no doubt that Rochelle and I, with our stripped-down ceremony, will have the same. Here’s to many, many years of love and joy together.

Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS to Raleigh and Leah! : )

You Can’t Always Feel It

Right now I feel a huge rift between God and I. I am having trouble experiencing his presence in my life.

This is something that happens to me from time to time. I’m often left feeling terrified, isolated and scornful. Aligning our lives with Christ means that we must abandon all that is worldly in order to pursue God’s kingdom. This is not easy, but is a constant battle in which can lead a person to feel fatigued and like a failure. Often in my pursuit, I become disgruntled and end up loosing touch with the Creator. Rather than using this time to pray and contemplate the cross, I end up filling my time with ways to escape. Whether it be through reading, playing zelda, or spending too much time on the internet, I end up feeling worse and worse.

What I keep reminding myself is that I need to push on into searching for God even during the times when I don’t “feel” it. His grace and love are eternal despite the ebb and flow of our relationship with Him.

Stressful situations for me make it difficult to connect with God. I have been going through a lot as I decided not to be a teacher last year, have been laid off from jobs, am getting married and am going back to grad school. I fail to realize that I am blessed and am privileged to have so much choice in my life when others aren’t left with the same choices that I have.

Please pray for me. This is the longest I’ve been without really feeling God. It’s been about 4 or 5 months. I’ve wrestled with giving up on my journey, agnosticism and cynicism.

The Sign of Jonah

As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” — Luke 11:29-30

Reading through the Gospel of Luke, I came across this verse and dwelt on it for a little while last night between episodes of House. What was the sign of Jonah? The quick answer, of course, is spending three days (-ish) in something’s belly and then coming out alive. In Jonah’s case, it was a great fish, and in Jesus’ case it was the earth. Actually, this is what Jesus says Himself in Matthew’s version of this passage. Fine. Mystery solved. Right?

Maybe not. Maybe the parallels go a little deeper than that – deeper than Jesus Himself indicates out loud. After all, giving everything away wouldn’t be His style.

How was Jesus like Jonah?

Both were sent to preach to a rebellious people. Jonah to the Ninevites, Jesus mainly to the Israelites. Jonah’s message was against Nineveh, offering no hope of salvation. Jesus, on the other hand, brought the good news to the poor and oppressed that they were welcome to be God’s children in His Kingdom.

Then the major point – the gastric weekend. Both spent three days (-ish) in a belly. But look more closely…why? Jonah’s trip was punishment for His running away from God. Jesus’ trip?

It was punishment for all of our running away from God.

Both suffered the wrath of God for sin. In Jonah’s case, it was His sin; in Jesus’ case, it was all sin. Though Jesus never sinned, He bore the sin of all humanity and endured God’s wrath poured out on the cross. This adds a whole new layer of depth to the belly part of the sign.

Now, a brief interlude on “three days (-ish)”. The book of Jonah states that Jonah spent three days and three nights inside the fish; Jesus confirms this in Matthew, and confirms that He’ll be underground for just as long. Purportedly, Jesus entered the tomb on Friday night, and got up and left bright and early on Sunday morning. I’m no math expert – wait, actually, I kind of am. In my expert mathematical opinion, that adds up to about a day and a half. No way it stretches out to three days AND three nights. Now, I hear that orthodox churches straighten this out by simply believing Jesus died on a Wednesday. Fine with me. It’s really not that big of a deal.

One more point about the Sign of Jonah. Both completed their mission only after their “resurrections”. Jonah never got around to delivering his message to the Ninevites until after his stint inside the fish. He needed to experience repentance himself before he was convinced to offer it to people he hated. Jesus preached good news and taught people how to live rightly, but it all would have been for naught if He hadn’t conquered death and allowed the Kingdom of God to break through. Only when He rose from the grave was His mission complete; only in the wake of His victory could the life He showed people to live be lived. Jonah preached doom, and the people repented anyway. Jesus preached life, and many embraced His message…but many more seem to have rejected it.

Restorative Justice in the Way of Jesus

This post is taken from my journal and is based on Matthew 18:15-20 (shown below) and the current book I’m reading titled: Ambassadors of Reconciliation: Volume 1 by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns.

15″If your brother sins against you,[a] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'[b] 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18″I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be[c]bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[d] loosed in heaven.

19″Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus presents us with a model of restorative justice. His way begins with the victim taking the initiative in the restorative process. The victim goes into this process with the understanding that they have the backing of the church. In doing so, both the victim and offender have a chance for healing.

The Victim enters into a dialogue with the offender. If the offender is unwilling to listen, the victim gathers 2 or 3 witnesses to further give him or herself support and show the offender that this is a serious matter. If this is unsuccessful, then the matter is taken to the church. We must remember that the job of the church is to function as a supporting and loving community. If the offender does not trust in the church to help resolve issues, they are unwilling to seek the restorative type of healing demanded by God and are thus alienating themselves from the community. This is not equal to the Anabaptist practice of shunning, which has been justified to “get rid of rotten fruit”. The offender is only choosing a path of isolation which the church must follow up with.

