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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Losing Faith: Life’s Questions

by Tony Campolo
Red Letter Christians

The most common honest reason cited for losing faith is that it becomes impossible to believe in God if God is defined as being simultaneously all-powerful and all-loving. Thoughtful students often ask, “Where was God when Jews were being thrown into ovens at Auschwitz and at Dachau? If there is a loving God who had the power to stop it, how could such a God not act?” Or even more recently, “How could God allow such devastation to the people in Japan and Haiti?” These are fair questions. Often I have heard young people say that if that is what God and Religion are like then I want no part of it.

A good mother of four lovely children who had already lost her husband in an automobile accident is dying of cancer and her 16-year-old son asks, “God, if you are there, why don’t you heal my mother?” Another good question.

A soldier in Iraq watches as a suicide bomber drives his dynamite-rigged truck into a crowd of people in a marketplace and sees innocent people blown to smithereens, and asks God, “Where are You?” Another good question.

~ ~ ~

All of these questions arise from one basic fallacy and that is that God is simultaneously loving and infinitely powerful. Strangely enough, most Christians believe that both of those assertions are true even though it should seem obvious that reality is otherwise. There are those who will call it heresy, but there is little question that the God who is incarnated in Jesus Christ is a God who is not all-powerful. Instead, he is a God who has given up power in order to express his love.

~ ~ ~

The concept of an omnipotent God came from Greek philosophers and not from the Bible. The prophets of the Old Testament declared that their God was almighty, and to them, that meant that He was more powerful than all the other gods. But the ancient Jews did not define God as a puppeteer controlling all of our actions.

~ ~ ~

I have this final suggestion for any who doubt. Give yourself some time. Your doubt may be a temporary thing. Faith and doubt often come and go in my own life. There are days when, for no reason that I can explain, believing comes hard. There are other days when it comes easy. And remember this—even during those times when you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you and will not let you go.

Monday, March 28, 2011

This, That, and the Other Jesus

by Greg Garrett 

Of the criticisms I've been getting about my book The Other Jesus (and I'm not wading through anything like the abuse that Mr. Bell and Mr. McLaren face), the one I take most seriously is the accusation that I've just rejected an angry Jesus built by frightened people, and replaced him with a peace-y, justice-y Jesus of my own creation. I know we are prone to such things; Albert Schweitzer opined that we tend to find the Jesus we are looking for.
~ ~ ~

That innate tendency toward finding what we're already looking for is why now, since returning to a faith that saved my life, I try to listen, not just talk.
It's why I try to be aware of my own filters and desires and read scripture and tradition as honestly as I can to see what new things God has to teach me.
One of the things I found soul-killing about the tradition I was raised in was the insistence that Christian faith was about unswerving belief that could not accommodate questions or disagreement.
And one of the things I have found life-giving is the idea that God is always doing a new thing, and that, as the Reformed tradition would have it, the Church is always reforming to try to get on board with that new thing God is doing.
~ ~ ~
Like them, Jesus loved so much he was willing to live and die for the poor, the broken-hearted, the castaway, and all the rest of us schmucks.
Like them, Jesus was a spiritual leader whose beliefs led him to feed, comfort, heal, and speak out for justice.
Like them, Jesus was a person who rejected the earthly values of wealth, power, and possession for the heavenly values of compassion, prayer, and hope.

Mass graves replace elaborate funerals in Japan

What Kind of Person Does God Use?

by Donald Miller

Growing up in church, I learned there were standards for being used by God. Most of the standards involved character. We learned, both directly and indirectly, the standards involved being holy or righteous, skilled, willing, among a few others. These are the three that stick out most, though.

Theologically speaking, none of us are holy, but I think what they meant was you went to church a lot and didn’t use tobacco or cuss. As for being skilled, I think it mostly meant you were a good communicator. Being used by God, at the time, meant mostly doing church work. And then, of course, you had to be willing. If you were willing, it was said, God would use you.

As for what God was doing in the world through the church, I deduced two main priorities: 1. Grow the church and 2. Make God look good. The church was doing other things, but this seemed to be the primary focus.

I have since learned the objectives of the church are different than the objectives of God. And I’ve also learned the people God can use are different than the people the church can use. If you glance at scripture for just a second, you’d get the sense that God uses perverts and criminals. If you glance at the church (at least the modern, megachurch) you get the sense God uses preachers that were once in the band Rascall Flats but laid it all down to rock a Bible.

~ ~ ~

This is no argument against the church. The church absolutely needs to hold a different standard than God. God doesn’t have to vet his leaders like the church does. Can you imagine interviewing Moses for the job of lead pastor, listening to him stammer out a bunch of excuses in response to the inquiry about that pesky murder in his past, and then the elders making a gut decision to give him the job anyway? So I don’t have a problem with the church having a higher standard than God. But if we lead people to believe they cant be used by God to save lives even though they aren’t a fit for professional ministry, we are making a huge mistake, and it would be an interesting debate as to whether we are being guided by the Bible in our thinking. God can use anybody he wants. Anybody, anytime. He displays this over and over in the scriptures.

~ ~ ~

I don’t know if God will use you. I can’t think of a reason he wouldn’t, but I’m not God and neither is your pastor so there’s no telling. I only know God is trying to save many lives and that he uses anybody he wants.

Will ‘Love Wins’ Win? We’re Early in the First Inning …

by Brian McLaren
Red Letter Christians

Brian McLaren is an author and speaker who’s new book is Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words
Because of my own experience as a writer, I’ve been anticipating the baptism in hot water (or worse) that Rob Bell was about to experience with the publication Love Wins. And because of the old saying that it’s not the attacks of your critics but the silence of your friends that hurts the most, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to speak up in Rob’s defense.

I couldn’t help but predict who would be first at bat with critique, what they would say, and how they would say it. A prominent Southern Baptist leader, Dr. Albert Mohler, put it well: “We Have Seen This All Before.” His response to Rob’s book, in an article under that title, will be judged by fans a veritable home-run of a response. It stirred up a few responses which I’d like to share.

