Tuesday, December 5, 2017

5 Of The Most Problematic Christmas Carols - Bob Hiller

All I want for Christmas is you … to think critically about the songs you sing in church, even during Advent and Christmas.

This is the time of year where some of our weakest, most heterodox, and downright strange church songs get lots of attention. It is rather frustrating that these songs tend to be quite popular!

It's likely these songs will be sung in your church this season, despite the fact that they contain some significant flaws. Sentimentality and nostalgia are powerful emotions.

But why are sentimentality and nostalgia an issue?

Because a vital component of the story of Jesus' birth is that it wasn't all warm and fuzzy. It took place in the midst of real life pain, blood, poverty, imperial oppression, and discomfort. Jesus was fully human. Attempting to sanitize that or crafting cloying fictional stories about it can obscure this crucial understanding.

All I want for Christmas is you…to think critically about the songs you sing in church, even during Advent and Christmas.

5. Do You Hear What I Hear? Here’s a song that is just trying too hard to be profound. Instead of propounding some penetrating spiritual insight, it merely recounts a game of telephone taking place on the night Jesus was born.

4. Away In A Manger. This song exemplifies one perpetual problem we find plaguing Christmas hymns: sentimental Gnosticism. There is something inside of us that doesn’t want to think of our Lord as being fully human. We want to clean him up. We think it impious and crass to speak of the holy infant as a baby who fills his holy diaper and keeps his parents up at night crying for milk.

3. We Three Kings of Orient Are. Liturgically, this song doesn’t belong to Christmas either. The magi are men of Epiphany. In light of this, I am recommending that my church do an Epiphany Living Nativity. Only, in this one, instead of everyone standing around, reverently gazing at the baby Jesus doll, we’ll have six or seven overly costumed magicians chasing my two year old around our parking lot while Mary cooks dinner and Joseph has bad dreams.

2. Little Drummer Boy. The story isn’t true, it's fiction. It also puts forth some works righteousness (do your best and then the baby Jesus will smile at you). But most crucially, it doesn't seem plausible that an exhausted, sore, and still pain-addled mother would let a drummer bang a snare drum for her newborn baby.

1. Silent Night. The main idea of this hymn is not…well…true. The night when Jesus was born was not a silent or quiet one. Mary gave birth to a baby next to a feeding trough. Far from the Gnostic, sentimentalized picture of Jesus with glorious beams of light shooting from his face, our Lord was born into a loud, sinful, messy world in a loud, painful, bloody way.

Mary, The Magnificat, and an Unsentimental Advent - Rachel Held Evans

The incarnation isn’t about desperately grasping at the threads of power and privilege. It’s not about making some civic holiday "bigger and better." It’s about surrendering power, setting aside privilege, and finding God in the smallness and vulnerability of a baby in a womb.

We like to paint Mary in the softer hues—her robes clean, hair combed and covered, body poised in prayerful surrender—but this young woman was a fierce one, full of strength and fury. When she accepts the dangerous charge before her, (every birth was risky in those days, this one especially so), rather than reciting a maternal blessing, Mary offers a prophecy, called the Magnificat.

With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve "greatness."

This is the stunning claim of the incarnation: God has made a home among the very people the world casts aside. And in her defiant prayer, Mary— an unwed, un-believed teenage girl in an occupied land—names this reality.

The incarnation isn’t about desperately grasping at the threads of power and privilege. It’s not about making some civic holiday "bigger and better." It’s about surrendering power, setting aside privilege, and finding God in the smallness and vulnerability of a baby in a womb.

The full article is available here

Advent: Labor Pains In The Birth Of A New World - Shane Claiborne



Compassion For The Poor - Father Greg Boyle


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Update From CRC Team at COP23 Climate Change Negotiations - Stephan Lutz

“Sustainability” might be a modern term, but it’s an ancient value.

Elders have long taught youth not to take more than is needed, to live in harmony with one’s surroundings, to protect the soil from wind and water erosion, and to protect creatures so they can continue to reproduce. Before the advent of sustainability coordinators, math, and science, citizens of our world were already implementing widely effective methods to use resources without depleting those resources or causing permanent damage.

I am currently representing World Renew and the Climate Witness Project at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. It is exciting to be here. Being with thousands of people from all over the world, coming together from all walks of life to stand in solidarity about an issue that is affecting the entire world, is an awesome thing. You realize that you, as an individual, are one of many with the same passion, and that each of us are one small but crucial piece of the puzzle.

Each of us has our own unique contribution to make to the bigger picture of defending vulnerable people and preserving God’s good world. It’s a very humbling experience!

The full article is available here

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Gospel Is Good News Or It Is Nothing At All - Jacob Wright

Jesus’ gospel affirms the original goodness of humanity created in the image of God. Any “gospel” that emphasizes continually repenting of "wretchedness" and begging God for mercy is no gospel at all. 