What is really striking to me is the power of healing in working out a problem using the way of Christ. This goes contrary to our instincts to punish and have someone else deal with our problems. Paul often commands us in his letters to speak the truth in love and work out our problems with others, rather than giving into the temptations of taking about someone behind their back, which is both destructive to the person with the issue as well as the person listening to the issue and is also known as gossip. If we have a problem, we must go directly to that person if we want there to be healing.

How do worldly systems help victim and offender heal? They really do not benefit either person as we can see in our current social systems by the amount of damage and lack of healing we can see in the lives of victims and the high rates of re-incarceration we see of offenders, who are victims themselves in many ways. I think that Jesus’ teaching on restorative justice is universal and he is not just calling the church to employ these techniques with others in the church. I believe this is how he wants us to relate to all people.

I think the reason that our current justice practices do not work is because they do not allow us to see each other’s wounds, weaknesses, and faults. They do not give the space where victim and offender can enter into dialogue with each other and see the brokenness that we experience. They do not let us see that we are human beings living in sin. They do not let us see that we are children of God and that Jesus wishes us to live in harmony with our neighbor and enemy.

Revenge-style conflict resolution is contrary to the grace of God. It is cheap, destructive, and is not rooted in love.

After these verses is the classic instance where Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive our brother. As Myers and Elaine point out, “His incredulous ‘how often?!’ unmasks our own skepticism about and resistance to the process just proposed. Peter is looking for a loop hole” (Myers & Enns, 2008) Jesus then assures Peter that we are to always use this style of conflict resolution by saying that we are to forgive our brother not 7 times, but 77 times!

For lent this year at Circle of Hope (my church), we are focusing on a season of reconciliation. I know there have been many times in my life where I have stabbed people in the back and seeked the easy route of differing my problems to others to take care of issues in a punitive, unhealthy way. I am trying to make the necessary changes in my life in order to solve my problems in a way that is Christ-like.

In the fall I am going back to school for school counseling. I plan on taking what I have learned from Jesus and applying it in my counseling of children and young adults. I feel a sense of anticipation as I believe that healthy conflict resolution can lead to lasting peace. I am enthusiastic about putting some of these things into practice, and i can start by doing so in my own life.

It’s only through Jesus that we can be Transformed.

A Response to Albert Mohler

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler recently blogged about the heretical dangers of a novel that has recently swept the evangelical nation called “The Shack”. While I don’t think this book is the greatest book ever, and I feel it has been somewhat overhyped, I did want to respond to some of Mohler’s criticisms and expose what I feel is his own dangerous thinking.

First and foremost, “The Shack” is a work of fiction. It is an error to read it as a theological treatise. This is not a criticism of Mohler as much as it is of the evangelical populace. Christians themselves are guilty of not making the distinction; frankly, I think Mohler and I agree on this. In this light, however, he warns against acceptance of certain doctrinal problems that can be easily inferred (or simply read) from the story.

As he is a conservative, I think he is sometimes too reactionary in his critiques. Take, for example, his perspective here:

In one of the most bizarre paragraphs of the book, Jesus tells Mack: “Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

The theorized submission of the Trinity to a human being — or to all human beings — is a theological innovation of the most extreme and dangerous sort. The essence of idolatry is self-worship, and this notion of the Trinity submitted (in any sense) to humanity is inescapably idolatrous.

Mohler’s accusation seems entirely based on the last sentence of Jesus’s (that is, William Young’s character Jesus’s) quotation, without examining the very context he provides. Read again: “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect.” It is one thing to argue that this is a poor definition of the word “submission”; that is not the point here. The question here is twofold; given this definition, can we say the members of the Trinity are “submitted” to each other, and can we say They are submitted to us as well? I argue, and I believe the Bible firmly supports, that the answer is yes to both. If submission is a relationship of love and respect, then the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and God so loved the world, and Jesus loves the little children, and I find no egregious blasphemy with this.

Now I should pause to say, I can’t defend everything in “The Shack” this way. As I read it, sometime early last year I think, I certainly came across points where it seemed like the author pulled some sort of new-age happy theology out of nowhere because it made God sound good. Yeah, there are definitely instances of that. But again, what’s the point of the book? It is not a statement of doctrine.

I would argue the main purpose, or perhaps main benefit, of “The Shack” is that is serves to open readers up to think about God in new ways – not all of which are incorrect. Fundamentalism contains a greater number of dangerous ideas about God than this book does; neither contains the whole truth. “The Shack” emphasizes – though at times overemphasizes – concepts about the Divine that have been all but lost in mainstream Western Christian thought.