~ ~ ~

So after the first inning of responses, I imagine Rob Bell feels a lot like I have on many occasions: it’s not that the critics have accurately understood what I’m trying to say and have explained why they disagree. It’s that they’ve misrepresented what I’m trying to say and have explained why the misrepresentation is audacious and ludicrous. Thankfully, there’s still time to see the conversation continue and deepen, and Dr. Mohler can be thanked for getting the first inning off to a strong and exciting start. If we seek true understanding and give one another a fair hearing all along the way, knowing we’ll all strike out sometimes and even commit an error or two from time to time, whoever “wins,” love will win.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

No Looting in Japan

by Amy Chavez
Huffinton Post - World

People around the world have marveled at the lack of mass-looting in Japan among the survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami. Many people are still asking: Why was there no mass-looting?

People are undoubtedly comparing the incident in Japan with other natural disasters in the world when people under similar circumstances did loot. And they didn't just loot food or necessities, but big screen TVs and other "must have" household appliances.

~ ~ ~

One common experience among foreigners coming to work in Japan for a year or more is that when they leave Japan, they leave a more polite person. As a foreigner, you learn that certain things that may be accepted back home are just not tolerated here. Petty crime (Who stole my plastic gnome lawn ornament?!), verbal assaults on store clerks, and anger in the form furrowed brows, pursed lips and the occasional disgruntled snort, are not accepted here. So while in my society, an angry, gnome-stealing person may be normal, in Japan such people are thought to be selfish and dishonest. And, by God, you don't just take things because they're not chained down! Once you know the rules of a society, however, it's surprisingly easy to adjust your own behavior to fit into that society.

Two adjectives that immediately come to mind when describing the Japanese: polite and harmonious. Which makes me wonder, if you are not polite or harmonious, what are you?

~ ~ ~

An honest society is not unique to the Japanese. Ask your own parents or grandparents and they will surely tell you how it used to be, when there was more respect, less crime and no road rage. But whereas we have slowly lost our integrity, the Japanese have not lost theirs.

A Prayer for Japan

by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (@TylerWS) is the founding director of the Two Futures Project (@2FP) — connect to 2FP via their website ( or Facebook page (

It is too soon for meaning-making with the ongoing crisis in Japan. There will be time later to determine its ramifications for the world economy, for the future of the much-vaunted “nuclear renaissance.” But now is not that time. The living are still finding their dead, or seeking and not finding. And workers brave an unimaginably hostile environment as they fight to keep nuclear reactors cool, battling the twin threats of explosion and radioactivity. Several have been hospitalized with radiation poisoning; we don’t yet know how many more will fall in the containment effort.

As every good pastor knows, tragedy’s immediate aftermath does not require sensible words and coherent explanations nearly so much as it requires simple presence, compassion and attention. For those whose hearts are rent by the unfolding revelations of loss in Japan, and torn further by our impotence to act, we have a conjoined responsibility.

First, we should respond when and as we are able with concrete gifts to alleviate suffering.GOOD Magazine has a great, constantly updating list on concrete ways that you can help.

~ ~ ~

So it seems that one of the purposes of prayer, in such conditions, is its presence to individual lives. The New York Times reported on Syunsuke Doi, 22, who was at work when the tsunami hit his town; after a period of vain hope, he recovered from the morgue the bodies of his wife and childhood sweetheart, Sayaka, and their 2-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son, who were caught in their car while trying to escape. I had been reading the news with genuine concern and sorrow. But in reading of Syunsuke and his lost family, I leaned back in my airplane seat and had to fight to keep composure.

I write this while returning from a weekend at a reunion for my small, geographically disparate family. It was a rare opportunity to visit with my sisters and their husbands; to play with and be an uncle to their young sons, Selim and Joshua. And in watching their families’ daily routines, their mutual love and care, I can hardly take in the investment of care that goes into the raising of a single life — the stringing together of innumerable moments that comprise each person’s being brought into the world.

~ ~ ~

In all that is to come, it seems to me that our task — in addition to caring for concrete needs of food, water and shelter — is to maintain, in prayer, the possibility of grief. Statistics homogenize individuals into a lump sum, hiding them behind stacks of zeros. Our job is to unearth, in prayer, the people who make up such mind-boggling numbers. They are all simply one plus one plus one. Only in this will we be able to maintain the central humanity of all tragedy, without which we are lost.

This blog post originally ran at Relevant Magazine

Friday, March 25, 2011

Love Wins - Summarized in 8 Short Paragraphs

by Stephen McCaskell

“First, there is exclusivity.

Jesus is the only way. Everybody who doesn’t believe in him and follow him in the precise way that is defined by the group doing the defining isn’t saved, redeemed, going to heaven, and so on. There is that kind of exclusion. You’re either in, or you’re going to hell. Two groups.

Then there is inclusivity

The kind that is open to all religions, the kind that trusts that good people will get in, that there is only one mountain, but it has many paths. This inclusivity assumes that as long as your heart is fine or your actions measure up, you’ll be okay.

And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.

Not true.

Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

What Jesus does is declare that he,

and he alone,

is saving everybody.

And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.

He is as exclusive as himself and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation.”

*Taken from Love Wins, a book by Rob Bell. Pages 154-155.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

P!nk - Fuckin' Perfect

I'm on a Pink kick thanks to Jeremy Myers. If "Raise Your Glass" doesn't speak to the importance of embracing our inner dirty little freaks then this sure does. Wow!

P!nk - Raise Your Glass

There's life in struggling--like the struggle of a baby being born--we have to celebrate the struggles. We have to celebrate that we are ALL dirty little freaks--and that's a good thing.

How To Help Japan: Earthquake Relief Options

Huffington Post : Impact

On March 11, 2011, a huge 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan, causing widespread destruction.