Any “gospel” that emphasizes shame and sin-consciousness instead of a new creation and restoration is no gospel at all.

Any “gospel” that emphasizes continually repenting of "wretchedness" and begging God for mercy is no gospel at all.

Any “gospel” that oppresses people with the need to be in fear and anguish over people for the eternal destiny of their souls is no gospel at all.

Any “gospel” that says your true nature is a wretch that must only approach God with groveling and self-deprecation is not the gospel that Jesus preached.

Any “gospel” that causes one to be weighed down with spiritual gloom on top of the already weighty concerns of life that we have to deal with every day is not the gospel Jesus preached.

Jesus’ gospel lifts the weight, not adds to it. Jesus’gospel affirms the original goodness of humanity created in the image of God. It declares the bright shining hope that Jesus is universal Lord, the One whose empathy and forgiveness and love is for all humanity; not that a devil will drag the vast majority of humans who’ve ever existed down to eternal torment and that it’s up to Christians to make sure people are “saved.”

I reject a “gospel” that adds loads of spiritual heaviness to the weight of sadness and darkness that we all will deal with as humans. Yes, Jesus' gospel does call us (corporately, not individually) out of selfish and unloving behaviors and it does excoriate the systems that dehumanize us and lead us to victimize each other.

However, the gospel is light and hope and peace and joy for all! It is good news or it is nothing at all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Erroneous Idea of Eternal Hell Obscures Good News Of Gospel - Jacob Wright

The good news is that God has come to restore this shattered world, NOT that if we happen to come across the right beliefs then God might not torture us for eternity. 

The idea that you have to tell people the scariest most horrifying thing ever ("eternal Hell") in order to present the "good news" of a formula to be saved from it is the absurdity of all absurdities.

I've had people tell me "That's what makes the good news so good! You can't have good news without the bad news!" It’s as if these people have forgotten that the world is full of suffering, disease, fear, violence, war, heartbreak, injustice, poverty, and finally death. The state of this world is the bad news, and everyone lives it.

The good news is not that if we happen to get the right beliefs then God might not torture us forever after this short life in which we all experience suffering. The good news is that God has come to this world to make things right!

The idea that the good news actually means “avoiding some eternal afterlife horror” is nothing more than using the fear of death to propagate worse news than we ever imagined, that the world is worse than we thought!

Eternal torment infinitely eclipses any sort of good news. Eternal torment is a dark shadow overcasting the contemporary understanding and articulation of gospel, and it needs to be removed.

The truth is, the good news is that God has come to restore this shattered world and mercifully bring it to justice, eradicate suffering, and vindicate human meaning within the cosmos. It's as simple as that. The kingdom come. It's what the prophets have declared from the beginning of the world.

Pope Francis: Solving The Problem of Hunger


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Fear-Inducing, Damaging World Of The Fundamentalism I Knew - Unfundamentalist

The larger U.S. Fundamentalist Christian culture I grew up in showed nothing of an unconditionally loving God – the God that, since I have left that awful world, I have come to know and love.

Sometimes people ask me why I became an Unfundamentalist. Well, the main reason is that I know what real fundamentalism is like; because I was raised within it's bubble.

It's important to note that my parents and some of the church leaders of my youth were reliably good spiritual guides.

But the larger U.S. Fundamentalist Christian culture my non-denominational church was part of - as well as the denomination it eventually joined - was toxic, injurious, and theologically bankrupt.

This fundamentalist culture of book stores, music, magazines, movies, youth revival conferences, "family-focus" organizations, and televangelists falsely indoctrinated us to believe that we were completely worthless in the eyes of God.  We were taught that we were dirt: undeserving, untrustworthy, deserving only of punishment.

Naturally, this is how we came to view everyone else too. Logically, this leads to the hubris and judgmentalism so common to fundamentalism.

(Sadly, this completely theologically-backward understanding is what is still articulated by much of the Praise and Worship Industry).

We were taught that Satan would take every opportunity to creep in and trick us away from “the narrow path.” Questions, doubt, and sin were of the Devil, evidence of weak faith, or of no faith at all. Looking back now, it's patently obvious that this absolutism was complete bullshit, plainly contradicted by scripture. But back then, it was leveled against us as an absolute truth.

This is the patriarchal, ego-fortifying, psyche-destroying, soul-crushing, domineering, brain-washing, fear-inducing, manipulative, spiritually-abusive world of the fundamentalism I know so well.

It showed nothing of an unconditionally loving God – the God that, since I have left that awful world, I have come to know and love.

The full article is available here

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Holiness" = Be Christlike - Jacob M Wright

Jesus said that when we love our enemies, overcome evil with good, and are kind to all, then we will be perfect as our Father is perfect. That is holiness.

When we're studying scripture and we read that God says "Be holy as I am holy," it means that God wants us to be like Jesus. This is because Jesus is the best revelation of what God is like.