I’d also like to point out that I don’t see conservative Christians getting their knickers in a bunch over books like C. S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”. Yes, I just said “knickers”. Lewis is touted as a literary hero by most evangelicals, yet this excellent work of his is replete with “bad theology” and “dangerous heresy”, some of which is exactly the same as what Mohler criticizes in “The Shack”. “The Great Divorce” describes citizens of hell – a bleak, dreary city (not a Biblical vision at all! where are the infernal fires and devouring worms?) – who every now and then get to take a bus ride to heaven (but what of that great chasm that cannot be crossed?!). There is nothing stopping them from staying in heaven…nothing, that is, except themselves. Time after time, even after seeing some of the glory of the ethereal Kingdom, they choose to get back on the bus and go home.

This is nothing less than the concept of “sin as its own punishment” presented in “The Shack” and denounced by Mohler. Is it a Biblical idea? Maybe not. But it helps illuminate certain Biblical truths and ideas, and that’s the point. “The Great Divorce” is not a volume of systematic theology, and neither is “The Shack”; and they shouldn’t be. They are beautiful for what they are: fresh lenses through which to understand some ill-understood concepts.

I’d like to finish by shifting gears a little bit and talking about the idea of universal reconciliation, which I will abbreviate as “universalism” – please don’t attach other ideas to that term in this context (such as Unitarian Universalism or “There is no hell, everyone goes straight to heaven”). Mohler calls this idea the “most controversial” in the book, and labels it “heresy”. While he’s not alone in this decision, I personally find it odd that a Calvinist can call Universalism heretical, when the two have at least equal Biblical footing.

I’m not going to give a detailed defense of Christian Trinitarian Universalism – that has been done better than I can by Thomas Talbott and someone who calls himself Gregory MacDonald (using a pseudonym probably out of fear of mainstream evangelicals!). If you care to explore the Biblical defense of Universalism, I highly recommend either book; if you don’t, you wouldn’t listen to me defending it anyway.

What I am going to do is explain very briefly how such a thought is even possible, as many evangelicals (and effectively all Calvinists) find even the taste of universalism repugnant. Let’s talk about lenses. Here are three basic statements:

1) God has the power to save everyone.

2) God wants everyone to be saved.

3) Not everyone will be saved.

Each one of these statements has Scripture to back it up. But logic dictates that not all three statements can be true. Many people believe all three anyway. But if God can save everyone, and He wants to, then He will. If He won’t save everyone, but He wants to, then He can’t. And if He can save everyone, but won’t, then He must not want to. It’s really very simple.

So which is it? Which statement is false?

If you reject (1) and accept (2) and (3), you are a free will theist (not quite the same thing as Arminian). You believe that God wants everyone to be saved (see 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16, etc.), but you don’t believe that everyone will end up in heaven (see any passage that talks about the permanency of hell). You believe that God “deferred” the power of salvation to human will, giving each of us the choice to reject or accept Christ’s saving work. You can back up your arguments Biblically, but you have to come up with ways to dance around Romans 9 and Ephesians 2 – but you’re okay with that.

If you reject (2) and accept (1) and (3), you are a Calvinist. This, surprisingly to me, seems to be the most prominent viewpoint. Salvation is in God’s hands – He has the power and choice. Yet, there is a hell, and some sinners will be punished there. They are the “reprobate”, and God doesn’t want them to be saved. You can back up your arguments Biblically, but you have to come up with ways to dance around verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and anything that talks about Christ’s death being sufficient for the whole world (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:22) – but you’re okay with that.

If you reject (3) and accept (1) and (2), you are a Universalist. God wants to save everybody, and He is God after all, so…why not? You can still believe in Hell – just not as a permanent fixture. You might believe that the doors of Heaven remain open (Revelation 21:25) so that those in Hell might eventually be accepted in. You get to believe in the full power of verses like 1 Corinthians 15:22. You still have to dance around passages that speak of Hell as permanent, or unavoidable – but you’re okay with that.

Each of these standpoints can be both attacked and defended Biblically. Personally, I lie somewhere between free will theism and universalism (could you tell?), but I also believe it’s not worth wasting time worrying about. Division kills the body. Look, I don’t have to know whether I chose to accept God’s salvation or whether He chose me. I don’t have to know whether Hell lasts forever or not, particularly since I never plan on going there. What I know is that I am saved, and if you are too, then I’m not going to fight with you about doctrine. It’s a waste of our energy, and we ought to be building others up and spreading the good news. Free will theists, Calvinists, and Universalists all agree on that good news – Christ died to save sinners, and rose again that we may live forever. There’s no disputing that – you, I, C. S. Lewis, William Young, and Albert Mohler all understand that truth. So let us work together to unite the Church rather than divide it – that we may be One, as He is One.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I love you all.

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