President Obama has already released a statement sending "deepest condolences" and promising support to the stricken country.
"The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial."
Additionally, many organizations and funds have mobilized to provide relief to those affected by the disaster.

In response to the quake, The Red Cross has already launched efforts in Japan. Visit or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone.

The Sheep who Did Not Hear Jesus’ Voice

by Donald Miller

There are, of course, all sorts of people who do not hear the voice of Jesus. We can’t infer from this chapter that this is the only kind of person. But it might be helpful to note some characteristics so we can better recognize them in ourselves when they show their heads. Here are a few characteristics I see:

1. They have a strong pre-conceived notion as to what the Christ will look and sound like, and Jesus isn’t fitting that notion at all. Jesus didn’t come out of their schools, He likely does not dress like them. He knows the ancient text just like they do, but He does not interpret it the way they’ve been taught to interpret it, which is likely through a self-serving agenda.

2. He threatens their power. To believe this is the Christ, they are going to have to give up everything they’ve been building all these years. They are powerful men, they rule over people, people come to them for guidance and wisdom. If Jesus is the Christ, they’re livelihood is likely gone. Paul would have this same struggle, but Jesus would confront Him personally. The issue is that if they follow Christ, they are no longer important people in their communities.

3. These are zealous men. They are willing to kill Jesus because He is claiming to be the Messiah. They are not a people of grace, they are a people of the law.

4. And as such, they would likely be threatened with physical retribution from their own community if they followed Christ.

5. They are people who want clarity. They don’t like all this vague hippie talk coming from Jesus. How are they supposed to judge right from wrong, or moreover, who is important and who isn’t with all this silly talk about sheep and shepherds?

6. Jesus likes their enemies. These are people who have very clear enemies and very clear lines about who is lesser than they are. Jesus befriends these enemies and even says they are the ones who hear His voice. These guys probably interpret this to mean that their enemies are right and they are wrong (not an accurate interpretation. the idea is that “the wrong” are loved and will receive grace and protection.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

There may be hope embedded in the “heresy”

Alright, so I’m enjoying the book. It’s a quick read—as are all of Bell’s books. As a writer, I have to sound a little haughty for a moment. Rob Bell doesn’t write very well. However, Rob Bell is an exceptionally gifted speaker and anyone that has studied English will tell you that there is a significant difference between spoken English and written English. Written English has the luxury of being dense simply due to the fact that someone unable to comprehend the depth of what’s being read can stop – reverse direction – and read it again if they like. Oratory English doesn’t necessarily enjoy that luxury. So it’s easy for a writer to read a Rob Bell book and snub it based on its lack of luxuriant uses of language.

But that kind of a criticism would be stupid. Rob Bell is an eloquent orator gifted with the ability to convey complex dynamic concepts by way of “putting the cookies on the bottom shelf.” You getting my drift? Having said all that, I’ll say that I like reading his stuff because you’re able to roll through the pages as if you’re skimming through a magazine in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. It’s comfortable and quite rhythmic—it’s oration dictated onto the page. It might as well be an audio CD of Mr. Bell speaking and I think that is a very good thing. It’s more accessible that way. All things considered, thumbs up on the style, rhythm, and fluidity of the book (not that anyone cares what I think).

So here’s the deal: Rob’s chapter on Hell (Chapter 3) is a good one. Somehow he’s able to use his strange “tweet-esque” writing style to reveal a very paradoxical analysis. And here’s what he’s saying—I dare say that I’m about to sum up Bell’s concept of hell better than he doesone does NOT live in Hell by rejecting Heaven—wait for it—wait for it—instead—wait for it some more—one lives in Heaven by rejecting Hell.

“A pause, to recover from that last sentence.”

That’s a big big huge collosal paradigm shift! Whether he convinces you of it or not is a horse of another color, altogether. But consider it for a bit.

If one does NOT live in Hell by rejecting Heaven and instead one lives in Heaven by rejecting Hell then Heaven is the default—not Hell. Are you feelin’ me? Can you smell what I’m steppin’ in? The prevalent Christian paradigm is that Hell is the default and Jesus is offering us a way out of it. It plays well with the theme of “escapism” and “elitism” touted by Christian theology. But what Bell is saying is that Heaven is the default and when we choose to reject the good—the benevolence—the God that is within each of us (made in the image of God) we are choosing Hell. That stands in stark contrast to the teaching of the current Christian paradigm which says that mankind is fallen, bad, sinful to begin with (Hell is the default) and the only way to escape the straight pathway to Hell is to accept the rope ladder being lowered down from the helicopter—which is Christ—so that you are saved.

Wow! My mind is reeling with possible implications of this idea. No wonder the conservative fundamentalist Christian leaders are going crazy over someone coherently conveying this message to such a wide-ranging audience. No wonder the criticisms of Bell making the Gospel “palatable” as a marketing ploy to attract na├»ve souls are so rampant. He seems to be telling people that if you’re born in a coma and never wake up from that coma and die at the age of 70 still in that same coma that you will enter into Paradise.

Wait! Don’t we all believe that in every culture—every faith—every religion—every historical context—don’t we all All ALL agree to that one. If so, then Heaven—Paradise—whatever your tribe calls it IS INDEED THE DEFAULT.

Ok, time to regroup. I’m going back in. I’m only through Chapter 3, but I had to get this down while it was fresh. Then I thought why not post it.

If Hell is a rejection of the default (Heaven) then the current Christian paradigm didn’t just get shifted—it just experienced the metaphorical folding chair from the top rope. I’ll be writing about this for weeks. Stay tuned if you dare…

“Hi, my name is Bonar and I’m a heretic.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

“Hi, my name is Bonar and I’m a heretic.”