When we say that "God is holy" we cannot mean that God is something other than like Jesus. We cannot mean God is cruel, vindictive, and unChristlike. That is how all other humans are, not Jesus.

We cannot mean that God can't look upon sin or won't allow sin or sinners in his presence. That is how the Pharisees were, not Jesus.

When God tells us to "Be holy,” it means that God is calling us to be like Jesus. Jesus said that when we love our enemies, overcome evil with good, and are kind to all, then we will be perfect as our Father is perfect. That is holiness.


"You cannot describe God as cruel, capricious, vindictive, and then justify it by saying, 'God is holy.' No. God's holiness looks like Jesus."
- Brian Zahnd

"The holiness of God is expressed as empathetic self-giving."
- Archbishop Lazar

"Holiness is love of God and of others carried to a sublime extravagance."
- Jean Baptiste H. Lacordaire

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Mistranslation Of "Hell" In The Bible - Jacob Wright

The concept of "hell" or eternal torment in the afterlife is based on mistranslations and not based on Biblical teaching.

The word "Hell" that we have in the Bible is a mistranslation of the word "Gehenna." The word "Gehenna" appears just a few times is in the Old Testament. The concept of "hell", or eternal torment in the afterlife is literally and exactly nowhere in the Old Testament.

Gehenna is a literal place, right outside of Jerusalem, where Israel practiced gross idolatry and later became called "the Valley of Slaughter" because of its reputation of idolatry and loathsomeness. Dead bodies were thrown in Gehenna and they were eaten by worms and turned to ashes by fire.

So What Did Jesus Mean We Spoke About "Gehenna?"

The understanding of historical and geographical details provides the context of Jesus usage of "Gehenna." Jesus quotes Isaiah when talking about Gehenna when he says "where the worm doesn't die and the fire is not quenched".

He's referring back to the valley of Gehenna, directly quoting Isaiah 66:24, which says "...the dead bodies, the worms that eat them up will not die and the fire that consumes them will not be quenched."

This literally happened. Dead bodies were eaten up by unquenchable fire and worms fed on the dead bodies until they were consumed to nothing.

If you were to visit that Valley of Slaughter today,  you wouldn't see the fire still burning nor will you see immortal worms feeding on miraculously preserved dead bodies. The bodies are gone, the worms are gone, the fire is gone. The point Isaiah and Jesus were making is that the fire would not be deterred in burning up the dead bodies to nothing, the worms would not be deterred in eating up the dead bodies to nothing. And keep in mind these are mortal dead bodies in this life, not immortal conscious souls in the afterlife.

To read eternal torment into that is misguided.

"Eternal" Is Also A Mistranslation
Even "eternal fire" or "eternal punishment" is a mistranslation, as "eternal" is a mistranslation of the Greek word "aionios", which does not mean "never-ending" or anything of the sort. It means "of the age to come", or to Plato - who may have invented the word - it means something which has its source in God and the unseen realm. It has nothing to do with ongoing, never-ending time.

There is literally no verse in scripture that can prop up the pagan, non-Jewish concept of eternal torment.

Early Church Fathers Didn't Teach Eternal TormentThis is not some new, "politically correct" idea that people are making up. There is a long list of early fathers who rejected eternal torment because they understood these correct meanings of words, they didn't believe in the immortality of the soul (a pagan Greek belief), and they recognized that the scriptures either taught conditional immortality and/or final universal reconciliation.

Eternal torment was the minority belief in the early church, and among those who were less familiar with the original meanings of the text. It did not become the prominent belief until after 500 AD, with the help of the violent organized institutional church established under Constantine.

Hell is not a good translation of “Gehenna” and it never will be. Gehenna was a real place with a real history in the Jewish mind, and it must be read in that context. Once it is read in that context, the idea of eternal torment falls to pieces, as it should.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Responsive Call To Worship: We Can Re-center Ourselves With God's Presence

Reader: God, you call us to live in ways that honor you and bless our neighbors.
All: We know that we best reflect your endless goodness when we live by your values of love, justice and peace.

Reader: But life is often less than peaceful. When it isn’t, we all-too-easily revert back to life being all about us, instead of being all about sharing your light and life.
All: So even though life is often difficult and we don’t always reflect your goodness like we should ...

Reader: ... we come once again seeking to recharge in your life-giving presence.
All: As we re-center ourselves around your perfect love ...

Reader: ... may you shape and reshape our hearts to be more like yours.
All: May what we say, sing, and hear this morning open our spirits to connect with you, God.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Prayer Of Confession based on Philippians 3:4-10


Loving God,

You have called us to "take up our crosses and follow."  In the agony of crucifixion, we see the lengths you were willing to go to.