I’ve just read the Preface to Rob Bell’s Love Wins and at the moment I’m withholding opinions. I don’t really like to fly through books. I like to savor them. I remember in college I use to challenge myself to see how much information I could retain in the shortest span of time possible. It was much like feeding a piece of lunch meat to a dog—gone in the blink of an eye. Nowadays, I like to read and reread chapters more like savoring a piece of chocolate cake making obnoxious sounds between each bite that my wife frowns at me about—but then again that’s why I make those noises.

But before I get into Mr. Bell’s book, I wanted to try to get down some thoughts and impressions about the subject matter at hand in an attempt to revisit after reading the book to test for changes in perspective brought about by Love Wins.

This is very simple to me and I don’t know why it seems to be that difficult for others. When you put down the scriptures, interpretations of scriptures, pontifications about scriptures, and theologies based on scriptures and turn around to face Jesus the conversation is very clear. See, now I’m already losing some of you because you’re under the impression that I’m speaking metaphorically. I am not. I actually mean instead of searching everywhere and beyond in the well-intentioned treasure hunt to discover just exactly what it is that HOWARD expects of us, why don’t we just ask HOWARD? (“Our Father, who art in Heaven, HOWARD be your name…”).

"Ok, now the dude’s actually trying to talk directly to God. They’re all a bunch of loons…"

Haven’t you ever been hanging out with friends having a few drinks listening to each other’s stories and someone tells a story that begins with, “I cannot believe I forgot to tell you guys this…”? Sometimes during one of those stories the storyteller will hit on a subject that makes everyone in the room cringe or shout or laugh simultaneously to which the speaker says, “I know! Can you believe that she actually said that?!” With loud reckless tones of unmitigated shock you’ll hear a chorus of, “O, My God!—You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me!—Holy Shit!” Some of the more chaste of the group will simply clap their hands to their mouth and gasp.

Why do these people respond with the same level of incredulity at exactly the same moment in relation to the exact same point of the story? Easy answer: It’s because they all share a commonly held belief that whatever just happened in the story is either hilarious, shameful, or scandalous. There’s no debate about what the appropriate response is to the situation—it’s a shared belief that transcends the need for each person to go around the room explaining what it means to each of them. It’s just damn funny and that’s all there is to it.

Now I’m not about to be the one to try to coach anyone on what the voice of HOWARD sounds like, but I will tell you what it is to me. It’s very distinctive and I rarely miss what’s being said. [You want me to say something beatific like it’s similar to a rush of wind, don’t you?] Rush of wind is a rush of wind, OK. What I’m talking about is clearer than that and is easily distinguishable from anything else. It’s an electronic tuner.

When you tune a guitar using an electronic tuner you select the string you want to check (E,A,D,G,B,E) on the tuner and then you strum that string. If the string is out of tune the indicator will tell you whether to tighten the string or loosen it until you hit the correct pitch at which point an LED light shines to indicate that your string is now in tune. Repeat 5 more times.

What I’m looking for in Rob Bell’s and other’s books is NOT to find out whether their ideas, perceptions, or presuppositions line up with my preconceived notions. It’s to see if they light up the LED light in me that tells me they are speaking clear TRUTH. Now you should be asking, “how in the hell are you supposed to know when the light goes on unless you already know what the proper pitch is?” That’s the miracle. That’s what some call the Holy Spirit. That’s the reason I stand firmly on the foundational principle that HOWARD’S voice IS the electronic tuner. Get it? God in us. The Divine Whatever in us. The Great Universal Consciousness in us. Whatever you want to call it, it is TRUTH and it is hard to mistake for anything other than something outside of us and bigger than us that converses with us somewhere in our torso. Yes, I said torso because that’s where it hits me. You can have yours in your left calf muscle for all I care…

The kicker is that when you experience TRUTH—the kind that takes you by surprise and makes you instantly stand up and spontaneously shout, “Holy Snotlicker!” then you know you’ve seen the pitch indicator light. It’s certainly not a foolproof means of testing TRUTH, but there are going to be some of you that know what I’m talking about. I’ve met Atheists, Agnostics, Jews, Presbyterians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and even a few Baptists that know how to read the electronic tuner inside of them—although the Baptists carry theirs in their ass—I know, I’ve got baggage.

But before any of my Christian friends go running off into the night screaming “OMG, he’s a heretic,” let me ask one simple question: If only the Christians have an electronic tuner within them that lights up when they run up against TRUTH then how does anyone outside the “flock” ever come to meet Jesus? I mean, if the Evangelical Christian’s stance is that a Buddhist wouldn’t know TRUTH  if it slapped them on the back of the neck then how would a Buddhist ever recognize the TRUTH of Jesus when confronted with it? Let it gel awhile and get back to me on that one because these questions aren’t entirely fair because they are leading and overly simplifying something which is profoundly complex in its simplicity (it’s called a paradox, folks). But think on it some because there is some little nugget there in those two questions which lights up the pitch indicator LED.

If you’re carrying a preconceived pitch in your head and using it to tell you when others are in tune then you aren’t getting it. If you’re blindly walking about just listening for any tone that sounds pleasing then you aren’t getting it. If you are a seeker with a real hunger for the kind of music that warms you, inspires you, and drowns out the cacophony of miscellaneous noise surrounding you all day long then you, my friend, get it. The others have the electronic tuner in them but they either don’t know how to use it, refuse to use it, or have been convinced that they aren’t adequately trained to use their tuner on their own.

That’s why I’ve walked away from the religious practices of Christianity. I got sick and tired of having well-intentioned folks try to convince me that I was reading my tuner incorrectly--that my tuner was obviously malfunctioning—that if I’d just trust the pastor's tuner then we’d all be in tune with one another. Never again do I intend to be in tune with a group of people that are “singing” so off pitch. At times it was like being in a chorus line with 1500 tone deaf American Idol wannabes. A person can only sit and hold their fingers in their ears for so long before they develop a migraine. But that’s a whole other story…

My experience with Rob Bell’s other books leads me to believe that the LED indicator will be going off and on with regularity. I’m looking forward to gaining some new perspectives as I always do from the books that I read.We'll see...

“Hi, my name is Bonar and I’m a heretic.”

How not to Read the Bible

by Donald Miller

"I almost made a mistake the other day of opening the Bible with an agenda. I’d had an idea about a certain “Biblical principal” and I wanted to check a text to see if I was right. Then I realized that’s a slippery slope. There’s not a lot you can’t use the Bible to support. And besides that, if the Bible is designed to be a constitution, it’s horribly organized. I had to put myself in check.

This isn’t an easy thing to do. If you drop your preconceived grid when you go to the Bible, you may in fact find out that the grid you had been filtering the Bible through isn’t as concrete as you previously thought, and you may then have to admit that you were wrong. I wonder if our grids aren’t so solid for this reason, rather than as supposed guardrails to keep us from straying from the truth. What I mean is, a grid can help you understand the truth as much as it can cause you to reject the truth. When I hear a pastor or theologian speak in concrete terms about their grid, and especially when they defend that grid with emotion, I trust them less, not more. I trust them less because their paradigm is fixed, and they simply aren’t open to Biblical interpretations that contend with the ideas upon which they’ve stated and defend, ideas associated with their identities and even their financial security.

In my opinion, it is dangerous for seminaries to teach students a fixed grid that is not open to change or evolution. I trust an academic institution much less when they have only one interpretation of scripture rather than multiple interpretations that contend with one another. If the search is for truth, we can’t reject debate. This is not to say there is no truth, it’s only to say all of heaven hardly fits inside a mans head. And any man who says it does has made something small of heaven and something rather large of his head."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I love the Harp

You don't have to appreciate this one. This is just for me.

Conversions: Fundamentalist Christian to Non-Religious Spirituality

Jason Boyett

Today's conversion story is from Christy, who due to the nature of her experience and family situation (keep reading) has requested that I not use her last name.

Christy transitioned from a fundamentalist Christian childhood to a socially active, progressive evangelical faith during the college years...and then to a current category she describes as "spiritual but not religious." In an email, she told me that, in terms of personal theology, she now "could fall quite nicely into the Unitarian Universalist or unprogrammed Quakers camp."

The overview version is that I was raised Christian, of the right-wing fundamentalist variety, in the Bible Belt in a family that went to church three times a week. I became a highly committed, move to the inner city, save-the-world evangelical in college and throughout my twenties. I was an intern for an urban ministry in college, was a youth pastor intern for about three years in a predominantly Mexican immigrant community, worked in a variety of non-profits (faith-based and not), and went to grad school and studied community organizations and urban poverty.

~ ~ ~

My conversion was more like coming out of the closet than changing my mind. I didn't "lose my faith" or "fall away" or any of those other terms -- it was very slow and intentional and a lot of hard work. I know it will seem like I'm burying the lead here, but I was sexually abused for nine years as a child and adolescent by my father and a youth pastor, and beginning to deal with that was the cataIyst for a new kind of spiritual journey for me.

It wasn't the sexual abuse itself that made me convert. Actually, the self-hatred that resulted from it was what kept me in the fold for so long. I always felt like I was morally defective and God hated me, and I didn't have the right to explore other options.

The truth is, evangelical Christianity never worked for me. Even though I'm a lifer, it always felt like there was some secret handshake to get in the club that I didn't know about. I had an absolutely tortured relationship with church even when I worked at one. I could never find myself in the "Sinner meets Jesus, Hallelujah!" narrative. In Bible studies, I was always the freak who disagreed. I felt awkward praying aloud, and felt guilty that I could never seem to generate the warm and fuzzy love for Jesus that so many worship songs talked about. Mostly, it felt like that path was the only way to connect with God, and I had to keep trying, so my primary spiritual experience was one of feeling alienated from God. (This is why I was always good with the angry kids in youth ministry.)

Where would Jesus jam? 1800s church hosts SXSW concerts

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Central Presbyterian Church only has two rules for rockers who play its sanctuary as part of South by Southwest: Don’t drink; and don’t shatter the stained glass.

Other than that, pretty much anything goes.

“No one’s bitten the head off a bat so far,” said co-pastor Joseph Moore - testament to the fact that the minimal rules have worked out fine so far.

This is the sixth year the Central Presbyterian Church has been an official concert venue for this wild music festival in Austin, Texas, and it’s become one of the hippest places to watch a live music here. The reasons are kind of obvious when you think about it: After a week of wandering streets awash with trash water and wobble-walking drunks, the church lets concert goes sit down and actually listen to music for music’s sake. Few talk through performances in the sanctuary, and the vaulted ceilings and limestone walls create an amazingly clear, full sound.

It’s “one of the most pleasant places you'll ever see a show,” wrote Paste Magazine.

Plus there’s this whole heaven-hell dichotomy thing going on. Rock and roll has the reputation for being the devil’s music. Church is Jesus’ hangout, obviously, and that’s impossible to forget at Central Presbyterian, which has a car-sized cross on the wall behind the stage. This gives shows at the church a music-video kind of effect. Think how many times Madonna and other supposedly sinful pop stars recorded videos and songs in houses of worship.

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Moore, the church’s hip 33-year-old preacher, who was wearing a Superman T-shirt and Nike sneakers when we met, sees much in common between church and music, no matter the genre.

“Music at its best … points us to something beyond ourselves,” he said. “At it’s best, churches and religion in general point us to higher things.”

The Perils of Well-Meaning But Short-Sighted Generosity

by Tony Campolo

It took a long time and a lot of safeguards to make sure that the dollars that I get people to give to support missionary projects do the good they are intended to do. We hate to impose the vigorous controls that we normally require when we dish out money. There’s the matter of guilt. Comparatively, we Americans have so much while these needy people have so little. Too quickly we ask, “What can I do to help?” And far too often, the answer leads to money being given without the proper precautions.