Sometimes we pay lip service to "taking up our crosses" and we believe it in theory ... but when we realize that this means suffering sacrificially for the sake of others, that it means seeking downward mobility, that it means subverting our ego's desire to dominate and control with strength, power and force; we find ourselves hesitant to "take up our crosses" in practice.

And sometimes in our efforts to follow, we get sidetracked into legalism and religious chauvinism, seeking our identity in contrast to those that our hierarchies exclude ... all in the name of Jesus - who welcomed anyone and everyone with radical inclusivism.

We often get it wrong. But the good news is that you are a God of infinite love; whose mercy never runs out and whose grace is bottomless.

We don't need to prove that we deserve that love by competing with others. We don't to need to try to distinguish ourselves from others by striving for religious achievements. You created everything and called it "good," and so you see us all as precious and valuable just by virtue of existing!

It's out of our gratitude for that radical grace that we are meant to love and serve. Forgive us for when we get this backwards. Thank you for the grace of giving us chance after chance after chance to live this out.

Amen

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jesus Message Of Loving Enemy, Nonviolence Eludes Western Church - Father Richard Rohr


Interfaith Coalition: No Principled Basis For Trump's Travel Ban - Religion News

A coalition of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Jews say Trump's travel ban is “anathema” to their shared belief in religious tolerance.

They say the order “selectively targeted” six Muslim-majority nations cited in State Department reports on terrorism but excluded at least two Christian-majority nations — Venezuela and the Philippines — that meet the same criteria applied to the Muslim countries.

While not contending that those two countries should be included in the ban, the coalition argues that the order violates the Constitution’s establishment clause, which calls for the government to not favor one religion over another.

The full article is available here

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Prayer For The Anniversary Of 09/11 - Sojourner's

"May we never forget
that on that day
those who jumped in to help others
did not focus on nationality,
wealth, education, sexuality.
They focused on need."

The full article is available here

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fear and the Nashville Statement - Christian Reformed Church Network

We need to be welcoming and affirm God’s love for those who have been marginalized rather than capitulating to fear.

The recent "Nashville Statement" by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood purports to provide clarity about the inclusion of LGBT Christians in the church.

The authors claim to speak with grace and love, but their words ring hollow as they promote conversion therapy, complimentarianism, and patriarchy.

Going further, they even state that Christians who do not agree with their position are not true Christians.

That kind of statement seems to stem from a position of fear. It is profoundly damaging to our Christian witness, and theologically wrong in it's elevation of human sexuality to an issue of salvation.

We need to be welcoming and affirm God’s love for those who have been marginalized rather than capitulating to fear.

The full article is available here

Friday, September 1, 2017

God Didn't Command Genocide In Old Testament - Brian Zahnd in Religion News

The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is.

Even a casual reader of the Bible notices that between the alleged divine endorsement of genocide in the conquest of Canaan and Jesus’s call for love of enemies in his Sermon on the Mount, something has clearly changed.

What has changed is not God but the degree to which humanity has attained an understanding of the true nature of God.

The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. What the Bible does is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.

The Old Testament tells the story of Israel coming to know the living God, but the story doesn’t stop until we arrive at Jesus!

It isn’t Joshua the son of Nun who gives us the full revelation of God but Yeshua of Nazareth.

It’s not the warrior-poet David who gives us the full revelation of God but the greater Son of David, Jesus Christ. We understand Joshua and David as men of their time, but we understand Jesus Christ as “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

Once we realize that Jesus is the perfect icon of the living God, we are forever prohibited from using the Old Testament to justify the use of violence. Using Scripture as a divine license for the implementation of violence is a dangerous practice that must be abandoned by we who walk in the light of Christ.

The full article is available here

Monday, August 28, 2017

Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" & Unbiblical Christian Culture - Jacob Wright

Whole swaths of western Christian world passionately believe and espouse a strange doctrine that can be found nowhere in scripture and was completely foreign to church theology until the 1800's.

Remember the song "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" written by Larry Norman in the 60's and covered by DC Talk in the 90's? It's about Christians worldwide suddenly disappearing in The Rapture.

I remember sleepless, anxious nights as a child sitting alone on the staircase of the house where I grew up.  I wondered if I should go wake my parents to comfort me, terrified that Jesus would return and take my family away leaving me behind because I was not right with him due to some unconfessed sin or something.

I still can't believe that whole swaths of western Christian world passionately believe and espouse a strange doctrine that can be found nowhere in scripture and was completely foreign to church theology until the 1800's.

Thankfully, I think due to the availability of information on the Internet, good Bible exegetes like NT Wright, and a thousand failed false prophecies of when the rapture would happen, and maybe some really bad rapture movies, the rapture is being left behind by a lot of the western church.

But this is also a lesson concerning popular theology. Look how The Rapture became a self-evident "Biblical truth" within a century.

What else might we have wrong?

What else are we projecting onto scripture because of how we have been told to read scripture?