What makes me most sad is that I am convinced that I helped corrupt some good church leaders in Haiti. I know of two men who were doing good things for their people until I got involved and started to provide funding for the care of some orphans who lived in their town. These men were poor and they had poor relatives. The money ended up being used to hire relatives for non-existent jobs or jobs that were almost non-existent. For instance, one cousin was paid a standard Haitian salary to spend a half-hour collecting the mail from the post office each day. I know of another man who was paid a full salary to wash the pastor’s car whenever a washing might be needed. These pastors were poor men from poor families; and when I gave them money, they felt that their first obligation was to take care of their blood relatives.

My name's Bonar and I'm a heretic...

by Bonar Crump
In response to a blog posting by Jeremy Myers titled "The Heresy of Christianity". It was way over my head.

Sweet. I was out for a run today thinking about the term “heretic” and it occurred to me that I obviously don’t share the same definition with those that throw it around with a scornful tone of judgment. Jesus was considered a heretic by the Jews…God’s people. Anyway, I’m running and I get the idea to do some shirts that say, “I’m proud to be YOUR heretic”. Then the urge passed, but now your writing about it and it makes me want to do it again. We’ll see…

People that are in a relationship/partnership (new or long term) with Jesus will always be drawn together for the right reasons. Whether we agree with the reasons or their mission statements or their dogma is quite irrelevant. There is, after all, much work to be done. Much service that needs to take place. Many needs that must be addressed.

God is sovereign. To suggest that God could not potentially change the rules midstream is to infer that even the Almighty has limitations and restrictions the must be obeyed. One on one relationship drawing us into a worldview anchored by love, compassion, tolerance, and humility. What happens in the afterlife is complete speculation and who cares. Maybe you rot in the ground and become wormfood…what’s the difference. The point is that our individual faith is akin to a house. Some walls are load bearing walls. If they are removed the structure collapses. I happen to think that a great deal of what we think are our load bearing walls are nothing more than room dividers that structurally aren’t significant in the least. I’ve got one…if you’re a prick don’t try telling me you’re serving the same Jesus that I am because I will probably lay hands on you in a manner that will not bring healing.

I hope I get to meet Gandhi in the afterlife along with Nietzsche, Plato, Henry VIII, and Cher. Let’s be very very careful about what we decide to label as our load bearing walls. Let’s be very very careful what we decide to draw lines in the sand about. Let’s be very very careful to listen to the hearts of others and value their perspectives even if we know they are a half bubble off. Let’s err on the side of tolerance and come up with some better shirt logos.

“Hi, my name’s Bonar and I’m a heretic.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Where is the love in condemning people to hell?

Welton Gaddy

Pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, LA, Gaddy has written more than 20 books and hosts the weekly radio show, State of Belief.  ALL POSTS

Personally, I am not as intrigued by the question of why what we think about the afterlife matters as I am by why Pastor Bell’s theology about the afterlife has incited such strong negative reactions. Indeed, the question that I find most compelling in this situation is, “Why do people who claim to embody the love of God become so disturbed by the idea that God might be even better than they imagine in character and exhibit a depth and breadth of love that they cannot fathom?” I am baffled by people who find more satisfaction in assurance that there is a hell and that a lot of people are going there than they do joy in thinking about the possibility of everybody being accepted by God. What kind of compassion finds pleasure in a guarantee that some people are going to suffer?

Is Anne Frank in hell?

David Wolpe

Named the No.1 Pulpit Rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine, Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and currently teaches at UCLA.  ALL POSTS
 ... It means Anne Frank goes to hell. It means Elie Wiesel will go to hell. It means Maimonides and Rabbi Akiba and my father are all in hell. With as much respect as I can muster, I reject this as a perverse doctrine, one that is an affront to what I understand to be moral and true.
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The apparent cruelty of such a doctrine notwithstanding, the implications for treatment of others matters even more. Judaism reiterates that “the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.” As a result, one need not be Jewish to be saved, whatever salvation may mean...

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I treasure - no exaggeration or irony - the goodness and sweetness of many of my Christian brothers and sisters. I don’t think they mean the meanness of this view. But for me Reverend Bell is pointing a way to a Christianity that is marked by moral sanity. Wherever Anne Frank is, that is where I would want to end up. Hers is the company to keep. I cannot imagine a faith that would not wish, somewhere deep in its soul, to proclaim the same.

Rob Bell punches back against claims of heresy

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

New York (CNN) – For two weeks while controversy swirled around him, Pastor Rob Bell stayed silent. His critics said he was playing fast and loose with heaven and hell, salvation and damnation. The eternity of souls was on the line, they said.

All this was over Bell’s new book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Critics tore into it before the book even hit store shelves on Tuesday, some going so far as to label Bell a heretic. The controversy pushed the book into the third spot on Amazon’s sales ranking, virtually assuring the book a place on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

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“What’s interesting to me is what’s true. And what’s interesting to me is what’s inspiring. And what’s interesting to me is where’s the life? Where’s the inspiration? That’s what I’m interested in. If that happens to stir things up, that was never my intent, but I’ll accept that.”

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Bell insists there is room for mystery in salvation and that Christianity is open to discussion.

“The historical orthodox Christian faith is extremely wide and diverse,” Bell said. “No one has the last word other than God. I am taking part in a discussion that’s been going on for thousands of years. Everyone can play a part in that discussion.”

One Woman’s Love Without Agenda

Lisa O'Brien-Wentzel
Love Without Agenda

She is up at 5 am every morning. First, to take care of a few pets, her paying job. Then, to take care of her family. Finally, to take care of people around her in need of a little help.

She wants no pay, no prize, no pictures, no converts, no business connections.

 ~ ~ ~

Using her husbands pick up truck, off we go to Trader Joes. Outside, 20 heavy garbage bags await. They are filled with unsaleable food, still healthy but not fully fresh. Huge bags of over ripe bananas, too much weight for the bag to carry, almost too much weight for our arms to pick up. Sometimes, we knock over the grocery cart to get the bag out and help each other lift the bag. Sometimes there are eggs in the bag, we keep an eye as so to remove them. Large bags of bread, apples, veggies and sometimes cheese with a tad of mold. Pies and cakes and treats will be enjoyed. We empty the grocery carts into the pickup truck, grateful for everything. Grateful to for our bicep workout. Grateful to make it easy for stores to donate. No complaining ever from us, everyone pitching in to help is what this is about. Working in the cold is better for the food than the heat of the summer.

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I loved time working with this “secret angel” and social innovator. In every section of society there are the most needy, the seniors in homes, the struggling single moms and their kids, those out of work or unable, most of them in need of a little help and a little hope. Liz makes sure that they all get a bit of both.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I love me some Foo...

When it comes to using his band's songs on 'Glee,' the Foos frontman sides with Kings of Leon and Slash in the licensing battle.

Don’t count on hearing the Foo Fighters hit “Times Like These” on Glee anytime soon. Frontman Dave Grohl says he and his bandmates are squarely in the corner of Kings of Leon and Slash. As in, they want no part of the Ryan Murphy-helmed show.
“It’s every band’s right, you shouldn’t have to do f---ing Glee,” Grohl told THR following the premiere of Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, the new Foo Fighters documentary which just made its South By Southwest debut. “And then the guy who created Glee is so offended that we’re not, like, begging to be on his f---ing show… f--- that guy for thinking anybody and everybody should want to do Glee.”
You might be wondering, has Grohl ever actually watched the show? As it turns out, yes, he gave Glee a whirl. “I watched 10 minutes. It’s not my thing,” Grohl grizzled. But he doesn’t have as much of a problem with the series as he does with its creator. 
Recounting anti-Glee comments made by Slash earlier this year and subsequent retorts by Murphy, reported by THR, Grohl explained to drummer Taylor Hawkins: “The Glee guy, what a f---ing jerk. Slash was the first one. He wanted to do Guns ‘n’ Roses and Slash is like, ‘I hate f---ing musicals. It’s worse than Grease.’ Then [Murphy's] like, ‘Well, of course he’d say that, he’s a washed up ol’ rock star, that’s what they f---ing do.’ And then Kings of Leon say, ‘No, we don’t want to be on your show.’ And then he’s like, ‘Snotty little assholes…’ And it’s just like, Dude, maybe not everyone loves Glee. Me included.”
Said Hawkins: “Yeah, f--- that shit.”

Redemptive Poetry on a Night of Violence

by Bart Campolo 
Red Letter Christians 

It is Sunday night, and I am suddenly awake at the crack of too-close gunfire. I creep to the window without turning on the light, more curious than afraid until I remember I don’t know if my daughter Miranda and her friends are home from their movie. Looking out, I see three men spread out in the backyard we share with Ric and Karen, one moving slowly past the patio furniture where we had Sabina’s 7th birthday party that afternoon, the other two crouched by the trampoline my son Roman and his football buddies slept out on last week. Strangers in our space, clearly visible in the moonlight, probably carrying guns.

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Those lousy ghetto bastards — my exact words at 2 a.m. — brought their ignorant violence into our yard on purpose. They weren’t running away from anything. They had a plan. They brought an audience. I don’t know their names, of course, but I know them just the same, because once they get that careless, they are all the same. Before I can stop myself, I hope aloud that they drive themselves off a bridge before they make any more babies. Across the room, Marty wonders aloud what happened to the kind and hopeful man who brought her to this place four years ago, in the name of Love. Finally, we turn on the light and call Miranda. Until she gets home, there is no use trying to sleep.

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And suddenly, just as suddenly as those gunshots awakened me, I too don’t want to end up simply having visited this world, or even this neighborhood. I don’t want to end up angry or bitter. No, I want to believe in my heart that each life, and each name, and each body is indeed something precious, both to God and to me. I want to remarry amazement.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jesus Contends with Religion

by Donald Miller

Jesus pulls no punches in calling the Jews on their own self deception. They are a people steeped in religious tradition. They go to temple. They observe the sacred holidays. They perform rituals. It would be very difficult to then transfer a sense of security based in sacrifice and action to a security based in faith, even if the man making the request was performing miracles.

As Christians, we are, of course, not Jews, we do not slaughter animals or perform rituals. Our faith, supposedly, is in Christ. And yet we have developed our own sense of security outside of Christ that we call church or christianity or Bible study or discipleship. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, but it’s hardly the source of our security. Our security is in Christ and Christ alone.

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The great crisis of the church goer is that his action does not save him. He must base his faith on someone outside his control. He cannot make Christ redeem him, or manipulate Christ into redeeming him. He cannot trick Christ or impress Christ into giving him what he wants. He can only trust Christ. And this is a frightening reality.

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So let me ask you this. If you stopped going to church for years, and never picked up your Bible again, would you still believe your eternal security rested in the good and gracious heart of Christ, despite your lack of ritual? If not, then part of your security is based in religion, and it’s a false security.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How Japan's religions confront tragedy

By Dan Gilgoff, Religion Editor

Proud of their secular society, most Japanese aren't religious in the way Americans are: They tend not to identify with a single tradition nor study religious texts.

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“Japanese are not religious in the way that people in North America are religious,” says John Nelson, chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco. “They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations.”

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Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster - the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example - Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy.

“It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that,” says University College Cork’s Bocking. “They’ll say we have to develop a powerful, even joyful attitude in the face of adversity.”

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Many young Japanese have left Buddhism, accusing priests of profiting from grief because of their paid roles in burials. Critics say the priests spend money from funerals on temples without playing a broader role in society.

“The earthquake is an opportunity for Buddhist priests to step up and show they are still relevant,” says Nelson. “Young people just aren’t buying it anymore.”

Carey Fuller Chronicles Her Experiences As A Homeless Parent In 'Writings From The Driver's Side'

The Huffington Post   
Gabrielle Canon

In 2004, as her two children slept in the 1981 Minnie Winnebago they would now have to call home, Carey Fuller sat down to write her first poem.

This March, over seven years later, she self-published her work in a collection called "Writings from the Driver's Side," revealing the experiences she endured and continues to experience as a homeless mother.

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In 2010, Fuller decided to speak out about her situation. Though she remained anonymous, she wrote a letter to author, Josie Raymond, called "What It is Like to be a Homeless Mother." For the first time she was able to voice the frustrations she felt toward a system that was not there for her when she needed it. She was able to break down stereotypes of the homeless and paint the picture of a reality that many homeless families face each day. "People don't know the truth about homelessness. Most homeless people lost their job, then their home. They have kids."

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"It starts at home," she advises, "so take care of your relatives. Take care of your communities. Support your community first, donate to the food bank or to the homeless shelter ... If a collective gets together they can make change. That is what this is all about."

Follow Fuller's blog about her struggles with homelessness at Carey Fuller's "Writings From the Driver's Side" is available for kindle on

Japan's emperor addresses nation in crisis

By the CNN Wire Staff

Tokyo (CNN) -- Japan's emperor addressed the nation Wednesday -- a rare event that only occurs in times of war or national crisis.

Emperor Akihito's speech underlined Prime Minister Naoto Kan's earlier assertion that the country was going through its worst crisis since World War II. And it came on the same day that white smoke and a new blaze at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi's nuclear plant added to radiation concerns in a country grappling with a nuclear crisis.

Japan - Giving

Disaster Relief - What to Do?
by Brooke Carter

"Are you guys as overwhelmed as I am by everything that has happened/is happening in Japan? I have been especially challenged by trying to find a way to talk to the kids about it in a way that gives them a sense of what is going on without scaring them silly. We talked again this afternoon and we have decided that we will forgo our blanket-making and -giving plans and send our giving bank money to an agency that is providing relief in Japan. I read an article last night that lists several legitimate organizations that are accepting donations to provide aid to Japan. I think I will give the kids the choice between The American Red Cross and Save the Children. I'll let you know what they decide. After today's discussion, my 11-year-old put a $20 bill that she found at the park into the giving bank. When I told her that was a very generous thing to do, she replied, "I think they need it more than I do."

And, of course, they do need it more than she does. We all become much more aware of needs around the world during disasters, but the truth is that every single day there are people whose basic needs go unmet. This is where I start to have a very difficult time being reasonable. How can I justify my little daily expenditures that are really so petty and unnecessary when other people are starving? The Hubs tells me to get a hold of myself, that I can't save the whole world. And he's right, I know he is. I mean, I kind of know. But shouldn't we ALL be trying a little bit harder? Maybe I should take a lesson from my 11-year-old. I mean, which need is greater: a hungry child's need for a meal, or my need for a 1/2 cup batter scoop so my cupcakes can be more uniform in size and I can feel fancy when I'm baking? Well, if you looked in my utensil drawer right now, you would see that just about a week ago I decided that my need to feel fancy was a greater need. The Hubs tells me that it's okay to do things like that, that it's okay to do things for ourselves. Part of me knows that it's okay, as long as we also give. But another part of me knows that we could always do more.

How do you guys walk that line in your life and with your family? Do you struggle to find balance in giving?"
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<My Take>

Matt 12:44 talks about watching a widow give such a small amount in comparison to others, but she gave out of her need instead of out of her excess. Cool story and you would assume that her gift was more important than the others. I'm not so sure. I think that the gift she gave proved to be more important to HER than the other gifts were important to their perspective givers. If that's true then it makes me wonder if our giving isn't more important to us *as the giver* then it is to the cause we're giving to. That's my take, anyways.

What it puts me in the mind of is that when we give out of grace, compassion, and a loving mindset it is more beneficial to us *as the giver* than if we give out of guilt or from a sense of responsibility. After all, any non-profit you might donate to in this situation uses approximately 50-60% of revenues to cover overhead costs and such.

At the Crump casa we've developed a set strategy for giving to local causes alone. I just can't see past the homeless guy that lives in a tent on Riverside that I run past all the time in order to throw money at Japan. I'm overwhelmed by the human suffering in Japan, but I'm holding fast to our local strategy because I have to take care of my neighbors closest first before I'm able to offer a leg up to those halfway around the world.

Read the article posting on my site today about the single homeless mom that recently wrote a book of poetry. Her plea at the end is to give to your local communities and local causes before sending your dollars to overseas causes. I'm thinking she's right.

Don't get me wrong. You know good and well I'm cheering for the Japanese people like they were the Cowboys winning a superbowl. But they're not getting my money or my time. The local needs of my community will be benefiting from the Crump household. I'm globally minded, but locally consistent. My heart continues to ache for the Haitians as well as the Japanese, but I've got meals to serve at John 3:16 Mission and they're gonna be pissed if I don't show up because I'm watching news footage of Japan.

...or maybe I'm making all this up and I don't give a rat...

Go save the world, Brooke. Just do it in tight little nested circles which gradually move outward from your home. You won't get very far, but you'll make the largest overall impact to the world as a whole. Teaching those kiddos the meaning of giving is far more important to the well-being of the world we share than any amount of money you collect in the jar. They'll continue to give for the rest of their lives because of you. They might even learn a thing or two from Jeff, but I doubt it.

Sidenote: Brooke and Jeff Carter are the mid-30's adopted parents of 5 children that all come from different backgrounds. The Carters are saving the world everyday in ways that most of us will never fully understand or appreciate.  People like this always want to give more, but they're trying too hard sometimes because they're having to make up for the rest of us. Let's get off our asses and help the Carters save the world. They could use the assist.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011